After a very short pre-season, Wilfried Zaha’s goal dealt Southampton a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace on the Premier League’s opening weekend. How did their preparations for the season go and what did you make of their first game?
Before the game, when he spoke to the media last Thursday, Ralph Hasenhuttl was keen to point out that pre-season hasn’t been ideal from their point of view. It was just under four weeks long and he said that for two of those weeks they were unable to work on tactics, in part due to the fitness side of things and also because of the international break; Southampton had six players away with their respective national teams. The manager was keen to point out that it hasn’t been ideal and they hadn’t done the work they had wanted to do. That being said, every other team was in the same boat and Crystal Palace had the same amount of time to prepare for that game; the only caveat would be that they only had two players called up for international duty. From a Southampton point of view, I think that’s the price you pay for being successful.
In terms of the game, for the first 10 minutes they weren’t too bad and then they began to look leggy, very tired and didn’t really cause Palace too many problems. They had one or two shots but neither of those troubled the goalkeeper as such and it was just a typical opening day performance - they have won just six times in 40 years.
Saints have reached the fourth round of the Carabao Cup in the last two seasons and finished runners-up in 2016/17. With the season being greatly condensed this term, could they do without a lengthy cup run?
With the focus on this week’s game, I think Ralph will view it as another chance to get his players fit. If they were to win – and there’s no guarantee they will, Brentford are a good side – the further they progress, perhaps he might change players around, but I fully expect this to be a fairly strong team, just because he wants his players to get up to speed and he’s viewing this as another game where they can get 90 minutes under their belts ahead of the Tottenham game.
The club have brought in Kyle Walker-Peters and Mohammed Salisu so far this transfer window. In which areas do you think they need to recruit further, if at all?
In midfield, the No 6 role is an area in which they both want and need to recruit. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was sold to Tottenham and they haven’t replaced him and Harrison Reed was sold to Fulham, though he probably wasn’t going to be a first team choice so it made sense for him to move on. Mario Lemina is another player who can play there but it hasn’t worked out for him under Ralph and he’s gone out on loan as well. They have James Ward-Prowse, Oriol Romeu and a young lad called Will Smallbone who is a central midfielder, but needs to get a little bit more physical, so if there was an injury to Prowsey or Romeu, things would look a bit light in that area.
Which player would you say should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on during this fixture?
The standout would be Danny Ings, who is Southampton’s best player. He scored over 40 per cent of their goals last year and is absolutely crucial to the side. Che Adams scored a few goals towards the back end of last season and did very well in the Championship when he was there with Birmingham, so I’m sure he’d be fancying his chances. Moussa Djenepo, a tricky young winger, didn’t start against Palace but he came on and did OK, so he could be handed a start.
How is Ralph Hasenhuttl likely to set up his side at St Mary’s on Wednesday?
It will be his traditional 4-2-2-2 formation and, if there are going to be changes, I’d expect them to be minimal. So you’d be looking at Fraser Forster in goal if he rotates the goalkeepers, Walker-Peters, Jack Stephens, Jan Bednarek or Jannik Vestergaard, Ryan Bertrand; Ward-Prowse and Romeu as the two midfielders in front of the back four; the two in front of them would be Nathan Redmond and Djenepo or, if Stuart Armstrong is fit, it will be Redmond and Armstrong. Then you’ve got Ings, Adams, Shane Long or Michael Obafemi who could play as the two up front.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
I think Southampton will win this one, 2-0.
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