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.

Lukaku rejects big comparisons: “I can’t say I’m in my prime”

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Romelu Lukaku has bagged a bunch of goals and played on three Premier League teams, but knows there’s another level to his game as he opens up life at Manchester United.

Rejecting comparisons to big strikers like Didier Drogba (because they’re different style players) and Robert Lewandowski (because he’s not yet at that level), Lukaku gave his thoughts about his career’s next steps.

[ MORE: Q&A with Edin Dzeko ]

Lukaku didn’t score in the PL for Chelsea, but has a 17-goal campaign on loan to West Bromwich Albion as well as 15-, 10-, 18-, and 25-goal seasons for Everton.

From Sky Sports:

“I’m 24 years of age, I cannot say I am the complete package, I can’t say I’m in my prime.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and I am delighted there is still a lot of work to be done. That means I can become even better than I am now.”

Lukaku most needs consistency in his game. Even in his massive campaign last season, he twice went four matches without a goal. While it’s possible to have fine performances but not find finish, Everton went 1W-3D-4L in those combined stretches and five of those matches were against bottom half sides.

Something tells us having Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marcus Rashford setting him up could help, too.

Q&A: Edin Dzeko on Roma, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Champions League

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PST spoke to a quartet of AS Roma players this week as the club contends the 2017 International Champions Cup in the United States with the aim of a profile piece on i Lupi captain Daniele De Rossi’s quest for an elusive scudetto.

That piece came out well, but the conversations with some of his teammates were just as fun. While Kevin Strootman’s resilience and Hector Moreno’s Mexican ambassador status neatly fit into individual posts, our talk with ex-Man City striker and reigning Capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko works better in Q&A form.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Plenty has changed since Dzeko scored in Man City’s wild title-clinching finish against QPR. Dzeko talked about his surprising and explosive 29-goal Serie A season, his interest in a UEFA Champions League return to the Etihad Stadium, and a love for representing his home nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Enjoy.

PST: Obviously we know your quality from having scored 25-plus goals three times in seasons at Wolfsburg and Manchester City, but what was it like going from 10 goals to 39 in your second season at Roma?

Edin Dzeko: “It was definitely one of the best in my career. When you get up in your years you are supposed to go down, but actually I’ve gone up. I felt good and from the beginning of preseason I trained hard and it was an important season after getting to know the qualities of the teams and players in the league after my first season in Italy. Last year was big proof of it and like it always is, it was harder than it looked.”

PST: You’ve won the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the latter twice. Last season you shaved Juventus’ table advantage to four points. Can this be the year?

Dzeko: “I have hope that I can do the same in Italy. It’s definitely not easy with Juventus having it the last few years and not selling, only buying new players. Last season was really good for us. We were very close but we still dropped some easy points against the small teams and that cost us at the end. Next year we play Champions League. We changed coaches and a few players left and others came so we have to gather up to the new style of the coach and the new players have to learn what it is to play in Italy. Hopefully this season can be better than last, but we have to go step-by-step.”

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

PST: Wolfsburg had never won, and Man City hadn’t in 40-plus years. Can those experiences help in pushing Roma to its first scudetto since 2001?

Dzeko: “Hopefully. Also when I went to City and we won the first and second title, the team was probably was one of the best in England where it’s also not so easy to win the title. I have another three years contract in Rome and this town and these fans deserve a title. It’s such a shame, every year without a title for this club.”

PST: What would it mean?

Dzeko: “It would mean everything. Hopefully we will manage to do this in the next few years, but it would mean everything to them. I’d habe a lot of good feelings if Roma would manage to win the title. It would be amazing for all the players. They will love us and never forget. The people in Rome, they live for football. They live for us.”

PST: Hector Moreno mentioned that hunger in training was evident in just the few days he’s been there.

Dzeko: “You have to be hungry for good things because it’s a new young team, a new coach, and the team is step-by-step building itself in new directions. We lost four, five players from last seasons so it’s never easy to bring seven, eight new players and immediately work it out. So this preseason is important.”

(Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images)

PST: You’re Bosnia and Herzegovina’s all-time leading scorer, and you seem to relish international breaks and pulling on the shirt. 

Dzeko: “I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved because I remember when I was young and I was looking to the players, my idols, who were playing with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s something special, we can take it to heart and I’m proud that I can be the idol of some young boys in Bosnia that can still believe they can do some good things and positive stuff in the future. When someone from our small country goes out and plays in a league like Italy, it gives the confidence for the rest of the young people that they can know that everything is possible.”

PST: You’re also pretty active in causes around Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dzeko: “It’s important for me because it’s my country, it’s the country that gave me everything, where I grew up for 18 years before I left for Czech Republic first and then Germany, England, Italy. I want to help the people who need help because I have the possibility to do it. I will always be there for them and I’m also the UNICEF ambassador that makes me even more proud because I love kids.”

PST: Finally, Roma is in a different pot than Manchester City for this year’s UEFA Champions League. Would you like to be drawn with your old team, or prefer the clubs stay separate?

Dzeko: “I would love it, to be fair. I would love to go back there and even against City I bring so many good memories from the beautiful days and my connection with the fans and club. I would definitely look forward to it.”

Reports: Swans rebuff Everton bid for Sigurdsson; want $65M

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What’s $7-13 million amongst peers?

Swansea City has reportedly shot down either a $52 and/or a $58 million Everton bid for Gylfi Sigurdsson, offers that falls shy of Swans’ $65 million asking price.

$65 million? Why that’s almost Benjamin Mendy money.

Either way, with Sigurdsson absent from Swansea’s U.S. tour, a move seems predetermined.

[ SERIE A: Can De Rossi help Roma catch Juve? ]

The BBC says Monday’s offer was the $52m price, and that it was Everton’s first offer, though The Guardian says it’s a second $58m bid from Everton for the Icelandic playmaker who almost single-handedly ensured the Welsh side’s Premier League status last season.

Reports of an initial $52 million bid also came earlier this month.

Sigurdsson, 27, scored nine goals last season and teamed with Fernando Llorente to form a potent duo. He first made his PL impression with seven goals during a half-season loan from Hoffenheim, and moved to Spurs for a tumultuous two seasons.

He’s since recorded seven-, 11-, and 9-goal seasons for Swans.

Everton has spent big this summer and look set to have the depth to compete in both the Premier League and UEFA Europa League.

VIDEO: Chicharito talks West Ham signing, opener at Manchester United

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is back in the Premier League, and will debut for his new club at the home of his old club.

The league schedulers didn’t know the Mexican striker would be a member of West Ham United on Opening Day, but nonetheless have the first weekend ending with an 11 a.m. ET kickoff between the Irons and Red Devils of Manchester United at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Combine a new home with an old haunt, and you’ve got one fired up Little Pea:

“A little bit more than my teammates probably, of course to be back to Old Trafford to start this adventure this season with my new team. It’s gonna be a very important one and I’m going to be very happy to be there.”

Hear more from the latest West Ham buy below: