Jack Stephens may play for Southampton if Virgil reality rules key defender out

24 January 2017 02:08

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 EFL 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 on Wednesday 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.

"The focus was just on their game and this is just as important. They took confidence, they are upbeat in every training session. I think it is not a problem, but for Jack and all of the other players, it's just to think about the game, stay strong together."

Wednesday's contest could see Southampton reach their first major final since 2003 but Puel's opposite number Jurgen Klopp will be hoping for an instant response from his side after their Premier League winless streak extended to three games with a 3-2 home defeat against Swansea.

Many have questioned if the Saints can handle the rousing atmosphere at one of world's football 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.

"It is important for all of the players, the squad, to play this game with a positive attitude. It will be a difficult game but with all possibilities.

"If we respect our play and quality, it will be dangerous and not good to just defend and try to preserve this lead, it is not possible.

"We will see the result. We are not the favourites, it is the second leg away against a great team with great players but it is a positive because the pressure is on them not us."

Source: PA


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