Tuesday 12 December 2017

Koeman backing long to inspire saints for city

Saints manager Ronald Koeman
Saints manager Ronald Koeman
Southampton and Ireland striker Shane Long

Ronald Koeman has backed Shane Long to spearhead Southampton's attack at Manchester City in the absence of suspended top-scorer Graziano Pelle.

Boss Koeman believes Long can lead Saints' line in tomorrow's Premier League trip to the Etihad Stadium, with 14-goal Pelle banned after picking up five bookings this term.

Long returned to club action after ankle trouble and helping the Republic of Ireland qualify for Euro 2016 for the 1-0 home loss to Stoke, deployed in behind lone striker Pelle.

This weekend though the 28-year-old should have his chance to stake a claim for a central role moving forward.

"You'll always miss a player that regularly starts," said Koeman of Pelle's absence.

"But we can certainly cope, if we couldn't I would be doing something wrong, because we're only talking about one player in the squad.

"Shane's a different player, with different qualities but also a very dangerous front player.

Long time

"He was a long time injured, he played 90 minutes last weekend and he will start again.

"Our style will be the same, that we try to play football, to build up from the back, but of course in direct play it needs to be changed a little bit."

Long stepped into the breach in Pelle's absence in Southampton's creditable 1-1 draw at Chelsea in March last season.

Koeman believes former England captain John Terry's post-match endorsement that day underscores Long's qualities, that he hopes will shine through again on the road this weekend.

"Graziano's the top-scorer in the team, but last season we played without him at Chelsea away and had a good result," said Koeman.

"I still remember what John Terry said after the game that 'we found it so tough to play against Shane Long'.

"So hopefully we can see the same again now."

Manchester City have not lost two successive home league games in seven years, but enter Saturday's clash off the back of their 4-1 Etihad Premier League loss to Liverpool.

City's 1-0 midweek Champions League loss at Juventus, coupled with an injury spate, leaves the hosts desperate to claw back some form - but by no means panicking, according to Koeman.

"Teams like City are used to having that pressure about winning games," said Koeman.

"Even for City it's difficult to handle the number of injuries they have now."

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