The Blues had made an impressive unbeaten return to post-lockdown Premier League, but fell way short of expectations in a dismal 1-0 defeat at Tottenham on Monday.
The Saints will provide another stiff test for them, having beat Manchester City on Sunday, won three of their last four games, and boasting the fifth-best away record in the league.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side will also be out for revenge after Everton’s 2-1 victory at St. Mary’s in November, in what proved Marco Silva’s final win as Blues boss.
RBM: Firstly, Southampton looked destined for another relegation battle this year, not least when Leicester thumped them 9-0 in October. Yet with five games left, they’re mid-table and comfortably safe. What’s changed?
Allen: It’s a safe bet that the 9-0 defeat will never not be mentioned when talking about Southampton! As a club, we’ve definitely moved on from it, players, staff and fans. But to answer your question, I think the way we’ve been playing, at least from a fan’s perspective, is what I always expected from us from the start of the season. It surprised me more that we made such a pathetic start to the year more so than the fact we got beat 9-0 while down to 10 men. I mean, we got beat 3-0 at Burnley and lost 3-1 at home to Bournemouth between August and September, and look where the Cherries are now.
We’ve always been a mid-table team, but it took the likes of James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond to come into consistent form to give us that edge. If Danny Ings stayed healthy, we always knew what he could provide. It was just always that question of ‘if’. Jack Stephens and Jan Bednarek have also formed a pretty formidable centre-back partnership after a lacklustre start to the year.
RBM: How good a manager has Hasenhuttl been for Southampton? Have you seen enough to suggest he can get them challenging for Europe again?
Allen: I think if Hasenhuttl stays at Southampton long enough - he recently signed a four-year extension - then he will achieve Europa League football with the club.
We’ll need to get stronger in the midfield with Pierre Emile Hojbjerg set to leave and Oriol Romeu being pretty much a defensively-only player. Teams that are successful find goals from the middle of the park and we don’t get that often enough, if ever. And we just need to develop consistency throughout the year.
RBM: Southampton lost four of their last five league games before the break but have won three of four since the restart. Do you think the absence of crowds has had a positive impact on the side?
Allen: Our form going into the break was awful. As much of a cop-out as it sounds, I simply just think we’re playing better and/or playing how we should’ve been playing from the start. Sure, the fans can make an impact - provide a nice boost, etc. - but ultimately the guys have to perform on the pitch and they just weren’t doing so before the break.
RBM: Southampton have the fifth-best away record in the league but the second-worst home record. What makes them so much more dangerous on the road?
Allen: To be honest, I wish I knew the answer to that. I could make up a reason, but others saying, ‘Oh, the fans don’t help’, is kind of a bogus reason. Look at Arsenal or Chelsea; they win and home and their fans can be volatile!
RBM: Everton have recently been linked with Saints midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who was stripped of the captaincy in June. What do you make of him, and do you think he’d be a good signing for Everton?
Allen: If you give us a great sum of money then I’ll personally drive him to the airport. He hasn’t kicked on this year and for someone who believes he’s a top six club kind of guy, he just hasn’t performed at that level.
Someone - cough, Spurs, cough - will sink some money into him and take a chance that his downturn in form was just a fluke, but from Pep Guardiola saying to the effect of him being a potential superstar to where he’s currently at are miles apart.
Fair enough, Hojbjerg has played his role, but he hasn’t expanded on it. He’s taken the fourth-most shots for us this year, but has nothing to show for it.
RBM: Danny Ings has been exceptional for Southampton this term with 21 goals, but nobody else has hit double figures for them yet. If you keep Ings quiet, have you nullified almost their entire goal threat?
Allen: You’d think that’d be the case, but Ward-Prowse and Redmond certainly pose enough threat. Ward-Prowse from dead-ball situations in particular, and he’s shown his versatility this season either in the middle or out on the wing.
Yes, we’ve got into this position because of Ings, but we’ve also got three other guys with at least four goals in 2019-20.
RBM: How do you expect Southampton to set up on Thursday?
Allen: We’ve rocked the 4-4-2 since getting battered by Leicester — a formation I felt we should’ve been using from the start. I don’t expect many changes, with Ings and likely Che Adams up front or maybe Shane Long depending if either of the two have not fully recovered from Sunday.
It’s a full-on press, but there’s times it makes the game a little too fast and we need to settle the ball and control the game. I think City nearly came back into the game because of it, so from an opposition perspective that’s something that could work in your favour as the press requires a lot of moving parts to be successful.
RBM: Ings aside, which of Southampton’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Allen: Ward-Prowse and Redmond. I’ll throw Stuart Armstrong in there as he’s been strong since the restart.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Thursday’s game?
Allen: Let’s go with a fiery 1-1 end of the season draw.
Our thanks to Allen for his time.