The Premier League is back!
An incredible 104 days will have passed between Southampton’s last competitive match, a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle, and the kick-off of their next fixture, a trip to Norwich City on Friday night.
There are nine Premier League games left to play over the coming weeks for Saints, who are currently sat in 14th place, seven points clear of the relegation zone and five points off the top half.
Ralph Hasenhuttl confirmed in his pre-match press conference that Shane Long is a doubt to feature at Carrow Road while Moussa Djenepo, who may hold the record for the longest time taken to serve a standard three-match suspension following his red card in Saints’ last match, is also out.
The gaffer also told the media that James Ward-Prowse is set to captain the side for the remainder of the season with previous skipper Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s future in doubt.
One benefit of the prolonged gap between matches is that Nathan Redmond is able to return sooner than anticipated after he was set to miss a large portion of the remaining fixtures.
It’s been a while since we’ve been able to say this.. here’s how we predict the Saints will line-up:
GK: Alex McCarthy
McCarthy had managed to overthrow Angus Gunn as the Southampton number one earlier in the season.
We don’t expect that to have changed over the course of the break.
RB: Kyle Walker-Peters
Right-back has been a problem for Hasenhuttl all season.
It may have been over 100 days ago, but Yan Valery made a costly mistake in Southampton’s last match which led to Newcastle’s winner.
Walker-Peters never really got the chance to showcase his talents after making just a solitary start against Burnley following his loan move from Spurs.
We predict him to be given the opportunity to prove that he deserves to stay on a longer basis.
CB: Jack Stephens
One of the stories of the season so far has been the emergence of Jack Stephens.
With many fans having written the 26-year old off, Stephens was able to prove them wrong after emerging as a key component to Southampton’s upturn in form.
We predict him to be given the chance to continue his impressive run of performances.
CB: Jan Bednarek
Perhaps one of the more underrated performers of the season has been Bednarek.
His partnership with Stephens has, maybe surprisingly, been rather successful ever since the Leicester debacle.
He still needs to learn how to play against the more robust strikers but we predict him to renew his partnership with Stephens on Friday.
LB: Ryan Bertrand
There’s been a lot of talk recently about Bertrand potentially signing a new contract over the next few days, and Saints would be much better off for it.
The experienced left-back has been one of the easiest predictions across the season and we expect him to start once more.
CM: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
There’s been even more talk about Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and whether the previous skipper could be on the move.
Having been linked with moves away from St Mary’s to both Everton and Spurs, his future looks unclear – especially now that Hasenhuttl has stripped him of the captaincy.
We still expect him to start however and the manager will hope he can put all the speculation behind him with an assured performance to help the side on Friday.
CM: James Ward-Prowse
With a vacancy for the Southampton captaincy arising, James Ward-Prowse has been entrusted with the responsibility to prove he’s the man going forward to lead the side.
The 25-year old has really come into his own under Hasenhuttl and is a regular starter in a two-man midfield, with the manger’s decision showcasing his trust in him.
RW: Stuart Armstrong
Ever since the formation change to 4-2-2-2, Armstrong has really come into his own.
The Scottish international has been key to the side climbing themselves away from immediate relegation danger.
Armstrong looked like carrying on from where he left off after scoring a double in a friendly victory against Bristol City last week and is likely to start again on Friday.
LW: Nathan Redmond
One positive that the lockdown has brought Saints is that Nathan Redmond did not miss as many fixtures as was initially feared.
His return should come as a welcome lift for the team and we predict him to come straight back in.
ST: Michael Obafemi
The scorer of Saints’ last Premier League goal was Michael Obafemi who equalised against West Ham way back in February.
Shane Long would normally be expected to be included in Southampton’s front two, especially after recently signing a new two-year contract, but is a doubt for this clash.
This leaves a toss up between Obafemi and Che Adams with the manager seeming to prefer the former over the latter in the first part of the season.
ST: Danny Ings
Ings may have more than one target for the remaining nine games with the 27-year old still very much in the hunt for the golden boot.
Ings has surely been Saints’ player of the season so far in a personal campaign that has passed all expectations.
He’ll hope to continue his form from before the break and look to keep himself in contention for a place in the England squad for the Euros next year.