Premier League Breakdown: Robbie Earle talks Southampton FC

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There are few stories in the Premier League that are more intriguing than Southampton’s start to the season. Unbeaten in their last four matches and having only conceded two goals this season, the Saints currently sit fourth in the Premier League table.

So I decided to sit down with NBC Premier League pundit Robbie Earle and get to the bottom of just what makes this side so interesting.

THOUGHTS ON SOUTHAMPTON’S FOUR MATCH UNBEATEN RUN?

It’s interesting about Mauricio Pochettino (right) because when he took the job from Nigel Adkins – who was a well-thought-of coach – there was a bit of uproar in England about Johnny Foreigner coming in.

But 12 months on and people have seen a huge change in the way the club is run and they way they’ve moved forward. Yes, we’re only seven games into this season but I think we can all see where Southampton have big hopes. So credit to the chairman Nicola Cortese, he was brave in making the decision to hire Pochettino and it’s paying off in a big way.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT SOUTHAMPTON?

I like that they have a number of young English players who they’re developing, which isn’t the case at a lot of the big clubs. There’s Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, James Ward-Prowse. And I think Pochettino has brought in the right kind of quality additions who can help these young players flourish. It looks like some real thought has gone into assembling a diverse club and it has an interesting chemistry to it.

They have some young guys, some old guys, some fast guys, some powerful guys – it’s just a really nice mix of skill-sets and one that seems to make for a happy ship. I imagine going to training at that club and there being down there being a really healthy environment, one that’s competitive in all the right ways.

source: Getty ImagesWHICH YOUNG PLAYER DO YOU RATE HIGHEST ON SOUTHAMPTON?

I like Luke Shaw, he’s one who’s destined for a bigger club. This is the club where Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamerlain started before they moved on and possibly Shaw is the next one. I like his technical ability and the understated way in which he plays. You know, with some of these young there are dips in performances but Shaw is level and consistent. He seems to accept his responsibilities and take everything in stride.

HOW DO SOUTHAMPTON KEEP HOLD OF THEIR YOUNG TALENT?

The mindset of being a feeder club is starting to change. In an ideal world I’m sure Southampton would like to breed good talent and keep them forever. But they’re not there yet. And in fairness I think if five or six of the top clubs come knocking, players are still going to want to leave.

That being said, if they somehow find their way into Champions League football over the next five to ten years there’s no need to leave because everything starts going up. Competition goes up. Money goes up. Salaries go up. And really, that’s what drives players in the end. In the meantime, they need to try their best to hold on to this talent or else make sure that they sell them for the right amount of money and continue reinvesting in the academy.

SOUTHAMPTON’S GOAL IS TO MAKE THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – HOW SHOCKING WOULD THAT BE?

It would be about as shocking as if Crystal Palace wins the league (laughing). In all seriousness, Southampton finishing Top 4 would be an unbelievable turn out. If they can finish in the Top 10 or even the Top 8 it would be a massive step forward for them.

But let’s be realistic. Their ambition should be 10th place and upwards. And then every year, they should look to take little steps forward. I’m not one to knock ambition but it will take time for Southampton to get there.

source:  IS IT REALISTIC FOR 6-7 PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS TO HAVE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ASPIRATIONS?

Well, I like the optimism. The Premier League used to start every season with four or five teams saying ‘we’re aiming for the Champions League’ while nine or ten others would say ‘we just want to stay in the league. But within the last two years the league has moved on with the influx of things like money and foreign coaches. The perception has changed. Clubs are no longer saying ‘I want to survive,’ they’re saying ‘I want something more.’

A good example is Tony Pulis at Stoke City. He didn’t lose his job because his club were going to be relegated, he lost it because he lacked ambition in his style. Stoke wanted more. The fans wanted more. Clubs are investing more and demanding things improve.

Merely trying to stay in the league is a mentality that could earn you £50-60M but to have that outlook each season is a turn off. You want to develop a club. Improve each year. As Pulis found out, merely surviving just isn’t good enough anymore.

TALK ABOUT THE PARITY IN THIS YEAR’S PREMIER LEAGUE

The parity makes it such an attractive league. With all the managerial changes we’re seeing an even playing field where, seven matches in, even clubs like Liverpool have the respect of all top teams. They’re competitive. Arsenal are competitive. And even though they sold their best player, Tottenham have replenished the ranks and are competitive.

Add to this the fact that, in the Premier League, players give all they have for every match for the entire 90 minutes. I’m not sure that happens in other leagues like Serie A and La Liga. But in the Premier League, the fans won’t allow anything less than 100%. So you have these teams that just keep trying and trying and trying.

We saw that mentality when Sunderland played Manchester United. They just fired their manager and have some injuries, but they never quit. They just kept biting and biting and biting – being ultra competitive. I’m not sure you always see that in other big leagues in Europe. So that’s the kind of thing that keeps the league so attractive – you never quite know what will happen until the final whistle.

Cristiano Ronaldo could face tax-fraud charges in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Spanish prosecutors are considering whether Cristiano Ronaldo should face charges over allegations by the country’s tax agency that he defrauded the authorities of 15 million euros ($16.7 million) between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have until the end of June to decide whether to charge the Real Madrid star, based on evidence from an investigation by tax officials.

The alleged irregularities were mostly related to money that Ronaldo had in the Virgin Islands.

Tax officials said Ronaldo adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in 2014.

Prosecutors said that if they decided to charge him, and if the Portugal captain was subsequently found guilty by a court, he would face a prison sentence of at least 15 months. However, it would be unlikely he would go to jail as a first-time offender.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud last year.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

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John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

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For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

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The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

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The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

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