Southampton 2-0 Swansea City: Saints with another clean sheet to move into top 4 (Video)

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Clinical finishes and solid defending have handed Southampton their fourth win of the season at St. Mary’s as they continue to impress, moving into fourth place in the Premier League table.

Southampton have allowed just two goals all season, as their defense has been a major story of this Premier League season.  On the other end, Adam Lallana and substitute Jay Rodriguez bore the attacking fruit to secure the points.

Both sides pressed early on trying to find their feet, but Southampton were no doubt the more organized side from the get go.  The visitors found it difficult to build from the midfield, with a combination of sloppy passing and precise Saints tackles being their undoing.

The home side bagged their deserved opener in the 19th minute, moving the ball around all over the attacking third, twisting and contorting the Swans defensive shape until it broke.

The ball found the feet of 20-year-old Ben Davies, who expertly slotted through a streaking Adam Lallana who settled with his first touch, and fired a laser beam into the top corner with his second.

The goal seemed to put an extra spring in the Saints’ step, but in a few minutes Swansea began to build a serious response.

The Southampton defense, which has conceded just two goals this season, did its first real work in the 26th minute, with Boruc saving twice, first on a low Shelvey shot, then parrying a header from Bony a few minutes later.  The Ivorian tested Boruc again the 31st minute, forcing another full-stretch save with a low shot from distance.

The Swans came as close as you possibly can to an equalizer in the 36th minute. Bony backheeled to Nathan Dyer on the wing, which sprung him to make a run into the box. He blasted a shot which hit the inside of the goal post’s top corner and caromed away.  For the home side they will feel lucky to have not conceded, but for sure the visitors they will feel it was deserving of a goal.

Swansea picked up where they left off in the second half, but continued to be baffled by the Saints organized defense and could not get a result.  The game remained a hard-fought battle on the edges of each box.

Victor Wanyama nearly put the game out of reach with his first Premier League goal on a corner in the 76th minute, but referee Mike Dean called play back for a foul in the buildup.

His counterpart, however, would pick up the team’s second.  Substitute Jay Rodriguez grabbed his first of the season when he beat both Chico Flores and Jordi Amat to a long ball and slotted past Vorm to the delight of the home crowd.

That was all she wrote for Swansea, who could not muster anything else on the attacking end.  The Swans will feel hard done by the result, as they were not poor enough to be two-goal losers, but in the end they could not produce the final ball against the sharp Saints defense.

GOALS:

Southampton – Lallana 13′, Rodriguez 83′

LINEUPS:

Southampton – Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Lovern, Fox; Schneiderlin, Wanyama, S. Davis (Prado, 69′); Lallana, Lambert (Rodriguez, 68′); Osvaldo (Ward-Prowse, 58′).

Swansea City – Vorm; Rangel, Amat, Flores, Davis; Canas, Shelvey; Michu, Dyer, Routledge (Pozuelo, 67′); Bony.

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

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LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.