Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl hopes fit-again Danny Ings will provide an extra cutting edge for the rest of the season – and then commit his future to the club.
Ings has been stepping up his recovery from a leg injury over the international break.
The Saints leading scorer is expected to be in contention for a first appearance since early March when Premier League action resumes against Burnley on Sunday.
The former Liverpool forward has been linked with a protentional big-money summer move away from St Mary’s Stadium.
Hasenhuttl, though, feels Southampton can offer Ings security in his role as the main frontman, rather than possibly playing second-fiddle elsewhere, albeit on improved terms.
“Ings is one week (into full training) and on a good way back,” said Hasenhuttl, who hopes midfielder James Ward-Prowse will shake off the calf problem which cut short his international duty, while Theo Walcott is also closing in on a return.
“We can feel that there are more and more players coming back, so this is good news.”
Ings’ current deal run through to the summer of 2022.
Hasenhuttl remains confident the club can reach an agreement over an extension and fend off any interest elsewhere.
“He had a fantastic season last season, but since then he has had a few injury problems and did not score that much, but he is still a very good striker,” Hasenhuttl said.
“Is he good enough to be an option for them? I don’t know, but I expect him to stay with us as he knows what he has with us.
“He has one more year (on his) contract. This will be an interesting situation for him, if one of the big clubs wants him.
“It is always difficult for us to keep a player with us, this is normal, but I do not see this scenario in the summer if I am honest.”
Saints captain Ward-Prowse was rested from England’s World Cup qualifier against Poland on Wednesday night as a precaution.
Hasenhuttl hopes Ward-Prowse – who featured against both San Marino and Albania, scoring his first international goal – can recover in time to face the Clarets.
“He is still not training, also today we rest him,” Hasenhuttl said.
“Hopefully tomorrow, so far so good, he can train with the team and then it is an option for the weekend.”
Hasenhuttl confirmed no other fresh selection concerns following the international break.
Defender Jan Bednarek has been cleared following a coronavirus outbreak in the Poland squad ahead of their match against England at Wembley.
Meanwhile, Southampton’s FA Cup semi-final against Leicester on April 18 is reported to have been earmarked as a test event for up to 4,000 spectators to attend at Wembley, the crowd consisting of local residents and NHS workers.
“It is absolutely great news for me and for all in football that we are looking to have people back in the stadium,” Hasenhuttl said.
“Who gets the chance? Hopefully people that really deserve to get it. For example, NHS workers.
“I don’t know what they are thinking about, but this would be the way to do it, to say thank you for the unbelievable work they have done in the last weeks.
“For us, yes the semi-final at all is a big historical moment for us as a club and with fans even more – but until then we have two (Premier League) games.”
Hasenhuttl hopes call-ups for the likes of Ward-Prowse and Ings, whose last cap was in October 2020, shows players can fulfil their international ambitions while at Saints.
“There are a few things that are important for us as a club,” Hasenhuttl said. “The one thing is that especially players see that it is definitely possible to become an international, also for England, if you play for Southampton.
“This is important. It is not always necessary to play for one of the top six to become an international player.
“The other thing is that it is also a very good reputation for the work we have done with them this season and they get a chance to play (international football). This is always a good sign that we are doing things right.”
Hasenhuttl remains “very positive” Ings will extend his stay and is also hopeful of a new deal for defender Jannik Vestergaard.
“This season especially he has shown some very good qualities and has developed his game massively. He still knows that we want him here,” the Southampton boss said.
“We are in negotiations with him and, hopefully, we will find a solution that is best for both of us.”