After a stunning season with Saints, Pochettino is a man in demand.

Mauricio Pochettino: “Southampton aiming for Champions League”

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SOUTHAMPTON — When previewing Southampton’s game against Swansea at St. Mary’s this Sunday, Saints manager Mauricio Pochettino took everyone by surprise.

On Friday I was at his press conference on the South Coast, and when the Argentine manager was asked about Swansea’s recent success and if his side wanted to emulate the Swans by playing in the Europa League, nobody expected this response.

“To be honest I’m not really keen on the Europa League,” Pochettino said. “I think we are all attracted more to the Champions League.”

Wow, talk about setting the bar high. After a great start to the season for Saints, three wins and two draws from six games sees them in sixth spot, many are starting to tout them as a side that can break into the top eight.

But all this talk of Champions League soccer arriving in Southampton isn’t new.

Polish international goalkeeper Artur Boruc has been spouting his UCL aspirations with Saints since the start of the season, before and after they beat Liverpool at Anfield.

Pochettino’s okay with that.

Can Saints’ Argentine manager lead them into the Champions League?

“I like it when my players are ambitious,” the 41-year-old Argentine said. “And that way of thinking makes them have to work even harder to actually achieve those things. That’s also very good because if you want big results and you want to be ambitious, that also forces you to be very self-demanding of your own work. I’m happy that they think that way.”

So can Southampton really break into the top four of England’s top-flight?

Many would laugh in your face if you quoted Pochettino’s ambitious plans, but with the signings of Dejan Lovren, Victor Wanyama and Daniel Osvaldo over the summer for $54 million, they mean business. Wanyama and Lovren have previous Champions League experience, as does Boruc.

They also have a whole raft of internationals with Osvaldo playing for Italy, Gaston Ramirez for Uruguay, Rickie Lambert for England, Maya Yoshida for Japan, and the likes of Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse start for England’s U-21s. So if you look at it that way, he may not seem that crazy. Year on year Southampton have splashed more and more cash to bolster their squad, and with the wealthy Liebherr family bankrolling their success from League One in 2010 to Champions League dreams in 2013, why not?

If you would have said to any Southampton fan in 2011 that the likes of Wanyama, Osvaldo and Ramirez would be playing for them within two years in the Premier League, they would’ve asked what medication you were on. The club was on the brink of liquidation and going out of business, now it’s challenging for PL success.

So maybe now everything is going smoothly, Pochettinho should be able to dream big.

“But just to be clear about the Europa League it’s not a competition that I look forward to,” Pochettino said. “It means that you haven’t been good enough to make it to the Champions League. So I think all manager’s are aiming to go that one step higher to actually play and compete in the Champions League.”

He admitted he doesn’t know how long it will take and that making the Europa League is fine. For a club that has started the Premier League season incredibly well, many neutrals wouldn’t rule out a top ten finish in just their second season back in the top-flight.

But the former Espanyol manager wants more.

“The work that’s been happening for the last four years, started with the Chairman,” Pochettino said. “His vision for the club and the way he started building the future of the club, the ideas, the philosophy. The basic idea is to take the club to the top of the league and Europe. That’s our ambition.”

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.