Mauricio Pochettino will stay on as manager of Southampton Football Club

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SOUTHAMPTON — In a packed press room at St. Mary’s Stadium on Thursday afternoon, Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino announced he will remain in charge of the Premier League club.

The Argentine boss, 41, was rumored to be heading out the door alongside Executive Chairman Nicola Cortese who left on Wednesday, after he’d previously stated he would leave if the mastermind behind Southampton’s recent success walked out.

However as the national press descended on Southampton to hear Pochettino’s decision, the exciting young manager made a massive U-turn as he decided to stay on at St. Mary’s.

“I am staying as Southampton Football Club manager,” Pochettino said. “I have a professional responsibility to everyone.”

Disaster has been averted at Southampton, for now, as the South Coast club can at least count on its manager being around for the foreseeable future. Pochettino took the opportunity to thank Cortese for getting him involved in the project at Saints and revealed his shock about the Chairman’s departure.

“First of all I want to show my complete gratitude to Nicola Cortese from me and my staff for bringing us to the club,” Pochettino said. “It has surprised me quite a bit, and like everybody I knew nothing about his departure. What’s quite clear is that I have a very good relationship with Nicola Cortese, he agrees with my decision to stay. He only asked me for one thing, that’s to win on Saturday.”

Cortese left on Wednesday, after transforming Saints’ fortunes from League One basement boys in 2009 to excelling in the top ten of the Premier League. Owner Katharina Liebherr has now stepped in as non-Executive Chairwoman in Cortese’s absence and Southampton have begun their search for a Chief Executive Officer to replace Cortese.

Pochettino spoke briefly with owner Liebherr after she took over the everyday running of the club, but Pochettino revealed he has no idea whether she intends to sell the club.

“No, we just spoke briefly,” Pochettino said. “She wanted to see me and say hi and show me her full support. She transmitted her full trust and support to me and my staff and people working at this club.”

But what about Pochettino’s U-turn after stating last May he would leave Southampton if Cortese walked? As now he has decided to stay without the man who appointed him.

“The situation right now is completely different,” Pochettino said. “We are in the middle of our project at Southampton Football Club. Nicola knows of my decision to stay. It shows I am fully committed.”

(MORE: Nicola Cortese resigns as Southampton Chairman, manager Mauricio Pochettino could follow)

Cortese — an Italian banker who aided German billionaire Markus Liebherr with the acquisition of the club back in 2009 for $20 million when they were on the brink of extinction and bottom of English soccer’s third-tier — has walked away from the project which has seen him turn Saints into a top 10 PL club after they were down and out. The club is now worth an estimated $180 million after a dramatic rise.

ProSoccerTalk can reveal that Liebherr’s daughter Katharina, who assumed control of the club when her father died in 2010, will not move to England and will remain in Switzerland. She is currently in the United Kingdom heading up the search for a successor to Cortese, after yesterday revealing she was desperate for the Swiss-Italian maestro to stay.

“With great regret we have accepted the resignation of Mr Cortese,” Liebherr said. “He has done a wonderful job at the club and we very much wanted him to stay. A search has now begun for a successor. In the meantime, it is business as usual and we will ensure that the manager, the team and all the staff at the club have all the help and support they need.”

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Cortese’s departure has created a huge level of instability at Southampton.

Branded a controversial and brutal figure by many, Cortese, 45,  has led Southampton’s charge up the English soccer pyramid following the sudden death of Markus Liebherr. Following that setback, Cortese has ruthlessly transformed Southampton into one of English soccer’s great success stories of recent times after back-to-back promotions from League One saw them return to the top-flight in 2012-13 and establish themselves as a forward-thinking club this term.

After sacking Nigel Adkins and Alan Pardew ruthlessly in the past, Cortese always did what was right for the club, and his appointment of Pochettino obviously follows that trend. Pochettino celebrates a year in charge at Southampton this Saturday, January 18, and after making his name as a promising young coach at Espanyol in La Liga he’s turned Saints into a promising outfit which relies on a much-admired high-pressing style with a plethora of teenagers already present in the starting XI.

With Pochettino staying on board, rumors of a quick-fire sale and Southampton being stripped of all its assets are unfounded, for now. The Saints are currently enjoying their best spell in decades, with the team pushing for only their second top ten finish in PL history after their best-ever start to a top-flight season to begin the 2013-14 campaign.

