Southampton prove they’re just fine without Koeman

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SOUTHAMPTON — Ronald Koeman‘s departure from Southampton this summer was meant to signal a lack of ambition.

It was supposed to be a sign that Saints would not be marching on any further and their fans were furious that Koeman, who had previously signaled his intent on multiple occasions that he would stay for one more season at least, left them for Everton.

[ MORE: Saints dominate Everton ]

On his first return to St Mary’s there were boos and jeers for Koeman, with Saints’ fans eager to point out his u-turn in their chants but there was soon a lack of intensity in the animosity after Charlie Austin‘s goal after 41 seconds set Saints on their way to a first Premier League win in five games and moved them on to 17 points, just two behind Everton.

After Southampton’s convincing 1-0 win on Sunday at St Mary’s, — don’t let the scoreline deceive you, despite recent up and down displays, Saints deserved this win — they proved that under new manager Claude Puel they’ve moved on and they’ll be just fine without Koeman at the helm. Of course, one win against a former manager doesn’t mean Saints will continue to march on.

[ MORE: How Koeman’s time at Saints unraveled ]

But getting one over their former boss certainly helped. One fan screamed “redemption!” as he walked out of St Mary’s and past the press conference room during Puel’s interview.

Speaking after the game, Koeman was reflective when asked about the home fans’ overall reaction to his return.

“Everybody is free. We live in a social life. Anybody can give his reactions,” Koeman said. “I know from the players of Southampton, how they react today, the staff, in general, of Southampton appreciate a lot what we did together. That is for me the most important. The rest… okay, that’s football. That is life.”

There were no special mentions or thanks for Koeman in the matchday magazine from Southampton. Simply an acknowledgement from both the new manager Puel and captain Jose Fonte that Koeman would be coming back. That was it.

When the Dutchman left in the summer, it was seen as a major letdown by fans, players and many behind-the-scenes. With a two-year  contract extension all but agreed, Koeman then changed is agent and soon he was demanding to leave for Everton. He was handed a reported $7.5 million per season deal with the Toffees.

Some Saints fans understand that if that kind of money is being offered up, it must be taken. Koeman led them to the UEFA Europa League and a seventh and sixth place finish in each of the last two seasons, their best-ever finishes in the Premier League. They’ve been on the up for seven-straight seasons since being in the third-tier in 2009 and they have always planned ahead with their own philosophy in mind.

Now is no different.

Plus, it’s not like Southampton hasn’t lost players (Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane, Dejan Lovren, Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne) or managers (Mauricio Pochettino) to so-called “bigger clubs” before in the past. They are used to waving goodbye to people and spending the huge profits they’ve made wisely.

Yet, it was the way Koeman went about it which really irked a lot of Southampton supporters. They let Koeman know how they felt but didn’t go overboard. Southampton’s dominance over Koeman’s new side Everton probably helped.

Midway through the first half Koeman sat in his seat with his head slumped downwards and his hands held together. He did that a lot on Sunday.

Then after Everton’s full backs were once again carved apart by Southampton’s wingers, he walked back to his seat shaking his head. The first half was not what he hoped for. At all. It didn’t get much better in the second half either. His team were outplayed and even though they had two or three good chances to score, Saints had many more.

There was also an added layer on his return, which perhaps shed a light on why Saints’ executive director of football Les Reed was finally okay to let Koeman leave in the summer.

Southampton is a club which is proud of its youth academy and bringing players through. Shaw, Lallana, Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the main names to make it big.

19-year-old Josh Sims is the latest to come through. He made his Premier League debut on Sunday and put in a man of the match display, getting a standing ovation as he was subbed out late on. Koeman spoke scathingly about Saints’ academy and about some of the players not being good enough last January when he was still in charge at St Mary’s. That upset many.

Sims spoke about his debut and his display and he’s proof, along with the man who replaced him, Sam McQueen, that there’s plenty more to look forward to from Saints’ famed academy. No matter what Koeman said.

“I’m delighted for how I performed today. I found out I was in the squad just before kick off and as soon as I knew, the lads were just giving me advice, telling me to just do what I do best – the whole thing was a great experience,” Sims said. “It was a mixture of nerves and excitement before starting but It’s everything you wish for as a kid. I’ve come through the academy here so having the fans sing my name and give me a standing ovation on my debut is a dream come true.”

Even some Everton fans at St Mary’s understood why Koeman’s departure from St Mary’s was met with such animosity but agreed that ultimately it was all about one thing: money.

“It is the nature of the beast.  Money talks,” said Everton fan Gareth Hughes from Porthmadog, who also rated Southampton’s current squad and manager highly. He thinks they will do just fine without Koeman.

But how would Everton’s fans feel if Koeman left them for a bigger team, say his beloved Barcelona, if things went well at Goodison Park over the next few years?

“Nobody is bigger than the club,” Hughes said.

Alex James, also an Evertonian, agreed with that sentiment.

“The club will always be there. Players and managers come and go. In a few weeks after a few wins, everyone will forget about him,” Hughes added.

This win, and performance, will go a long way to doing that for Southampton’s fans. Koeman is now firmly a part of their past as Saints’ well-oiled machine continues to march on no matter which players or managers are at the club.

Sunday’s display from Southampton proved they have well and truly moved on from Koeman.

New St. Louis stadium plan calls for state land contribution

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has made it clear he’s opposed to state funding for stadiums, yet a revised proposal for a $200 million soccer stadium in St. Louis calls for the state to contribute land that’s potentially worth millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, a city aldermanic committee delayed a vote Thursday to advance a measure putting the proposal, which also requires city voters to approve $60 million in funding, on the April ballot.

[ MORE: Galaxy adds Portugal CM ]

The investor group SC STL’s proposal calls for a 22,000-seat stadium near Interstate 64 and Union Station, a key component in the group’s effort to lure a Major League Soccer expansion team. MLS officials have expressed strong interest in St. Louis, but only if a stadium is built.

Time is of the essence: The league is expected to award two new expansion teams in the fall, with play starting in 2020.

St. Louis’ project was on life support after Greitens, a Republican who took office this month, said repeatedly that he opposed taxpayer funding for stadiums, calling it “welfare for millionaires.” SC STL had been seeking $40 million in state tax credits.

But a provision of SC STL’s revised financing plan, presented at Thursday’s meeting at City Hall, says the state would contribute the majority of the 24-acre project site, which is currently owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation, and perform some site clearing and infrastructure work.

The value is still being appraised, but given its location and the amount of land, it likely is worth several million dollars.

Greitens spokesman Parker Briden told The Associated Press in a statement that the governor “remains opposed to state funding to build the soccer stadium.” He did not immediately respond to a question about how the potential donation of land doesn’t conflict with Greitens’ hard-line stance.

[ MORE: Jones labels Howard’s comments “dangerous” ]

The first hint of compromise with the governor came in an email from SC STL spokesman Jim Woodcock late Wednesday, when he wrote that a “path forward” had been reached after two weeks of meetings.

“Gov. Greitens has made it clear to us that he is very supportive of adding a new professional sports franchise to the State of Missouri, and that’s a sentiment we wholeheartedly share,” the statement said.

The stadium project also requires taxpayer help from the city. The city Ways and Means Committee heard from SC STL officials Thursday, but no vote was taken on whether to ask the full Board of Aldermen to place the issue on the April ballot. The committee is expected to reconsider the measure Monday.

SC STL would be responsible for at least $95 million of the project cost, the entire $150 million expansion fee and all maintenance costs going forward.

Bundesliga returns: Will Bayern hold off competition again?

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Germany’s top flight returns to action Friday when Bayern Munich travels to Freiburg in an attempt to keep the pressure on new boys RB Leipzig.

[ MORE: Galaxy adds Portugal CM ]

For those who haven’t paid a ton of attention to the Bundesliga this season or need a bit of a refresher after several weeks away, here’s what to monitor over the next several months.

Really Big surprise Leipzig looks to keep title race going

Formed in 2009, RB Leipzig is a lot of German fans’ least favorite club after cash infusions caused a rapid rise into the top flight.

The new club is looking down at most of the haters, however. League leaders for much of the first half, Leipzig is three points shy of league leading Bayern Munich.

Bayern waxed Leipzig 3-0 before the holiday break, and the two sides won’t meet again until May 13. How long can the new boys keep up the show?

Historic relegation candidates

What does USMNT strikers Bobby Wood and Aron Johannsson share besides a national team? Both are on sides that have been in Germany’s top tier longer than the players have been alive.

Wood’s Hamburg has six national titles and hasn’t seen the second tier in 54 years. That’s the longest stretch in the league, two more seasons than Bayern Munich. Hamburg is a currently third-bottom, which would force them into a relegation-promotion playoff against the third-placed team in 2.Bundesliga.

As for Johannsson, his Werder Bremen side is just three points ahead of Hamburg. Bremen has been in the top flight for 36 seasons.

