Claude Puel has insisted he expects to remain at the Southampton helm next term, rejecting claims he is fighting for his St Mary’s future.
The Saints boss revealed his shock at reports claiming he must improve the south coast club’s results before the end of the campaign to retain his job.
Southampton have slipped to two defeats and a draw in their last three matches, but former Nice manager Puel claims to have his club’s continued backing.
Asked if he is preparing for next season as normal, Puel replied: “Yes of course, of course.
“I came here for a project, to continue this work to improve all these young players.
“Many players have become starting players this year, like Maya Yoshida, Oriol Romeu, Jack Stephens; so it’s important to continue this role and keep building the future of Southampton.
“I’ve been surprised to see these reports (about his future), because it seems for me it has been an interesting season with many games.
“There have been European games, cup games, with quality. We reached the final at Wembley against Manchester United and we’ve also improved many players.
“Many players can still improve, so it’s been interesting work I think. So it has surprised me to see and read all this speculation in particular.”
Saints face Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday, kick-starting a testing five-game run to the end of the campaign, with Arsenal and Manchester United still to come at St Mary’s.
Charlie Austin has a slim chance of featuring against Liverpool in what would be his first appearance since December.
The former QPR striker has been sidelined since dislocating a shoulder in Saints’ 1-1 Europa League draw with Hapoel Be’ersheva on December 8.
Puel has challenged his side to end the season on a high, by adding a “clinical edge” to their play.
“There has been a lot of disappointment after many games, but the quality and work was very interesting and it’s important for us to finish strongly now,” said Puel.
“We’re ninth in the table with all these games, all these injuries, so it’s okay in the project.
“This group has gained maturity and experience this year.
“Sometimes we lack consistency and a clinical edge, and all of this we have to correct for next season because we can do better, and we want to retain strong ambition because we are competitors.”