SAINTS are ready to be flexible as Mark Hughes prepares to pit his wits against Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri.

Hughes’ side showed their tactical adaptability at Everton on Tuesday, when personnel changes were made and the formation switched back to the 5-3-2 that served the club so well during last season’s Great Escape.

The defence underwent wholesale changes, with the Wesley Hoedt-Jannik Vestergaard axis replaced by a back three of Jack Stephens, Jan Bednarek and Maya Yoshida.

Matt Targett was also recalled in place of Ryan Bertrand, who returned to training yesterday after recovering from a minor injury

“It was the best way to go in midweek, a number of players that needed game time got it and having three centre halves allowed me to do that,” explained Hughes.

“We did a lot of work with five and three at the back last year when I first came.

“We started the season in that formation and I changed it just because I thought we could be in the ascendancy in some of the games we played.

“That hasn’t been borne out in most of the results.

“We’ve still performed ok but it’s important to have more than one string to our bow.

“We can revert to 4-4-2 or any other formation because we’ve done that work on the training ground, we’re not going in cold.

“We’ve always done the work leading into the game to make the guys understand that if we start in a certain way we are ready, if circumstances dictate, to change personnel or formation.

“Because of the training we’ve done, we’re very adept at it.”

Saints’ last-minute St Mary’s woes are well documented, following the 90th-minute winners for Manchester City at the end of last season and Leicester City this – before Glenn Murray’s injury-time equaliser for Brighton three weeks ago.

“Sometimes it’s assumed fitness is the issue but we look at the stats and in the last few games we’ve played, Tuesday included, we’ve beaten every team in terms of physical output,” continued Hughes.

“We’re maybe guilty of being anxious and trying to protect those scars of before but we need to get over that.

“I think we’re playing well, we showed that at Everton.

“It was a difficult cup tie in front of 30,000 fans and we were able to deal with everything they threw at us.

“We should have gone through in 90 mins but got there in the end.

“The confidence from that helps us leading into the home game against Chelsea.”