Claude Puel has played down reports linking Southampton to Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho, labelling it “speculation.”
The Saints have agreed to sell their first choice centre-back Jose Fonte to West Ham for £8million, however, French international Sakho will not be his replacement.
Instead, Puel has suggested that the hole left by the departing Fonte could be filled by either Jack Stephens and Florin Gardos.
As speculation mounted over the future of Fonte, it had been reported that Saints saw out-of-favour Sakho as the perfect replacement, but a loan move was thwarted as Liverpool are keen to sell the defender out right.
When quizzed on a possible move for the Reds’ man, Puel said: “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.”
The French manager was also asked about the reports linking Fonte to 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.”
On Wednesday, Southampton kept a clean sheet in their 1-0 FA Cup third round replay win against Norwich City, when England Under-21 international Stephens was given a rare start in the heart of their defence.
They face Leicester City on Saturday in the Premier League, hoping to end the run of four straight defeats. Puel admits that he will once again rotate his side as the Saints begin a run of four games in nine days, but will leave out Fonte once again to avoid distractions.
“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.”