Clint Dempsey to Fulham: A fake FAQ with real answers about the U.S. captain’s loan

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Let’s pretend you didn’t know Clint Dempsey was going back to Fulham. Or maybe you’re a Premier League fan that doesn’t follow Major League Soccer, an MLS fan that can’t be bothered with England, or a United States Men’s National Team diehard that just wants to know what “Deuce” has gotten himself into. You may even be the one person who still loves a good FAQ.

Regardless, we’re here to help. With the U.S. captain returning to Fulham, this is as good a time as any to take inventory of what it means, what to expect, and what each party gets out of the deal. How does this benefit Dempsey? Fulham? Seattle, the U.S., and Major League Soccer? There are so many parties to this one, it’s hard to keep track of who has skin in the game.

In what’s likely a futile attempt to address all the issues in one place, here’s a list of real answers to imaginary questions. We start with the basics:

Who this Clint Dempsey you speak of?

Get out.

Well, I know who Clint Dempsey is. But I’m trying to make a point. Why should I care about this loan?

Nobody’s asking this, but you don’t have to go far to find somebody in Electron Land who referencing Dempsey’s struggles with Seattle the throw shade on the importance of this move. To that, we retort:

  • This is the captain of a confederation champion, a team that will be at World Cup 2014. Did we have to point this out? And if we were writing for a Japanese audience, you’d be certain we giving Keisuke Honda’s move to Milan more attention. (Seriously: I should have written something more on that.)
  • That team happens to be the U.S.A. People tend to pay attention. Especially around these parts.
  • Over Dempsey’s final three years Premier League season, he averaged 12 goals per campaign. And it’s not like this guy’s a No. 9. That’s 12 goals from what’s essentially a supporting striker/attacking midfielder. That’s a goal every 234 minutes or 14.6 during a full 38-game season. So yeah, he was kind a good at goals, and stuff.
  • This is a Cottagers legend returning home. Nobody’s scored more Premier League goals for Fulham. The especially bitter Fulham faithful may remember him forcing a move to Tottenham. Most are relishing the chance to get some goals back, because …
  • Fulham needs help. The Cottagers are in 19th. They’ve scored 17 goals in as many games, and their best attacker (Dimitar Berbatov) is a daily feature in rumor roundups in three countries.

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How many games should we expect to him play?

Fulham’s announcement doesn’t specify an exact date Dempsey will return to Seattle, but let’s take them at their word and assume Feb. 24 will be his last day in West London. That makes him eligible for a whopping 11 games, starting with Fulham’s visit to Norwich on Thursday:

  • Dec. 26, at Norwich City*
  • Dec. 28, at Hull City*
  • Jan. 1, vs. West Ham
  • Jan. 4, at Norwich City (FA Cup)
  • Jan. 18, at Arsenal
  • Jan. 28, at Swansea City
  • Feb. 1, vs. Southampton
  • Feb. 9, at Manchester United
  • Feb. 12, vs. Liverpool
  • Feb. 22, at West Bromwich Albion

There are also FA Cup dates on Jan. 25 and Feb. 15. Maxed out, Dempsey could play 13 games for Fulham, though that means making an appearance at Carrow Road on Boxing Day.

* – It’s unlikely Dempsey will be registered to play these two games, with the transfer window officially opening on Jan. 1. The video below (spoiler) is iffy on it, with the interviewer hinting it’s a possibility while Dempsey only discussion traveling to the games. As one commenter astutely pointed out, however, one English outlet (the BBC) is reporting he will be ineligible until 2014, so asterisks for all!

Assuming he’ll play, where here will he play?

Interesting assumption. Where you trying to slip that past me, Imaginary Question Asker? Regardless, let’s put that aside for a second and revisit how Dempsey was being used when he left Craven Cottage.

