Bournemouth vs. Southampton: Most complex derby in Premier League?

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What is this game?

Nobody really knows.

Some fans will tell you its a rivalry. Others will tell you its a derby. Others dismiss it as anything more meaningful than another game in the Premier League that happens to be between two teams separated by 30 miles.

There is something extra there about Bournemouth vs. Southampton. But it’s complex.

This Sunday Bournemouth host Southampton in a South Coast Derby (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) for just the second time in the top-flight following their promotion to the Premier League in 2015.

[ MORE: Explainer on Saints vs. Bournemouth ]

Last season I went to the first-ever meeting between Southampton and Bournemouth in the top-flight and spent days with both sets of fans trying to decipher what this rivalry was all about.

In truth, it’s still growing and after being embedded among both groups of supporters before the game in November 2015, by the end I was probably more confused as to what it meant but I was also sure that if both teams remained in the Premier League for many years to come it has the potential to flourish into a full blown rivalry. I grew up in southern England and most of my family still reside in the area. Yet still, I have a tough time figuring out what it means and how big of a deal it is.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and A.F.C. Bournemouth at St Mary's Stadium on November 1, 2015 in Southampton, England.
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What we do know is that the two teams will go into Sunday’s game both on 21 points and looking to cement themselves in the top 10 of the Premier League with a win. There’s no doubting this rivalry has reached its heyday with Southampton no longer the undisputed top dogs, at least on the pitch, in southern England.

Back in 2011 Southampton and Bournemouth were slugging it out in League One, England’s third-tier. Saints sealed two-straight promotions and got back to the Premier League where they’ve been ever since and have now turned into a top six contender which has qualified for Europe in each of the last two seasons.

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After gaining promotion in similar fashion, Bournemouth has similar aspirations and announced earlier this week that they plan to build a new stadium with a much larger capacity than the current 11,000 at the Vitality. The Cherries want to take on their South Coast rivals who have always plucked fans from the New Forest area and towns in and around Bournemouth who wished to watch the Premier League instead of the lower leagues, as Saints continue to attract average crowds of around 30,000.

Now, that’s changed. The gap is closing. These two teams are in the same league and although Southampton’s fan base and resources may be larger than Bournemouth’s, former Bournemouth and Portsmouth defender Eddie Howe is doing a wonderful job to create a young, hungry team which can compete in the top-flight.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s game, Bournemouth’s manager believes this rivalry is growing and when the Cherries were first promoted to the PL in 2015 he earmarked the two games against Southampton as one of the first he and Bournemouth fans looked for. Bournemouth want to make this into a rivalry.

“We know the importance of this game for our fans and our league position,” Howe said. “The more games we play against Southampton the more the rivalry will grow. It’s something we’re looking forward to.”

Over the last few seasons violent scuffles have broken out between Southampton and Bournemouth fans. One fan was hospitalized after the clash at St Mary’s last November and Bournemouth’s fans are desperate to show the “scummers” that they belong alongside them in the Premier League and are willing to go to extreme measures to, at least in their eyes, prove it. Most of Southampton’s fans are lukewarm about this rivalry, at best, creating yet another layer of complexity to this fixture.

Maybe that’s because the Cherries have beaten Saints just once in the league since 1958. However, that victory was last season at the Vitality Stadium in a real landmark moment as Bournemouth easily survived relegation in their debut PL campaign and have built on that with Jack Wilshere joining on loan in 2016-17 and a recent 4-3 win over Liverpool earmarking their ability.

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Southampton at Vitality Stadium on March 1, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.
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Another one of the complexities which muddies this rivalry is the friendliness which has existed between the two clubs over the years. And the towns too, with the two largest settlements on the south coast of England cohabiting rather harmoniously as Bournemouth acts as the chief tourist destination with its golden sand beaches and Southampton is the industrial hub with its bustling port, but there’s so much crossover in business, families and leisure between the two ports.

Pretty much every preseason in living memory has seen these two teams play each other in a friendly but that hasn’t happened in the last two seasons after Bournemouth’s shock promotion to the Premier League for the first-time in their 117-year history. That’s natural. No other rivals in the PL would have a preseason friendly at their home stadium.

When both teams were struggling in the lower divisions and on the verge of liquidation in 2008, the thought of this derby becoming a mainstay in the Premier League would’ve been a wild fantasy for fans of either teams. It always seemed so far off from happening, especially for Bournemouth.

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In their darkest hours the Cherries were bottom of the fourth-tier and cash strapped. Saints agreed to play friendlies at Bournemouth to help raise funds to keep them afloat and have loaned them several players over the years — such as Adam Lallana, current Bournemouth midfielder Andrew Surman, and many others — as they’ve been treated almost like a feeder club for Southampton’s young academy. Hence why Southampton’s fans are not only largely disinterested in the rivalry, but also a bit peeved at upstarts Bournemouth trying to overtake them in the Premier League both on and off the pitch and shouting off their mouths with chants in and around the stadiums and the cities on matchday.

See, it’s complex, right? It’s not like the other rivalries in the Premier League which are much more cut and dry.

Liverpool vs. Manchester United has always been huge, as has Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur and Everton vs. Liverpool. Even a similar rivalry — at least geographically speaking with two settlements close by, but completely separate — such as Newcastle United vs. Sunderland in past PL seasons is much more intense. Simply put, neither team thought this would be the situation they’d be in with only 23 league games played between the two over 126 years. The rivalry is growing rapidly.

Now, with both clubs well-run and funded by wealthy foreign investors, it is a reality and all of a sudden there’s a new derby to watch out for in the Premier League. The problem is, nobody knows what to call it and there’s still a lot of chatter from both sets of fans about what it all means.

Southampton’s new manager Claude Puel will be taking charge of his first game against Bournemouth and he already understands the added importance to fans.

“For our supporters and our fans it is of course important to get a good result against Bournemouth. I know this,” Puel said. “But for me, the players, it is important to stay with the good concentration about our play. I think we will see a good game because the two teams like to play the game on the ground with a good philosophy. I like the philosophy of this team under good work from their trainer and I think it is the same towards Southampton.”

“It’s also a game between the supporters of Bournemouth and Southampton. There is a good rivalry between the two cities. All of this gives a good intensity and atmosphere about this game. The result is important for the fans.”

“The New Forest Derby” was mentioned over the years but that moniker hasn’t really stuck and even the “South Coast Derby” isn’t truly accepted as Southampton vs. Portsmouth is widely regarded as the South Coast Derby given their historically intense rivalry. With Portsmouth languishing in the fourth-tier of English soccer, that particularly derby won’t happen in the Premier League for many years. So, now, almost reluctantly, a new derby on England’s south coast has arrived.

Sunday will be another chance to see just how quickly this burgeoning rivalry is developing.

It may not become one of the biggest in the league but something special is brewing between Bournemouth and Southampton as both teams continue to defy the odds and challenge for a place in the Premier League’s top 10 from their homes on either side of the idyllic New Forest.

You can name this derby whatever you want. Just know it’s on the verge of becoming something much bigger than it ever has been.

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.