Southampton defender Jan Bednarek speaks to Sky Sports about relegation threat and pivotal clash with Nottingham Forest | Football News

Southampton defender Jan Bednarek speaks to Sky Sports about relegation threat and pivotal clash with Nottingham Forest | Football News

Rock-bottom Southampton have four games to buck the odds and achieve the greatest of escapes – but centre-back Jan Bednarek believes “it’s possible”.

The Saints travel to the City Ground live under the Sky cameras on Monday, knowing a win would pull them back to within three points of their hosts and, potentially, Leicester and Leeds, too – and just two points shy of Everton if the Toffees lose to Brighton on the same night.

“The game is massive,” says Bednarek in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports. “Hopefully, in this game, we can show more consistency and perform at our highest level for 90 minutes and get all three points.

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“We’re convinced, if we can do that and maintain the intensity, if we can play with belief and courage, then we can get the three points.

“We have shown we can perform at a good level for 45 to 60 minutes in the last few games but that isn’t enough in the Premier League – so that’s the main target for us.”

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Newcastle and Southampton

Indeed, Southampton have dropped eight points after the interval in their past four games, with six of those against powerhouse clubs Newcastle and Arsenal.

Southampton manager Ruben Selles had told Sky Sports the previous day that defeat to Forest would make survival “difficult” and believes the great escape is “possible”.

“[Defeat] would [create a] very difficult situation for us,” said the Saints boss. “That’s why we need to go there and do our very best to win the game. I believe in miracles, sometimes, but I don’t think this is a miracle – this is something we can do.”

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Southampton boss Ruben Selles is confident they can still avoid dropping out of the Premier League, despite being six points from safety

Bednarek agrees. “I know this situation isn’t perfect,” he says. “It’s a tough situation, but, like Ruben said, it’s possible. We have belief and we have the courage during the training sessions. With hard work, hopefully we can do it.

“The most important thing is to focus on the next game and win three points. I know we need to win more than one game but, for us, the most important thing is the next one, because that’s all we can affect and that’s what we are preparing for.”

In this case, the one-game-at-a-time cliche is apt. Southampton’s run-in arguably gets tougher and tougher by round, hosting Fulham on May 13 before a trip to the Amex on May 21 and playing Liverpool at St Mary’s on the final day.

Have managerial changes affected stability?

The Saints sacked Ralph Hasenhuttl after four years at the club in early November but have remained marooned at the foot of the table since late December. Nathan Jones lasted only four months before current manager Selles took the reins in late February.

The club became synonymous with a high-intensity style of play under Red Bull disciple Hasenhuttl and still rank among the top five in the division for regaining possession in the defensive and middle thirds of the pitch. Bednarek plays his part in that, consistently ranking among the league’s elite for interceptions.

But did the managerial changes damage the team’s identity and morale? “High pressing and winning the ball is just one part of the game but there are many more, like ball possession, creating chances and set-pieces,” says Bednarek.

“We lost our philosophy and consistency a little bit because of the changes. We didn’t have one idea, one way of playing.

“Because of the [young] age of our team, that’s caused a lot of problems. But there were many things that didn’t help. We have a lot of qualities, but [haven’t always been] able to show it.

“But I think you can learn a lot from each of [the three managers] and that’s the most important thing. If you understand that, you can learn a lot.

“Hasenhuttl gave me the opportunity in the Premier League and I’m really grateful for that. He was always supporting me.

“I think Nathan Jones was the one who tried to show how much he believed in us, how much he trusted us. Of course, it didn’t work – but it was also a difficult situation for him.

“Ruben is also a great manager who has a lot of great ideas, a lot of great solutions. Tactically, he is very good and a very good person.

“As we can see, I think many aspects [have caused our] struggles at the minute but I can only say good things about all three of [the managers]. All of them have good abilities and it’s important to listen and learn – to get better with these cultures.”

What happened with Villa loan?

Jan Bednarek joined Aston Villa on loan in September but only made four appearances before being recalled to Southampton in January

After being a long-term staple of Hasenhuttl’s rearguard, the German sanctioned Bednarek to join Aston Villa on loan at the start of this campaign – but the Poland international made merely four appearances for the Villans before being recalled by Jones in January.

So what happened and was the move a failure? “I think Villa was a great lesson for me, a great experience,” he says. “And this is how I look at it. I needed a change at that point.

“I needed a fresh air from a different place. I decided to go with all the cards I had in my hand during the transfer window. On that day, it looked like the right move for me.

“I’ve learned a lot under Steven Gerrard and Unai Emery. I had a lot of individual sessions, a lot of lessons.

“They gave me a lot of tips. So, I’ve learned a lot and I’m really grateful for that time. I think only positively about it and that’s important.”

