Exclusive: Francis Benali gives verdict on Nathan Tella ahead of Southampton's FA Cup semi-final clash vs Leicester

Nathan Tella

GIVEMESPORT spoke exclusively to Southampton cult hero Francis Benali ahead of the Saints' FA Cup semi-final clash with Leicester City.

Benali was one of those rare one-club players that appear to be on the verge of extinction in the modern game, an embodiment of loyalty and professionalism quite like no other. 

As one of the members of the Southampton squad that last reached an FA Cup final in 2003, Benali knows what the current crop will going through in the days building up to the game. 

It's a huge fixture for Ralph Hasenhuttl in what has been an underwhelming season.

Southampton emerged as a surprise dark horse contender for European qualification during the early weeks of the campaign, but their form has tailed off rather dramatically.

They now find themselves mired in 14th place, clear of relegation and with nothing obvious to aim for higher up the table. 

Their opponents on Sunday still have a place in the Champions League to play for, but for Southampton their season effectively rests on their success in the FA Cup, which they have only won once in their 136-year history. 

Southampton come into the game on the back of a humbling 3-0 defeat against relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion, but Benali believes there is enough quality in the team to bounce back despite the strength of their opponents. 

"It's going to be an interesting one. We're up against an incredible side in Leicester City who are going to be an extremely tough to beat. But in a one-off game, Southampton are more than capable of beating anyone on their day," Benali said to GIVEMESPORT.

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Speaking rather poignantly about the lack of strength in depth available to Hasenhuttl, Benali is eager to point out that the emergence of an array of academy talents, including Alex Jankewitz, Kane Ramsey, Dan N'Lundulu and Nathan Tella, has been a notable positive for the club this season. 

Of all the promising youngsters rising to prominence at Southampton, it is Tella who seems to excite Benali the most. 

"Nathan Tella had an incredible game against Sheffield United in our recent 2-0 win in the Premier League, and he's a player that could figure to some degree in the semi-final.

"Any chance the young players get they've got to grab. Somebody like Nathan will blow a little bit hot and cold. But he's got the directness and pace to scare any team. And that could be a benefit in the semi-final against Leicester on Sunday."

The speedy, direct 21-year-old is yet to notch a senior goal for the club, though he did provide an assist in a 2-0 win over Wolves in the fifth round of the FA Cup. 

He's clearly a prodigious talent with the potential to establish himself at the elite level. 

And when asked whether there was one player in particular who is likely to write his name into club folklore on Sunday, Benali returned to the subject of Tella in what would be a romantic story befitting of FA Cup tradition. 

"I maybe come back to Nathan Tella. I don't know whether it's an impact as a sub maybe. It would be a real fairy tale story if he could steal the headlines, wouldn't it?

"But, naturally, with my Saints hat on, I genuinely don't care. It could be the goalkeeper coming up for a corner in the last minute to score a crazy winner, or who knows, we could see this go to all the way to a penalty shootout.

"And then you could have a goalkeeper who's the star of the show.

"But I hope from a Saints perspective that it's one of our players that that sees us through to the semi final."

Watch Leicester City v Southampton in the Emirates FA Cup semi-final exclusively live on BT Sport 1 from 6pm on Sunday. Sign up contract free with a BT Sport Monthly Pass for just £25 per month. For more info visit bt.com/sport

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