Southampton vs Manchester United - Puel 'cannot understand' speculation over future



Posted Tuesday, May 16, 2017 by PA

Claude Puel admits he finds speculation over his job as Southampton manager "strange" ahead of their Premier League clash against Manchester United on Wednesday.

Puel's future at St Mary's is uncertain despite reaching the EFL Cup final in February and leading one of the league's youngest sides to a potential top-eight finish.

Jose Mourinho's side came out victorious at Wembley as Saints came agonisingly close to their first trophy since 1976 in a thrilling 3-2 defeat.

At times this season, fans have not enjoyed Southampton's style of play and squad rotation under Puel but the Frenchman pointed to his relationship with the supporters as evidence that the club are behind him.

"I think it's strange because someone asked me about speculation and all of the questions about how I will improve the club," Puel said.

"It's strange, it's not a question of being proud of my work, with my staff it's good to develop young players for the future.

"I hope for Southampton that we will see this for next season but of course it will be interesting to continue this work because I think it's important to improve.

"For me, it's important that every time we have honesty with the club and the fans.

"I work to give the best for the team, for the staff and the fans, it's normal.

"I cannot understand the speculation because when I see all of the fans on the street they are happy to see me, and tell me congratulations.

"When I spoke with our opponents' players and staff, they give congratulations about our players and our quality and all of this is a good response to the speculation."

Virgil van Dijk has returned to training and is running again as he recovers from a foot injury, but the Dutch centre-half remains sidelined for the final two games of the season.

Goalkeeper Alex McCarthy (hamstring) is also back in training but is not available to feature.

Manchester United's "crazy" schedule is taking its toll mentally and physically ahead of the Europa League final, leaving Mourinho facing a fixture pile-up unlike anything he has experienced.

Next week the Reds head to Sweden to take on Ajax looking to win the only major trophy to have eluded them in their success-laden history.

Europa League glory also offers qualification for the Champions League - the only way they can return to the continent's top table after Sunday's 2-1 loss at Tottenham officially put a top-four finish out of reach.

Mourinho has prioritised European success for several weeks now and, like at Spurs, plans to rotate his squad at Southampton, then again in Sunday's Premier League finale at home to Crystal Palace.

Balancing the desire to win with resting players has been difficult and Mourinho joked it would have been worse was it not for Ander Herrera's sending off in the FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Chelsea.

"The accumulation of the games, I never had that," Mourinho said.

"You know that in all of my career I was never (knocked) out of European competitions in the group phases and in the last 16 I was out only once.

"So I reached the semi-finals 10 times, I go always until the end of the competitions.

"In the League Cup I normally go far. In the domestic competitions cups, I won in Spain, in Italy, in Portugal so I normally have a lot of matches. But like this I never have, I never have.

"This situation of you play a final and the game that you should play that day is going to be postponed until the last week, for the last week! This is crazy.

"And I repeat the same - thank you Michael Oliver because we were out in the FA Cup, because if we go to the FA Cup semi-finals it would be a total disaster. I don't know when we would be playing that game.

"I never, ever have had a situation like this and on top of that the accumulation of big injuries, not small, not the injuries that you say 'okay, hamstring, two weeks'.

"No. It's surgery, boom, boom. It's surgery - one knee, another knee. Another foot. Just big surgeries.

"So fewer players and fewer players and fewer players. It's very difficult, really very difficult. But we are there and we go to the final."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Tim Fosu-Mensah miss both of United's remaining Premier League matches through injury, while Mourinho is expecting to be without Paul Pogba at Southampton after the midfielder's father died on Friday.

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