Southampton close in on Mark Hughes

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Southampton is set to turn to an experienced Premier League manager to save them from sleepwalking into relegation.

Pro Soccer Talk understand that Mark Hughes is the overwhelming favorite to take charge of Saints after they fired Argentine coach Mauricio Pellegrino on Monday following a 3-0 defeat at Newcastle where he accused his players of “giving up” during a dreadful display.

It is believed Southampton aren’t set to appoint Hughes imminently, while other candidates such as former Hull City and Watford manager Marco Silva, plus ex-West Ham boss Slaven Bilic, aren’t currently in the running.

Current Southampton assistant coach and former goalkeeper Kelvin Davis took training on Tuesday after Pellegrino’s departure following just one win in their last 17 Premier League games.

Information obtained by Pro Soccer Talk from a source close to the situation revealed that Southampton aim to have their new manager in charge before this weekend. They play at third-tier Wigan Athletic on Sunday in the FA Cup quarterfinal for a place at Wembley in the last four of the competition.

Premier League survival is the main aim but whoever takes over could well be just 180 minutes from leading Saints to a major cup final. The main aim will be turning around the displays of a group of players who many feel have had too much of a say in how the club is run during the short reigns of Claude Puel and Pellegrino over the past 18 months.

Hughes, 54, has been out of work since being fired by Stoke City in January but it is hoped the former Southampton striker (Hughes scored twice in 52 Premier League appearances in a deeper midfield role for Saints from 1998-00) can galvanize a talented squad and pull them through in the final eight games of the season. Hughes has never been relegated as a Premier League manager and with his former club Stoke also in the PL relegation battle with Saints, it may be a way to show his former employers what they’re missing.

Saints are currently one place and one point above the relegation zone and realistically need three more wins (they only managed five in 30 games this season under Pellegrino) to stay out of the bottom three.

After spending the past five seasons at Stoke, Hughes led the Potters to three-straight ninth place finishes before a 13th place finish last season and then a poor start to the current campaign which cost him his job.

While some may question Saints hiring a manager from the merry-go-round with Hughes having a mixed bag of results managing Blackburn, Manchester City, Fulham, QPR and Stoke over the years, it may well spark their under-performing squad into life. Hughes is well known to be a “players’ coach” and could inspire a complete shakeup at St Mary’s in the final months of the season.

With Mauricio Pochettino, Ronald Koeman, Claude Puel and Pellegrino the last four managers at Southampton, hiring an experienced, British PL boss will be a big shift in direction from Saints. At this point they will do whatever they can to secure their Premier League status.

Hughes will have his work cut out to do that with Saints still to play Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton and Man City in their final eight games of the season, while five of the eight games are away from home.

Southampton fire manager Mauricio Pellegrino

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Changes are coming at Southampton, as the Premier League side attempts to fend off relegation this season.

The Saints announced on Monday that the team has parted ways with manager Mauricio Pellegrino, after his side fell just above the relegation zone.

Since taking over at St. Mary’s Stadium in June 2017, Pellegrino has won just eight matches with Southampton, slightly above 23 percent of the games he has coached.

Additionally, the club revealed that assistants Carlos Compagnucci and Xavier Tamarit have also left the PL side.

The Saints currently sit one point above the bottom three with eight matches remaining in the 2017/18 PL season.

It’s unclear what direction Southampton will take moving forward for the rest of the season, but a number of veteran PL manager remain available.

Mark Hughes, Slaven Bilic, Frank De Boer, Marco Silva and Paul Clement have all coached in England within the last year, and do not currently hold jobs at other clubs.

Hughes — in particular — could be an enticing hire for the Saints considering the veteran coach was a player at St. Mary’s back in the late-1990s for several seasons.

Playback: Trade deals the new norm?

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TRADE DEALS THE NEW NORM?

Alexis Sanchez went to Manchester United. Henrikh Mkhitaryan went to Arsenal. No money was exchanged. Everyone was happy.

Will a “swap deal” become the new normal in years to come?

[ MORE: Latest transfer news ] 

One of the biggest swap deals in soccer history took place earlier this week with Sanchez getting out of Arsenal with less than six months left on his current contract, plus Mkhitaryan escaped under-appreciation (mostly in the form of Jose Mourinho) at Old Trafford.

The swap deal, or “player trade” to use U.S. sporting parlance, is still incredibly rare in the Premier League and in other soccer leagues across the world, Major League Soccer aside. There were no swap deals in the summer window in 2017, but there have been relationships building up across the globe with certain teams willing to do business with others in a chain.

Think Celtic to Southampton to Liverpool. Or Everton to Sunderland and vice versa. Patterns are emerging but straight-up swap up deals are still rare. For now.

