Premier League Preview: Southampton

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Southampton enter the 2013-14 season after an impressive 14th place finish in last year’s return to the Barclays Premier League. It was the first time the Saints played in the top-flight since the 2004-05 season, putting an end to a seven year hiatus that involved stints in both the Championship and League One. A founding member of the Premier League in 1992–93, the Saints are a club with high aspirations under their controversial yet beloved Italian chairman Nicola Cortese.

Transfers In: D Dejan Lovren (Lyon); M Victor Wanyama (Celtic)

Transfers Out: GK Tommy Forecast (Gillingham); D Danny Butterfield (free agent); D Frazier Richardson (Middlesbrough); D Ryan Dickson (Colchester United); D Danny Seaborne (Yeovil Town); D Vergard Forren (Molde FK); M Steve de Ridder (FC Utrecht); M Richard Chaplow (Millwall); M Ben Reeves (MK Dons);  F Sam Hoskins (Yeovil Town); F Alberto Seidi (free agent)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: Rickie Lambert (pictured) remains the man that makes Southampton tick. The 31 year old striker has scored the goals that have taken the side from League One to the Championship to the Premier League in a matter of two years. During that time Lambert found the back of the net 46 times, earning the League One and Championship Player of the Year awards for his efforts. When pundits questioned whether he could produce at the top level, Lambert answered emphatically by scoring 15 goals in 38 Premier League appearances, tying him with Frank Lampard for top English goalscorer in the league.

A powerful forward with deceptive skill and coolness in front of goal, Lambert is also known as the best spot-kick taker in the league having never missed in 31 attempts for Southampton.

Manager: Mauricio Pochetino was hired by Southampton in January 2013 following the club’s termination of Nigel Adkins. Fans’ initial resistance to the hiring was immediately quelled as the Saints drew with Everton just five days after the hiring before going on to defeat such behemoths as Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

Pochetino, the former boss at La Liga side Espanyol, has a reputation for developing young academy players and being extremely hard working – he is the first to arrive at the training ground and the last to leave. “I don’t have a life outside football,” the 41 year old admitted last spring.

Pochetino is known for playing a high-pressing game of football that encourages attacking freedom and creativity. One of the more underrated managers in the Premier League, Pochetino may keep a low profile but could surprise a lot of fans with his side’s results this season. Having a close relationship with Cortese, Pochetino’s job, at least to start the season, will be safe.

Outlook: After some inconsistent displays in the first half of last season the Saints settled in under Pochetino and produced some stunning displays. Consistency will remain a key this season but the Saints are good enough to steer clear of the relegation zone and if all goes well, are outside candidates to crack the Top 10.

A leader at 23, Draxler mentors inexperienced Germany squad

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The youngest captain to lead Germany into a tournament in 105 years, Julian Draxler has effortlessly taken on the task of mentoring an inexperienced squad.

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All while displaying the versatility linking up attacks that has helped to steer Germany into the Confederations Cup semifinals.

If Germany coach Joachim Loew learns one thing from the World Cup dress rehearsal, it’s that the 23-year-old Draxler is a strong contender to one day assume the armband from injured goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

“The way he is coordinating the young team is very good,” Loew said Wednesday. “He is turning into a personality who is in a position to assume responsibilities. He’s taking care of younger players and trying to integrate them into the team.

“He is always keeping his mind on what matters on the pitch but also off the pitch he is very sociable with other players as well.”

Draxler is far from the youngest player in the squad, but he’s the most experienced on the international stage. The semifinal against Mexico on Thursday will be Draxler’s 34th appearance for Germany. He is also one of only three members of the World Cup winning squad from 2014 who were included in the experimental group in Russia.

Shkodran Mustafi is another, and the defender is delighted to see Draxler’s progress from being a bit-part squad member in Brazil to an integral member of the team in Russia three years on.

“He has got a really bright future in front of him,” Mustafi said on the sidelines before training in the southern Russian coastal resort of Sochi. “Talent sometimes is not enough but I think he has the character and the talent, the head, to be the next superstar for sure.”

Don’t take Germany’s word for it. Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio spoke Wednesday of his admiration for Draxler’s role as Germany’s “connector” and the way he finds space in midfield to be the link-man to the forwards.

What Draxler offers Loew is variety. The Paris Saint-Germain player is comfortable on both feet and he is given the freedom to roam across the pitch.

