Puel: 'Angry' Saints need to show strong character against improving Sunderland
Southampton manager Claude Puel is expecting a reaction from his "angry" players when they visit rock-bottom Sunderland on Saturday.
Yet the Frenchman, whose side's 3-1 home defeat to West Ham last weekend was their sixth loss in seven Premier League games, is also wary Sunderland's improved form means they pose an increasing threat.
The Black Cats' survival hopes have significantly improved after they held Tottenham to a 0-0 draw before winning 4-0 at Crystal Palace, when their squad had been strengthened by new signings and players returning from the African Nations Cup.
Puel knows his team's poor recent form means Sunderland will again be confident of another positive result, but he said at his pre-match press conference: "The squad is angry with the last results.
"We have to correct this and give a good answer. We have to keep a good ambition. We cannot accept this position and the last results. It's not us.
"I saw all of this week a good level. For the first time in a long time, we had a whole week to prepare for the game.
"(Sunderland) have confidence from their last result. We will need to show strong character.
"The best way to prepare for the EFL Cup final (against Manchester United on February 26) is with a good result this weekend against Sunderland."
Puel remains without Sofiane Boufal, Southampton's club record signing, because of an ankle injury that could yet rule him out of the EFL Cup final.
The 55-year-old said: "Sofiane is not available for this game and we will see for the final, for his recovery and his work. I don't know for the moment. But against Sunderland he is not available.
"We have long-term injuries, but no other new injuries. We are lacking Sofiane Boufal, who is an important player for us, and that is it."
Puel was also asked about the club's reported interest in Uruguay defender Martin Caceres, a free agent, and said: "For the moment it is difficult for me to comment on this because he has not signed for Southampton.
"In the next few days we see if he can bring something for the squad and if he signs.
"For the moment it is just speculation and we don't know.
"He is an international player and his quality and his spirit can be interesting."