Southampton’s Premier League form may have fallen off a cliff in recent months but the Saints are still going in the FA Cup and have a great chance of reaching the last four as they face Championship side Bournemouth in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
In order to give his side the best chance of success at the Vitality Stadium, Ralph Hasenhuttl should consider unleashing Mohammed Salisu at the weekend.
After a difficult first few months with Southampton, the centre-back finally made his debut for the club in the 2-0 win against Wolves in the last round and he has gone on to make a further five appearances for the Saints since then. However, he was left out of the line-up against Brighton last weekend.
The 21-year-old also showed his versatility in the recent 5-2 defeat against Manchester City, with Hasenhuttl selecting him at left-back and Ryan Bertrand moving to right-back as a result.
The former Chelsea man has been Saints’ first choice at left-back for the whole season despite a poor run of recent form, with his 6.42 average rating comfortably the worst of Southampton’s regulars in defence.
Therefore, it is perhaps time that he was dropped, with Salisu the natural replacement for the Englishman at left-back, especially after youngster Jake Vokins was sent on loan to Sunderland in January.
Earlier in the season, Jannik Vestergaard dubbed the former Real Valladolid man a “big talent” despite his lack of appearances, and his debut at Wolves certainly showed what he is capable of, as he earned an impressive 7.02 WhoScored rating for his performance, helping Hasenhuttl’s side to a rare clean sheet.
Bournemouth’s main threat on Saturday will arguably come down the wings, with both Junior Stanislas and Arnaut Danjuma having impressed for the Cherries this season. Hasenhuttl should arguably select his two most in-form full-backs to deal with them, and that should see Salisu start ahead of Bertrand on the left.
Playing the young centre-back out wide also allows Southampton to shift into a back three with Walker-Peters pushing forward on the right, so having a natural centre-back in that position could well prove to be a game-changer for Hasenhuttl, not just against Bournemouth but maybe for the rest of the season.
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