Jose Fonte has been axed from the squad for tomorrow's EFL Cup semi-final with Liverpool after asking to leave.

The Southampton captain has handed in a transfer request following a contract row with the board, with Saints director of football Les Reed admitting that Fonte wanted to "explore opportunities for a transfer".

Fonte, who joined Southampton in 2010 from Crystal Palace, was absent for Saturday's FA Cup draw with Norwich and manager Claude Puel has decided to leave him out again for the first leg at St Mary's, although the Frenchman refused to rule out selecting the Portugal international in the near future.

Puel said last night: "Jose will not participate in this game.

"For the moment and with his situation it is important for me to keep stability in the defence. We don't know the future of Jose.

"It is a difficult situation in the market. I respect Jose, it is not an easy situation for the staff or players. It is difficult.

"He wants to pursue different opportunities during this transfer window. It is important to respect this. I respect Jose and I respect the situation.

"For the moment it is an obligation for me to manage the squad. Whether Jose stays as captain we will see for the future. For the next game Virgil van Dijk will be captain.

"If Jose came to leave the club, it is normal for us to look at other opportunities [to buy players to replace him].

"It is important for us to remain open in the market and look at other opportunities. We do not know about other opportunities yet - it is difficult for the club to improve the squad this month."

Puel insists the Fonte furore will not distract his players from trying to reach their first Wembley final since winning the FA Trophy in 2010.

The Frenchman added: "It is not an easy situation for Jose or for the squad and for the staff.

"There is always speculation and this is difficult but we are professional and we have the capacity to keep concentration about our work. We have an exciting game and that is most important."

Record-signing Sofiane Boufal has been ruled out for three weeks after being sent home from the African Nations Cup by Morocco with a knee injury.

Puel said: "He will stay with us to recover and I hope he can come back in three weeks. It is an inflammation of his knee but he cannot play for his country.
"It is not a bad injury - after the operation the reaction will tell. It is important to get a good recovery.

"He can stay calm because now he is an important player for the squad because with his quality he can be a different. It is important he comes back fit."

Source: Daily Express

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