Ahead of their Capital One Cup fourth round tie at home against managerless Aston Villa on Wednesday, Southampton boss Ronald Koeman has laid down the gauntlet to his players.
He wants to win some silverware, and that’s something Saints haven’t done since they won the FA Cup in 1976.
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In just his second season at St Mary’s since arriving from Feyenoord, the Dutch manager delivered Saints best-ever PL finish of seventh last season and they currently sit in ninth spot with 14 points from their opening 10 games of this season. Not bad.
Despite building a strong squad and impressing in the PL, Southampton feel like they have let opportunities in cup competitions slip through their fingers. Last year they reached the last eight of the League Cup but suffered a shock loss to League One Sheffield United, then lost to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup fourth round and crashed out of the Europa League at the final playoff hurdle this summer.
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Koeman, 52, has earmarked the cup competitions to bring silverware to St Mary’s this season.
“We like to go on in this tournament and we would like to win something,” Koeman said on Tuesday in his pre-match press conference. “We know that from now on we have three competitions the Premier League, the FA Cup starting in January and the Capital One Cup. We take it seriously and the team who will start tomorrow will be a strong team.”
Last season’s defeat at Sheffield United was a bitter pill to swallow for Koeman but it did come in the middle of a bad run of five defeats after several key starters went down injured. Saints now believe they are better equipped to challenge on all fronts this season.
“For us it is a little bit different this season than it was last season,” Koeman added. “The squad is stronger this season than it was last season in terms of numbers and competitions. Some of the other players, they are working hard and deserve opportunities. Still, the team who will start will be a strong one. Every player who starts tomorrow can show the level you need to play to play for Southampton. We know the stadium is sold out and that is a fantastic feeling. We have to respond and give the fans a good performance and a good result.”
Koeman also revealed that Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long are both out injured for Saints, with the former suffering a foot injury as his comeback from a long-term knee injury continues to be troublesome. The Dutch coach hopes both Rodriguez and Long will be available for Sunday’s New Forest derby against Bournemouth (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) while Sadio Mane is suspended for Villa’s visit to St Mary’s after he was sent off in the dying stages of the 1-1 draw at Liverpool on Sunday.
With Remi Garde lined up to replace former Villa boss Tim Sherwood, it is difficult to know what to expect from a Villa side who have lost eight of their opening 10 PL games. One thing you can expect on Wednesday is a fired up Saints who are well and truly gunning for glory in the cup competitions this season, as it could be their best route back into European competition as plenty of the PL’s big boys rest key players in this competition.