Mauricio Pochettino can’t pretend to play down the importance of Southampton’s clash with West Ham United on Saturday afternoon.
Although Reading and Queens Park Rangers look all but doomed at the foot of the Premier League table, the third relegation spot could be occupied by one of as many as eight teams. So when two of these teams meet at this stage of the season, it will always be described as a six-pointer.
That is the case when the Hammers travel to St Mary’s this weekend, in what Sam Allardyce believes could see one of the sides clinch survival. Both are on 37 points at the moment, and Saints coach Pochettino agrees that Saturday has a feeling of ‘winner takes all’ about it.
“I agree (with Allardyce),” said the Argentine coach, who has certainly won over his doubters since controversially succeeding Nigel Adkins back in January. “It is a really important game. We are aware of West Ham United – fitness-wise and physically they are a very strong team.”
The home team will be relying on the recent good form of strike duo Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez, who have scored five goals between them in the last three matches to boost the South Coast club’s points tally by nine. And Pochettino has been so impressed with the pair, he believes they have what it takes to transform their club performances to the international stage.
“If they both play as well as they have done lately I can see that happening,” he added. “Both players are really comfortable playing here and are happy with us. Hopefully their performances can just keep on getting better in the next few years, that would be great for Southampton.”
It would certainly be a fairytale story if 14-goal Lambert, who has never been capped at any level before, was suddenly considered for the full England squad, especially as he turns 32 next February. Rodriguez, on the other hand, has one cap for the Under-21 national side dating back to 2011, but at the age of 23, the former Burnley youngster will feel his best years are yet to come.