SOUTHAMPTON, England (Reuters) - Southampton manager Mark Hughes spent Friday talking about the number of strings to his bow, but with Chelsea visiting this weekend and his side struggling in 16th spot he might consider solidity and steel on the pitch as well as variety.
Saints will need to be at their very best on Sunday against the Londoners — who are one of only three teams still unbeaten in the Premier League this season — and the Welshman reported a clean bill of health for his squad.
“It’s important to have more than one string to your bow,” Hughes told reporters.
Once again he shook things up in midweek for the League Cup shootout victory at Everton, making six changes to the team that lost 2-0 away to Wolverhampton Wanderers last Saturday.
Third-placed Chelsea, who are two points off top spot, will have little idea which players they will face at St Mary’s let alone how the hosts will line up.
“We’ve done the work on the training ground with different formations,” Hughes told reporters. “The guys are well aware of their roles on the pitch whether it’s 4-4-2 or 3-5-2.
“Shane Long is back, he trained today. Moi Elyounoussi also trained today, Ryan Bertrand trained and Alex McCarthy also. They’ll all be available as long as we don’t see a reaction overnight.”
Availability or otherwise of players is not what has large sections of the home crowd howling in frustration each week, but rather the inconsistent approach to tactics and seeming indecision over what is Hughes’ best lineup.
Centre back Maya Yoshida was ever-present in the Japan team which reached the last 16 of this year’s World Cup in Russia, but is yet to be selected by Hughes despite the Southampton defence leaking 11 goals in seven league matches.
Yoshida was one of 14 Saints players called up to represent their countries over the October international break.
Hughes will need firepower up front, too. Southampton, with only two points from three matches at St Mary’s Stadium, have scored an average of one goal per game at home — Chelsea are averaging 1.7 goals per away game.
Editing by Ken Ferris