Pochettino believes his side have the quality to beat Arsenal at the Emirates.

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.

Barcelona tops Levante, ties club record with 28 unbeaten

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 07:  Jordi Alba of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his teammate Andres Iniesta during the La Liga match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia on February 07, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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Sir Alex Ferguson described the 2010/11 Barcelona team as the best team he ever faced.

This year’s Barcelona side has matched them.

With a 2-0 victory over La Liga basement-dwellers Levante on an own-goal forced by Jordi Alba plus a late score from Luis Suarez, Barcelona has gone 28 matches unbeaten in all competitions, without a loss since a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla on October 28.

Manager Luis Enrique, though, is unmoved. “What matters to me are the team’s objectives,” said Enrique after the win. “These are nice numbers, if they help us win titles at the end of the season, fantastic. We are in good position, but there is still a lot left.”

The Levante victory marked Luis Enrique’s 100th game in charge of Barcelona.

That 2010/11 season, led by Pep Guardiola, Barcelona came a Copa del Rey finals loss to Real Madrid from a quadruple, winning the league, Champions League, and Supercopa de Espana. This time around, they’ve already secured the Supercopa, sit atop the league table by three points over Atletico Madrid and seven above Real Madrid, have yet to lose a game in the Champions League, and the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal against Valencia is a complete formality. What’s more, the numbers from this streak are eerily similar to that wildly successful squad five years ago.

That campaign, Lionel Messi scored 31 league goals and 53 overall. An injury sapped him of time in this go around, but Suarez and Neymar have picked up the slack. There has been just one league game in which all three of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez has been held scoreless this season, and to find it you have to travel all the way back to the second game of the year, a 1-0 win over Malaga that saw Thomas Vermaelen score the winner. Those three have combined for 48 league goals this year, more than every team in the Spanish top flight save Real Madrid.

Paris Saint-Germain has a similar streak going at the moment, currently unbeaten in league play throughout the entire season, but their 1-0 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League on November 3 means their streak across all competitions sits at 19 games.

Watch Live: Bournemouth vs Arsenal (Lineups & Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal and Adam Smith of Bournemouth compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is hoping to break its four-game winless streak as it travels to Vitality Stadium to take on Bournemouth, live on NBCSN at 8:30 a.m. ET or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

The Gunners have drawn three and lost one over its last four matches, leaving them unable to keep pace with Leicester City at the top of the table. With Leicester again winning this week and a matchup with the Foxes looming next time out for Arsenal, this match seems a must-win for Arsene Wenger and company if they wish to remain serious title contenders.

[ WATCH LIVE: Bournemouth vs Arsenal live online at NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Wenger has chosen to leave veteran defender Per Mertesacker on the bench in favor of Gabriel. Francis Coquelin also remains among the substitutes for the second straight match, meaning either Wenger prefers Mathieu Flamini in midfield, or Coquelin remains unfit for a full 90 minutes. Tomas Rosicky was injured last weekend and will be out up to three months, which could end his season.

Eddie Howe has named an unchanged starting lineup from their 2-1 away win at Crystal Palace last week. Winger Junior Stanislas is back on the bench after missing last week. In contrast to Arsenal, the Cherries are unbeaten in four and have won four of their last six, a stretch which has propelled them five points off the relegation zone and the same distance away from the top half of the table.

[ MORE: Premier League Sunday Preview ]

There are no new injury concerns for either side. Both have long-term absentees who are on the mend but still not close to a return. Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, and Santi Cazorla are all out for the Gunners, while Bournemouth duo Max Gradel and Callum Wilson are also sidelined for a while but could return before the end of the season.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Boruc; Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels; Surman, Gosling; Ritchie, Arter, Pugh; Afobe.
Subs: Federici, Distin, Stanislas, O’Kane, Iturbe, King, Grabban.

Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sánchez, Özil; Giroud.
Subs: Ospina, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Walcott, Campbell, Coquelin, Iwobi.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.