Claude Puel to maximise his Southampton squad ahead of busy period
Manager Claude Puel admits he may have to rest key players and even turn to the club's academy as Southampton begin a hectic period of fixtures against Burnley on Sunday.
The Clarets will be the first of seven opponents in 22 days for Southampton, who may also have an eye on Thursday's mouthwatering Europa League clash against Inter Milan at the San Siro.
Saints then play Manchester City and Chelsea either side of an EFL Cup tie against Sunderland, before the reverse fixture against Inter and a tricky trip to Hull.
Puel will be without four first-team players this weekend as both full-backs, Cedric and Ryan Bertrand, are out with ankle and hamstring injuries respectively, along with Jeremy Pied and Sofiane Boufal, who are nursing knee problems.
Shane Long is also a doubt with a hamstring strain.
"It's important to recover all these players because in some positions we have the possibility to change the players with a good level," Puel said.
"We have (Matt) Targett or Cuko (Martina), they can play good games without problem. But with all these games every three days it's important to recover and change the team and keep all the time the energy.
"It's difficult. If a player plays every three days it's not possible to keep a good performance or physical level. It's important to recover these players quickly."
Puel added he may turn to the club's youngsters for back-up in defence, including 21-year-old Sam McQueen, who is yet to make his senior league debut.
"Sam McQueen is making progress at left back and is interesting for the future and perhaps we can see him in the next few games," Puel said.
"At right back a very young player in Yan Valery, but he is a very young player and I think it is too early to play with him. It is not possible.
"We also have a solution with Maya Yoshida. He can play at right back but without the performance of Cuco or Cedric."
Boufal's return is particularly anticipated given Southampton broke their transfer record by paying Lille £16million for the forward in the summer.
He arrived with a knee injury but is now back in training and Puel is hopeful the Moroccan can feature in the next few games.
"He came back to training last week. He improved every time but I think it is not for the moment, it is too early to see him but his knee improves," Puel said.
"I hope we can have Sofiane for the next games, perhaps on the bench, and step by step he can progress with the squad."