Rewind back to when Newcastle United were first due to travel to Southampton this season - and Ralph Hasenhuttl was NOT happy.
The Magpies’ long trip to St Mary’s was originally scheduled to take place on January 2 but was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in United’s camp.
Only a few days prior had Eddie Howe’s side’s match at Everton - re-arranged for next week - had to be cancelled for the same medical reason.
Premier League rules stated if a club cannot field 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper from its squad list or its ‘appropriately experienced’ under-21 players due to COVID-19 infections, isolation and other injuries and illnesses, the match should be postponed.
Howe believed after the 1-1 draw at home to Manchester United on December 27 Newcastle were “dangerously close” to exceeding that number. And so that proved as the Premier League approved the club’s request to postpone games at Southampton and Everton.
Newcastle adhered to the rules, just like a number of their top-flight rivals who also had games postponed due to positive Covid-19 cases.
Hasenhuttl, however, took issue with the fixture being postponed, which perhaps a little added spice to Thursday’s meeting between the two clubs.
Here’s a look back at what the Saints said:
‘Injuries are not Covid cases’
In the build-up to the game, Hasenhuttl bemoaned that “injuries are not Covid cases”.
Callum Wilson, Isaac Hayden, Paul Dummett, Federico Fernandez and Jamal Lewis were among the players injured, while there was concern over Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser’s fitness.
Newcastle did not reveal which players contracted Covid.
The Austrian said: “There’s talk about cancelling games because teams have a lot of injuries but there were times last season where we had nine out injured – and we played academy players.
“That was maybe the toughest half of a season here. Injuries are not Covid cases. Injuries are also here for us.
“They (Newcastle) had seven or eight players on the bench during their last game, and now they have two more injuries.
“They should still have thirteen players plus one (goalkeeper). This is the message from the Premier League.”
‘Disappointed the game didn’t happen’
After the game was officially postponed by the Premier League, Hasenhuttl called for greater transparency after referencing his side’s 9-0 defeat at Manchester United in February 2021.
The 54-year-old said: “In the end, I was disappointed that we couldn’t play because we have been in good shape.
“We also had five cases of Covid and it’s not long ago that we had to fill up a team with nine academy players and got a big defeat against Man United.
“I was disappointed that this game didn’t happen, I also didn’t know the situation, exactly how it was at Newcastle.
“Nobody knows it and it makes it difficult to speak about it but it is clear that everybody, not only me, was disappointed that this game didn’t happen.”
Now for the controversial part...
Hasenhuttl believed players signed after the date in which the postponed game was originally set to be played should not be eligible for the rearranged fixture.
Had such rule existed, Newcastle would be without Chris Wood, Bruno Guimaraes, Matt Targett and Dan Burn for the visit to the South Coast. Kieran Trippier, of course, is sidelined with a broken foot anyway.
The Saints manager’s suggestion sparked a big reaction from Newcastle fans and Liverpool legend and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher, who labelled the idea “nonsense”.
Hasenhuttl said: “We were discussing in the last Premier League meeting about what happens with the winter signings for the postponed games, if they’re allowed to play or not.
“For us it’s the same, we can now also with our new owners sign new players and that is not really fair to play in games that have been postponed.
“The last word has not been spoken so far.”
Howe’s men undoubtedly head to St Mary’s in a healthier position with a run of eight games without defeat lifting the club seven points above the Premier League relegation zone.
Meanwhile, Southampton, who were subject to a change of ownership in January but did not sign a single player, were unbeaten in seven games before Saturday’s 4-0 hammering at Aston Villa.