Southampton team news: £7.2m star's Saints return 'big for Ralph Hasenhuttl'

Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl

Jack Stephens' return to first-team action will allow Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl to be more flexible in his system selection, according to The Sun journalist Tom Barclay.

Stephens was back in Saints' starting line-up as the south coast club suffered a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal on Saturday.

What's the latest news involving Stephens?

Stephens returned to training earlier this month after recovering from a knee injury which had seen him miss out on a host of key fixtures since September.

The central defender had been a key part of Hasenhuttl's plans during the early stages of the campaign, playing every minute of the first four Premier League fixtures before being forced off during the goalless draw with Manchester City.

Hasenhuttl later revealed that Stephens had to be substituted after sustaining a tendon problem in his knee, with the initial prognosis being that he would be sidelined for up to 12 weeks.

But the Austrian confirmed the 27-year-old was back in contention heading into the south coast derby with Brighton & Hove Albion earlier this month, only for Stephens to be left on the bench.

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The heavy defeat at the Emirates Stadium allowed Stephens to rack up his 140th appearance for the club having joined from Plymouth Argyle in a deal worth £150,000 a decade ago.

What has Tom Barclay said about Stephens?

Barclay believes the return of Stephens will have come as a major boost to Hasenhuttl as the festive period sees the fixtures coming thick and fast.

The journalist reckons the central defender could be key in allowing Hasenhuttl to adjust to in-game situations by altering his formation more freely.

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Barclay told GIVEMESPORT: "Stephens' return is big in the fact that Southampton, often this season, have been reverting in matches to a back three or mixing it up for whatever the task ahead is.

"Ralph sometimes likes to do that."

Why is Stephens key to Hasenhuttl's plans?

Stephens' importance was emphasised as Southampton only managed to keep three Premier League clean sheets in the central defender's absence.

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Hasenhuttl is clearly a big fan of Stephens as well, with Saints' manager selecting him 79 times since his appointment three years ago.

Stephens, who is valued at £7.2million by Transfermarkt, showed his defensive capabilities in the early stages of the campaign by making an average of 3.9 clearances per game.

However, there are still question marks over the 6 ft 1 star's future at St Mary's as his current contract, worth £48,000-per-week, is set to expire next summer.

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