Jose Fonte could still figure for Saints in Europe this season with manager Claude Puel deeming the skipper’s ongoing contract situation “a private matter.”

The Portuguese centre half, who has been instrumental in the club’s rise from League One to the Europa League, was offered a significant pay rise by Saints some months ago, albeit not an extension on his deal which has just over 18 months left to run.

That contract remains unsigned, while Fonte has found himself regularly rotated in and out of the side, largely playing in the Premier League, and without a single minute of the Europa League campaign he once described as a “dream” for him and the club.

Fonte is again being linked with a move to Manchester United in January and Puel was being cagey about the 32-year-old’s contract situation.

“Jose has a contract and after I don’t speak about the contract of the players,” said Puel.

“It’s a story between the club and the player and this is private.”

He added: “I am happy with my squad and I want to develop every player.

“After one player with his contract, another player with another contract – this is the life of the relationship between the club and player.

“For me the most important is to stay with good concentration about our level and to prepare this difficult game against Crystal Palace.

“The news for me, the most important, is the game against Crystal Palace, it is not the situation of every player.”

Puel believes that all of his squad understand his rotation policy, as he explained it to him before the start of the season.

“I spoke with the players at the beginning of the rotation when we rotate the team at the start,” he insisted.

“It’s not possible every time. For example, we can do eight changes different from Everton. “It’s not possible just after the training session to see eight players and now perhaps seven, eight or nine against Crystal Palace.

“It’s important now for the players to understand the philosophy and keep every time the good attitude.

“We can see our game against Everton, it was a fantastic game on the physical, on the intensity for all the players, and Jose also can do a strong game. This is possible if every time all the players have the good energy, the good physical level and they can play at their maximum. This is most important.

“For the staff it is important to find the good balance between the players to keep a good team every time and to keep a performance every time and result. All this is always difficult but all the players win when for example we win against Arsenal. It’s not just the 11 with the substitutes but all the squad win this game.

“It was the same that all the squad won against Everton. My answer is this. It’s a group, it’s a squad, they win and they lose together.”

Having sat out against Arsenal on Wednesday night, Fonte is expected to return to the side to face Crystal Palace, from where now Eagles boss Alan Pardew signed him for Saints for £1.2m in 2010.

As for Euro 2016 winner Fonte’s chances of figuring in the Europa League, Puel commented: “We will see the future. For example, Sparta, normally Jose plays in this game but it was not available as he had a pain and it was not possible.

“For me all the players can play different competitions. There is not one player for this competition and another player for another. For me it is not this.

“It is to see and to respect the good physical level for every player and to find the good balance between players, the good acquaintance and to practise every time our identity of game and every time have a good game and possibilities to win this game.

“For example, also after the game some journalist ask me what I can feel to win against the second team of Arsenal. They can do eight or nine changes against us, but for us it was the same thing.

“I didn’t say that my team was the second team of Southampton. For me it’s not true. It was my first team because I don’t know my first team with 11 players. My first team has 22 or 23 different players and this is important for me.”