A rivalry brewing: Bournemouth vs. Southampton

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BOURNEMOUTH — Driving from Southampton to Bournemouth through the foggy New Forest on Sunday, it took just over 30 minutes to get to the Vitality Stadium.

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The road from Southampton to Bournemouth hasn’t been one used for soccer often. They’ve played each other just 24 times in the league in history, making this particular South Coast derby one which has been tough to decipher over the years.

With Bournemouth languishing in the lower leagues for much of their 117-year existence and Southampton ruling the local areas for decades, the power is shifting with upstarts Bournemouth on the up in recent seasons after rising all the way to the Premier League from the fourth-tier.

Yet, as much as most Bournemouth fans want to make this a local rivalry, Southampton’s supporters aren’t too interested. Right now, they don’t see Bournemouth as a legitimate rival despite the Cherries being on level points with them (marking their highest-ever position in club history) heading into this clash.

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Before the game there were whispers among the Bournemouth fans that scuffles had broken out around the town center by the train station with bottles thrown and the police having to sort out the disturbances.

In some instances this rivalry is not a friendly one. For the most part it is.

“The minority spoil it for the majority. I’m very good mates with a lot of Bournemouth fans and their principles are the same as ours. They see it as a friendly rivalry,” Southampton fan Stewart McAlpine said in the away end at the Vitality Stadium.

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Chatting to Andy Poole, a Bournemouth fan sipping on a beer before the game. he acknowledged that this rivalry is still in its infancy but it can become something bigger than it ever has been.

“I think now that we are both in the Premier League it will take on a new meaning where before we were poles apart,” Poole said. “I think people talk it about too much. There is a lot of respect between the two sides and we’ve got a common interest on the South Coast to promote Premier League football. It can only be a good thing.”

For so many years Bournemouth have been seen as Southampton’s little brother. A club which Saints loaned its best youngsters out to for experience and a lower-league team they played in preseason friendlies. That’s not the case any more.

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Last season Bournemouth were promoted to the Premier League and top-flight for the first-time in club history and this rivalry was sent to new levels. Sunday’s South Coast derby proved that.

“F*** Off Southampton, the South Coast is ours!” was the first song from the Bournemouth faithful in the Steve Fletcher Stand and those chants only grew louder as Nathan Ake scored with a brilliant diving header to make it 1-0 to Bournemouth just six minutes in.

The underlying animosity was clear as a Bournemouth fan picked up the ball and threw it away from Saints’ right back Cedric Soares when it was 1-0. When Southampton equalized via Ryan Bertrand‘s lovely finish from the left side of the box there were groans of discontent inside the Vitality Stadium as Bertrand gestured for them to be quiet.

The home fans weren’t happy and the away fans taunted them with a song entitled “I’ve got a shed that’s bigger than this” when referring to the smallest stadium in the Premier League which has a capacity of just over 11,000.

Constant songs about hating Portsmouth, their true rivals from further east down the South Coast, emanated from the away fans throughout the game as Bournmouth’s fans continued to focus on Southampton.

“If you all hate scummers clap your hands” was the chant from the Bournemouth fans after Sofiane Boufal was booked for simulation before half time.

“I don’t really see it is a much of a rivalry because it has always been us versus Pompey,” McAlpine explained. “I think it is a friendly one. We’ve helped them out in the past. It’s nice to see them doing well. Saints fans aren’t really that bothered about Bournemouth. For Bournemouth, they have to have a rivalry with someone and that rivalry is with us. Let them have it. We are the best side on the South Coast.”

Poole, and most Bournemouth fans, believe they can fill the void left by Portsmouth following their relegation to the fourth-tier of English soccer which has left Saints without a main rival.

“It [the rivalry] now has that extra dimension with Bournemouth in the Premier League and Portsmouth waning over the years, maybe we are taking over from where Portsmouth left off,” Poole said.

At half time, there was a further indication of the closeness, at least geographically, of Bournemouth and Southampton, even if the rivalry isn’t as close as others across the Premier League which have much more history. It’s understandable, after all, these teams have now met just three times in the PL.

In a competition between fans on the pitch where they had to spin around on the spot and then take a penalty kick, a man wearing a Southampton shirt took a PK. He was introduced by the stadium PA announcer as someone from Christchurch, a town much closer to Bournemouth than Southampton. Cue boos from the home fans as he scored his penalty kick and celebrated by sliding on his knees. He cared. So too did Southampton’s fans.