But the futures of several first-team stars is apparently up in the air, 18-year-old Luke Shaw is attracting the interest of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, while England internationals Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana could all leave in the January transfer window.

For now, the storm has passed at St. Mary’s.

But with rumors swirling about the club being sold and the search for a new inspirational leader to take the exceptional progress Cortese made to the next level, turbulent times could still be ahead for the Saints.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham

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Southampton will host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both sides hoping to pick up three points for very different reasons.

The Saints are currently in the midst of a fierce relegation battle through 23 matches, and sit in 18th place in the Premier League, while Spurs are hoping challenge for a top-four position.

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Mauricio Pellegrino‘s Southampton could get defender Maya Yoshida back in time for Sunday’s match, however, the side will be without Charlie Austin once more, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, a number of key figures will miss the match for Tottenham, including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Harry Winks. Also, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld remain sidelined with injuries, although the latter is expected to be back soon.

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pellegrino on state of the Saints: “We are not happy with our position but in three or four weeks’ time everything can change. It’s part of our competition. I feel in our team the spirit is really good and everybody is conscious about what we need. I receive these messages from players every day, and we have to convert these feelings into stats.”

Mauricio Pochettino on potential January moves: “To be honest it will be difficult. At some point you always dream but not too much exciting [is happening]. If it happens, it happens. If not, then it doesn’t happen. We are happy with the squad.”

Prediction

Harry Kane is firing at an absurd rate recently, and Southampton’s current form is worrisome to say the least. With just four wins all season, it’s hard to imagine the Saints coming out in front in their clash. Southampton 0-3 Tottenham

La Liga: Las Palmas stuns nine-man Valencia, Atleti settles for draw

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Las Palmas 2-1 Valencia

It’s never ideal when you finish a match with nine men, and that was the case on the day for third-place Valencia. Things were going according to plan for the visitors early on at the Gran Canaria when Santi Mina scored five minutes into the match.

However, goals from Jonathan Viera (22nd minute) and Jonathan Calleri (53rd minute) brought Las Palmas in front, and they wouldn’t relinquish the advantage.

Gabriel Paulista‘s second yellow card, which set up Las Palmas’ penalty kick in the second half was the first sending off for Valencia, while Ruben Vezo joined his teammate in the locker room with three minutes remaining in regulation.

The victory moves Las Palmas into 19th place in La Liga.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Girona

Barcelona’s lead at the top of La Liga will likely grow courtesy of Atletico’s inability to apply pressure on the Blaugrana. Antoine Griezmann’s first-half strike wasn’t enough to cushion the Atleti lead, and in turn, Girona equalized with 17 minutes left in regulation when Portu scored off of a great take out of the air.

Espanyol 0-3 Sevilla

Franco Vasquez got things started for the visiting side after just 15 minutes, and before halftime Sevilla managed to double their lead through Pablo Sarabia. For good measure, the sixth-place side added a third goal in the 90th minute as Luis Muriel finished off a pass from Sarabia.


Elsewhere in La Liga

Villareal 2-1 Levante


Sunday’s La Liga matches

Alaves vs. Leganes — 6 a.m. ET
Real Madrid vs. Deportivo La Coruna — 10:15 a.m. ET
Real Sociedad vs. Celta Vigo — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Blockbuster trade sends Kamara to Galaxy, Zardes to Columbus

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The MLS offseason has been in full force for some time now, and the blockbuster moves continue to take shape.

On Saturday, the Columbus Crew finalized a deal with the LA Galaxy to send striker Ola Kamara to the Western Conference side.

[ MORE: All of the picks from Friday’s MLS SuperDraft first & second rounds ]

In exchange for Kamara, the Galaxy have sent U.S. Men’s National Team attacker Gyasi Zardes and $400,000 in Targeted Allocation Money to the Crew. The amount of TAM could increase to $500,000 if Kamara scores 12 or more goals in 2018.

Since arriving on the MLS scene in 2016, the Norwegian had scored 34 regular season goals for the Crew, while adding five assists.

Meanwhile, Zardes has spent his entire professional career with the Galaxy up until this point, after having signed a Homegrown contract with the club over five years ago.

The USMNT winger has scored 34 goals in 131 regular season appearances since making his senior team debut for the Galaxy.