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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”