REUTERS - Southampton manager Claude Puel has ruled out selling either of his first-choice centre backs in the January transfer window, shooting down media reports that the club could cash in on Jose Fonte or Virgil van Dijk.
Reports in Fonte's native Portugal earlier this month indicated that Southampton had agreed to allow the player, who has 18 months left on his contract, to leave in January after he failed to agree fresh terms with the club.
British media have reported in recent weeks that Dutchman Van Dijk had emerged as a target for league leaders Chelsea and third-placed Manchester City, but Puel insisted that neither player would be allowed to leave in January.
"Jose's (situation) is a little particular but he is contracted with Southampton," the manager told a news conference on Thursday.
"Virgil is a very important player for us and he will stay here. Of course they will both stay (beyond January).
"It's always speculation about different players. It's normal because they are great and important players. But it's important for them to stay and have a good attitude and improve our position in the table."
Southampton, who dropped to eighth in the table after being beaten 4-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, host ninth-placed West Bromwich Albion on Saturday and Puel said he had not yet decided on his starting lineup.
The manager will be without Nathan Redmond after confirming that Saints would not appeal against the red card the striker was shown for a foul on Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, editing by Neil Robinson