Over his last two years at Fulham, Dempsey went from an almost exclusively wide role to somebody who began seeing more time through the middle, especially later in games. He’d start on the left, play wide until Mark Hughes or Martin Jol started making changes, then move in. Once it became clear Andy Johnson was out of gas, Pavel Pogrebnyak or Bobby Zamora weren’t going to get goals, or the Cottagers just needed Dempsey’s presence in the middle of the park, “Deuce” became as much as a focal point out coming of the back as an opportunist in the final third.

source: Getty Images
If Dimitar Berbatov stays at Fulham, Dempsey’s natural place would be one of the Cottager’s other two attacking roles. If the Bulgarian moves in the January window, however, Dempsey could find himself as an option through the middle. (Photo: Getty Images)

But with Martin Jol gone, it’s unclear how Fulham will play, let alone how they’ll use Dempsey. Over their last three games, Fulham’s use one forward and two wide attackers on top of a three-man midfield, and while Dempsey would be best-suited for one of the wide roles, René Meulensteen’s selections hint he could play through the middle. With Darren Bent still getting limited time while Dimitar Berbatov’s hurt, Dempsey could occupy the lead attacker’s role Adel Taarabt played this weekend, with small army of players (Kieran Richardson, Ashkan Dejagah, Alexander Kacaniklic, Pajtim Kasami, Bryan Ruiz, and Taarabt) as flanking options.

But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. First, Dempsey has to show up and work his way into the team, something that may require him getting back into playing shape. Fulham may be struggling for points, but they’re not short of options in Dempsey’s spots. Although his history at Craven Cottage hints Dempsey will likely get playing time, that history may prove irrelevant with a new squad playing under a new coach.

What should we expect, production-wise?

This should really be the last question, right? Screw it. I’m skipping to it. Fulham fans are hoping for the player who scored 29 goals in 74 games over his final two seasons in West London. Others will remember Dempsey scoring a more modest seven times in 29 games for Spurs, while true pessimists are looking at one goal in 12 games for Seattle and projecting a face plant for Deuce’s Premier League return.

For a number of reasons, we can throw the Seattle numbers out the window. Dempsey was never truly healthy, he was playing a role that doesn’t exist at Fulham (tip of a midfield diamond), and the Sounders were in chaos.

A better “guestimate” would look at last Fulham seasons as the best case scenario, note it was two years ago, and see his Tottenham days as a slight return to earth. But that even return to earth (a goal every 285 league minutes) wasn’t such as big drop off from his Fulham heights (a goal every 221 minutes during his final two seasons).

If Dempsey plays 10 games, averaging 75 minutes per, and performs to his capabilities, we’re looking at around three goals. At least, that’s the kind of output his final three Premier League seasons suggest.

So what does this all mean for Dempsey …

Remember: The goal here is to stay sharp, getting some playing time at a top level in during a World Cup year. In that respect, the numbers don’t matter. Whether he scores eight goals or none, the point is to build toward Brazil.

If he gets regular playing time, that’s practically mission accomplished. While keeping his spot means he’ll probably have to produce, the merits of those numbers are for René Meulensteen to decide. The most important number when gauging this loan’s success will be minutes played.

… the U.S. National Team,

Given Jurgen Klinsmann wants his MLS players to stay active, this looks like plus for the national team. But there’s another way to look at it. Fulham’s loan spell gives Dempsey, a 30-year-old not lacking in professional experience, two months worth of injury exposure.

source: Getty Images
U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has encouraged his MLS-based players to go out on winter loans, with Dempsey having negotiated a clause in Seattle contract that allowed this winter’s move.. (Photo: Getty Images)

Is that worth it for a player unlikely to improve during the loan? Let’s hold on to that thought.

You always have to balance training against risk, but MLS would give Dempsey three months of competition before the national team assembled for Brazil. Add in the January national team camp and preseason training in February, and Dempsey wasn’t looking at much of an offseason to begin with. This whole idea that players have to go to Europe to stay fresh during the winter break should really get more scrutiny.

Now, back to that thought. Dempsey’s situation is slightly unique. He needs to get his groove back, and for a player that went through a rough return to MLS, West London is Jamaica. And Fulham may be Taye Diggs.

