Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl is optimistic James Ward-Prowse will overcome a nasty leg injury to face Burnley but is eager to avoid exacerbating the problem.
Midfielder Ward-Prowse returned to training on Thursday after being left in agony by a deep gash suffered during last week’s FA Cup fourth-round replay defeat to Tottenham.
Hasenhuttl described the loss of the influential player as the “worst” thing to come out of that 3-2 reversal in north London.
Ward-Prowse, an ever-present in the Premier League this term, is on track to be available for Saturday’s clash with the Clarets, although his manager is wary of taking risks.
“Today was his first time on the pitch. I tried to keep him out as long as possible. The players always like to come back on to the pitch and he handled it well, I think,” said Hasenhuttl.
“We must pay attention that the cut is not going to open again but it looks good and hopefully he can play on the weekend.
“It’s more important that it doesn’t get worse and then he’s out. We must pay attention, if it’s too early then we don’t play with him. But it looks good.
“He’s an important player for our team, absolutely.”
Ward-Prowse has been forced to fill in at right-back in recent weeks, but should return to a more natural position in midfield following the arrival of Kyle Walker-Peters.
Walker-Peters, who joined on loan from Spurs late last month, is set for his Saints debut this weekend and Hasenhuttl is confident the new signing is up to speed following limited action for his parent club.
“I think so, (he has) trained now for a few weeks with us and showed that he can help us,” Hasenhuttl said of Walker-Peters.
“I think (he has) learnt our habits and our behaviours – I think that’s important for him. This is another good option I have.”
Southampton, who go into the weekend in 13th position, level on 31 points with opponents Burnley, are reportedly considering a contract extension for veteran forward Shane Long.
The 33-year-old’s existing deal is due to expire in the summer.
Hasenhuttl believes Long’s committed style of play makes him a “symbol for our philosophy”, but is keen to delay contract talks with players until the club have almost guaranteed top-flight survival.
“I don’t know if I have to bring you up to date because the message was always the same, we said about 36 points and if we have this we start speaking with the players,” said the Austrian.
“I think it was a good message to get the focus on our game and on our performance and it was absolutely necessary.
“The time will come and with maybe a lot of fans they want to see Long in our team.
“I enjoy watching him play for this team. He’s something of a player that is a symbol for our philosophy – a hard-working guy who is always leaving everything on the pitch for the team and the club.
“This is the reason why, although he’s not the top scorer, he’s so important and the people love him.”
Hasenhuttl’s own deal expires in 2021. The 52-year-old former RB Leipzig coach is currently unconcerned about his future and more preoccupied with results.
“I am always in talks with my chairman, not always about my contract because it’s the not most important thing for me,” he said.
“I like to work here, I like the challenge I have here, the task every day to come here and I enjoy working every day and concentrate on the more important things in the moment.”
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