Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl has challenged Sofiane Boufal to prove he is capable of starting matches after suggesting the £16million winger performs better as a substitute.
Morocco international Boufal is looking to resurrect his Saints career having been shipped out on loan to Spanish side Celta Vigo last season.
The 25-year-old came off the bench to set up the clinching goal in Saturday’s 2-0 Premier League win at Brighton and could be rewarded with his first start for the club since March 2018 in Tuesday’s Carabao Cup second round clash with Fulham.
While Hasenhuttl appears content to give Boufal a second chance at St Mary’s, he is yet to be convinced that the player can become a key member of his squad.
“Maybe, yeah. Let’s have a look,” Hasenhuttl said of the possibility of selecting Boufal from the start at Craven Cottage.
“To play from the beginning it’s a little bit different because you must be very, very concentrated also against the ball and if he has this for 90 minutes, I don’t know.
“When I know that I have such a good player from the bench, such a good substitute, then that’s a problem.
“If you’re too good as a substitute, the manager always thinks I can bring him later.”
Boufal was the club’s record signing when he arrived from French club Lille in 2016.
He has shown glimpses of his talent on the south coast, including a superb solo goal against West Brom in October 2017, but fell out of favour under former Southampton manager Mark Hughes, leading to his temporary switch to LaLiga.
Although Hasenhuttl is contemplating giving opportunities to fringe players against the Cottagers, he insists cup competitions rank highly on his list of priorities after being unconcerned about last season’s FA Cup exit.
January’s penalty shoot-out loss to second-tier Derby in a third-round replay is the Austrian’s only previous experience of England’s domestic cups.
The 52-year-old former RB Leipzig coach, whose current club were League Cup finalists in 1979 and 2017, was fully focused on avoiding top-flight relegation back then but has a different approach this campaign.
“I prioritise them in a high way this year,” he said of cup games
“We said last season we were happy that we were out – not happy – but it was not that bad that we didn’t play in the FA Cup.
“But this year we want to come as far as possible and we concentrate absolutely on this cup competition.”
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