Southampton V Fulham At St. Mary's Stadium : LIVE
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Pochettino hails Ward-Prowse
Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse has been hailed as the perfect model for the club's future by manager Mauricio Pochettino.
The 18-year-old came on as a substitute against Manchester United last weekend and inspired his team to a deserved draw at Old Trafford.
The Saints could surge into the top four in the Barclays Premier League if they beat Fulham on Saturday and other results go their way, with Pochettino praising the contribution of Ward-Prowse.
Pochettino told reporters: "James Ward-Prowse is basically an example of the player we are promoting, the player we want to have in this club. In every training session he gives 100 per cent. He always has an immediate impact in what he does and he is still a player who is growing. He is a figurehead of the sort of player we are looking for at Southampton.
"I am a person who has always given a lot of value to the youth teams in clubs. I was a player who came out of the youth ranks in one of the best youth Academies in Argentina.
"Also, when I was managing Espanyol, I was a manager who always liked to push through that Academy culture. I really value the younger players in any club.
"One of the main reasons I actually signed for Southampton was the fact that they wanted to push through that Academy system. They wanted to reinforce and that went very well with how I view the future of a football club."
Ward-Prowse, who scored his first England Under-21 goal earlier this month, converting a free-kick in a 5-0 win against Lithuania, came on against United for Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, who picked up a slight knock and is a doubt for the Fulham game.
But if Ward-Prowse is the epitome of Southampton's vibrant football this season then it is the defence, which boasts the best record in the Premier League with just three goals conceded in comparison with 24 at the same time last season, which is the main factor in their success.
Much of that can be put down to the meticulous planning under Pochettino and the double training sessions he has instigated.
A win on Saturday, against a Fulham side buoyant from their 4-1 victory against Crystal Palace on Monday, would give Southampton their best-ever start to a season.
"I don't really think about that," said Pochettino. "I just think about winning and having my players playing as well and as positively as I want them to play.
"We know it is a very long competition and a very long season and we know that statistics in the end are just statistics but don't really mean anything, so the most important thing is how high up we are in the table at the end of the season. That's what really counts."
He will not be taking Fulham lightly.
Pochettino added: "Fulham are a team that know how to play football. They have talented players and have been using a 4-2-2 system and defending very deep."
Captain Brede Hangeland is expected to miss out for Fulham due to a nerve injury in his leg.
Manager Martin Jol said the centre-back will probably sit out the game at St Mary's while midfielder Bryan Ruiz (back) is doubtful.
Defender Aaron Hughes could make his first appearance since August 31 if he overcomes a thigh injury, but full-back Matthew Briggs (hernia) is still out.
Jol has told Darren Bent he can force his way in to Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad if he starts finding the net on a regular basis for Fulham.
Bent has scored three goals since joining Fulham on loan but he linked up well with Dimitar Berbatov on Monday night as the Cottagers subjected Crystal Palace to a damning 4-1 defeat.
The 29-year-old featured in England squads during the early stages of his career at Charlton and also when he was at Tottenham, Sunderland and Aston Villa.
He has not donned the famous white shirt for two years, however, and Hodgson has turned to the likes of Rickie Lambert and Jermain Defoe during recent injury crises.
Jol thinks Hodgson will not be able to carry on omitting the former Charlton man in the run up to Brazil if he carries on scoring, however.
"You never know," the Fulham boss said when asked about Bent's chances of making the plane for Brazil.
"(Selection) can be a spur of the moment thing because if Bent scores five goals in the final month of league then he could be in contention again to be selected.
"Bent is one of best finishers in England, he is like Defoe. And Defoe has a big chance to go to Brazil I think and Danny Welbeck is probably similar. They are all good players."
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