Ronald Koeman accepts Southampton are unlikely to finish in the top-four this season, but believes a place in the UEFA Europa League is up for grabs.
The Saints are enjoying one of their best campaigns in many a year, and for a while looked as though they were in with a genuine chance of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. However, they have fallen off the pace in recent weeks, and are now eight points adrift of reigning champions Manchester City, who occupy fourth position, with just seven matches remaining.
Koeman, though, believes his side are more than capable of finishing the season strongly and earning a place in the Europa League next term. A top six place would guarantee entry to this competition at the third qualifying round, and possibly seventh if Liverpool win the FA Cup and finish outside of the top-four, the latter placing being where the St Mary’s outfit currently stand.
“You have to be realistic,” said Koeman. “The difference (between us and the top four) is a lot and our focus at the moment has to be about the fifth, sixth and seventh position in the table. If you’re coach of Tottenham Hotspur and if you’re coach of Liverpool you won’t be happy about Europa League. But if Southampton reach Europa League it’s good. For the others it’s the Champions League.”
Of their remaining fixtures, virtually all will have a bearing on either European qualification or relegation. Tottenham are due to visit the South Coast at the end of the month, and Koeman takes his side to Manchester City on the final day of the season. As well as Hull City this weekend, the Saints also take on other strugglers in the shape of Sunderland, Leicester City and Aston Villa.