Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl believes he now has the squad depth to ensure none of his players can be assured of a starting place.
Summer signings like Adam Armstrong, Romain Perraud, Theo Walcott and Armando Broja have swelled Hasenhuttl’s options and boosted competition in the squad.
It means the Austrian may have a harder time keeping everybody happy this season, but that is exactly what he wants to see.
“It is challenging,” Hasenhuttl said ahead of Saturday’s meeting with winless Burnley. “The good thing is that we have a lot of games. We can make subs, changes, rotation – if you want.
“The players are under a lot of pressure, from their families and agents. When you are a Premier League player you’re in [the shop] window every weekend. When you’re not playing, everyone is asking you: ‘Why not?’.
“I don’t want to say that we’re not a big club but at the big clubs you have duels for positions, last season we didn’t have duels.
“Last season the message that we were sending to the players was that if they were fit they were playing – this season it is that if you are fit then you now have to prove to me that you are better than the others.”
The difference may not have been immediately apparent on the pitch – Southampton only collected their first Premier League win of the season by beating Leeds 1-0 last weekend – but Hasenhuttl said he has noticed a change in training and expects it to tell over the rest of the campaign.
“I like working with these players at the moment,” he added. “We have a good mentality, there is a good atmosphere and everybody wants to work.
“If we have a player who is not feeling so good one day, they can get swapped out for another who is ready to work hard. This is exactly what I wanted to see.”
Armstrong started the first seven Premier League games of the season for the Saints after his £15million move from Blackburn, but has not added to his strike in the opening-day defeat to Everton.
After more than 600 minutes without a goal, the 24-year-old was on the bench last weekend as Broja and Nathan Redmond linked up impressively against Leeds, a showing which suggests Armstrong will face a fight to get back into the team.
“We know that the start of your first year in the Premier League will always be a tough one but he has had good games this season,” Hasenhuttl said when asked about Armstrong.
“He is just missing that second goal with missed chances over a few games.
“I didn’t expect more from him. Definitely not. I expected exactly what I have seen – that he is a player with potential, a player with some super skills that you definitely can use in every team and I’m sure that he will also be a very important player for our games in the future.”
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