Claude Puel: This is an important week for Southampton

06 January 2017 11:09

Manager Claude Puel believes Saturday's FA Cup third-round meeting with Norwich signals the start of a defining week in Southampton's season.

Saints go into the contest at Carrow Road on the back of a hectic festive schedule which saw them play three Premier League games in the space of 117 hours.

Puel's side lost the trio of matches and now head into a week which could make or break their hopes of domestic cup success.

Saturday's trip to Norfolk is followed by the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final at home to Liverpool, before they return to league duty with a tricky game at Burnley.

After bemoaning the fixture congestion which has left Southampton 10th in the table, Puel is expected to make plenty of changes for the Canaries clash.

And the Saints boss now wants the matches to keep coming as he knows how pivotal the FA Cup tie, and the subsequent two games, could prove to be at the end of the campaign.

"It's an important week because it's the future of our season," Puel told the club's official website.

"We've got to play three games in a week in different competitions. I think at the end of this week we will know the calendar and I hope it is full, with many games, and that we can continue to play every three days.

"Sometimes that is difficult, like over Christmas, but for the squad, for the team and players I think it's important to continue many games and continue to improve."

While Virgil van Dijk returns from suspension in time for the game, he could be rested as Puel looks to utilise his squad against Alex Neil's inconsistent Norwich.

Fellow defender Jose Fonte may also find himself on the sidelines after the Saints skipper requested a move away from St Mary's on Thursday.

Former Norwich winger Nathan Redmond, who has impressed since moving to the south coast in the summer, will be wanting to star against his old club but Puel is ready to ring the changes in East Anglia.

"I think this game against Norwich, in the FA Cup, is important for the club and for the young players also," he said. "It is a chance for some players to continue their work I think and to improve.

"We have to make a balance between the experienced players and the young players, in order to give a good answer.with fresh players and possibilities to win in the cup, the League Cup and, after, the Premier League.

"This work continues with a strong character but it is very interesting. It is important to prepare with good excitement and positivity."

The ex-Nice coach is ready to lean on every member of his squad in the coming days as he looks to continue in the FA Cup while aiming for an EFL Cup advantage and a return to winning ways in the Premier League.

"I want to win this game, like the squad. I think it's important to respect our philosophy and to continue this work for the club, for all the squad, and to keep opportunities to win this game," Puel said.

"Playing, for example. the next three games with the same team is not the solution. The solution is to come back with all the squad, with spirit and especially a good recovery, because for them there is a lot of tiredness at this moment."

Source: PA