Dempsey doesn’t just need to stay in shape. He’s a key to U.S. success in Brazil. He needs to recapture his form, and in that sense, given what he did in 2009-10 and 2010-11, there was no better offseason destination than Craven Cottage.

… Fulham,

This is a low-risk chance for a team to get the club’s most productive Premier League back for two months (insert non-existent “no duh” emoji here). Worst case scenario: He takes playing time from somebody contributing to the team’s 19th place standing. Best case scenario: He goes on another tear, scored five or six times, and helps his former club snare points that could save them from the second division.

… Major League Soccer,

Nothing. At least, it’s unclear this means anything good or bad for MLS. Some will see this as a talent  wanting to test himself against competition the league can’t provide. Others will see it as MLS having players the rest of the world still covets. More likely: This is a very specific situation for a somewhat unique player, rendering any broad conclusions meaningless.

… and the Seattle Sounders?

Nothing good, but they knew what they were getting into. They won’t see their most important attacking player until late February. When he returns, he’ll be plopped into a role he didn’t play at Fulham – the most important position in Seattle’s attack (assuming Sigi Schmid stays with a diamond midfield). In a role he struggled with last season, Dempsey will out of practice and unfamiliar with a number of new players around him.

Then, Seattle will lose him again for chunk of the middle of the season. When he returns from Brazil, Dempsey will have played soccer in 21 of the previous 24 months, with the three-month MLS homestretch coming into view. And given the U.S. National Team doesn’t use the same setup as the Sounders, Dempsey will again have to re-adjust to his place behind Seattle’s strikers (assuming he doesn’t master the role between March and May).

That sounds bad, and it’s even worse when you consider how much Seattle’s paying Dempsey this year. Still, MLS’s is a long season. Assuming they can make the playoffs, the Sounders only need to get things together November. Dempsey’s absence (along with Brad Evans’) met force them to focus on that goal.

As their run to first in the West last season showed, a slow start need undermine the campaign. And as their October collapse affirmed, it’s more important to be playing well at the end of the season than in the middle.

Do you have a video of Clint talking about the move? Maybe one where they make him say something awkward and Texas-y at the end?

Kinda. This is via Fulham’s YouTube account:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ioiOygWqgU]

Liverpool’s murky Top Four path depends on Manchester United

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Liverpool is a historic club with incredible presence. Jurgen Klopp is a celebrated manager with a strong reputation as a players’ coach.

Those two facets will always make the club attractive to players. Missing out on the UEFA Champions League is another thing altogether and would put a huge dent in Klopp’s ambitious recruitment goals.

And right now, the Reds look destined to drop out of the Top Four.

[ JPW: Oriol Romeu — The Perfectly Poised Destroyer ]

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Chelsea 32 24 3 5 65 27 38 13-0-2 11-3-3 75
 Tottenham Hotspur 32 21 8 3 68 22 46 15-2-0 6-6-3 71
 Liverpool 34 19 9 6 70 42 28 11-4-2 8-5-4 66
 Manchester City 32 19 7 6 63 35 28 8-6-1 11-1-5 64
 Manchester United 32 17 12 3 50 24 26 7-9-1 10-3-2 63
 Everton 34 16 10 8 60 37 23 12-4-1 4-6-7 58
 Arsenal 31 17 6 8 63 40 23 10-3-2 7-3-6 57

Even if Manchester United and Manchester City draw Thursday’s derby, both will be poised to pass the Reds by winning the match-in-hand.

Injury-ravaged United is bothered by UEFA Europa League duty against Celta Vigo, and has a brutal run-in that includes Spurs and Arsenal in addition to City. Liverpool has to hope United falls off, because Man City is likely going to walk over the Top Four line even with a draw in the derby.

The worst case scenario for Liverpool, aside from continuing to flail against clubs outside the Top Seven, is United toppling City on Thursday.

As an aside, it’s extremely unlikely that Arsenal leaps into the fray but if the Gunners did it would come at the expense of United.

