Southampton manager Ronald Koeman is expecting a “difficult” challenge against FC Midtjylland in Thursday night’s Europa League play-off tie.
Southampton reached the play-off with a 5-0 aggregate demolition of Vitesse in the last round and host the first leg before heading to Denmark for the second a week later.
The departures of Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne, Toby Alderweireld and continued absences of Fraser Forster and Ryan Bertrand have left the south coast club with a lack of defensive stability – something Koeman highlighted as a cause for concern in what promises to be a challenging season with Europe on the horizon.
That heavy loss came after Long had netted a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Newcastle on the opening weekend and the Republic of Ireland striker says that Southampton need to find their stride as soon as possible.
‘I knew already about the problem because if you talk about the defensive strengths of the Southampton team what we had last season – a big part in the clean sheets – you’re talking about certain positions.
“Some asked me about Schneiderlin – he was just one of five different players [missing] in those positions last Saturday”.
It’s challenging for your league [form], but we’ve got a lot of players in now – you can see with the strength on the bench, we can rotate, and the gaffer has that luxury now, and I think we all want to put a good season behind us and that starts with Europe as well.
“It’s normal that you will lose something – the new players need time in that position, the team needs time to develop and have the same strengths as last season”.
“Everton is a side that we feel like we should be beating to keep up how we did last year but, fair play to them, they had a good game plan”, he told the club’s official website.
“We need one player”.
Koeman is still looking for one more defender to add to his squad but dismissed questions about potential moves for Celtic’s Virgil van Dijk and Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli.
The Spaniard has urged his new team-mates to seize their chance this week and confirm their place in the group stages of a competition they worked so hard to qualify for last term.