Idrissa Gueye

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Everton unravels, eliminated from Europa League

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The verdict is in on the the 2017/18 Everton side, and it’s not a good one.

The Toffees suffered its latest setback — a major one — on Thursday as the Premier League side was eliminated from the UEFA Europa League following a 3-0 defeat against Lyon.

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Everton conceded three times in a span of 20 minutes after halftime, which proved to be the English side’s downfall.

Bertrand Traoré, Houssem Aoua and Memphis each scored for the French side, which began in the 68th minute as former Chelsea attacker, Traore, pegged Lyon ahead.

The agony was only exaggerated late on as Morgan Schneiderlin was sent off after earning his second yellow card in the 80th minute for Everton.

Idrissa Gueye had one of the first solid chance of the second stanza for the visitors, after Ademola Lookman picked out the Everton attacker. However, Gueye’s shot was saved in the bottom left corner by Lopes.

The Toffees were forced to make a switch prior to halftime when Cuco Martina was stretchered off the pitch in the 43rd minute.

The 28-year-old landed awkwardly after colliding with Lyon’s Maxwel Cornet, which prompted the change from Everton manager David Unsworth.

Lyon and Atlanta currently lead Group E with eight points each, while Apollon Limassol keeps its slim hopes of advancing alive after capturing a draw against the latter on Thursday.

Oriol Romeu: The perfectly poised destroyer

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SOUTHAMPTON — A two-hour drive on a straight highway along the coast of Catalonia in Spain, the road from Ulldecona to Barcelona is not as easy to navigate as you might think.

Ask Southampton’s star performer this season, Oriol Romeu.

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Currently reaching levels he admits he wasn’t sure he could ever reach, the 25-year-old midfielder is nailed on to be named Saints’ player of the season and as he prepares to head back to his former club Chelsea on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) the combative Catalan has been reflecting on his journey to the Premier League.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk on a sunny day on England’s South Coast, it was another coastal route which Romeu and his family got extremely used to navigating in his days with Espanyol as a youngster.

“It’s 200 kilometers from Barcelona, so quite far,” Romeu said of his hometown, Ulldecona. “It was a bit tough in the beginning because I had to travel a lot and my parents were a bit scared to spend too long on the road. When I was 12 I decided I wanted to go back home and wanted to stop playing football at a big level. Suddenly Barcelona came and said ‘we like you, we want you to be here and we don’t won’t you to go away’ and I said ‘okay, I will accept’ because obviously I love Barcelona and that was a chance I had to take. It went well. It went very well and I was very lucky to develop since the first day and I could become a good player. It was tough because I was too far away from home and I had to travel a lot. It wasn’t easy but I could make it.”

And make it he has.

Given Romeu’s steady ascent over the past 12 months where he first shadowed Victor Wanyama, Saints’ chief midfield destroyer at the time, and then shone at the back-end of last season, we’ve had a chat penciled in many times over recent months but due to his schedule or mine it has never quite worked out. Yet now, ahead of Romeu’s return to Chelsea, it seemed like the perfect time to discuss his rise at Southampton in the midst of the finest season in his career so far.

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“Finally, we can meet!” Romeu says, smiling as he walks through the door at Southampton’s training base at Staplewood. Sporting tattoos on the inside of his arms, Romeu places his wash bag and a light jacket down on the table as we catch up and discuss his plans for the afternoon.

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He explains that his dogs will be waiting by the door for him when he gets home and then he’ll set off on a long evening walk across one of the many stunning vistas within close proximity to his home in southern England. It gives him a chance to relax and switch off, he explains, as his life off the pitch is far from what you would expect for a powerful central midfielder who used to showcase a mean Mohawk hairdo.

Calm, collected and poised as he juggles a bottle of water while we talk, Romeu has had a long and winding journey to become a regular in the Premier League.

That journey has taken him to three countries, six clubs and the hugely likable Romeu seems to know so many people in the game. After Saints’ preseason friendly with Espanyol he was holding court with coaches and players in the tunnel area and the likes of Juan Mata and Fernando Torres are close friends, while following a recent home defeat to Manchester City his former boss Pep Guardiola spent several minutes speaking with him outside the locker rooms at St Mary’s.