Really, Liverpool’s run-in is perfectly built for two of its supporters’ favorite things: Winning matches and rooting against Manchester United. Here’s how they finish:

May 1 — at Watford
May 7 — vs. Southampton
May 14 — at West Ham United
May 21 — vs. Middlesbrough

Liverpool battered Watford 6-1 at Anfield and Boro 3-0 at the Riverside Stadium, but drew both Saints and West Ham earlier this season in addition to losing to Southampton in an EFL Cup semifinal.

Say the Reds nab a perfect 12 points to finish with 78; They’ll need City to take less than 14 from six remaining matches and United to earn less than 15 from six. The latter is far more likely than the former, but will matter very little if Klopp can’t motivate and organize his men in the final four matches.

Schweinsteiger shares thoughts on MLS, much more in lengthy interview

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Ambassadors responsible for Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s move to America extend deep into the 1970s.

1977 to be exact. That’s when Franz Beckenbauer first came to the New York Cosmos from Bayern Munich, a three-season tenure that went so well he returned to New York for his final professional season after time with Hamburg.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

Schweinsteiger said Beckenbauer’s words meant a lot to him, and admitted that he’s not imparting that wisdom to other overseas players who ask him about MLS.

From TSN.ca (Full video here):

“I remember when David Beckham was playing here or even I know when Franz Beckenbauer was playing here, and I was talking to him and he said he had his best life in America,” Schweinsteiger said. “We spoke about it and I was thinking about it a little bit.For me it was a little bit different because I love to play soccer and in Manchester I couldn’t play enough soccer so that was the problem.”

Among several interesting soundbites from the interview with Schweinsteiger also spoke about Germany’s memorable destruction of host nation Brazil at the 2014 World Cup:

“I remember the semifinal that we won 7-1. Everyone speaks about the 7-1, but we were not talking so much about it because we felt very, in a way, sad, because you saw your teammates like Dante and Luis Gustavo and the Brazilian supporters and the team crying, so you couldn’t really celebrate. Our focus was so much looking forward to the final. I remember things like this, sometimes more than the final.”

Not something you consider often. Winning a match 2-1 against your club teammates is one thing, but sending them to international humiliation is another.

Oriol Romeu: The perfectly poised destroyer

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SOUTHAMPTON — A two-hour drive on a straight highway along the coast of Catalonia in Spain, the road from Ulldecona to Barcelona is not as easy to navigate as you might think.

Ask Southampton’s star performer this season, Oriol Romeu.

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Currently reaching levels he admits he wasn’t sure he could ever reach, the 25-year-old midfielder is nailed on to be named Saints’ player of the season and as he prepares to head back to his former club Chelsea on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) the combative Catalan has been reflecting on his journey to the Premier League.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk on a sunny day on England’s South Coast, it was another coastal route which Romeu and his family got extremely used to navigating in his days with Espanyol as a youngster.

“It’s 200 kilometers from Barcelona, so quite far,” Romeu said of his hometown, Ulldecona. “It was a bit tough in the beginning because I had to travel a lot and my parents were a bit scared to spend too long on the road. When I was 12 I decided I wanted to go back home and wanted to stop playing football at a big level. Suddenly Barcelona came and said ‘we like you, we want you to be here and we don’t won’t you to go away’ and I said ‘okay, I will accept’ because obviously I love Barcelona and that was a chance I had to take. It went well. It went very well and I was very lucky to develop since the first day and I could become a good player. It was tough because I was too far away from home and I had to travel a lot. It wasn’t easy but I could make it.”

And make it he has.

Given Romeu’s steady ascent over the past 12 months where he first shadowed Victor Wanyama, Saints’ chief midfield destroyer at the time, and then shone at the back-end of last season, we’ve had a chat penciled in many times over recent months but due to his schedule or mine it has never quite worked out. Yet now, ahead of Romeu’s return to Chelsea, it seemed like the perfect time to discuss his rise at Southampton in the midst of the finest season in his career so far.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

“Finally, we can meet!” Romeu says, smiling as he walks through the door at Southampton’s training base at Staplewood. Sporting tattoos on the inside of his arms, Romeu places his wash bag and a light jacket down on the table as we catch up and discuss his plans for the afternoon.

