Preview: Southampton vs. Sunderland

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  • Sunderland have struggled away from home in their last seven games (1-6-0)
  • Saints’ new signing Pablo Osvaldo could make debut
  • Only four goals scored in last three games between these two sides

Southampton and Sunderland square off at St. Mary’s Stadium on Saturday (10am ET live on NBCSN, watch online via NBC Sports Live Extra) as two young, fiery, ambitious managers lock horns down on England’s South Coast.

The home side got their season off to the best possible start, as Mauricio Pochettino’s men beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 away from home on the opening day. Star striker Rickie Lambert scored the game-winner from the penalty spot in the final minute, as the Saints grabbed a deserved win after dominating play against the Baggies.

While for Sunderland it was the reverse, as they suffered a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Fulham at the Stadium of Light. Eccentric Italian manager Paolo Di Canio wasn’t too impressed with his sides marking at set pieces and will expect a response in Week 2.

These two sides met at the very end of last season when both teams were still struggling against relegation. A 1-1 draw played out at the Stadium of Light in the penultimate game of the 2012-13 Premier League campaign.

Both Pochettino and Di Canio arrived in the final few months of last season and succeeded in keeping their respective clubs in the PL, but now they both want to push on. Sunderland beat Southampton 1-0 at St. Mary’s last season, and the long journey South will be made by over 3,000 traveling Sunderland fans.

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Southampton have spent almost $55 million this summer on Victor Wanyama, Dejan Lovren and new club record signing Pablo Osvaldo, who is pushing for his debut. The Saints are the third highest spenders in the league and are aiming to push into the top 10 after consolidating their spot in the top flight last time out.

Di Canio hasn’t spent that much, but he’s brought in 11 new faces to shake things up at Sunderland. It will take time for the Black Cats to gel and USMNT striker Jozy Altidore may have to be patient before the chances arrive. Altidore’s movement was sharp last weekend, but the service was lacking.

Perhaps he can bully Saints’ defense? Scottish international Steven Fletcher is still sidelined, while Lee Cattermole and Phil Bardsley are also out for the Mackems. The Saints’ only doubt is right back Nathaniel Clyne, with 18-year-old academy prospect Calum Chambers set to start again.

Watch how the USA’s main man gets on against a talented Southampton side on Saturday, at 10am ET live on NBC Sports Network and online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What they’re saying

Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino: “I can’t really comment on what other teams do, but we are aware that we are going to face a rival that lost their first game against Fulham in their own stadium so they will be up and ready to get going with a result from their second game. We just want to corroborate what we did in the first game against West Bromwich. We played well away, and we just want to carry on and get another victory in our next game which is at home.”

Southampton defender Jose Fonte on Sunderland: “I think it’s going to be a very hard game actually, because I saw the highlights of them against Fulham and they looked very good to me, very lively. They created chances, they were a bit unlucky in my opinion, and this is going to be a massive game on Saturday. It will be an exciting game too I hope, and we need to be ready for it. I don’t think the score showed how well they played and how many chances they created they looked to me like they were the strongest team so I expect a very hard game on Saturday, but I’m confident that we can do the job.”

Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio on Southampton: “In my opinion they have built since last year and have a good future. The club has been run very well. The arrival of Pochettino brought in a new way to think about football, to play football. And I like the way they play. If you think already they had a good base, we know the players they have Lambert, Lallana, Fonte at the back, the players they’ve added in the past few months gives you a picture of what they can do in the next few years. They will have a good future, in my opinion for the quality that they have and the options they have and the way they play, they have to easily finish top 10.”

Prediction

Southampton are looking good this season but Sunderland are a tough, tough outfit to play against. Fulham’s win against the Black Cats last weekend was a ‘smash and grab’ and Di Canio will want a reaction. I can see this one being a tense draw with both teams battling it out in the middle of the pitch at St. Mary’s.

Report: Liverpool to escape punishment over Van Dijk pursuit

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The Times states that Liverpool will not be punished further for pursuing Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk.

[ MORE: Expectations for PL managers

Earlier this month the Reds issued a public apology to Southampton and stated they had ended their interest in the 25-year-old Dutch defender following allegations that Van Dijk was flown to Blackpool (just north of Liverpool) to meet with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and their manager messaged VVD “regularly” as they chased the Dutch international.

Southampton, as you would expect, were far from happy about this so-called “tapping up” from Liverpool and reported the Reds to the Premier League by making an official complaint.

Liverpool’s apology was then followed by a preliminary investigation, but reports state that there will be no further action taken against Liverpool by the PL with “insufficient evidence” to support the claims surrounding the alleged “tapping up” of Van Dijk and unless new evidence arrives then the case will be closed.

Regardless, this whole episode has been incredibly embarrassing for Liverpool, especially when you take into account their current ban from signing academy players when a similar case cropped up over chasing a youngster in Stoke City’s academy.

Klopp has not only lost the chance to sign Van Dijk (at least, that’s the way it seems for now) but Liverpool have also lost some respect for the way they supposedly went about this business. American owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) went to great lengths to apologize for this situation and are keen to stress they always conduct their business in a respect manner.

Now, we would all be a little naive to believe that this type of thing doesn’t happen a lot in soccer. A player (usually through his agent) will perhaps gently let another team know he’s interested in a move to them, and the ball gets rolling from there. Of course, the two clubs are supposed to agree a fee for the player first and then said player can meet with his potential new club to square away the details.

Southampton are said to still be furious about the approach from Liverpool to Van Dijk, so much so that if they were to sell their star player and captain this summer (they maintain he’s not for sale) they’d rather take less money from another club (Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal are all said to be interested) than let him leave for Anfield for over $70 million.

After Liverpool plucked Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mane from Saints in the past few years, it’s easy to understand why the South Coast club are now standing firm and saying enough is enough.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

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