LONDON (Reuters) - It is not a Cup final but Swansea City’s critical Premier League relegation dogfight with Southampton at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday has taken on the feeling of something just as important for the two teams.
A 50 million pounds ($67.6 million) incentive is potentially at stake for the winners because three points, while not guaranteeing riches from another year in the lucrative Premier League, could prove decisive in securing safety.
With two games each left and West Bromwich Albion hot favourites to be relegated along with Stoke City, either the Swans or the Saints, locked on 33 points, look likely to be the third side for the drop.
Carlos Carvalhal’s Swansea are third bottom in the relegation zone, only because of their inferior goal difference to 17th-placed Southampton.
Yet Carvalhal is convinced that home advantage will make all the difference in turning around this parlous situation with Swansea enjoying their last two matches at the Liberty Stadium against Southampton and doomed Stoke on Sunday.
Southampton too have a home game on the final Sunday but it will be against champions Manchester City, who, should they beat Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday, will be pushing to complete the Premier League’s first 100-point season.
Even though Swansea are on a dismal run, having not won in seven Premier League games, Carvalhal is convinced the Liberty Stadium factor could make all the difference as they have lost only to Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in the league since his arrival at the end of 2017.
“Since we arrive, all the games we play at home, we perform really well in all of them,” said Carvalhal, whose only other home defeat was against Spurs in the FA Cup.
“Possibly the Cup game was the game that was hard for us. All the others, we dominated and were better than our opponents...I don’t have any reason to doubt we can do it on Tuesday.”
Southampton’s players were dealt a cruel blow by the 96th- minute equaliser they conceded at Everton in a 1-1 draw on Saturday which, manager Mark Hughes conceded, demonstrated a lack of composure under pressure.
“We just must not allow ourselves to be deflated by what’s ahead of us and what’s just occurred,” he said.
“We played well. We are not down, in terms of confidence and in terms how we are playing, we were damaged because we got so close to getting a significant result and a significant victory.
“But it is still very much in our hands and very quickly we will get this out of our system and go again.”
($1 = 0.7401 pounds)
Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Ed Osmond