“Julian is a very fast, technically refined player with the ball,” Loew said through a translator in the Fisht Stadium in Sochi. “He can travel through longer distances with no problem while keeping the ball and he has very good scoring capabilities.”

In the opening win over Australia at the Confederations Cup, Draxler netted his fifth international goal from the penalty spot. In the final group match on Sunday, Draxler’s slick back-heel set up Kerem Demirbay for Germany’s opener in a 3-2 victory over Cameroon.

Not since the 1912 Olympics there been a younger German captain at a FIFA or UEFA tournament.

“He’s not the loudest guy but on the pitch you could see his quality in the three games now and he’s talking to the players,” midfielder Emre Can said. “He wants to help. He has a lot of experience and he’s doing it very well.

“You can see he wants always the ball, he wants always to create something on the pitch and he wants to always score always. You can see that in every game.”

Draxler has traveled to Russia after finding some stability in his club career after leaving Wolfsburg for PSG in January for 47 million euros (then about $50 million).

“He is very ambitious,” Loew said. “He is a very classy player.”

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

Germany coach wants clarity on Russia doping claims

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Germany football coach Joachim Loew wants more clarity from sports leaders following speculation that doping of Russia’s 2014 World Cup squad was covered up.

[ MORE: 2017 Confederations Cup news ]

The World Cup-winning coach urged the World Anti-Doping Agency and FIFA to be transparent and identify players implicated.

“If there really are names there, they shouldn’t be hidden at all,” Loew said Wednesday at a news conference in Sochi, where his team plays a Confederations Cup semifinal.

“I can’t prove it and no one apparently can if we are not having the facts here on the table,” Loew said through a translator. “And if players have been doped, well, they have to be removed, they have to be suspended.”

Loew was asked by German broadcaster ARD about the World Cup claim and other new allegations that state-backed Russian doping went deeper into football than was previously suspected.

Earlier Wednesday, the broadcaster released an interview with WADA investigator Richard McLaren who said FIFA is aware of 155 potentially suspect samples given by football players in Russia that await analysis.

McLaren told ARD he suspected Russian authorities kept a bank of clean urine samples from footballers to replace tainted ones – a similar system to evade positive doping tests as was used at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

FIFA declined to comment Wednesday on ARD’s report.

The Canadian lawyer’s sprawling investigation of the Olympic doping conspiracy implicated more than 1,000 athletes across many sports. It included evidence in emails and documents of at least 35 football cases for FIFA to prosecute.

The evidence had few details, though included a June 2014 document apparently linked to the squad Russia sent to the World Cup in Brazil. FIFA acknowledged being aware of the document this week after a report by a British Sunday newspaper.

FIFA has not formally identified any players under suspicion, nor imposed provisional suspensions.

“We have the report from WADA but we are not supposed to be disclosing any names,” FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said Wednesday, in Kazan for the Portugal vs. Chile semifinal. “Until we got the final decision from the laboratory we cannot elaborate.”

Football leaders in the 2018 World Cup host nation consistently dismiss suggestions of a problem.

“There hasn’t been a single doping incident in Russian football in many recent years,” Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the World Cup organizing committee, said this week of the British report. “We do not regard this as any serious matter.”

Germany’s Loew was speaking in the Sochi stadium which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the much-criticized Winter Games.

He urged WADA and FIFA to “just call a spade a spade, and then we know what is going to happen from there.”

AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni in Kazan, Russia, contributed to this report

STREAM LIVE: Portugal, Chile clash in Confed Cup semifinal

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Alexis Sanchez do battle in Kazan with a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup final on the line.

European champions Portugal play South American champs Chile on Wednesday (Watch live, 2 p.m. ET online via Telemundo Deportes) in an eagerly anticipated clash.

[ STREAM LIVE: Portugal vs. Chile ]

Ronaldo, 32, took his tally to 55 goals in 54 games in all competitions for the 2016-17 season as Portugal won Group A to set up a tasty clash with Chile who finished runners up in Group B behind Germany.

Sanchez scored his 38th goal for Chile against Australia in their final group game, making him their all-time leading goalscorer as the Arsenal striker continues to see his stock rise with just one year left on his contract.

The winner of this game will meet either Germany or Mexico (they play their semifinal tomorrow in Sochi) in the final in St. Petersburg on Sunday, with Mexico the only previous Confed Cup winners left in the field.