Romeu made his way through the famed La Masia academy after deciding to stick it out in Barcelona after those tough early years and played under Guardiola for the team he grew up supporting. In his hometown of Ulldecona he idolized Brazilian legend Ronaldo and was a true Barca fan.

“My parents always say that I was a bit mad for Ronaldo” Romeu smiles. He even played up front in his early days as he looked to emulate Ronaldo yet Romeu sheepishly admits that scoring goals quickly became an afterthought in his game.

A move to Chelsea in 2011 saw Romeu’s career take a huge step forward as he played regularly under Andre Villas-Boas but with injuries hampering his progress at Stamford Bridge and after two loan moves to Valencia and Stuttgart, it’s at Southampton where he’s found his feet. Big time. A true fans favorite at St Mary’s in just his second season at Saints, Romeu is both the midfield organizer and destroyer.

His brute force is backed up by a growing intelligence to read the game and time interceptions to perfection. He has made the third-highest amount of tackles for midfielders in the Premier League, behind only Idrissa Gueye and N'Golo Kante, and also ranks sixth in the PL for most interceptions by a midfielder.

Romeu was rewarded for his fine displays by signing a new long-term contract in January, on the eve of what he calls his favorite moment in his career so far. He put in a man of the match display as Southampton beat Liverpool at Anfield to secure a place in the EFL Cup final at Wembley.

“The favorite moment of my career was that semifinal at Anfield when we beat Liverpool away. That was my happiest day as a footballer,” Romeu smiled, again. “We played amazing football and we got to a final and along with the fans we were all there enjoying and playing against a top side like Liverpool. That’s the top moment. When Longy [Shane Long] scored, we all went mad! Fighting for that final, it was so close and if they scored it would be going to extra time. So when he scored it was one of the happiest moments of my career, no doubt.”

This season there’s no doubt it has been the best of his career and Romeu credits this to his growing confidence as he plays week in, week out in Southampton’s midfield. He’s been named Southampton’s Player of the Month on three occasions by the fans as he led their charge to a heroic EFL Cup final defeat, plus a historic campaign which saw them go within one goal of reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League after Romeu dominated Inter Milan in a famous win at St Mary’s.

Even after losing to Man United in the EFL Cup final, just when Saints seemed to be destined to win their first major trophy in over 40 years, Romeu chooses to take the positives from that experience.

“We hope that we can play at Wembley many times,” Romeu said. “It was a day that straight after we didn’t have a good feeling. But looking back now after a couple of months, it was a day to remember. We all had a very, very good feeling playing in that stadium. There was an amazing connection with our fans and since that day we have started to play better football and the fans started to realize we are trying to do our best. We didn’t win, we didn’t get the title we wanted, but there are so many positives to take.”

In the aftermath of that defeat, Romeu was inconsolable on the Wembley pitch as tears poured down his face as he wore the captain’s armband.

He and his teammates had given everything and with the score locked at 2-2 in the 62nd minute, he beat Paul Pogba to a header from a corner but the ball hit the post and was cleared. If Romeu’s header had gone in, there would not have been a more fitting scorer of a cup-winning goal for Southampton, especially at the exact same time as Saints’ fans were also lighting up their end of Wembley with a tribute to their savior and former owner Markus Liebherr who passed away at the age of 62.

Romeu’s song is sung with gusto each and every game by Southampton’s fans and the Catalan admitted he’s never received that kind of adulation anywhere else in his career.

When Romeu steps out onto the pitch against his old club Chelsea on Tuesday — he is once again available after a two-game ban for picking up 10 yellow cards this season — he’s no longer a kid from Catalan among Chelsea’s superstar squad. He’s a beast from Ullcedona who is capable of dominating their midfield.

Romeu credited current Saints boss Claude Puel (who was also a midfield destroyer in his playing days) with improving his game since he arrived last summer as he made the Spaniard a key part of his team.

