(Reuters) - Southampton’s run of three defeats in a row has left the players angry and keen to bounce back when they travel to bottom side Sunderland in the Premier League on Saturday, manager Claude Puel has said.
Southampton, who were dumped out of the FA Cup after a 5-0 trashing by Arsenal, are 13th in the league table following back-to-back defeats by Swansea City and West Ham United.
“The squad is angry with the last results,” Puel told a news conference on Thursday.
“We have to correct this and give a good answer. We have to keep a good ambition. We cannot accept this position and the last results. It’s not us.”
The slump could not have come at a worse time for Southampton, who face Manchester United in the League Cup final on Feb. 26, the Saints’ first major Wembley final since they lost to Nottingham Forest in the same competition in 1979.
Puel said beating Sunderland, who trounced Crystal Palace 4-0 away from home last weekend, would be ideal preparation for one of the biggest days in the club’s history.
”I saw all of this week a good level,“ he added. ”For the first time in a long time, we had a whole week to prepare for the game.
“(Sunderland) have confidence from their last result. We will need to show strong character. The best way to prepare for the cup final is with a good result this weekend against Sunderland.”
Southampton will be without defensive lynchpin Virgil van Dijk for both games due to a long-term injury.
“He is a big miss for the team. The answer is to give a little more as a collective,” Puel said.
Sofiane Boufal (ankle) will also miss the trip to Sunderland, but Puel is hopeful the midfielder will recover for the Wembley showdown.
“Sofiane is not available for this game and we will see for the final, for his recovery and his work,” Puel added. “I don’t know for the moment. But against Sunderland he is not available.”
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond