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.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.