“He is always trying to help me with the structure of the team. As a midfielder you always have players around yourself. If I can help the team to get tactically ready, it helps the team a lot,” Romeu explained. “We know in this league that sometimes the team gets unorganized and everyone is out of their place. Basically, in me he wants to have someone who makes sure everyone is back in their place and the team is ready to go again. Apart from having that faith in me and playing me in so many games, he is always trying to teach me in different parts of my game.”

Puel has recently compared Romeu to another Frenchman as his talents start to become widely appreciated alongside a growing number of holding midfielders in the Premier League who are garnering added respect. The likes of Kante at Chelsea, Gueye at Everton, Ander Herrera at Manchester United and Wanyama at Tottenham have all become integral for their respective teams.

It is said that in the summer of 2015 Leicester City had two options (former boss Claudio Ranieri also mentioned Jordy Claise, who signed for Southampton too, was in the conversation) when looking to buy a new holding midfielder: Kante or Romeu.

Kante went to Leicester and Romeu went to Southampton and both proved to be fine signings. Romeu admitted that when Saints signed him in 2015 he was not at the best moment in his career and was struggling after a loan spell at Stuttgart. He has more than repaid the faith Saints showed in him to help him rebuild his career.

Both Kane and Romeu will do battle in the center of midfield at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday and with Kante named the PFA Player of the Year on Sunday for his fine destructive displays in midfield, Romeu’s manager believes his midfield destroyer is close to Kante’s level.

“N’Golo Kante brings the same qualities as Oriol Romeu for us. Without Kante it is difficult for Chelsea. Without Romeu it is difficult for us. For me, Oriol is not far off Kante,” Puel explained. “He is very consistent. Every game he gives a good performance and is strong on the recovery of the ball. He has a lot of qualities to also start on the ball and for me, he is at the same level. He’s a great player for me. But for the moment we cannot play for the first place of the table and he is not on the TV, but we will see for the future. For me he can go also to the selection with Spain for example.”

Representing Spain is also at the forefront of Romeu’s mind as a former coach of his at national team youth levels was Julen Lopetegui, the current head coach of the Spanish national team.

“As a footballer it is one of your dreams,” Romeu said. “When you are younger you see the national team playing and you say ‘oh, hopefully one day’ but it seems so far away. Now, honestly, I am feeling very good and the coach from the national team has been training with me in the U-23s. He knows the way I am and if he wants me to go there, I feel like I am ready to go. We will see what happens.”

A thoughtful individual who can often be found reading books in his spare time, beating everyone at table-tennis and even darts in the team lounge, Romeu allowed his mind to wander back to when he first arrived in England at Chelsea almost six years ago. Things were very different.

He admitted that he’s even surprised himself at how far he’s come since then.

“I see myself playing matches a few years ago and now I try different things and do different things, I’ve tried to learn to obviously get better and to be one step ahead. This year while I’m playing, I’m even discovering new things about myself because I’m playing on a level that I probably wasn’t expecting before,” Romeu smiled. “Before, I wasn’t feeling that I could do the things that I am doing now. It’s time to see how far I can go. I just want to keep going and see how long it will last. I’m feeling good.”

Romeu’s club and his teammates are in a very similar position.

Each and every season Southampton have been written off after selling on key names – Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle were the latest to exit last summer – but somehow they dig deep to grind out more from each player and secure a top 10 finish. This season, with new manager Puel at the helm, Saints are on course for their fourth-straight top 10 finish in the Premier League after competing in the Europa League and reaching a major cup final.

Puel has hailed Romeu’s importance to Southampton’s future.

“He learned with Barcelona and we can see this. He feels the play and feels the game with passes disguised and quality on the pitch,” Puel said. “He is very important in our start of the play. I like this.”

What’s the next step for Saints and Romeu? To challenge for a UEFA Champions League spot?

Romeu hopes that is achievable in the next “three or four years” at Southampton.

“That would be the main target. Definitely. That would be something so nice,” Romeu said, puffing out his cheeks. “There are teams, even top teams this year, that are struggling to get there. You need to be very, very consistent and have a very, very strong team. We will see if we can get that. Looking at our team now, if all the players injured were okay and if everyone playing is in his best moment, we will have a very strong side. Hopefully we can keep building into this structure that we have in this team and can get even better next year.”

