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.

Jurgen Klopp already wants a piece of Man City next season

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Manchester City may have run away with the Premier League title this year, but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp can’t wait for a clean slate to try and challenge City’s title defense next season.

The Reds are into the Champions League semifinals and also looking to finish the Premier League season strong in a battle for positioning in the top four, but when asked about next year, Klopp was giddy.

“Of course I don’t fear the challenge,” Klopp said in his prematch press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League visit to West Brom on Saturday morning.

The German made it clear he wants a piece of Manchester City next season. “This year, if City plays a normal season – which they didn’t do – then it would have been really close until the end because we are now all close together.”

“United is four points ahead [of Liverpool], Tottenham is two points behind. It’s a real fight for these positions. All big six pretty much delivered this year but City delivered the best. We will see. It’s difficult to deal with success as it is difficult to deal with other things in football but I’m pretty sure they will be strong again.”

Liverpool is one of only two teams to beat City in league play this year, with Manchester United being the other. Klopp and company torched the City back line in a wild 4-3 victory that ended City’s 22-match unbeaten run. Ultimately, though, Klopp knows they have to look at the entire season as a whole to best the defending champs next year, not just their matches against each other.

“It’s not important how good City will be, it’s about how we can get all the other points, plus the points we got so far again,” he said. “That’s the job to do. That is why it is always possible that it is closer. But are they able to dominate? They don’t have a limit to spending and all that stuff so I don’t know.”

VIDEO: Goalkeeper sends Memphis Depay flying with skillful touch

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Former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay has one of the brightest spots for Lyon this season that sees them battling with Monaco and Marseille for 2nd place behind a dominant PSG. He has scored 15 goals and assisted 11 others this Ligue 1 campaign, adding to his tally just four minutes into Friday’s 5-2 win over Dijon, the sixth win in a row for the club that pulled them within a point of Monaco.

However, there was a moment to forget for Depay in the victory as well.

With the score still at 1-1 in the 19th minute, Depay was sent high up the pitch to press Dijon goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet, owner of the leakiest net of the Ligue 1 season. Nevertheless, sometimes the underdog prevails, and that’s what happened as Depay flung himself at the ball to put Reynet under pressure.

One silky touch by the netminder was all it took for Depay to end up on his backside.

The 24-year-old Dutch winger has had a fantastic season and one that could potentially propel him back to the biggest stage and a bigger paycheck, but for now, we can all poke fun at his misery in the moment.

Dortmund admits interest in signing Batshuayi permanently

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Michy Batshuayi might be out for the season with a serious ankle injury, but he may have already done enough to earn a permanent move to Borussia Dortmund.

The Chelsea striker moved on loan to the Bundesliga side in January and made an immediate impact, scoring two goals on his debut, and ultimately wound up with seven goals in 10 Bundesliga games before his ankle injury brought his season to a close. Now, the Dortmund front office is speaking very highly of the Belgian goalscorer, not so subtly hinting that they will take an aggressive approach this summer.

The interest to sign him is there,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. “But first we have to wait and see who will be Chelsea’s coach next season. Then we’ll start looking.”

Chelsea has Antonio Conte currently at the helm, but there are strong rumors that the Italian will depart at the end of the season as the Blues sit comfortably outside the Champions League places. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is known for his quick trigger, and despite Conte winning the Premier League just last season, this year’s disappointment will likely not be tolerated.

That yet-to-be-determined future has a significant impact on Batshuayi’s future, as Watzke mentions. The new Chelsea boss could take a liking to Batshuayi, which could complicate his permanent move. In addition, it’s possible that current players on the Blues roster could depart, like Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, or Willian, making Batshuayi’s place at Chelsea more tenable.

There’s plenty to be sorted out in the coming months, but with Batshuayi’s 10-game performance at Westfalenstadion at the forefront of Watzke’s mind, it’s clear there will be potential here as the summer draws near.

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th. The only teams in the top four leagues to score more goals than Fulham since Jokanovic took over are Liverpool and Manchester City.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions. Ream had this stunning goal-line clearance in the victory over Millwall on Friday, saving Fulham’s bacon with goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli on the ground after an acrobatic save.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.