(Reuters) - Southampton striker Manolo Gabbiadini is a doubt for Saturday’s Premier League trip to Liverpool because of a hamstring injury, leaving manager Mark Hughes short of options up front.
Danny Ings, the Saints’ leading scorer with three goals so far this season, is not eligible to play against parent club Liverpool, who loaned him to Southampton during the close season.
If Gabbiadini fails a late fitness test, Hughes is likely to name Charlie Austin and Shane Long - who have failed to score any league goals this season - as his strikers against the team that has conceded the fewest goals this season.
“Gabbiadini pulled up in training today with a lower hamstring issue behind the knee,” Hughes told reporters on Thursday. “He will be assessed tomorrow morning to see if he is an option.”
Southampton have won one and drawn two of their first five matches and, having surrendered a two-goal lead in their draw with Brighton and Hove Albion on Monday, will have to step up their game to get anything at Anfield.
Liverpool have made a strong start to the season, winning their first five league matches and beating Paris St Germain 3-2 in the Champions League on Tuesday for their sixth win in a row in all competitions.
“Without a shadow of a doubt (Liverpool are the biggest challenge we have faced so far this season),” Hughes said. “They are in outstanding form at the moment and it was a great performance (from them) in Europe.
“It’s going to be a big test for us, we understand that but we are on a decent run. Monday night was a disappointment but it does not affect us confidence-wise, so we are not as concerned as we might be going up against an in-form Liverpool side.”
The Southampton manager believes Liverpool’s start proves they can challenge for the Premier League title this season.
“I think (Liverpool) are at a point in their development now where they clearly need to go for the Premier League title now,” he added.
“They probably don’t want to say that publicly but I would imagine given they haven’t won it for 28 years that would be one thing that they would like to put to bed and win if they can.”
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Pritha Sarkar