"We must get him more resistant to injuries". Those were the words of Saints boss, Ralph Hasenhüttl, when asked about Moussa Djenepo's ongoing fitness battle(s).
The 22-year-old Malian star, who joined Saints from Standard Liège in June 2019, has shown glimpses of his positive - and sometimes unpredictable - attacking threat, but continually struggled to keep himself available for selection.
Speaking ahead of the trip to Aston Villa, Hasenhüttl told Total Saints, "Yes, this is definitely the biggest issue we have with Moussa. He is a fantastic player and the problem he has with all the injuries we have to take care now. Definitely we are more focussed on his fitness now than on anybody else and we must get him more resistant to injuries. If we don’t then he will never make the step."
Only twice, since arriving at St. Mary's, has Djenepo managed to start two or more games in a row for Saints.
Prior to today's match at Villa Park, Hasenhüttl's side have played 51 games (in all competitions) since the beginning of last season (2019-20). Djenepo has only featured in 24 of those (47%) - starting just 14 times (27%).
The Mailian's best run so far was in late November/early December 2019, when he began 4 in a row against Watford (H), Norwich (H), Newcastle (A) and West Ham (H).
Otherwise, aside from being included versus Spurs (H), Burnley (A) and West Bromwich Albion (H) this season, due to numerous injuries - and a 3-game suspension after his red card in March (Newcastle (H)) - Djenepo has failed to ever make back-to-back starts.
With Sofiane Boufal exiting Saints during the recent transfer window (joining SCO Angers in October 2020), the Club are desperate for Djenepo to provide further competition for the likes of Nathan Redmond, but also repay some of the faith shown by them in spending c£14m to sign him from Belgium's top division.
Hasenhüttl added, "He always shows that he has quality, this was the reason why we signed him. He had definitely a better start than Ché [Adams], for example, but Ché now, because he was always fit, he could always fight for his position and he has now a situation that is different, and he was far behind Moussa. But when you are not fit, and you always fall back because of injuries, then you can never make the next step and this is what he needs to know."
The Saints boss admitted that Djenepo, who is known to be a very positive and well-liked member of the Saints squad, needs to knuckle down if he wants to be remembered as a Premier League star, "He must be very professional in the future, invest a lot in his body and then he has a chance to be a famous Premier League player, otherwise it will be difficult."
Saints fans will keep their fingers crossed that Djenepo can become a more consistent member of the matchday squad but, as it stands, his ongoing fitness concerns are clearly something the Club are paying very close attention to.
Article by Ben Stanfield
(Photos by Matt Watson, Southampton FC)