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.

PL Preview: Brighton vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke leads all-time 16W-14D-9L
  • First league meeting since 2006
  • Potters have won last 8 in series

Brighton and Hove Albion meets Stoke City for the first time in Premier League history when the two battle at the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Brighton is unbeaten in its last four PL matches, with a pair of away wins and two draws at home.

They’ve been led at the back end by Shane Duffy and in attack by Pascal Gross, but it’s been a well-traveled Premier League veteran filling the goals. Glenn Murray has historic motivation to keep scoring, knowing that a marker versus Stoke would make him the first Brighton player to ever score a goal in four successive top flight matches.

Stoke followed up its win over Watford with a draw against Leicester City. The Potters have two goals and four assists from Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, and three and one from Senegalese scorer Mame Biram Diouf.

What they’re saying

Brighton’s Chris Hughton on bagging wins“For a club like us to get back-to-back wins would show the level we are playing at. It’s tough. I remember being told by somebody with one of the promoted teams that they didn’t get their first away win until February-March. That can happen and it’s exactly the same for a team getting promoted to get back-to-wins. They are hard to come by. Any way we are able to do that would certainly be a major boost for us.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes on Xherdan ShaqiriHe is taking on more the role of the main instigator of our attacking threat. When he gets the ball, I think the whole team responds to that. You sense that maybe something’s going to happen. And I think the crowd sends it as well. And I know opposition team sense it too.”

Prediction

Few matches are more of a toss-up than this one, and there’s no recent match-ups on which to rest our heads. So we’ll side with the home team managing a point, and maybe a pair of old-timer goals from Murray and Peter Crouch, in a 1-1 draw.

Italy soccer chief resigns after failure to reach World Cup

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ROME (AP) Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio has resigned a week after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Monday’s announcement came following calls for a complete overhaul of the nation’s most popular sport, from the amateur leagues right up to Serie A and the national teams.

[ MORE: What’s next for West Brom? ]

Sweden’s playoff win over Italy kept the four-time champion out of the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was fired two days after the loss.

For the last week, Tavecchio has resisted calls to step down but he eventually lost the support of the federation’s board of directors.

Former federation chief Giancarlo Abete said as he left the board meeting where Tavecchio resigned that a new election would be held within 90 days.

Managerial change a slippery slope for West Brom

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Tony Pulis brought much needed stability to West Bromwich Albion before his tenure soured in a hurry.

When Pulis took over at the Hawthorns, West Brom had seen both Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine do little winning in abbreviated managerial stints. Mel won three of 17 matches in charge, while Irvine could only nab five in 22.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked ]

So there is little debating, even for those who West Brom fans who revel in the club’s former free-flowing ways, that Pulis had a productive time in charge from January 2015 right on through most of last season.

But Pulis was seemingly limited to setting a points total and then kicking his heels up once Premier League safety was reached.

While that sounds a bit laughable, the facts are that the Baggies finished 10th last season despite an impressive start that saw the club comfortably eighth for much of the season. However, West Brom won five points from its final 12 matches to finish 16 points behind a European place (including five shutout losses at home).

The Baggies finished 14th the previous season, Pulis’ first full year in charge, but collapsed again after hitting the rarefied air of 11th. That final stretch? Five losses and four draws including shutout losses at home to Norwich City, Watford, and West Ham.

In doing so, Pulis belied his own budgetary critiques by proving the Baggies had the talent to compete for something relatively special.

Pulis was good at getting his side to play with the fury of a relegation contender from Day One, but it was so clear the side was sated once safety was secure. It wouldn’t be callous to opine that the manager would’ve viewed the Europa League as a nuisance to his “never been relegated” reputation (an idea buttressed by West Brom’s performances in Cup competitions, where Pulis never advanced to a quarterfinal while losing to Reading, Norwich City, Derby County, Northampton Town, and, this season, Man City).

What West Brom does next will say a lot. If it’s as simple as a rehashing of the “never been relegated” deck with Sam Allardyce, well, that’s something. But the Baggies are in the tricky predicament of having to replace a relatively stable hand who was their first good hire in three tries, while also running with the knowledge that their players clearly are capable of so much better than 17th.

The names on the bettor’s lists show what’s expected of West Brom: gritty style from an island manager. Derek McInnes is the favorite, with Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill just ahead of Sam Allardyce. Alan Pardew is next, followed by Ronald Koeman (For what it’s worth, bookies are still milking money from gamblers by including Jurgen Klinsmann’s name at 20:1 or so).

West Brom is in its eighth-straight Premier League campaign. The firing will jostle an already rocking ship, but the Baggies have steady leadership in Jonny Evans, Ben Foster, Chris Brunt, Gareth Barry, Gareth McAuley, and Craig Dawson. They have the wherewithal to achieve safety again, and can even look good in the process should a manager find the right way to use Salomon Rondon, Matty Phillips, Jay Rodriguez, Nacer Chadli, and others.

Who’s the right man for the job?

West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis

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Tony Pulis‘ reign over the Hawthorns is over, as West Bromwich Albion has fired the 59-year-old after just under three years in charge of the Premier League outfit.

Assistant coach Gary Megson takes over on an interim basis.

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The Baggies have not won a game since August, and were belted 4-0 at home by Chelsea on Saturday to leave the club one point above the drop zone.

Overall, Pulis oversaw wins in just 36 of his 121 matches, losing 49, in what will go down as one of the least successful stints in his well-traveled career. Only three PL clubs have scored less than the Baggies’ nine goals.

Here’s the club statement:

“These decisions are never taken lightly but always in the interests of the Club.

“We are in a results business and over the back end of last season and this season to date, ours have been very disappointing.

“We would like to place on record our appreciation of Tony’s contribution and hard work during a period of transition for the Club which included a change of ownership. We wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Pulis will almost certainly be back on the touch line soon, as he hasn’t spent more than a few months out of work since 2002.