Although there’s still a tinge of disappointment at Southampton that they couldn’t get past Manchester United at Wembley to seal Europa League action for a third-straight season, Romeu believes the potential to not have European games next season could be a blessing in disguise. He’s a man who knows all about European action after being part of the Chelsea’s squads which won both the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Champions League.

“We are seeing recently that the teams that are not playing in Europe, they feel better in the league and get in better positions at the end of the season. Last year with Leicester and this year with Chelsea,” Romeu said. “So we need to take that part of next year as something good, not something negative.”

Always positive after coming through plenty of testing times at home and abroad, Romeu is far from the end of his journey.

Southampton is certainly glad a young midfielder decided to keep making those trips from one side of Catalonia to the other nearly 15 years ago.

Ahead of his return to PL leaders Chelsea he is, as ever, reflective about his days at Stamford Bridge as a youngster. Perhaps the biggest compliment which can be paid to him is that Chelsea fans often flood social media feeds discussing Romeu’s displays with comments such as ‘why did you leave Chelsea?’ and ‘come back to Chelsea, Oriol.’

“It was probably a learning period of time. I was very young and I was sharing a dressing room with amazing players, idols for me then and now. I could learn a lot from them, the way they approached games and trained on a daily basis. It was a very good period. I was very happy to be there [at Chelsea]. To go back there it is nice and it will be good to play against some players I have a good relationship with and I get on with very well. It is always nice to go back there and play against them… and hopefully beat them!” Romeu laughed. “I think Chelsea have done amazingly and they are in the best position. They cannot relax. This league does not allow you to bring your level down one step.”

Romeu has taken his level up several steps and he shows no signs of stopping that climb now.

West Ham 0-0 Everton: Stalemate at London Stadium

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  • West Ham’s second clean sheet in three games
  • Everton up to sixth place
  • Hammers move on to 38 points
  • Toffees unbeaten in four

West Ham United and Everton battled it out in an uneventful 0-0 draw at the London Stadium on Saturday.

The Hammers had the better chances, especially in the first half, while Everton couldn’t get any service to their star man Romelu Lukaku in a disappointing display.

With the point West Ham move on to 38 for the season, while Everton have 58 and momentarily move into sixth place.

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A cagey start saw West Ham almost shoot themselves in the foot with a throw back to goalkeeper Adrian poorly controlled and his clearance hit Lukaku and almost fell to Kevin Mirallas to tap home. Crisis averted.

West Ham went close with two chances as Cheikou Kouyate drilled just wide, then Havard Nordtveit had an effort blocked and the follow up was saved by Maarten Stekelenburg.

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Before half time West Ham again went close when James Collins headed wide while under pressure from Ashley Williams, then West Ham almost forced the ball in at the back post as Everton failed to get going.

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At half time Ademola Lookman and Gareth Barry came on for Idrissa Gueye and Tom Davies as Koeman looked to spark his team into life.

Manuel Lanzini then went close with his shot brilliantly blocked by Phil Jagialka as the Hammers carved out the better chances with Jose Fonte having his header saved by Stekelenburg.

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Both teams struggled to create clear cut chances in the sun in east London as a tame encounter petered out into a 0-0 draw with Everton’s only reach chance an effort dragged wide by Lookman.

Everton 4-2 Leicester: Toffees take wild game from start to finish

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Everton came into their matchup with Leicester City at Goodison Park having seen 22 goals fly into the back of the home nets in six Premier League games through 2017 so far. That total only climbed on Sunday.

Attacking play was on display from literally the opening whistle, as Everton scored 30 seconds into the match, setting the tone for a wild game from start to finish. The match saw three goals in the opening 10 minutes, five goals in the first half, and six goals overall.

The game was off to a flying start, as Everton set Goodison Park alight right from the opening kickoff. Kevin Mirallas barged his way through the Leicester midfield in the opening minute, and upon reaching the box, he was hauled down in the penalty area. Credit referee Bobby Madley for allowing play to continue, as the ball was touched to Tom Davies as Mirallas slid to the turf, and Davies smashed it in with his left foot for a 1-0 lead less than a minute in.

