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 By PA Sport

Southampton defence can cope with Zlatan Ibrahimovic threat - Claude Puel

Southampton manager Claude Puel has backed his patched-up defence to deal with Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Saints are without key defender Virgil van Dijk for Sunday's Wembley showdown in the EFL Cup final.

Instead teenager Jack Stephens, who is almost half Ibrahimovic's age, is set to be handed the job of shackling United's superstar striker -- who scored twice when the two teams met in the Premier League in August.

Manchester UnitedManchester United
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But Puel, who came up against former Paris Saint-Germain player Ibrahimovic while managing Lille in France, insists the in-form Swede holds no surprises for his side.

"I know Ibrahimovic very well from the French Premier League so I cannot be surprised by him," Puel said. "In France he was a fantastic player but all the people say 'Okay, it is the French Premier League and not the English one.'

"But he has come here, he is 35 and he can do a fantastic job, fantastic work. He is clinical, very efficient and also he gives a good authority to the team. He is a character player.

"He is very self-confident -- he plays with this. He is a strong man and a strong partner. At Paris Saint-Germain he gave a good atmosphere around the team and gave his team fantastic confidence.

"He doesn't run a lot but always with a good run, with good play, good gestures. It is fantastic to see him.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice when the two teams met in the Premier League in August.

"We'll see if Jack starts this game. But for me of course I'm confident with the player, with the squad. I saw at our training camp in Spain very good concentration, very good spirit, quality in the training sessions.

"There was big attention from Jack and all these young players. They stay calm and just focus about what they can have to do. All the players can play in my team against Ibrahimovic. They know him now. We will give a good answer."

Saints were able to head to Spain thanks to a two-week break following their thumping 4-0 win over Sunderland. 

United, by contrast, have crammed in three games in that time in both the Europa League and the FA Cup.

Yet Puel said: "I don't know if it will benefit because two weeks without an official game is sometimes difficult. At the beginning it is interesting to give a day off since the beginning of the season for the team.

"It is always difficult to find the good balance, the good work, to keep the good result without games. Sometimes I prefer to play every three days but sometimes without a game for a week it is better.

"But I think we find a good confidence about our last game with Sunderland and other work we can do in the training sessions also. It is a good challenge and we will see this on Sunday."


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