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Southampton’s victory made sweeter after Liverpool’s cherry-picking

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LIVERPOOL — Southampton’s fans were ecstatic to reach their first final of a major competition since 2003.

Reaching the 2016-17 final of the EFL Cup tasted even sweeter because it came at the expense of Liverpool.

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In the last three seasons Southampton have sold five star players to Liverpool, racking up $115 million in transfer fees. Although that has obviously boosted Saints’ finances considerably and they chose to sell the players, the fact the likes of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and now Sadio Mane all left for Anfield left a sour taste in the mouth for Southampton’s fans.

Liverpool have been nicknamed “Liverhampton” by many Saints fans such has been the level of their pilfering in recent seasons. Players and managers have left Saints for Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham, but the way Liverpool cherry-picks Saints’ top talent each summer leaves many of their fans sick to the stomach.

On Wednesday Saints showed they’d not only plugged the gaps after selling stars but they’d beaten Liverpool fair and square over two legs, reaching the League Cup final for just the second time in their history and securing another long-stated goal of reaching the final of a domestic cup competition.

“It’s not bad, eh?” manager Claude Puel joked post-game. “It’s fantastic. I am happy for all the squad because they work very hard since the beginning of the season and play all these games every three days which is very difficult. Often they can do fantastic work on the pitch without the good reward and today I think it’s fantastic to win this game, to see the qualify for Wembley and to have all this for the staff, the player and our fans.

“We have fantastic fans, Inter Milan away with 8,000 fans was fantastic and every time and every game they come and it’s a fantastic reward for all the good work. It’s not finished now. It’s interesting of course to go to Wembley and it’s not just to participate but to win this game. We have time to prepare this game.”

Puel will go down in folklore for leading Saints to a final and they put in the perfect gameplan against a Liverpool side renowned for their pressing and harrying. Yet, they’ve done very well against Liverpool since Klopp arrived, losing just one of their six games against the German coach with a 3-1-2 record.

It’s like they have something extra to prove…

Over the two legs Saints sat back, soaked up pressure and hit Liverpool on the counter. They did it so well their manager Jurgen Klopp congratulated them for their victory, then questioned why they don’t play on the counter all the time. He’s got a point.

Puel’s tactics usually see Saints dominant possession and then spurn chances. Their inconsistent form in the Premier League and early exit from the UEFA Europa League attest to the struggles they’ve had adapting to the Frenchman’s tactics in his first season in England.

However, he is just the third manager since 1976 to lead Saints to a major final. The man they called “the dog” in his playing days for his rugged style of play has transferred that spirit to his team as they’ve now kept clean sheets in all five of their EFL Cup games on the road to Wembley, knocking off Premier League opponents Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Arsenal and now Liverpool. Oriol Romeu was a warrior in midfield and Shane Long delivered the hammer blow in stoppage time by finishing off one final devastating counter attack.

As for Liverpool, those who switched St Mary’s for Anfield probably won’t be regretting their move. They left for one of the most famous clubs on the planet plus their bank balances have swelled considerably. Yet, just a part of them may have been a little jealous to not help Saints complete their remarkable journey from winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley in 2010 as a third-tier club to reaching the famous arch for the EFL Cup final in 2017.

After a shaky start to the 2016-17 season, Saints are in the ascendancy once again. Having to rebuild time and time again will eventually catch up with you and arguably that has happened to Saints this season as goals have dried up. Their young team came of age at Anfield and this was a significant moment in their development.

Meanwhile Liverpool’s slump of one win in seven games in January is indicative of Klopp’s methods wearing his players down. The pressure of slipping up in the title race (they could trail Chelsea by 13 points if they lose to them at Anfield on Tuesday) is weighing heavy on their shoulders and although they managed to create chances, they never looked like getting in-behind a makeshift Saints backline.

With young Jack Stephens stepping in for the injured talisman Virgil Van Dijk, he put in a fine display to show that Saints’ academy is still churning out stars. Whenever a Saints youngster comes through the ranks now and plays well, the first joke you see emanate on social media is something along the lines of “Welcome to Liverpool, Josh Sims/Sam McQueen/Jack Stephens.”

The conveyor belt from St Mary’s to Anfield may carry on.

Southampton’s fans won’t care about that too much right now after the magical night at Anfield. They celebrated wildly at the full time whistle and so did their players on the pitch and in the dressing room.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk if reaching the final not only presented a chance to win a trophy but also get back to Europe, Puel admitted the motivation to make up for their early European exit this season is strong.

“Yes. It’s an important big game, not just to play this final but perhaps to see another qualification for the European games,” Puel said. “It will be important for the squad to continue the work, to improve, and know the possibilities to play European games. All the information when they improve it’s important to put all this experience for next year in European games. It will be important to qualify.”

For now, Saints’ fans will savor a special night for everyone connected with the club.

Their march goes on. Without the stars who left for Liverpool.

Man United’s Bailly handed three-game ban by UEFA

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Eric Bailly will not be available for the UEFA Super Cup or the opening group game of Manchester United’s 2017-18 UEFA Champions League campaign.

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Bailly, 23, was sent off in the second leg of United’s UEFA Europa League semifinal against Celta Vigo last season and sat out the final in Stockholm which they won 2-0 against Ajax to seal their spot in the UCL this season.

Following a hearing, UEFA released a statement on Monday confirming that Bailly’s ban was extended to three games (extended by two games) as he clashed with Vigo’s John Guidetti after being sent off.

“The CEDB has decided to suspend the Manchester United FC player Eric Bailly for three (3) UEFA club competition matches for which he would be otherwise eligible.”

He will now miss the upcoming showpiece game against Real Madrid in Skopje, Macedonia on Aug.8, as well as their UCL group opener but the ban is only for European competitions.

United have signed Swedish center back Victor Lindelof over the summer and the main plan seems to be for him to partner Bailly in the heart of the defense, or even play with three at the back with Phil Jones, Daley Blind or Chris Smalling coming into central defense. Given his good form at the end of last season, Marcos Rojo will perhaps jump to the top of that queue when the Argentine returns from a serious injury.

As for Bailly, he suffered through injuries last season, his debut campaign at United after joining from Villarreal for $40 million, but the Ivory Coast defender appeared in 38 games in all competitions despite a midseason break to represent his nation at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Bailly impressed with his dominant displays in the air and well-time tackles and along with David De Gea, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku he is a key part of United’s powerful spine.

How will Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez slot in at West Ham?

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Javier Hernandez is set to become the most-expensive player in West Ham’s history on Tuesday with the Mexican international flying in to London for a medical and to agree personal terms.

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“Chicharito” will reportedly be paid over $180,000 per week as the Hammers agreed a deal of $18 million with Bayer Leverkusen last week for Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer.

With the former Manchester United striker ready for a return to the Premier League, where will Hernandez, 29, slot in at the London Stadium?

Below are a few options below for the Hammers as Hernandez is expected to deliver goals by the bucket load in east London. 


Option 1

—– Hart —–

— Zabaleta — Fonte — Reid — Cresswell —

—- Obiang —- Kouyate —-

—  Antonio — Lanzini — Arnautovic

—– Hernandez —–

Option 2

—– Hart —–

—- Zabaleta —- Fonte —- Reid —-

—  Antonio — Lanzini — Kouyate — Cresswell —

—- Hernandez —- Carroll —- Arnautovic —-

Option 3

—– Hart —–

— Zabaleta — Fonte — Reid — Cresswell —

—– Kouyate —–

—  Antonio — Lanzini — Arnautovic

—- Hernandez —- Carroll —-

Conclusion

Hernandez is joining West Ham at an exciting time with the Hammers signing Marko Arnautovic last week, plus adding the experience of Joe Hart and Pablo Zabalete in defense. After a year in the London Stadium, the excuse of adapting to a new home is no longer feasible and Slaven Bilic knows his team must hit the ground running.

Chicharito will have no problems adapting to life back in the PL. In truth, he can play in any league in the world. A poacher is a poacher. Period. That said, Hernandez has struggled at times leading the line on his own so Option 1 would be tricky to get the best out of him. So would Option 2 with him drifting off the right flank to latch onto Andy Carroll‘s knockdowns, but it could work.

Option 3 seems like the real winner to me. With the running and pace of Antonio and Arnautovic in-behind, plus the trickery of Manuel Lanzini, both Hernandez and Carroll would have chances galore to score and we all know how clinical Chicharito is. Having crosses whipped in and Carroll causing havoc in the penalty box with Chicharito sniffing around for scraps is simplistic but it worked well for West Ham in 2015-16 when they were pushing for the top four.

