Claude Puel

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Southampton sacks Claude Puel after one season

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Southampton will begin its search for a new manager after a surprising decision came in on Wednesday regarding its current boss.

[ MORE: A look at first 10 fixtures for top-6 Premier League sides ]

The Saints announced that the club has opted to sack manager Claude Puel after the Frenchman coached the Premier League side for just one season.

[ MORE: Hull’s Ryan Mason training again after head injury ]

In 53 matches in charge, Puel went 20-13-20 in all competitions with Southampton — who finished eighth in the final PL table.

The club released the following statement following Puel’s release.

“Everyone at Southampton would like to express our thanks to Claude for his hard work and commitment this year. The highlight of the season was a memorable day at Wembley in the EFL Cup Final, a day our fans will always treasure.

“We wish Claude well for the future.

The search for a new management team is underway. We are confident that we will find the right fit in line with the long term vision of the club.”

Reports: Claude Puel could be fired at Southampton

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A number of reports around England have suggested that Southampton is considering its managerial options after finishing Claude Puel‘s end-of-season review.

Puel’s future at Southampton has been the subject of speculation for weeks now, with PST’s very own Joe Prince-Wright penning a piece on why they should keep him, but now it seems they’ve come close to making up their mind.

The range of reports is vast, leading to an aura of uncertainty. According to Sky Sports, Southampton is “considering replacements” for Puel, while the tabloids have stronger articles predicting Puel’s imminent sacking.

A few days ago, reports tabbed Puel in talks with French club St. Etienne, but he ultimately turned them down. That would have avoided an awkward situation with Southampton, but with Puel saying no to the club in his home country, the Premier League side now has to decide on his future.

Southampton finished 8th last season, but they won just 12 games and finished just six points above 17th position atop a crowded mid-table bunch that finished globbed together, stuck well behind the upper echelon. The Saints were unable to capitalize on good momentum, putting together consecutive wins just twice, while they struggled through some deep lows, opening the season without a win in four matches and suffering through a four-match losing streak bracketing the turn of the calendar year.

The loss of managerial targets could leave Southampton feeling they need to make a decision fast. The Independent reports the club was high on former Hull City boss Marco Silva, but he signed on at Watford.

Why Southampton should consider keeping Claude Puel

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It has all gone quiet at Southampton. But for how long?

[ MORE: Saints’ fans take over Milan ]

Media speculation has been rampant over the past few weeks that Claude Puel, Southampton’s first-year manager, would be shown the exit door at St Mary’s this summer amid fan unrest about the style of play and their regression from a team challenging for the top six.

But, even in these times where fans demand instant success and patience is severely lacking, is that really the right answer?

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Puel, 55, delivered an eighth place finish, the fourth-straight season Southampton have finished eighth or higher, which is the first time they’ve achieved that feat in club history.

Yet many supporters point to the fact that Southampton finished just five points above Swansea City who finished in 15th place, plus they complain about Puel’s dull demeanor in his press conference as he struggles to express himself in English. He is a figure which truly divides the fanbase between those wanting him fired and those wiling to give him another chance.

Saints are a club who finished in a higher league position in seven-straight seasons before this campaign, so perhaps the vast majority of the fanbase have become too accustomed to overachieving and this reality check was always on the horizon.

A top 10 finish and a cup run should always be a superb season for a club of Southampton’s size but fans want more. With talk of a potential Chinese takeover this summer, they want to dream that they can push for a top six finish and qualify for Europe each season and aren’t sure Puel is the right man to deliver it.

That’s fair enough, but when you dissect the entire season and the key stats which came from it, getting rid of Puel seems incredibly hasty. He had many unfortunate obstacles to overcome in his first season in England and it’s unlikely he’ll have so much to deal with next season, and possibly beyond.

Club captain Jose Fonte was sold midway through the season after a disagreement with directors, while leading scorer Charlie Austin (yes, he was out since December but still finished top scorer, with nine) was injured for five months in early December and star center back Virgil Van Dijk was also injured in January as it ended his season. Along with all of this Puel had to deal with Saints’ first-ever Europa League group stage campaign and the agony of missing out on the knockout stages by one goal.

The constant chopping and changing of the team dominated Puel’s reign in the early months as he made 97 lineup changes throughout the season. Only Manchester City and Manchester United made more in the PL in 2016-17. Perhaps one of the major criticisms was that he tinkered too much to try and keep his squad fresh as they pushed to qualify for the Europa League knockout stage, with the previous high-tempo style of play impossible to replicate across a 53 game season.

