MAURICIO Pochettino must wrestle with a big selection dilemma ahead of Saints’ clash with Stoke at St Mary’s this Saturday.
The manager has to weigh up whether to start with £12.5m man Victor Wanyama or Jack Cork in midfield alongside Morgan Schneiderlin.
Wanyama returned to the line-up at Fulham last weekend, having been out of action since early December with a hairline leg fracture.
His addition to the team came at the expense of Cork, who was dropped to the substitutes’ bench in order to accommodate the Kenyan.
However, perhaps unsurprisingly on his first outing since December 4, Wanyama showed signs of rust in the first-half.
And, having also picked up his fifth yellow card of the season, he was withdrawn at the interval.
Cork replaced him and helped spark Saints into life, as Pochettino’s men romped home to a 3-0 victory at Craven Cottage.
Afterwards, captain Adam Lallana pinpointed the introduction of Cork as the turning point in the match.
As a result, it will be fascinating to see who is chosen to partner Schneiderlin this Saturday.
Wanyama has been Pochettino’s preferred option up to now, with Cork, a key figure in the previous two campaigns, having been demoted to a back-up role.
But the 24-year-old’s form since stepping in for his injured teammate has built a strong case for him to receive a more regular starting role.
Statistics released yesterday by the CIES Football Observatory, which analyses performances in Europe’s top five leagues, ranked Cork as the Premier League’s best-performing central/defensive midfielder in January – ahead of Schneiderlin, in second.
Debate has rumbled on for much of the season over whether it is Wanyama or Cork who is best suited to partnering the Frenchman.
The Schneiderlin and Wanyama combination has been a formidable one in the holding midfield area this term, and an important ingredient in Saints’ solidity at the back, with the Kenyan’s defensive abilities often having a devastating effect on the opposition’s attacking threat.
Against some of the Premier League’s best sides, who can deny Saints the ability to dominate play, Wanyama has particularly shone, breaking up and disrupting their efforts to pass through the centre of the pitch.
Cork is also strong defensively, although perhaps not to the level of Wanyama, but he does offer greater ability on the ball, with a notably higher pass success rate.
As a result, he tends to look more comfortable than his colleague does when the onus is largely on Saints to play.
Whatever way Pochettino decides to go this weekend, one thing is for sure – he has two very good options to pick from.