Arsenal thriller and leadership

Southampton produced one of the most dramatic games of the season two weeks ago when they held table-topping Arsenal to a thrilling 3-3 draw at the Emirates. The Saints carved out a two-goal advantage within 15 minutes before Gabriel Martinelli pulled one back midway through the first half.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the draw between Arsenal and Southampton in the Premier League

Just before the break, and with the Saints 2-1 up, Bednarek was forced off by the concussion protocol after Martinelli backed into the Pole mid-flight, causing a dangerous landing.

The club’s doctor refused to allow the centre-back to play on after his fall but Bednarek proceeded to remonstrate from the sidelines, insisting he was fine to continue.

“Yes, I was OK to play on. I was conscious,” he adds. “I was fine with the whole situation. I knew it was dangerous. I already knew in the air that it was going to be a really nasty landing, but that’s football. That’s the millisecond that decides what’s going to happen.

“When I see the situation, I can understand why the doctor decided to make the change. Of course, he was taking care of me and my health. There’s adrenaline and I was really trying to play. I was good to play, but he made the decision there.

“It’s a concussion protocol we must follow so it is what it is. For me, it was tough because we were winning and I wanted to help the team to win this game because it was really important for us, but it is what it is.”

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Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher assesses the incident between Gabriel Martinelli and Bednarek which led to the Southampton player’s substitution for concussion protocol

Never shy of making his feelings known, Bednarek proceeded to passionately issue instructions to his defensive team-mates in the second half – shortly before his replacement Duje Caleta-Car restored the Saints’ two-goal lead.

“[My advice] wasn’t about the set-piece [leading to the goal]. I was just trying to help because I knew it was really tough for them to come into this game, in this intensity, against this opponent. It’s not an easy task, so I tried to help them as much as I can.

“Obviously, from the side of the pitch, you see much more than from the inside because of the intensity and the time we must react. So, I tried to give them some tips on what we can do better, how we can defend better and what we can do to minimise the threat.

“I try to help the team as much as I can. It comes from me, naturally, that I just want to help my team-mates and make them better and I also understand their situations.”

Despite only turning 27 last month, the Poland international is among the eldest at the club, which has fielded the youngest starting XI in the Premier League this season. Bednarek joined the Saints from Lech Poznan in 2017.

“A few years ago, it was me who was coming to the Premier League, who was coming to the team. I know how tough and demanding the league is and I can try to use my experience to help the younger players to cope with the pressure and intensity of the game.

“It’s all about help and the quicker they realise that listening to others is really important, that’s going to be great for them. I think a few of them have this ability but it’s tough.

“When I came here, there were many players who spoke with me. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who had experience from the past, Cedric Soares and Prowsey [James Ward-Prowse] were also there as well – a lot of players tried to talk to me.

“Sometimes it’s not only about taking criticism, but also listening. And if someone is speaking to you, it means they care and are trying to help you. So, this is what I try to do.”

Does life on the sidelines appeal to the Pole when he eventually hangs up his boots? “No, definitely not,” he replies with a smile. “I just want to settle in some place where I want to be, not where I am demanded to be – with a bit more freedom.”

But his fixed vision of life after retirement comes with a caveat: “Maybe, in a few years’ time, I’ll decide I want to be a coach and be one of the best.”

What if…

Southampton face a gargantuan task to avoid the drop. Opta’s super computer suggests the Saints have only a 1.9 per cent chance of pulling it off. So, what would happen – should the worst happen?

Selles has reiterated his desire to stay at the club if they were to suffer relegation. “Absolutely, [I want to stay if Southampton are relegated]. I said that at the very beginning.

“I want to stay here for the next 10 years and make Southampton a club who competes against the very best and stays there. So, if [the club is relegated] I would be very proud to lead them next year.”

Bednarek is pragmatic and focused in his response to the growing uncertainty about what next season will bring. “Of course, everyone is speaking about the future,” he says.

“Everyone is a little bit concerned what’s going to happen, but we are all professionals and we have to focus on our next task which is Nottingham Forest.

“I know it’s tough: for us as players, as coaching staff – but the most important thing is to focus on winning the next game because [survival] is possible.

“We have a high chance of staying in the Premier League if we win all of our games – and that’s what we’ll try to do.”

The mission for a great escape begins on Monday, in what is undoubtedly the most crucial of their four remaining fixtures. So which Forest players concern the Pole most ahead of their clash at the City Ground?

“When you think about each Premier League team, all of them have some qualities up front. [Forest’s] forward players are all really quick, really strong, they have a lot of skills with the ball. So they are a threat, but I don’t focus too much on the opposition before the games, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

“I try to think about what I can do to minimise the threat. What I can do to defend as well as I can and not give them any chances. Of course, I will analyse them. I will know their strengths. But, for me, the most important thing is how I can defend to stop them.”

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