Click play on the link above to stream the game live online, and we will have analysis and reaction from Kazan right here on ProSoccerTalk.

Not-so-shy Messi tying the knot with childhood sweetheart

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There is a different side to Lionel Messi, one that not everyone gets to see.

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The player who shines with the ball by his feet appears to be extremely shy off the field. But the timid-looking Argentina star, who for years has been attracting the world’s attention because of his mind-boggling soccer skills, is an outgoing, cheerful and humorous character when he is among those he knows and trusts.

It’s the lighthearted and extroverted version of Messi that will be the center of attention on Friday in his hometown of Rosario when he marries 29-year-old Antonella Roccuzzo, his childhood sweetheart and mother of his two children.

The wedding is a highly anticipated event in the central Argentine city, located about 300 kilometers (186 miles) northwest of the capital of Buenos Aires, although the public is not expected to have any access to the festivities.

About 250 guests, including some current and former teammates, are expected to attend the ceremony in a five-star hotel that overlooks the city’s largest shantytown. Special security measures are expected to be in place as guests begin arriving for the event.

Among those expected to attend are Barcelona teammates Neymar, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique. Colombian singer Shakira, Pique’s wife, is also expected at the ceremony.

Organizers said personal hairdressers will be available for the guests, along with entertainment services for their children. About 150 journalists will be allowed to cover the wedding under very strict rules, without any direct access to the ceremony or the party.

Messi and Roccuzzo have requested that wedding gifts come in the form of donations to the Leo Messi Foundation.

Messi is already in Rosario on vacation, but hasn’t made any public appearances. He was in the city to celebrate his 30th birthday this week.

Messi grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Rosario along with two brothers and a sister. Roccuzzo was the cousin of a close friend of Messi, and the two were always around each other and shared a close relationship from a young age.

They stayed in touch after Messi left to play in Spain as a teenager, and eventually started their relationship in the late 2000s, reportedly after he returned to Argentina following the death of one of Roccuzzo’s close friends in a traffic accident.

Roccuzzo eventually moved to Barcelona, where the couple have two boys, 4-year-old Thiago and 1-year-old Mateo.

“I’m a normal person. I have the same life as any human being,” Messi said in an interview with ESPN before the 2014 World Cup. “When I finish playing, I have my family, my friends. I live like any other person.”

Even before Messi turned into one of the best players in the world, he was already the type of person who kept to himself and avoided the spotlight but opened up in the company of friends and relatives.

People close to Messi and some of his former teammates say he is just a normal guy, talkative and often joking. The serious-looking player who rarely shows any expressions on the field or in front of the cameras is nothing like “the real Messi,” they say.

“No, no, no …,” former Barcelona teammate Jonathan Dos Santos said when asked if Messi was as shy as he appears.

Dos Santos, in Russia with Mexico’s national soccer team at the Confederations Cup, said that Messi always opened up while with his teammates.

“He is a great guy, just a great guy,” said Dos Santos, who was a teammate of Messi’s at Barcelona from 2009-14.

Messi and his family recently were photographed with friends on vacation on a boat in Ibiza. Messi was seen playing with his children and laughing with his friends. It was the same when an Uruguayan television channel showed footage of Messi and Suarez playing cards with friends, with Messi joking and smiling all the time.

Messi, who has tattoos of both of his children, showed a more rebellious side of himself recently, dying his hair blond. He also has tattoos honoring his mother and Jesus.

He became much more active in social media recently, opening an Instagram account and posting many pictures of his children and some private moments with his family.

“I think that on the field I’m completely different than I am off,” Messi told Television Publica Argentina a few years ago.

The soft-spoken Messi rarely speaks publicly and almost never talks to the media after or before games. Only a few times he has shown up at news conferences during tournaments with his club or national team.

Messi moved to Barcelona when he was 13 after being diagnosed with a hormone disorder that affected his growth. Barcelona offered to help him with the treatment.

The entire family initially moved with him, but Messi’s mother and two siblings soon returned to Argentina. Messi stayed in Spain with his father, but he couldn’t play at first because he didn’t have the proper documentation.

“One day I asked him, `What do you want to do? Because in the end, the decision is yours,”‘ his father, Jorge, said in a television documentary about Messi’s life. “And he told me, `I want to stay. I want to play for Barcelona.”‘

Now he wants to get married, and he’s gone back home to do it.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni