Upgrade to BT Sport

To view this content you need to upgrade your subscription from BT Sport Lite to BT Sport Pack.

Click here to get BT Sport now

Claude Puel backs Southampton defence to cope with Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Virgil van Dijk won’t be at Wembley for the EFL Cup final, but the manager thinks Jack Stephens is up to the job.

FOOTBALL 25/02/17 10:26
Claude Puel backs Southampton defence to cope with Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Southampton manager Claude Puel has backed his patched-up defence to deal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Saints are without key defender Virgil van Dijk for Sunday’s Wembley showdown with Manchester United in the EFL Cup final.

Instead teenager Jack Stephens, who is almost half Ibrahimovic’s age, is set to be handed the job of shackling United’s superstar striker.

But Puel, who came up against former Paris St Germain player Ibrahimovic while managing Lille in France, insists the in-form Swede holds no surprises for his side.

“I know Ibrahimovic very well from the French Premier League so I cannot be surprised by him,” said Puel. “But he has come here, he is 35 and he can do a fantastic job, fantastic work. He is clinical, very efficient and also he gives a good authority to the team. He is a character player.

“He is very self-confident – he plays with this. He is a strong man and a strong partner. At Paris St Germain he gave a good atmosphere around the team and gave his team fantastic confidence.”

“We’ll see if Jack starts this game. But for me of course I’m confident with the player, with the squad. I saw at our training camp in Spain very good concentration, very good spirit, quality in the training sessions.

“All the players can play in my team against Ibrahimovic. They know him now. We will give a good answer.”

Saints were able to head to Spain thanks to a two-week break following their thumping 4-0 win over Sunderland.

United, by contrast, have crammed in three games in that time in both the Europa League and the FA Cup.

Yet Puel said: “I don’t know if it will benefit because two weeks without an official game is sometimes difficult. It is always difficult to find the good balance, the good work, to keep the good result without games.

“Sometimes I prefer to play every three days but sometimes without a game for a week it is better. But I think we find a good confidence about our last game with Sunderland and other work we can do in the training sessions also.”

Four Competitions One Venue Banner

Premier League: Latest Videos

Champions League: Latest Videos