LONDON (REUTERS) - Southampton manager Ronald Koeman fears that the English Premier League club could face another exodus of high-profile players at the end of the season if they fail to qualify for the Champions League.
The south-coast side lost the core of their team when Liverpool cherry-picked England players Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert along with defender Dejan Lovren in the close season, while teenage left-back Luke Shaw joined Manchester United.
Koeman, who took over from Mauricio Pochettino after he left for Tottenham Hotspur, has defied early-season predictions that the club would struggle after their departures, leading Southampton to fourth in the league with a third of the season remaining.
The Dutch boss warded off interest for full-back Nathaniel Clyne and midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin in the January transfer window, and says his side must remain in one of the four Champions League qualification spots if they are to keep their best players for next season.
"Maybe it will be a question for these players that they like to play European football and the Champions League," Koeman said ahead of the trip to second-from-bottom Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
"If there is any interest in these players, it will be easier for us if we play European Cup football to keep them. That's always an important reason for a player to stay.
"I know the situation. We are Southampton and if we are doing well there is always interest in players, and it's up to the success of the club.
"I like this, rather than to be on the bottom and there is no interest in the players," he added.
Southampton are level on 42 points with fifth-placed Arsenal, two ahead of Tottenham Hotspur and four in front of in-form Liverpool.
Koeman thinks Southampton's lack of European or FA Cup commitments, after a fourth-round home defeat by Crystal Palace two weeks ago, and a lack of pressure from the club's hierarchy gives his side the edge in the race for a top-four spot.
"That's an advantage for us," he said. "We know for Tottenham and Liverpool it is normal they will fight for the places up in the table.
"They need European football. We like to have it, but the chairman does not say to me, 'If we don't reach European football, you did a bad job'."