Southampton manager Ronald Koeman said Europa League group stage football is the least his side deserve after another solid Premier League campaign which could see the club finish as high as fifth.
Koeman and Co. sit fifth after 38 games following a 4-1 demolition of Crystal Palace on Sunday, but await their final position with Manchester United’s home fixture against AFC Bournemouth being delayed amidst a bomb scare – which later turned out to be a dummy device left behind after a training exercise.
But Koeman said fifth place – and a direct spot in the Europa League – would be a fair reward for Southampton after an improved season.
“[Europa League was] a good experience for everybody [last season],” Koeman said. “It was the first time for most of the players how you need to deal in the beginning of the season and also for us the pre-season.
“That’s a different one if you need to play at the end of July.
“Of course we hope we go straight to the group stage. That will be perfect and I think we deserve that.
“What we do after a special season last year, what I call this season I don’t know. Even more special.
“Great football, great players and a big support of the fans.”
Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prose backed his manager, describing the iteration of the first team squad as the club’s best yet.
“The quality of the players is at its highest level ever,” he said. “The unity of the club right from top to bottom is great, everyone’s pushing in the same direction and I think that obviously helps to achieve what we want to achieve.
“It means everything [to qualify for the Europa League].
“You look around the club, the infrastructure of the club from top to bottom it is all built for European football.
“The players and the manager are all geared up for European football, so to be able to finally bring that back to the fans, who deserve European football, is obviously fantastic and we’re looking forward to it.”
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