Puel dismisses Fonte departure speculation

Claude Puel dismissed suggestions Jose Fonte is being intentionally held back from playing in Southampton's Europa League campaign.

Jose Fonte's absence from Southampton's Europa League campaign has nothing to do with his future at the club, according to manager Claude Puel.

Portugal international Fonte has been an unused substitute in three continental matches so far this season, prompting speculation the defender could depart in January, with fellow Europa League challengers Manchester United among those linked with his signature.

In addition, captain Fonte claims he will not be offered a new contract at St Mary's Stadium, where he has 18 months to run on his existing deal.

But Puel insists the 32-year-old's potential exit has nothing to do with team selection.

"It's not true, about not playing so he can move in January," he said ahead of Thursday's clash with Hapoel Be'er Sheva, in which Saints need a win or a goalless draw to progress to the last 32.

"We prepare for an important game and for me it is only important to speak about the team and the game. Other things concerning individuals is not part of the collective or important for me, about Jose or not.

"He would have played against Sparta [Prague on matchday five] but he had an injury."

And Puel says dropping Fonte for European matches gives him the opportunity to give other players game time.

"I am happy and satisfied about Maya Yoshida and we are lucky to have good centre-backs in this team," he added.

"The others deserve game time as well. It's all about balance with the other players. It's important to consider all the team."