Puel expects Liverpool target Van Dijk to stay at Southampton

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The Saints boss expects the Dutch centre-back to remain at the club, despite reported interest from a host of big sides

Virgil van Dijk will be fit to return for the start of next season and Southampton boss Claude Puel expects the captain to stay at the club despite links with various Premier League teams.

Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool are among the sides reportedly interested in the defender, with the Saints losing a cluster of high-profile players to the Reds in recent years, including Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mane.

Southampton have been insistent that they are not looking to sell Van Dijk and Puel is confident the Netherlands international will play for the club again after being sidelined through injury since January.

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"It was a bad injury for him and for us, because it was not a good moment," Puel told reporters ahead of Wednesday's Premier League game against Arsenal. "But now it's OK. 

"It was difficult after the departure of Jose Fonte to West Ham and just in the same time we had the injury of Virgil - it was difficult for us.

"It's a good thing to see, for the second part of the season, [Jack] Stephens and [Maya] Yoshida at this level, but for Virgil it was a bad injury.

"Now it's OK. His surgery is finished, he can work normally, he can start in the gym the work to come back for next season, ready for next season with us.

"He is our captain. He is important for us. He is a fantastic player. We will wait until the beginning of the season to see him again on the pitch. He has a long contract and I think the directors want to keep him."

Puel is hoping to be able to welcome back Charlie Austin before the end of the season, with the striker having been out of action since December due to a shoulder problem.

"He works very well," the Frenchman added. "It's just now to see if he can continue this work, if he can find the good physical level."

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