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.

MLS Snapshot: FCD lose 2nd in a row; Fire win 4th straight

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The game in 100 words (or less): After starting the 2017 season nine games without a loss, FC Dallas, the longest-lasting unbeaten team in MLS, has lost two straight. Saturday saw their unbeaten start come to an end, against the San Jose Earthquakes, just as Wednesday’s trip to Toyota Stadium saw Oscar Pareja’s side drop all three points to the Chicago Fire. All three of the game’s goals were scored during the opening nine minutes, as FCD fought back from 1-0, but couldn’t find a second equalizer on the night. Nemanja Nikolic bagged the opener, his 11th goal in 13 games to extend his lead in the Golden Boot race to two, in the 3rd minute. Roland Lamah brought FCD back to level terms three minutes later, but David Accam restored the home side’s advantage after three more minutes. Nikolic had every opportunity in the world to take his goals tally to a dozen during second-half stoppage time, but Chris Seitz denied the Hungarian international from the penalty spot. For the first time since Sept. 2012, Chicago have won four straight league games, and sit just two points back of Eastern Conference-leading Toronto FC (26 points).

[ WATCH: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to $10M contract demands ]

Three moments that mattered

3′ — Nikolic redirects past Seitz for 1-0 — Nikolic ran 15 yards straight ahead without a single FCD player picking him up or impeding his path to the near post, and they paid for it.

6′ — Lamah taps it in to make it 1-1 right away — Lamah has been quite the disappointment since arriving in Dallas this winter, but he happened to eb in the right place at the right time in this one, as a failed clearance fell to the five-times-capped Belgian international for an easy tap-in, and his first MLS goal.

9′ — Accam cuts inside to make it 2-1 just as quickly — At some point, Accam will be properly rated by the wider MLS audience, as he’s been Chicago’s best player for two full seasons, and has only hit a new high with capable attackers all around him.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Dax McCarty

Goalscorers: Nikolic (3′), Lamah (6′), Accam (9′)

Report: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to contract demands

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While Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has the feel of the player most clearly destined to play in MLS since Thierry Henry, we might have to wait a little while longer before the 28-year-old Mexican international ditches Europe in favor of a return to North America.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to a report from ESPN FC on Thursday, Hernandez is seeking an annual salary “way north of $10 million,” which would shatter the current record contract for an MLS player (Kaka — $7.2 million per year).

Hernandez has one more season left on his contract with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. During the summer of 2018 he’ll be available for any club in the world to sign on a free transfer. With Los Angeles FC, the team Hernandez has reportedly been negotiating with for months now, set to debut in MLS in March 2018, chances are they’d like the centerpiece of their squad (and the largest annual investment in MLS history) to be involved on opening day, thus a fee will be required, very likely pushing the club’s total investment (salary plus fee) into the neighborhood of $50 million.

[ WATCH: Giovani dos Santos’ jaw-dropping volley vs. MIN ]

You can see pretty quickly why LAFC might balk at such demands.

With that said, 1) LAFC shouldn’t be surprised by this recent development, given Hernandez’s otherworldly allure within the LA market; 2) to piggyback on no. 1, a player should be paid every cent he’s worth to the club, on and off the field, and there might not be a player in the entire world (this side Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) who’d make LAFC a bigger hit in LA from day one.

Enrique “more than satisfied” with Barca tenure, eyes one more trophy

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique is finally saying goodbye to Barcelona, with one last chance at a trophy.

The Luis Enrique era in Barcelona ends after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday, when the coach could cap his three-year stint with a ninth trophy out of a possible 13.

It would be a fitting farewell for him nearly three months after his surprise announcement that he was leaving.

“It would be a special title,” Luis Enrique said.

The former Barcelona midfielder has won nearly everything as the coach, since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014.

He led the team to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey, and Champions League in 2015. He achieved the league-Copa double in 2016, and began this season with the Spanish Super Cup title, their only trophy so far.

It hasn’t been Luis Enrique’s best season with Barcelona, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid last weekend.

“I’m happy and more than satisfied for all the years that I’ve enjoyed with this club,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said.

He announced in March he was leaving so he could get some rest.

“I came here to be a leader and I’ve been one. I’m leaving when I think it’s the best time to do it.”

His other titles included the 2015 European Super Cup and the 2015 Club World Cup.

Barcelona has yet to lose a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since he took over, a run of 12 straight triumphs.

“We are all thankful for these three years (with Luis Enrique),” captain Andres Iniesta said. “We have to win one last title to finish the best possible way.”

Barcelona has been in the Copa final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. It has won it a record 28 times, including the last two.

Alaves will be playing in the final of a major tournament for only the second time in its 96-year history. The other was the UEFA Cup 16 years ago, when it lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time.

Alaves’ only winner’s trophy is for Spain’s second division. It was a promoted club in Spain’s top division this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, including four in the third tier. It finished ninth in the Liga.

Alaves enters the Copa final boosted from having beaten Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou at the beginning of the season.

The coach touted to replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona is Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao this week. An official announcement is expected next week.

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

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Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

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It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.