Southampton’s Technical Director Martin Hunter believes the new Premier League 2 format will have a positive impact on the club as a whole.
During the summer, the existing Under-21 Premier League was rebranded as Premier League 2 which allows the teams competing to name teams with at least six players under the age of 23 in them on a regular basis. This allows Saints to pick from a wider pool of players, while still allowing some to move out on loan when the time is right.
Saints remain in Division 1 of the league structure and will compete alongside 11 other teams in the table. Last season Hunter’s side finished in sixth place, and believes the league will be even more competitive this term.
“I think it's a very positive change,” the U21s boss said.
“I know it's something that Les [Reed] has led particularly, talking with the Premier League. It means that, for us, it will be harder.
“The teams will be older. That gives you a chance to look at a bigger age range, so it gives the opportunity of some of the fringe players, the under-21 players that might not have been able to play to play in that. It still gives us 22 league games, three of which will be at the stadium, and then we've also entered into other competitions as well.”
An additional schedule is the one provided by the EFL Trophy. The competition formerly known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy has extended the number of teams taking part to 64 by including 16 Category 1 academy teams. Saints will enter the competition in a revamped group stage alongside the senior sides of Charlton Athletic, Colchester United and Crawley Town before the knockout phase begins.
“We've obviously accepted the invitation,” Hunter explained of the decision to take part.
“That gives us a different dimension. We're playing against men, against first-teams from League 1 or League 2.
“It's also another opportunity to play at either a stadium away from here, or at St Mary's. It gives us more to get our teeth into and it gives the opportunity for some of the older players. I think within that competition again you can play four over-age players – three outfield players and a goalkeeper, so again it just opens the field up for us.
“With the numbers that we carry, that will test us, but the number of games is very, very welcome.”