herald

Sunday 30 April 2017

Puel to give youth a chance at Anfield

Southampton boss Claude Puel
Southampton boss Claude Puel

Southampton boss Claude Puel is confident youngster Jack Stephens can fill in for Virgil van Dijk if the Dutchman is unable to shake off an ankle injury ahead of their League Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool.

The England Under-21 international replaced Van Dijk during the second half of their 3-0 victory over Leicester on Sunday which was only the centre-back's sixth appearance for the Saints in all competitions.

Puel's side face the daunting task of travelling to Merseyside tonight as they look to preserve their 1-0 lead from the first leg.

For much of the season, Puel has stuck with his rotational policy but the possibility of missing a key player like Van Dijk does not worry the boss as he believes the occasion will not concern Stephens, despite his lack of experience.

When asked if the second leg at Anfield would be a good experience for Stephens, the Saints boss said: "If he has to play this game, I think he will play with good spirit and he's a good player. He is an England Under-21 international and he knows about these important games. He has the quality and I have full confidence with Jack. He's a good defender, he's intelligent, he can anticipate the action. Very good technically.

"With the Under-21s, you saw at home (against Italy at St Mary's), it was a good game, he was the best player on the entire pitch.

"Since the beginning, it is a competition we have played with young players. For example, the last round against Arsenal away, we see the young players get a fantastic result."

Tonight's contest could see Southampton reach their first major final since 2003 but many have questioned if the Saints can handle the rousing atmosphere at one of world football's most iconic stadiums but Puel insists his previous experience at Anfield, with Lyon in 2009, will help him equip his squad and prepare Southampton for a game of this magnitude.

"Of course, it is special to play at Liverpool but I think it will be an exciting game," Puel said.

"We are not afraid about this. For me, it is the same. I played one game there. It was a good memory. It was with Lyon (in 2009) we played in the Champions League and we won."

Meanwhile, Southampton have announced midfielder Oriol Romeu has signed a new four-and-a-half-year contract with the club. The 25-year-old Spaniard joined from Chelsea in the summer of 2015 and has made 50 Premier League appearances for Saints to date.

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