Midfielder reveals how he forced his way into the team in time to shine against Everton.
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has been a man on a mission at St Mary’s.
The Danish midfielder has had to wait his turn, but seized his chance with a man-of-the-match display in Sunday’s 4-1 victory over Everton.
It was a first Premier League start of the season for the 22-year-old, who admitted there were a few more pre-match nerves than usual.
“It’s always nice to be given the chance to show what you’re capable of – that’s always a big joy,” Højbjerg said.
“Of course I was nervous and I had adrenaline flying around. I had to go to the toilet a couple more times!
“I didn’t feel pressure from the outside or from anyone else, but I always put pressure on myself.
“You always have that little bit of nervous energy and unsureness in small amounts, but this is also what gets the blood pumping and makes you feel alive.”
For any footballer, time on the sidelines requires plenty of patience.
“When you haven’t been able to do what you love the most, which is to play football, that’s tough,” he admitted.
“It sounds like a cliché that you would read in a book from every sportsman, but you need to keep fit and sharp, train well and do the right things every day. You need to prepare every week as if you are playing.
“I played some games with the under-23s to keep fit and for me it was important to play well so that when I was given a chance, I would be ready. This was the only thing that was important to me.
“If you’re not playing, you can’t just sit on the couch waiting for something to come about. I was fighting for my situation.
“Not playing can mean many things. It can mean being angry and not doing anything about it, or it can mean ‘ok, I’m going to show you that I’m ready to play’.
“That was my mission. It’s far from being accomplished, but Sunday was a big step.
“I was coming home not being satisfied every single day. On Sunday I was a little bit satisfied, but then I start again.”
Højbjerg revealed the role his teammates have played in keeping him motivated.
“Everyone pushes everyone,” he added. “You’re not only competing together, but you’re also competing against each other in a fair and respectful way.
“That’s how you get everyone to the next level – fitness, technique, concentration. That’s how you get another dimension to the team.
“It’s not like I just come in and don’t speak to anyone. You have some older players who come to speak to you and say ‘well done today’.
“Whether it’s Dušan Tadić, Ryan Bertrand, Cédric, Charlie, Virgil…they give you confidence and recognition.
“That’s also what gets you going – the people around you recognising your work.”
Saints return to action on Wednesday night against runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
It’s a fixture that pits Højbjerg against his former boss, Pep Guardiola, having worked under the Spaniard for three years at Bayern Munich.
“He is so demanding in every aspect of the game, not only with his team but the people around him – the whole staff and the whole club,” he said.
“Coaches like him are very rare. He’s very much 100 per cent in everything he does – maybe his only weakness is that he wants to control everything. It’s very black or white.”
So how has Sunday’s win affected the mood inside the Saints dressing room?
“It’s a big boost of confidence. We scored four goals and were a well-organised team playing good football.
“We know City have an amazing team and are having an amazing season, so it’s going to be our most difficult game so far. But what do we have to lose? All the pressure is on them.”
That’s not to say there won’t be any pre-match nerves, but that’s no bad thing.