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A lively start to the second half saw Southampton take the lead as Jay Rodriguez tapped home. That sparked wild celebrations in the away end and intense frustrations among the home fans. When Rodriguez grabbed his second and Saints’ third with a fine strike, the away fans were even more jubilant as they celebrated a deserved 3-1 win.

Despite Southampton’s dominant win on Sunday’s Bournemouth’s fans are still optimistic they can rule the South Coast in years to come with promise of a new stadium and more investment the longer they can remain a Premier League team.

“We’ve languished in the lower leagues for most of our history but there’s a determination to be a Premier League club for many years. With that comes a bigger ground and more expectation. For the future, who knows? We could be the dominant force on the South Coast,” Poole said, smiling. “Southampton have been the bigger side and had more success. It’s not that far down the road to go and watch football. Bournemouth have always been down in the lower leagues so people tended to go and watch Southampton play when they wanted to see that high standard of football. It’s all changed now and people are going to start migrating back this way.”

Even if that’s the case, Southampton’s fans had the final say on Sunday. And even if they don’t admit it, a win against their neighbors from 30 minutes down the road will make their Christmas dinner taste a little better next weekend.

“We are Southampton, the South Coast is ours!” was quickly followed by “There’s only one South Coast derby!” just to remind Bournemouth’s fans exactly how they felt about his perplexing rivalry.

VIDEO: Goalkeeper sends Memphis Depay flying with skillful touch

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Former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay has one of the brightest spots for Lyon this season that sees them battling with Monaco and Marseille for 2nd place behind a dominant PSG. He has scored 15 goals and assisted 11 others this Ligue 1 campaign, adding to his tally just four minutes into Friday’s 5-2 win over Dijon, the sixth win in a row for the club that pulled them within a point of Monaco.

However, there was a moment to forget for Depay in the victory as well.

With the score still at 1-1 in the 19th minute, Depay was sent high up the pitch to press Dijon goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet, owner of the leakiest net of the Ligue 1 season. Nevertheless, sometimes the underdog prevails, and that’s what happened as Depay flung himself at the ball to put Reynet under pressure.

One silky touch by the netminder was all it took for Depay to end up on his backside.

The 24-year-old Dutch winger has had a fantastic season and one that could potentially propel him back to the biggest stage and a bigger paycheck, but for now, we can all poke fun at his misery in the moment.

Dortmund admits interest in signing Batshuayi permanently

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Michy Batshuayi might be out for the season with a serious ankle injury, but he may have already done enough to earn a permanent move to Borussia Dortmund.

The Chelsea striker moved on loan to the Bundesliga side in January and made an immediate impact, scoring two goals on his debut, and ultimately wound up with seven goals in 10 Bundesliga games before his ankle injury brought his season to a close. Now, the Dortmund front office is speaking very highly of the Belgian goalscorer, not so subtly hinting that they will take an aggressive approach this summer.

The interest to sign him is there,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. “But first we have to wait and see who will be Chelsea’s coach next season. Then we’ll start looking.”

Chelsea has Antonio Conte currently at the helm, but there are strong rumors that the Italian will depart at the end of the season as the Blues sit comfortably outside the Champions League places. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is known for his quick trigger, and despite Conte winning the Premier League just last season, this year’s disappointment will likely not be tolerated.

That yet-to-be-determined future has a significant impact on Batshuayi’s future, as Watzke mentions. The new Chelsea boss could take a liking to Batshuayi, which could complicate his permanent move. In addition, it’s possible that current players on the Blues roster could depart, like Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, or Willian, making Batshuayi’s place at Chelsea more tenable.

There’s plenty to be sorted out in the coming months, but with Batshuayi’s 10-game performance at Westfalenstadion at the forefront of Watzke’s mind, it’s clear there will be potential here as the summer draws near.

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th. The only teams in the top four leagues to score more goals than Fulham since Jokanovic took over are Liverpool and Manchester City.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions. Ream had this stunning goal-line clearance in the victory over Millwall on Friday, saving Fulham’s bacon with goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli on the ground after an acrobatic save.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Espanyol fires former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Espanyol says it has fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores with the club slumping in the Spanish league and in danger of facing a relegation fight to end the season.

Espanyol announced the decision on Friday, adding sports director Jordi Lardin has also been let go.

Sanchez Flores, a former manager of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Watford, among other clubs, coached the Barcelona-based club for the past two seasons.

Reserve team coach David Gallego will take over for the remaining five rounds of the season, starting with a visit to Girona on Sunday.

Espanyol hasn’t scored a goal in five matches, and has only two wins in the last 15 rounds. It is in 16th place, nine points from the drop.