The home side, buoyed by its cracking start, poured men forward hoping to capitalize on the early momentum, and it would do them in. The early lead was wasted as Leicester hit on the counter with Everton stuck in the attacking half, and Islam Slimani put the Foxes back level.

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Leicester would complete the quick comeback and go in front inside 10 minutes in stunning fashion. With Jamie Vardy earning a foul on the left edge of the penalty area, Marc Albrighton delivered a simply stunning free-kick, picking out the top right corner from a very tight angle. Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles will be highly disappointed with his failure to read the flight of the ball, but the effort was deserving of a 2-1 lead.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

With Everton suddenly trailing, they turned to the Premier League’s leading scorer, and he delivered. Ross Barkley on the right flank put it on a plate with a pinpoint cross, and Lukaku was there for a simple and powerful header from point-blank range.

Everton should have had a third as the goal was gaping with five minutes to go until halftime. A slide-tackle by Davies sent the ball perfectly weighted to spring Barkley on the break, and while it looked that he had rounded Kasper Schmeichel, but the Leicester City goalkeeper recovered to get a slight touch and foil Barkley’s attempt.

But the Toffees would make amends on the ensuing corner, as Phil Jagielka rose high above the defense to glance a header into the far corner, putting Everton back in front 3-2. It’s the first time all Premier League season that two teams have combined to score five goals in the first half.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

After the break, the fun continued. Lukaku bagged a brace, left entirely unmarked at the back post of a corner, and as the ball trickled to him, he thumped it home across the face of goal for a 4-2 Everton lead.

As the game ticked into the final 10 minutes, Leicester City looked to change the tide by bringing on attacking players Riyad Mahrez and Leonardo Ulloa. The latter found himself with a great chance immediately after coming on, but his 78th minute header off a corner pinged straight into the head of Idrissa Gueye directly in front of net. They got another big chance with three minutes to go as Ulloa headed a Mahrez cross on target, but it was stopped by Robles, and the rebound was cleared by Jagielka with Ahmed Musa looking to pounce.

The win left Everton in 7th position but brought them up level with Arsenal on points. For Leicester City, they miss the chance to pull into the top half of the table, instead sitting level on points with three other teams muddied in 11th place.

Tom Davies signs new five-year contract at Everton

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18-year-old midfielder Tom Davies has been a revelation since breaking through as a regular in the Everton first team this season.

Now he’s been rewarded.

Davies signed a new five-year contract on Monday as the England U-19 international capped off a stunning few months which has seen him hold down a regular starting spot in the Toffees’ midfield.

The local lad and academy product has been at the Goodison Park club since the age of 11 and is delighted to be following in the footsteps of other academy graduates such as Wayne Rooney and current teammate Ross Barkley.

“It means everything to me to get a chance to be in the Everton first team and to try to stay there,” Davies said. “Everton has a long tradition of bringing young players through and the incentive has always been there for me to try to progress with the club. I used to look at Mikel Arteta and aspire to be out there playing alongside my heroes and, obviously, Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley who came through the Academy here, too, have been inspirational figures for me.”

Davies has made 16 appearances in the PL this season, scoring one goal against Manchester City and adding three assists and has impressed ever since he started in the Boxing Day win at Leicester City.

Alongside Mason Holgate, Matthew Pennington and Dominic Calvert-Lewin the energetic midfielder started in the Merseyside derby at Anfield against Liverpool at the weekend and his combination of poise on the ball and hard work off it has seen him slot in nicely alongside Idrissa Gueye.

His manager Ronald Koeman has never been afraid to give young players a chance to shine and he’s certainly found a gem in Davies who seems destined to be an England international and a star for Everton in the years to come.

Davies’ boss had the following to say about his rapid rise to the first team.

“He went straight into the team performing at a high level and has kept his feet on the ground,” Koeman said. “We’re really happy with his performances and, of course, proud. He’s a young player and that’s important for the rest of the Academy – to show you can make that next step like Tom did and, if that ends with a new contract, it’s perfect.”