Belfast Telegraph

Claude Puel: The best is yet to come from Saints star Sofiane Boufal

Southampton boss Claude Puel believes the Premier League will see the best of Sofiane Boufal next season.

The 23-year-old joined Saints last summer in a big-money move from Lille but has yet to hit the heights attached to a transfer fee in the region of £16million.

Boufal was forced to wait until October to make his debut due to a serious knee injury - with another knee problem sidelining him in the new year.

The Morocco international has started three of Southampton's last four games and came off the bench during Wednesday night's 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal.

Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud struck in the second half as Arsene Wenger's men recorded their fist win at St Mary's since 2003.

Saints have not won in the league since April 8 but travel to face relegated Middlesbrough looking to address that run of form.

Boufal may well find himself back in Puel's starting line-up at the Riverside but the Frenchman believes the best is still yet to come from the forward, whose only league goal to date came in the 1-0 win over Boro back in December.

"I think it was difficult for Sofiane this season," he said

"He came back after five months out and had another injury in the winter. It was difficult for him to find the good rhythm, the good intensity.

"It's his first season and I think he can learn this season and we will see a good and fantastic Sofiane in the next season.

"For the moment, I would like him to finish very well with the team, with quality, and with making a difference in the game, but also with a good structure."

Having drawn at Liverpool last weekend before the midweek visit of Arsenal, Southampton's season does not end quietly as Manchester United go to St Mary's next Wednesday.

Puel admits the closing fixtures of the campaign put strains on his players and that the side which plays in the north east will have to be picked based on overall fitness.

"We have no new injuries after the (Arsenal) game," he added.

"Of course we will see the recovery of the players after two tough games, that will be the most important thing.

"We are playing every three days and this is difficult at the end of the season.

"Middlesbrough will play this game with just one game a week, for us the most important thing is to put in place a team with good balance and players who are physically fit."

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