Claude Puel has dismissed as “speculation” reports linking Southampton with a move for Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho.
And Puel insisted that should Jose Fonte leave, after requesting a transfer, a replacement may not be recruited because Jack Stephens and Florin Gardos will be given the opportunity to succeed the captain in central defence.
It has been reported Southampton consider Liverpool’s out-of-favour Sakho as a potential successor to Fonte, 33, but that a loan bid had been rejected and that only a permanent transfer would be granted.
When asked about the 26-year-old Liverpool defender, however, Southampton’s manager responded: “I know this player but I know nothing about this, it’s speculation.
“We have a reflection about this possibility to see another centre-back if Jose Fonte left. For the moment it’s not the situation, and perhaps we will stay with the same squad, with good opportunities for Jack Stephens or Gardos.
“It’s a long time with a lot of injuries for Gardos, but he came back for the Under-23s before this game (against Norwich in the FA Cup) with a good level and we will see if we just have Jack (Stephens) and Florin, or you might see another player if Jose Fonte leaves Southampton.”
Puel was also asked about reports of Fonte potentially joining West Ham, and he said: “Jose has different possibilities. He has the solution and the opportunity to see this, and we will see what the situation is in a few days.
“(Fonte) was in training (on Thursday) morning with the players and he works normally with good spirit, and like a professional.
“We will see after the situation of Jose. We tried Jack against Norwich. It’s important to see possibilities for different players and opportunities for the players.
“Perhaps we will stay with the same squad. We will see this when we reflect.”
Southampton on Wednesday kept a clean sheet in their 1-0 FA Cup third-round replay defeat of Norwich, when England Under-21 international Stephens was given a rare start in central defence.
On Sunday they host Leicester in the Premier League, in which they hope to end a run of four straight defeats. The manager will again rotate his team as they begin another demanding run of four fixtures in nine days, but he will again overlook his influential captain through a concern his players may become distracted should he play.
“This situation with Jose is difficult for the squad,” Puel said. “It’s difficult for him also. It’s not just about this market; it’s been since the beginning of the season.
“It’s been a difficult situation for Jose because he’s always in discussions with the club, about contracts, or no contracts.
“I took a decision at the beginning of this (transfer) window to keep Jose out the team, to study different possibilities and to protect the team from all this speculation about Jose.
“With this many games it’s important to keep focused about our game, not just on the situation of Jose. It’s difficult, but the squad can take the responsibilities.”