Q&A with @nbcsports and @jpw_nbcsports today. Thanks for your questions! 😉 #saintsfc #southamptonfc

A post shared by Oriol Romeu (@oriolromeu) on

He explains that his dogs will be waiting by the door for him when he gets home and then he’ll set off on a long evening walk across one of the many stunning vistas within close proximity to his home in southern England. It gives him a chance to relax and switch off, he explains, as his life off the pitch is far from what you would expect for a powerful central midfielder who used to showcase a mean Mohawk hairdo.

Calm, collected and poised as he juggles a bottle of water while we talk, Romeu has had a long and winding journey to become a regular in the Premier League.

That journey has taken him to three countries, six clubs and the hugely likable Romeu seems to know so many people in the game. After Saints’ preseason friendly with Espanyol he was holding court with coaches and players in the tunnel area and the likes of Juan Mata and Fernando Torres are close friends, while following a recent home defeat to Manchester City his former boss Pep Guardiola spent several minutes speaking with him outside the locker rooms at St Mary’s.

Romeu made his way through the famed La Masia academy after deciding to stick it out in Barcelona after those tough early years and played under Guardiola for the team he grew up supporting. In his hometown of Ulldecona he idolized Brazilian legend Ronaldo and was a true Barca fan.

“My parents always say that I was a bit mad for Ronaldo” Romeu smiles. He even played up front in his early days as he looked to emulate Ronaldo yet Romeu sheepishly admits that scoring goals quickly became an afterthought in his game.

A move to Chelsea in 2011 saw Romeu’s career take a huge step forward as he played regularly under Andre Villas-Boas but with injuries hampering his progress at Stamford Bridge and after two loan moves to Valencia and Stuttgart, it’s at Southampton where he’s found his feet. Big time. A true fans favorite at St Mary’s in just his second season at Saints, Romeu is both the midfield organizer and destroyer.

His brute force is backed up by a growing intelligence to read the game and time interceptions to perfection. He has made the third-highest amount of tackles for midfielders in the Premier League, behind only Idrissa Gueye and N'Golo Kante, and also ranks sixth in the PL for most interceptions by a midfielder.

Romeu was rewarded for his fine displays by signing a new long-term contract in January, on the eve of what he calls his favorite moment in his career so far. He put in a man of the match display as Southampton beat Liverpool at Anfield to secure a place in the EFL Cup final at Wembley.

“The favorite moment of my career was that semifinal at Anfield when we beat Liverpool away. That was my happiest day as a footballer,” Romeu smiled, again. “We played amazing football and we got to a final and along with the fans we were all there enjoying and playing against a top side like Liverpool. That’s the top moment in my career. When Longy [Shane Long] scored, we all went mad! Fighting for that final, it was so close and if they scored it would be going to extra time. So when he scored it was one of the happiest moments of my career, no doubt.”

This season there’s no doubt it has been the best of his career and Romeu credits this to his growing confidence as he plays week in, week out in Southampton’s midfield. He’s been named Southampton’s Player of the Month on three occasions by the fans as he led their charge to a heroic EFL Cup final defeat, plus a historic campaign which saw them go within one goal of reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League after Romeu dominated Inter Milan in a famous win at St Mary’s.

Even after losing to Man United in the EFL Cup final, just when Saints seemed to be destined to win their first major trophy in over 40 years, Romeu chooses to take the positives from that experience.

“We hope that we can play at Wembley many times,” Romeu said. “It was a day that straight after we didn’t have a good feeling. But looking back now after a couple of months, it was a day to remember. We all had a very, very good feeling playing in that stadium. There was an amazing connection with our fans and since that day we have started to play better football and the fans started to realize we are trying to do our best. We didn’t win, we didn’t get the title we wanted, but there are so many positives to take.”

In the aftermath of that defeat, Romeu was inconsolable on the Wembley pitch as tears poured down his face as he wore the captain’s armband.

