Ronald Koeman believes Southampton will have their work cut out as they take on a Stoke City side providing the Dutchman with a renewed challenge at St Mary’s Stadium.
The Saints, who won away at Sunderland in their last outing, will look to extend their six-game unbeaten run on Saturday against a team they have beaten just once in the Premier League.
And Koeman believes Stoke’s transformation under Mark Hughes makes them a tougher prospect than previously.
He said: “It’s always hard to beat Stoke. We had that experience last year. We played against them three times and every game was difficult.
“But it’s the same for them. It’s also difficult to beat Southampton.
“It will be a good game, because they have signed some good, technical players. Maybe they’ve changed their style a little bit, depending on the players they have available.
“We know it’s a difficult one, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Having regrouped his squad after the international break, Koeman admitted he was surprised to see Shane Long play for the Republic of Ireland so soon after recovering from an ankle injury.
Long came on as a 55th-minute substitute as the Republic beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-0 to qualify for Euro 2016.
“I was quite surprised that he played 40 minutes,” said Koeman.
“He didn’t train for five or six weeks and had only one training session. That’s why I was surprised.”
Despite Long’s unexpected match action, Southampton’s international contingent returned from international duty with no new injuries ahead of the visit of Stoke and Virgil van Dijk is available for selection despite picking up a knock playing for the Netherlands against Wales.
Stoke will be without Marc Muniesa due to a hamstring injury, but Erik Pieters will be available despite breaking his nose in two places against Chelsea.
Hughes said: “At the moment, as a consequence of a little bit of luck and the way that we look after our players, we are in good health.
“It will be tricky but we are in good spirits and we can approach these games with plenty of optimism.”
Stoke have kept four clean sheets in their last five Premier League games, but Hughes admits their previous efforts on the south coast has set his sights a little lower.
He said: “Our record there isn’t great. We have been down there and taken a point, which was decent, but ideally we want to get three.”
Key Opta stats:
– Southampton are unbeaten in six Premier League games (W4 D2); the last time they enjoyed a longer unbeaten run in the top-flight was back in November 2013 (eight games in total).
– Mame Biram Diouf has scored in Stoke’s last two clashes with Southampton in all competitions (two goals in total). Peter Odemwingie has scored three goals in three Premier League appearances against Southampton.
– Saints have scored the most headed goals in the top division this season (6).
– This is Stoke’s best-ever start to a Premier League campaign (16 pts, -2 goal difference).
– Jack Butland has made more saves than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League this season.
– Southampton have seen a player sent off in two of their last three league games, though they’ve not been beaten in either match (W1 D1).
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