Jack Cork admits it has been a strange week at Staplewood with half of the Southampton squad currently away on international duty.
Nine players jetted off immediately after last Saturday’s impressive victory over Liverpool, with the rest of the squad having a fortnight to prepare for the Easter Saturday visit of Chelsea.
The absence of the likes of Nathaniel Clyne, Gastón Ramírez and Maya Yoshida has allowed players from the Club’s Under-18 side and Development Squad to partake in First Team training this week.
And midfielder Jack says he has enjoyed a quieter-than-usual week at the Training Ground.
“On Wednesday I got in and there were about three cars in the car park, so I had to ask the security guard where everyone was!” he confessed to Saints Player. “I thought training was starting an hour later or something.
“You do notice a few characters and personalities that are missing, but the good thing is that we get to train with the younger lads.
“It’s good for them to come in and train with us, and we get to see what they’re like as players and as lads.
“It’s a chance for them to impress the manager as well. This week has been different, but it’s been good.”
But Cork adds that, while he is glad of the extra rest and recuperation ahead of the visit of his former side, he would have gladly got back into action sooner after that win over the Reds.
“It was a good time to get that result,” he said. “It’s always good to get a nice win before you have two weeks off so you don’t linger on a bad performance.
“Everyone is really upbeat and the lads have really enjoyed training this week. With a few of them away on international duty there has been a bit of a different atmosphere, but it’s still been good.
“I said to José [Fonte] the other day that, when you’ve had a great result against Liverpool at home and there's another big team like Chelsea to come, we’d have preferred that to come the week after or even in midweek.
“But it’s quite good to have the rest and to be able to do things like gym work, and it gives us a lot of time to focus on Chelsea and look at the way they play.
“It’s a massive game,” the 23-year-old added of that match against the Blues.
“We didn’t do too well against them in the FA Cup earlier in the season, but we put in a much better performance in the league at their place.
“We’ve put in good performances and got good results against the last two big teams that have come to us, so hopefully we can replicate that.”
Cork was with Chelsea between the ages of nine and 21, but never made his first-team bow. Instead, he spent time on loan with six different sides – including Saints – before moving to St Mary’s permanently in the summer of 2011.
Fate would have it that Southampton faced the current European champions twice in as many weeks back in January, following up a heavy defeat in the FA Cup at St Mary’s with a credible two-all draw at St Mary’s soon afterwards.
And Cork is already looking forward to pitting his wits against his old side for a third time next Saturday.
“For me, [playing] against Chelsea is always going to be a really good so I’ll be right up for it,” he said.
“Throughout all of my loan periods, I was always wishing we’d get Chelsea in the cup then, when we did get them at Watford, I couldn’t play so that was frustrating.
“Then we drew them in the cup here and then played them in the league soon afterwards so I got to play them twice in just over a week having looked forward to that for five-or-six years!
“I loved going back to Stamford Bridge and playing there, and it was a shame we didn’t do too well in the cup – but I’d prefer to take points off them in the league rather win a cup game.
“This is a big game for us at a big time in the season, and hopefully we can do ourselves justice.”
The midfield relationship formed between Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin has been roundly-praised in recent months, particularly since the appointment of new manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Schneiderlin in particular has found himself under the spotlight having scored his fifth goal of the season in last Saturday’s victory over Liverpool.
Cork, meanwhile, is now approaching his 100th Southampton appearance – though he has not found the net for the Club since signing permanently two seasons ago.
And the Londoner says he is happy for Schneiderlin to continue taking up the goal-scoring responsibilities – providing Saints continue to pick up results.
“I would like to score a few more goals but it’s not on my mind at all,” insisted Cork. “I just want to keep playing and winning games.
“I’m playing a bit deeper at the minute and I just want us to be picking up results – as long as we’re in the Premier League next year, I don’t care if I never score again!
“There’s been a lot of attention on Morgan this season and it is well-deserved,” he added.
“He’s been brilliant in every game he’s played for us and he’s managed to score five goals, which is brilliant.
“He does his dirty work as well – he makes a lot of tackles and running, and it seems to work at the minute.
“Hopefully he can keep that going and see us through to the end of the season.”