This high-profile swap got me thinking: with transfer fees spiralling from the ridiculous to the incredulous over the past 12 months, could clubs become more amiable to swapping players in certain situations rather than dishing out their cash? Look at Arsenal’s pursuit of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It is said Borussia Dortmund want cash plus Olivier Giroud in the deal and for Arsenal it may make sense to offload another player rather then splashing out more cash.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

True, it’s not like clubs, particularly in the PL, are hurting for dollars. Deloitte’s study into finances of clubs (in terms of their revenue generated) across the globe in 2016-17 revealed that 14 of the 30 richest clubs in the world are from the PL. But with Neymar heading to PSG for $265 million, Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for $197 million and Kylian Mbappe on the move from Monaco for $190 million to PSG once the 2017-18 season is over, you can understand why clubs are cautious about the recent sharp rise in transfer fees.

These days a solid international player will cost upwards of $35 million. There are still ways of being creative for mid to lower-level teams in the PL but there has been more than an inkling of stock-piling of players at the wealthiest clubs for quite some time.

Player agents may not be happy with this suggestion of more frequent trade deals as the obligatory 10% fee from a transfer fee (if the player didn’t request a transfer) would obviously evaporate. But surely the agent, and his client, would make this “loss of revenue” back when it comes to being handed a higher salary? Sanchez’s reported contract at Man United of close to $19.8 million per year (after tax) is proof of this.

These swap deals obviously won’t always be the most viable option, but in a time when European soccer looks to the American sporting market for inspiration when it comes to growing sponsorship deals, social media presence and a changing landscape when it comes to fandom, the PL and other leagues could do a lot worse than see the removal of inflated transfer fees which would in turn see more money kept within clubs and used to improve stadiums, youth academies and reduce ticket prices.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Of course, this revolution in trade deals could simply see the money just floating straight to players and agents instead of between clubs, but there is a suggestion that wages aren’t rising as steeply as transfer fees.

It’s just a thought, but this swap deal suggests it could be the way to go in the future to try and reduce the huge transfer fees and level out the playing field a little. Yes, huge clubs would still sign plenty of the best players because they can pay bigger wages and signing-on fees, but maybe we will see the clubs take back a little of the power and see more players entering the final years of their contracts eager to stick with their current club rather than shopping around.

The Sanchez-Mkhitaryan deal seems to be a rare case of two international stars both wanting to move at the same time and both of their clubs willing to let them leave believing they got the better end of the deal. Who says that can’t continue to happen in the future if clubs start to plan further ahead once their stars only have 18 months left on their current deal?


WHO IS ON THE MOVE?

With just a week left in the January transfer window, it’s been a little quiet in the Premier League, apart from the huge Sanchez-Mkhitaryan swap and the blockbuster deals for Virgil Van Dijk and Philippe Coutinho at the start of the month.

[ LIVE: Transfer window show – Jan. 31 on NBCSN, online via NBCSports.com ] 

We can certainly expect plenty of movement in the final seven days of the window. Before we go all Craig David (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…) and map out exactly what will happen each day between now and the window shutting on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. ET, here’s a look at the 10 players we expect to see on the move.

  1. Guido CarrilloPro Soccer Talk understands Southampton have had a club-record $27 million bid accepted, and personal terms could be agreed by Friday. Quincy Promes will be expensive, but his arrival would mark a superb January window for Saints.
  2. Daniel SturridgeWith Inter Milan sniffing around and Sevilla said to be interested, surely Sturridge will swap Liverpool’s bench for regular action as he tries to make England’s 2018 World Cup squad?
  3. Pierre-Emerick AubameyangArsenal appear to be closing in on the Borussia Dortmund striker but with Olivier Giroud said to be wanted in exchange (maybe initially on loan) by the German club, it could get a little messy. Still, a $70 million deal is in the works.
  4. Aymeric Laporte – A young, powerful central defender who is good with the ball at his feet. Sounds perfect for Pep Guardiola at Man City, right? It appears City are ready to pay Laporte’s $86 million release clause and they do need help defensively. Watch this space.
  5. Jonny Evans – Both Arsenal and Man City want Evans and reports suggest West Brom could lose him for just $4.2 million should they get relegated due to a release clause in his contract. Can Alan Pardew afford to let his captain leave? A big bid surely means yes, as Egyptian defender Ali Gabr is lined up as a replacement.

GREAT RELEGATION BATTLE

We all know that Manchester City are 12 points clear atop the Premier League table and it will take a serious collapse and some incredible form from Manchester United, Chelsea et al. to catch them, but at the other end of the table things are far from straightforward.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

Just six points separates Swansea in 20th to Watford in 10th (who now have a new manager in Javi Gracia after Marco Silva was fired), with just four points between the bottom three and the top half of the table.