Chasing the Golden Boot

Robert Lewandowski has scored the most goals in two of the past three seasons, with Alexander Meier of Eintracht Frankfurt seizing the honor in 2014-15.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is leading the pack by three goals, but is with Gabon at the Africa Cup of Nations to help open the door for the rest of the bunch.

Koln’s Anthony Modeste is second with 13, while Lewandowski has 12. Two players, Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) and Sandro Wagner (Hoffenheim), have nine.

Can surprise Europe-chasers hold up?

Hertha Berlin was in 2.Bundesliga a few seasons ago, while Eintracht Frankfurt was there a season prior to that. RB Leipzig, as mentioned earlier, wasn’t even a club until 2009.

Eintracht made a Europa League run one year later, but neither was expected to be competing for a spot in Europe this season. As it stands, all three are in the mix.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 16 12 3 1 38 9 29 7-2-0 5-1-1 39
 RB Leipzig 16 11 3 2 31 15 16 6-1-0 5-2-2 36
 Hertha BSC Berlin 16 9 3 4 24 16 8 7-0-1 2-3-3 30
 Eintracht Frankfurt 16 8 5 3 22 12 10 5-3-0 3-2-3 29
 1899 Hoffenheim 16 6 10 0 28 17 11 4-5-0 2-5-0 28
 Borussia Dortmund 16 7 6 3 35 19 16 5-3-0 2-3-3 27
 1. FC Köln 16 6 7 3 21 15 6 4-4-0 2-3-3 25

Report: El Tri’s Chicharito to LAFC in 2018

Bayer Leverkusen's Javier Hernandez, left, and Atletico Mineiro's Mattheus Rolden fight for possession of the ball during the first half of a Florida Cup soccer match, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
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It makes a lot of sense, you know?

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will turn 30 in 2018, not a spring chicken for a striker but still plenty productive if healthy.

His national team, Mexico, will likely be revving its engines for the World Cup, and won’t be upset to have the forward playing a bit less soccer and a lot closer to home.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines ]

And Los Angeles FC will want to make a massive mark as it seeks to butt its head into a market dominated by the LA Galaxy (and, perhaps still then, Mexico national teamer Giovani Dos Santos).

So, tell us more, Steve Brisendine of MLSSoccer.com:

“[LAFC] are going to do everything possible to sign the current Bayer Leverkusen player, whose contract ends in 2018 and could therefore leave for a reduced fee. That’s what AS.com has confirmed with sources close to the project. LAFC hope to announce their new manager this spring and dream, a little later, to do the same with Javier Hernandez, aka Chicharito.”

Make it happen. Make. It. Happen. We’re already reserving his spot on our MLS fantasy teams.

Transfer rumor roundup: Jagielka, Begovic, Berahino, Zarate

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 13: Saido Berahino of West Brom challenges for the ball with Phil Jagielka of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Everton at The Hawthorns on September 13, 2014 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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There’s action all over England, from those defending the goal mouth to others striving to conquer it.

[ MORE: More transfer gossip ]

— Bournemouth wants an upgrade on Artur Boruc, according to The Telegraph, and that could come in the form of Chelsea backstop Asmir Begovic.

The Cherries reportedly had a $12.5 million bid turned down by Antonio Conte, who has Thibaut Courtois in the No. 1 seat and Portugal national team backup Eduardo in the ranks (along with three keepers on loan and young goalie Mitchell Beanie).

— Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger shut the door on acquiring West Ham wantaway Dimitri Payet according to Sky Sports’ Transfer Centre:

“We have many players offensively who can play in this position. You are interested by the quality of the player but there needs to be a need as well, and we have no need in this domain.”

— Clubs in need of experienced Premier League backs need look no further than Everton, where manager Ronald Koeman has admitted that England international Phil Jagielka could leave Goodison Park. The 34-year-old center back has 40 caps for England and has made 337 appearances for Everton. He could be a massive upgrade for Sunderland if David Moyes is up for a reunion.

— Stoke City chairman Peter Coates says a purchase of Saido Berahino from West Brom is not contingent on a sale of Bojan Krkic. The latter has been linked to Middlesbrough.

— Mauro Zarate may be returning the Premier League. Watford boss Walter Mazzarri has been largely let down by his strike corps as Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney have taken steps back this season. Could $4 be enough to bring the ex-West Ham and QPR man from Fiorentina to Vicarage Road? Zarate has four goals in nine matches for La Viola, and has nine goals in 40 Premier League matches.