Ronald Koeman does not believe Chelsea’s struggles will make finishing in the top four any easier for Southampton.
The defending Premier League champions have lost five of their opening 10 matches – including at home to Koeman’s side – and are already nine points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester United.
With Liverpool also struggling for consistency, West Ham United and Leicester City have emerged as unlikely early challengers for the Champions League qualification places, while Southampton themselves are just six points behind.
Koeman, however, expects Chelsea and Liverpool to become stronger as the season progresses and is not expecting his side to mount a consistent challenge.
“At this stage of the season the position is not the most important. It’s so close to everybody, higher and lower. It’s not the time to look at the league,” he said.
“Our experience tells us it’s very difficult [to finish in the top four]. Chelsea are now struggling but they will come back because they have good players. I don’t think they’ll struggle from now to the end of the season.”
AFC Bournemouth are the visitors to St Mary’s Stadium on Sunday and Koeman is wary of underestimating any side in the Premier League this season.
“If we play at our level, as we like to play football, then you always have the possibility to win the game,” he said. “The Premier League is different. Sometimes the Bournemouth game can be more difficult than Liverpool or Chelsea.
“You need a lot of attention, how you press, when you like to press. If they play from the back and you have some good pressing then you win the ball and the opponent is open defensively.
“But then you have to do the right thing.”
Koeman confirmed both Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez are not fit for the matchday squad but Southampton have no other injury concerns.