Following the injury to James Ward-Prowse recently, it may be time for Ralph Hasenhuttl to give Will Smallbone a regular role in his first-team.
The Southampton captain picked up a knock which caused him to withdraw from international duty with England and although it is reported that this was just a precaution because of a tight hamstring, it does send out warning signs that if the 26-year-old is not rested every now and then, he could pick up further, more damaging, muscle injuries.
Unfortunately for Hasenhuttl, central-midfield is not a position in which he is blessed with a lot of options, with just Smallbone listed as a natural in that position other than Ward-Prowse in the Saints squad.
The 20-year-old has just 12 first-team appearances for the Saints to his name but in those appearances, he was able to contribute one goal and two assists (per Transfermarkt), which is an impressive return for someone so young.
The Ireland U21 international has already made two appearances in the top-flight this season, suggesting that he is certainly knocking of the door of Hasenhuttl’s squad. The youngster’s impressive goal return for both the U18 team and B team at Southampton also suggests that he could step up if Ward-Prowse were to miss any games.
The Austrian manager was full of praise for Smallbone last season, as he discussed the youngster’s potential following a 2-0 win against Aston Villa, saying:
“He’s not the guy who makes the most noise, but you can see in the sessions this selection helped him to get more self-confidence, even more.
“He’s a good listener and he’s open-minded. It’s a good signal to everyone else to show that we are looking at them, and when the moment comes they will get the chance to play.
“The whole package is strong, with a lot of potential in my view.
“He has a lot of things that really help a team, being good on the ball, covering a lot of distance, but also to work against the ball and win balls, this is very important.
“What I also like is his mindset because he learns very quick. He’s smart and it’s a very good combination.” (per NewsandStar)
Therefore, with the busy Christmas schedule to come, we feel that Hasenhuttl has to start playing Smallbone more regularly to help him reach his obvious potential, whilst also ensuring that some more senior members of his midfield aren’t overused to the extent that they might pick up injuries.