Francis Benali believes Ronald Koeman was correct to drop Sadio Mane from his Southampton side as punishment for turning up late for duty.
Senegal international Mane has been one of the stars of the season for the Saints, scoring six goals in 18 league appearances following his £11million move from Red Bull Salzburg during the summer. Mane has played a key role in helping Koeman’s side challenge for a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League, a bid which was damaged by a 2-0 home defeat to Liverpool on Sunday.
Mane was due to start against the Merseyside club, in a fixture which would have seen the home side move into fourth place with a victory. However, the 22-year-old turned up late at St Mary’s for the match, and was therefore restricted to a place on the bench before his arrival on 57 minutes. Although some say this backfired on Koeman, Benali has offered his support to the Dutchman.
“I agree with Koeman in that there is obviously a code of discipline, he’s a wonderful footballer, and saw some action as a substitute yesterday, but it’s a good shout from Ronald to do that,” he told Sky Sports. “It sends a message out to the entire squad that he won’t stand for any nonsense, he is sticking a stake in the ground to say, ‘I’m the boss and I am not going to accept sloppiness’.”
Southampton have now lost two of their last four fixtures, of which they have won just once, and this has placed a question mark over their staying power as they look to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history. A win against Liverpool could have reignited their quest whilst knocking the hopes of a rival side, but Benali still believes his old club have a chance of the top-four.
“They have slipped away in recent weeks for sure, yesterday was a huge game and a huge opportunity to cement a place in third position in the Premier League and it tightens the gap with Liverpool closing in there as well,” the former Saint, who made over 300 league appearances for the club, said. “Southampton are still very much in the mix, anyone from Tottenham Hotspur, in seventh place, and anyone above them have got a great opportunity to secure a Champions League position.”