Mauricio Pochettino hails Southampton, believes “the sky is the limit”

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SOUTHAMPTON — Mauricio Pochettino is working wonders on the South Coast of England, as Southampton continued their impressive start to the Premier League season by dispatching Fulham 2-0 with consummate ease.

With Southampton sitting in third-spot on 18 points after nine games, and just four points behind league-leaders Arsenal, how high can the Saints finish this season?

“I don’t know,” Pochettino said. “I’ve been saying for a couple of weeks now that the sky’s the limit, we have no limits. The must important thing is that we need to keep learning, keep on playing as a team. The position of the table is not important right now, we just need to keep performing as we’ve been doing already.”

On Saturday night at a packed out St. Mary’s Stadium, Saints’ dominance should of perhaps yielded more goals. But these numbers were pretty impressive. There were 549 completed passes from Southampton compared with 234 by Fulham, the Saints also had 67% possession and out-shot Fulham 20-2.

(MORE: Southampton 2-0 Fulham – Dominant display sends Saints third)

“I think statistics are evil,” Pochettino laughed. “They don’t really show anything. Win you win they’re important, but when you lose there not as important. The most important thing today is how we played and the three points. I think statistics are relative, but I’m very satisfied with how we won today.”

In the resounding win, Saints also kept up their incredible defensive performances by recording their sixth clean sheet in nine games and they’ve now let in just three goals in the PL this season, the best record in the league. Post game, I asked Pochettino what he thought of another sterling defensive display from his settled backline.

source: AP
Rickie Lambert heads home Saints’ opener, the England internationals third PL goal this season.

“I’m very satisfied,” Pochettino said. “I’m very proud, as you say, of another clean sheet. It is something that makes me very happy, to be part of this club and to be part of these people that make up Southampton Football Club. I am very happy and very proud.”

Scorer of Saints’ second goal, and his second PL goal this season, Jay Rodriguez put in a terrific display on the left hand side as he headed home Lambert’s set up in the 43rd minute. Rodriguez believes Saints can achieve anything they want to this season.

“We pressed hard and our fitness is high, we have got an unbelievable team spirit,” Rodriguez said. “The England lads are doing great, Lambert and Lallana are great to play with and we can learn from them. We have the belief and want to keep pushing on, we have no limits and the gaffer has said that, just concentrate on the next game and keep the belief. There’s no limit to what we can achieve.”

(MORE: Martin Jol – We could have gone away with a hammering today)

Rickie Lambert opened the scoring and set up Rodriguez’ second, and the England internationals display proved he’s back to his best. 31-year-old Lambert is just one of a number of Saints players knocking on the door of England manager Roy Hodgson, as Luke Shaw, Rodriguez, Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and James Ward-Prowse all performed superbly against Fulham.

“I wish they could all go to Brazil and the World Cup,” Pochettino said. “I’m not the one to make the decision but I wish my players all the best. That’s something that Mr. Hodgson has to worry about, not me. But I just want to congratulate my players. I’ve been saying for a couple of weeks now that he [Lambert] is amazingly important. He showed that today, how good he is, and hopefully he can keep on putting in performances like today, that will more than likely take him to Brazil.”

Fulham boss Martin Jol, who saw his team ripped apart by Southampton and admitted he was expecting a hiding after the first half, believes Saints can keep their good run going.

“Why not, they’ve got a good team,” Jol said. “Somebody told me that they spent $80 million, so if you spend that money you’re supposed to get good players. And that’s what you see on the pitch, good players. Strong midfielders, and a nice rotation. Even Clyne who is probably the cheapest of the lot is getting better and better.”

That seems to also be the case with Southampton as a team, as their best start to a season for 30 years continues to get better and better.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.