Ralph Hasenhuttl insists top-half finish would be crucial for Saints’ future

Eleventh-placed Saints return to action at Leeds sitting just a point off ninth position but on the back of three successive top-flight defeats.

Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side face Leeds next (David Davies/PA)

By Ed Elliot, PA

Ralph Hasenhuttl believes securing a top-half Premier League finish could be crucial to Southampton’s summer recruitment plans and his players’ international aspirations.

Eleventh-placed Saints return to action at Leeds on Saturday sitting just a point off ninth position but on the back of three successive top-flight defeats.

Hasenhuttl feels having three players – Fraser Forster, Kyle Walker-Peters and James Ward-Prowse – on England duty during the past fortnight epitomises the club’s progress this season.

Yet the Austrian is eager to ensure the recent dip in form does not become a prolonged slump as he bids to prevent a strong campaign fizzling out in the final nine fixtures.

Asked how he can stop that happening, the Saints boss replied: “In the way that we try to focus on these nine games that they are for us very crucial for our future because I think it makes a big difference if you end up in a top-10 position leading to our transfer window in the summer.

“In this position, I think it gives you more opportunities as a club and for the players also to put themselves in the window for international caps.”

With the Qatar World Cup on the horizon, Southampton’s England contingent will be keen to keep impressing national team boss Gareth Southgate.

Right-back Walker-Peters won his first two caps in wins over Switzerland and Ivory Coast, while Saints captain Ward-Prowse started the latter of those two games and goalkeeper Forster was an unused substitute in both.

Southampton last had a trio of players in the Three Lions set-up in 2014 when Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert travelled to the World Cup in Brazil.

“It’s not a coincidence that it was the first time I think in the history of Southampton Football Club that there are three players in the English international team from Southampton – or at least it does not happen very often,” continued Hasenhuttl.

“But this is a signal and you see what with good performances you can achieve, even if you are playing with us, and this is good to watch.

“We had this week a lot of players out in the international games and they did a good job.

“Some qualified for the World Cup, like (Poland defender) Jan Bednarek and this is very important for the players.”

Hasenhuttl is still awaiting fitness updates on his returning internationals ahead of the trip to Elland Road.

Keeper Alex McCarthy is back in light training following a long-term hamstring problem, while midfielders Will Smallbone and Oriol Romeu have overcome coronavirus and a stomach issue respectively and winger Nathan Tella has recovered from a groin injury.

Brazilian defender Lyanco (hamstring) remains sidelined.

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