ALAN Irvine expects Southampton to be as tough a test as last season despite a summer of change at the St Mary’s Stadium.
The south-coast outfit have sold key players Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Calum Chambers and Rickie Lambert from the team that finished eighth last term for a combined total of £92million - and lost manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham.
But Irvine watched from the stands at Anfield last Sunday as Ronald Koeman’s new-look Saints side impressed in a harsh 2-1 opening-weekend defeat by Liverpool.
“Having been at Anfield on Sunday and watched how well they played, and watched how many chances they were able to create at a really difficult place, I think they can more than survive,” said the Baggies boss.
“I think they could have another very good season.
“I think they’ve spent their money very wisely, replaced very good players with very good players.
“I was really impressed with how they played at Anfield.
“Not many teams go to Anfield and make it go quiet – but that certainly happened during periods of the game.
“They deserved something out of the game and I believe it will be a tough place for anyone to go this season.”
Irvine heads to Southampton buoyed by seeing every player in his squad back in training – and delighted with the extra efforts his men are putting in on their own time.
“When we started training yesterday, every player in the squad was training and that included Joleon [Lescott],” he revealed.
“He only did the first part of the session, which is what was planned for him, and then he joined the fitness coach.
“Last week we had good numbers of senior players training, this week we’ve had even better numbers of senior players training.
“That’s a big help for us because in the early weeks of pre-season we had very small numbers of senior players training.”
He added: “Extra training is something I expect.
“Did it happen last year? I’m not sure.
“But I’ve heard throwaway lines from people saying ‘I didn’t expect to see him out on the training ground after training had finished!’
“I think it’s something where it’s up to us as coaches to create that environment where people will want to stay after the main part of training has finished.
“We’re getting good numbers of players who are staying to practice what’s important to them.”