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.

(MORE: Week 1, Premier League Power Rankings; Don’t doubt the Champions)

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.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.