With Arnautovic, Antonio, Hernandez, Lanzini and Carroll in attack, West Ham could potentially be top-heavy this season but after the struggles of last season, Bilic will rate scoring goals over conceding them. Cheikhou Kouyate, Pedro Obiang or Mark Noble will have plenty of work to get through in the holding midfield role but Antonio and Arnautovic can track back when needed.

Simply put, you buy Hernandez to get finish off crosses and direct balls into the box, especially when you have Carroll around. West Ham needs to set up their team to maximize Hernandez’s abilities and it’s shocking that more PL teams didn’t make a big push for him.

How can PSG sign Neymar from Barcelona?

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The biggest transfer deal in soccer history is probably also going to be the most complex.

With UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules halting Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and many others from spending even more cash over the past few seasons, talk of Neymar’s potential $255 million transfer from Barcelona to PSG boggles the mind.

How can PSG pull this off and not break UEFA’s FFP rules? Well, here’s a deeper look at the numbers and how it could work.

If Neymar’s transfer did go through and his wages are as astronomical as reported — all-in the transfer fee, wages and other fees would top $586 million, with wages of over $50 million per year — then PSG have to bring in some huge finances from sponsors, ticket sales and move on some other players, right?

Not quite.

Under the interpretations of FFP rules, the sums are added up each season and the players’ value is amortized over the length of their contract. So, if the contract for Neymar was split up over five years PSG would put that down as $50 million per season, plus whatever they owed on the transfer fee if they were paying it off in installments.

A little more manageable, if still absurd.

When it comes to Neymar’s release clause set to be triggered, that usually means all of the cash is needed straight up. Tricky. What is more likely is PSG will pay $100 million and then stagger the rest of the fee over a five-year period, if Barca agree to it.

There are always many, many complexities to these type of deals, and especially with Neymar’s former club Santos potentially having a sell-on clause and many other factors such as loyalty fees, bonuses, agent fees and more.

PSG chairman Nasser al Khelaifi will have plenty of work to do to get this deal done and there are also reports in Spain that the Qatari government could enter into a separate agreement to pay Neymar his wages.

That said, under the FFP rules, one thing to remember is key: clubs have to bring in what they are spending but they can still make losses of up to $34.9 million per season under the current rules.

With PSG owned by a company which is essentially the State of Qatar, UEFA will automatically investigate a team where 30 percent or more of their revenue is supplied by a company linked to the owner. PSG have already been sanctioned heavily in the past with huge fines, restrictions on how many players can play in a UCL season and having their spending capped in 2014-15.

It is likely PSG’s Qatari owners, Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, will have alternative revenue from sponsors and commercial deals already lined up to help deal with the issues Neymar’s arrival could have in terms of FFP.

These sums are huge and the complexity of this deal is obvious, but if Neymar did join PSG then his marketability would surely see them recoup plenty of cash in other ways.

Therein lies the golden rule to all of this: you have to speculate to accumulate.

Somehow PSG believe this transfer fee and Neymar’s wages would be money well spent. Whether or not that is the case we will have to wait and see, but the answer is that this deal could happen, even under the rigid restrictions of FFP.

PSG would have to work hard to balance the books and bring in extra revenue, but their owners are better placed than most to make that happen.

Chelsea’s Pedro suffers “multiple fractures” to face after collision

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Chelsea are confident that Pedro will not be out for an extended period of time even though the Spanish winger suffered “multiple fractures” to his face.

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Pedro, 29, collided with Arsenal’s David Ospina in Chelsea’s 3-0 win against the Gunners in Beijing on Saturday and it turns out his injury is worse than first feared.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s International Champions Cup game in Singapore against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, Antonio Conte revealed that Pedro has returned to London.

“The situation was more serious than I thought because I hoped it would only be concussion and instead he had multiple fractures,” Conte said. “With a mask, and in around 10 days, he can come back to work with us.”

Plenty of Chelsea players have been forced to wear a protective mask in recent years with Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Pedro all donning the Zoro look after suffering facial injuries.

The Spaniard could be ready for the FA Community Shield against Arsenal at Wembly on Aug. 6 but with Eden Hazard already out injured for the opening weeks of the season after requiring ankle surgery this summer, Conte won’t want to risk Pedro unless he needs to.

With Alvaro Morata set for his first minutes in a Chelsea shirt against Bayern, plus Michy Batshuayi and Willian in good form against Arsenal with fine goals, Conte should have enough to keep things ticking over for the time being and the opening weeks of the season.