He and his teammates had given everything and with the score locked at 2-2 in the 62nd minute, he beat Paul Pogba to a header from a corner but the ball hit the post and was cleared. If Romeu’s header had gone in, there would not have been a more fitting scorer of a cup-winning goal for Southampton, especially at the exact same time as Saints’ fans were also lighting up their end of Wembley with a tribute to their savior and former owner Markus Liebherr who passed away at the age of 62.

Romeu’s song is sung with gusto each and every game by Southampton’s fans and the Catalan admitted he’s never received that kind of adulation anywhere else in his career.

When Romeu steps out onto the pitch against his old club Chelsea on Tuesday — he is once again available after a two-game ban for picking up 10 yellow cards this season — he’s no longer a kid from Catalan among Chelsea’s superstar squad. He’s a beast from Ullcedona who is capable of dominating their midfield.

Romeu credited current Saints boss Claude Puel (who was also a midfield destroyer in his playing days) with improving his game since he arrived last summer as he made the Spaniard a key part of his team.

“He is always trying to help me with the structure of the team. As a midfielder you always have players around yourself. If I can help the team to get tactically ready, it helps the team a lot,” Romeu explained. “We know in this league that sometimes the team gets unorganized and everyone is out of their place. Basically, in me he wants to have someone who makes sure everyone is back in their place and the team is ready to go again. Apart from having that faith in me and playing me in so many games, he is always trying to teach me in different parts of my game.”

Puel has recently compared Romeu to another Frenchman as his talents start to become widely appreciated alongside a growing number of holding midfielders in the Premier League who are garnering added respect. The likes of Kante at Chelsea, Gueye at Everton, Ander Herrera at Manchester United and Wanyama at Tottenham have all become integral for their respective teams.

In the summer of 2015 Leicester City had two options when looking to buy a new holding midfielder: Kante or Romeu.

Kante went to Leicester and Romeu went to Southampton and both proved to be fine signings. Romeu admitted that when Saints signed him in 2015 he was not at the best moment in his career and was struggling after a loan spell at Stuttgart. He has more than repaid the faith Saints showed in him to help him rebuild his career.

Both Kane and Romeu will do battle in the center of midfield at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday and with Kante named the PFA Player of the Year on Sunday for his fine destructive displays in midfield, Romeu’s manager believes his midfield destroyer is close to Kante’s level.

“N’Golo Kante brings the same qualities as Oriol Romeu for us. Without Kante it is difficult for Chelsea. Without Romeu it is difficult for us. For me, Oriol is not far off Kante,” Puel explained. “He is very consistent. Every game he gives a good performance and is strong on the recovery of the ball. He has a lot of qualities to also start on the ball and for me, he is at the same level. He’s a great player for me. But for the moment we cannot play for the first place of the table and he is not on the TV, but we will see for the future. For me he can go also to the selection with Spain for example.”

Representing Spain is also at the forefront of Romeu’s mind as a former coach of his at national team youth levels was Julen Lopetegui, the current head coach of the Spanish national team.

“As a footballer it is one of your dreams,” Romeu said. “When you are younger you see the national team playing and you say ‘oh, hopefully one day’ but it seems so far away. Now, honestly, I am feeling very good and the coach from the national team has been training with me in the U-23s. He knows the way I am and if he wants me to go there, I feel like I am ready to go. We will see what happens.”

A thoughtful individual who can often be found reading books in his spare time, beating everyone at table-tennis and even darts in the team lounge, Romeu allowed his mind to wander back to when he first arrived in England at Chelsea almost six years ago. Things were very different.

He admitted, perhaps surprisingly, than he’s even surprised himself as to how far he’s come since then.

“I see myself playing matches a few years ago and now I try different things and do different things, I’ve tried to learn to obviously get better and to be one step ahead. This year while I’m playing, I’m even discovering new things about myself because I’m playing on a level that I probably wasn’t expecting before,” Romeu smiled. “Before, I wasn’t feeling that I could do the things that I am doing now. It’s time to see how far I can go. I just want to keep going and see how long it will last. I’m feeling good.”

Romeu’s club and his teammates are in a very similar position.

Each and every season Southampton have been written off after selling on key names – Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle were the latest to exit last summer – but somehow they dig deep to grind out more from each player and secure a top 10 finish. This season, with new manager Puel at the helm, Saints are on course for their fourth-straight top 10 finish in the Premier League after competing in the Europa League and reaching a major cup final.

Puel has hailed Romeu’s importance to Southampton’s future.

“He learned with Barcelona and we can see this. He feels the play and feels the game with passes disguised and quality on the pitch,” Puel said. “He is very important in our start of the play. I like this.”

What’s the next step for Saints and Romeu? To challenge for a UEFA Champions League spot?

Romeu hopes that is achievable in the next “three or four years” at Southampton.

“That would be the main target. Definitely. That would be something so nice,” Romeu said, puffing out his cheeks. “There are teams, even top teams this year, that are struggling to get there. You need to be very, very consistent and have a very, very strong team. We will see if we can get that. Looking at our team now, if all the players injured were okay and if everyone playing is in his best moment, we will have a very strong side. Hopefully we can keep building into this structure that we have in this team and can get even better next year.”

Although there’s still a tinge of disappointment at Southampton that they couldn’t get past Manchester United at Wembley to seal Europa League action for a third-straight season, Romeu believes the potential to not have European games next season could be a blessing in disguise.

“We are seeing recently that the teams that are not playing in Europe, they feel better in the league and get in better positions at the end of the season. Last year with Leicester and this year with Chelsea,” Romeu said. “So we need to take that part of next year as something good, not something negative.”

Always positive after coming through plenty of testing times at home and abroad, Romeu is far from the end of his journey. Southampton is certainly glad a young midfielder decided to keep making those journey from one side of Catalonia to the other nearly 15 years ago.

Ahead of his return to Chelsea he is, as ever, reflective about his days at Stamford Bridge as a youngster. Perhaps the biggest compliment which can be paid to him is that Chelsea fans often flood social media feeds discussing Romeu’s displays with comments such as ‘why did you leave Chelsea?’ and ‘come back to Chelsea, Oriol.’

“It was probably a learning period of time. I was very young and I was sharing a dressing room with amazing players, idols for me then and now. I could learn a lot from them, the way they approached games and trained on a daily basis. It was a very good period. I was very happy to be there [at Chelsea]. To go back there it is nice and it will be good to play against some players I have a good relationship with and I get on with very well. It is always nice to go back there and play against them… and hopefully beat them!” Romeu laughed. “I think Chelsea have done amazingly and they are in the best position. They cannot relax. This league does not allow you to bring your level down one step.”

Romeu has taken his level up several steps and he shows no signs of stopping that climb now.

Pardew laments firing, credits Palace turnaround to new players

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Alan Pardew knows why Crystal Palace was failing when he got fired, knows he could’ve fixed it, and seems pretty bummed he’s not there any more.

Pardew emerged to make the comments after Sam Allardyce helmed another upset win for Palace, a 2-1 win over Liverpool which joins defeats of Arsenal and Chelsea.

The win moves Palace 12th, and the Eagles have a legitimate shot at a top-half finish despite their poor start to the season. But Pardew wants fans to know it was about a personnel mistake, and that Palace dropped into the relegation zone after he was fired.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

The Northeast Chronicle says Pardew aimed to bring former Newcastle left backs Davide Santon and Paul Dummett to Palace, but couldn’t get the moves over the line. Then Pape Souare was hurt in a car accident and Palace was in trouble.

Over to you, Pards (From the Chronicle’s Lee Ryder):

“We were kicking ourselves not to have any left-footed cover. We were playing right-footed players there and things were exploiting that situation. We became one dimensional.

“I was really disappointed I didn’t get to the window because Sam Allardyce followed me and the results didn’t really improve until the new players got bedded in and they made a big difference.”

Allardyce brought in Patrick Van Aanholt from Sunderland and Jeff Schlupp from Leicester to shore up the left side.

The story is made more amusing by the fact that Allardyce has not hesitated to make Palace’s return to form almost exclusively about his influence, while Pardew bleeds the very same blood.

Who’s on first?