Fans of 11 of the Premier League’s 20 teams will be sweating most nights between now and the final day of the season on May 13.

Take a look at the table below with 14 games to go as we get a breather for a week with no PL action until Jan. 30 due to the FA Cup fourth round this weekend.

Even Everton must be a little concerned given their recent bad form and clubs such as Swansea, West Brom, Palace, Bournemouth and West Ham all picking up big wins.

We focus on the big boys throughout most of the season due to the big name stars, the titanic clashes and the scramble to finish in the top four and the riches of the UEFA Champions League, but the biggest battle of them all will take place for survival.

Historically this could well be the biggest, and tightest, battle against relegation that the PL has ever seen.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Watford announces Gracia as Silva replacement

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Watford’s replacement for fired manager Marco Silva is indeed veteran Spanish boss Javi Gracia.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

The Hornets announced the 47-year-old’s hiring on Sunday, hours after firing Silva and blaming Everton’s pursuit of the manager for the club’s fall from European contender to the fringe of a relegation battle.

Watford is still four points clear of the drop following Southampton’s draw with Spurs on Sunday.

Gracia led Malaga to eighth and ninth place finishes in La Liga between 2014-16 before spending last season at Rubin Kazan.

Gracia, 47, has led promotion campaigns in Spain and has plenty of experience with perceived smaller clubs battling the drop zone.

Watford will hope the Hornets don’t reach that point after flirting with the Top Seven for the first quarter of the Premier League season.

Judging the Premier League’s in-season managerial changes

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Stoke City, Swansea City, and now Watford have all made managerial changes in the last month, and await the long-term response of their players to new bosses Paul Lambert (so far, so good), Carlos Carvalhal (mixed, but a win), and probably Javi Gracia, respectively.

That means 40 percent of Premier League clubs have ditched their Opening Day bosses this season. Some were overdue, others were debatable, and the latest — Watford’s sacking of Marco Silva after denying Everton’s pursuit of the boss — is a real head scratcher.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

How have the moves worked so far?

Crystal Palace
Frank De Boer — 0W-4L
Roy Hodgson — 6W-7D-7L

Hodgson is actually on pace to outdo Sam Allardyce‘s 8W-2D-11L campaign to save Palace’s 2016-17 season. FDB’s short-lived campaign is difficult to judge, his lone win coming in the League Cup against Championship competition, but there’s little debate as to whether Hodgson’s discipline has worked at Selhurst Park.

Everton
Ronald Koeman — 2W-2D-5L
David Unsworth (caretaker) — 2W-2D-1L
Sam Allardyce — 3W-4D-3L

Everton’s entire season has been the same tale: beat the lower half clubs but fail to meet expectations against almost anyone of merit. That’s taken a dive in recent weeks, as Allardyce has drawn West Brom twice and lost at Bournemouth. Jury’s out, and Allardyce has a lot to prove as another team brings him in and spends dough on his behalf.

Leicester City
Craig Shakespeare — 1W-3D-4L
Michael Appleton (caretaker) — 1W
Claude Puel — 7W-4D-4L

It’s now two-straight seasons of poor starts dooming the Leicester City manager, and Shakespeare understandably did not get patience considering the Foxes fired the architect of their stored PL run in Claudio Ranieri (who has Nantes fifth place in Ligue 1). Puel got a rough ride from expectation-heavy Saints fans, who’d probably love to have him back right now. This is an unqualified success, and Leicester may just make it back to Europe.

Swansea City
Paul Clement — 3W-3D-12L
Leon Britton (player manager) — 1D-1L
Carlos Carvalhal — 1W-1D-1L

It’s hard to gauge whether Carvalhal was the right hire, but Swans’ record has improved in the five matches since he was fired and the lone losses are to Liverpool and Spurs. The firing, it seems, was the right call.

West Brom
Tony Pulis — 2W-4D-6L
Gary Megson (caretaker) — 2D
Alan Pardew — 1W-4D-4L

The wins still need to come, but West Brom do look a more promising side and Alan Pardew’s desire to play two strikers certainly makes for better entertainment than Tony Pulis’ unit. Like Everton, the jury is still out. If we had to judge, we’d say it’s the right move for a fan base which prefers a more fashionable style of play (but also prefers being in the Premier League).

West Ham
Slaven Bilic — 2W-3D-6L
David Moyes — 4W-4D-4L

So far, Moyes is doing wonders for his reputation while performing feats that Everton is still seeking from Allardyce; West Ham has spent some money, and Moyes is getting performances out of Marko Arnautovic and using his width well (Arthur Masuaku has been impressive at full back).