Ronald Koeman is wary of the threat posed by Crystal Palace, and has warned his players they represent more difficult opponents than the team they twice defeated last season.
Southampton on Saturday visit Palace in the Premier League, less than a year after their 3-1 win at Selhurst Park shortly before Palace’s appointment of Alan Pardew.
The manager has since overseen a significant improvement in his team, which included a 3-2 FA Cup win at Southampton shortly after his arrival.
Koeman’s team again defeated Palace in the league via a 1-0 scoreline later in the season, but Pardew – formerly of Southampton – has continued to inspire his new club. Where previously they were battling against relegation, Palace are now among Southampton’s rivals for a top-10 place.
“They are a strong team, they have a lot of physicality, and some good quality players,” Koeman said.
“They like to play offensively, with a big spirit in the team. We have to stop that, and play our own game, and to use our strengths will be very important, and very decisive.
“The Crystal Palace of today is stronger than it was at that stage of the season (when Southampton won 3-1 on Boxing Day 2014). But we know how we can win, we know what we have to do to win a game, and we’ll be looking forward.”
Koeman remains without long-term absentees Fraser Forster, Florin Gardos and Jay Rodriguez, but Victor Wanyama is available after previous concerns about his fitness.
“Wanyama did a normal session this week, he looks good.
“(Rodriguez) needs four or five more weeks to be part of the team. He’s working hard to come back.
“Our ambition is still for the highest position in the table, but first of all it’s how we like to play football. But if we are not at our level, because it’s the Premier League, you can lose to everybody.
“It’s a tough competition, and maybe more difficult than it was before.”