Hence the slower pace of play which frustrated many fans and perhaps failed to get the best out of a team built by Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman to play a fast, high-pressing style, which in turn led to reports of many senior players unhappy at the tactics deployed by the Frenchman.

Another big factor of the rotation was reaching the EFL Cup final where Saints, again, agonizingly came up short as they lost 3-2 to Manchester United at Wembley in a game which they should have won.

In the Premier League his team scored just 17 goals in 19 home games with no goals in any of their final five home games of the season which led to fans booing and plenty calling for Puel to be fired. But if you look a little deeper, the chances are being created but with Austin out, Manolo Gabbiadini‘s hot streak over after his initial burst and the duo of Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez failing to step up, Saints’ shot conversion rate was the lowest in the PL.

That’s right, Southampton converted just 7.47 percent of the 549 shots that had at goal, which was the seventh-highest number of shot attempts in the PL. Saints created chances but could Puel really do much about his players not converting them? It sounds simplistic, but think about it. With Austin back fit next season, plus Gabbiadini and Sofiane Boufal acclimatized to life in England, will this shot conversion rate really be this low again?

Saints also had two players in the PL’s top 18 in terms of chances created, Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond, and away from home they had the seventh best record but had the 17th best record at home, suggesting their prowess as a counter-attacking team. Had Saints scored penalty kicks against Hull City and Manchester United in two of their final three home games then they would have finished more comfortably in eighth place and had a much better home record.

Small margins.

Southampton also had the second youngest starting XI in the PL at 26 years and 169 days, with Redmond and James Ward-Prowse making their full England debuts, plus no PL club had more than Saints’ seven players in the full and U-21 England teams when they were announced at the end of the season.

As well as English talent like Sam McQueen, Ward-Prowse, Redmond and Jack Stephena improving drastically, Puel helped the likes of Oriol Romeu, Maya Yoshida and Cedric Soares reach new heights too. It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom and Puel is a man who can deliver steady progression at a club which lost its past two managers, Pochettino and Koeman, to bigger teams in the PL just when it appeared they were on the verge of great things at St Mary’s.

Another reason to keep the faith, for at least another season, is the fact that wherever Puel has been he has delivered improved results beyond his first season. There’s a hope he can do that at Southampton, especially without the extra rigors of European action next season.

He took charge of AS Monaco in January 1999 and they won the French title in May 2000. He took charge of Lille in 2002 and improved them from 14th to 10th to 2nd place finishes in his first three seasons at the club. Puel spent six seasons at Lille and helped the likes of Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye break into the team.

In 2008 he took charge of Lyon and in his second full season he took the French outfit to the UEFA Champions League semifinal for just the first time in club history, plus Hugo Lloris and others broke through under his guidance. In 2012 he took charge of Nice and in his first season he led them to fourth in Ligue 1 (their highest Ligue 1 finish since 1976), then did it once again in 2015-16 with 17th and 11th place finishes in-between. The Nice team he left behind last season just finished third in Ligue 1.

All of this proves that Puel can improve teams given time.

What is Saints’ alternative to Puel? Some reports suggest Marco Silva would be the main man but he appears to be joining Watford after impressing at Hull City, while the names of Slavisa Jokanovic and Alan Pardew have also been mentioned as potential replacements.

Do Southampton really want to become a club know for hiring and firing managers after a season which presented plenty of challenges but still ended up with a top half finish, a decent run in Europe and a EFL Cup final appearance?

If Saints put faith in Puel, he may just surprise everyone. Of course, like every manager, he needs a bit of luck to drop his way but fans calling for his head should think clearly about what the alternative would be.

Top PL Storylines; Top Four fortunes, final impressions, Mou’s kids

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There’s neither title nor relegation drama as the Premier League hits Championship Sunday, but the table is far from set.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

There’s the Top Four to consider, but you know that, and the midtable is also in play. With approximately $2.6 million per place, some teams could gain or lose $10-plus million on Sunday.


Who will go to the UEFA Champions League?

Arsenal vs. Everton — 10 a.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com
Liverpool vs. Middlesbrough — 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com
Watford vs. Man City — 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via NBCSports.com

It’s as simple as this: Whether they start fast or slow, Liverpool and Manchester City control their destinies in the race for the Top Four. A point will do it for Man City, while Liverpool needs a win to ensure its spot. Arsenal needs a win and either a Man City loss or a Liverpool draw. There are tiebreaking scenarios…

According to The Sun, If Arsenal draw 1-1 Everton and Liverpool lose 0-2 against Middlesbrough the teams would be forced into a tie-breaker after finishing level on points, goal difference and goals scored.

Champs and their captain vs. the Championship

Chelsea vs. Sunderland — 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com

Chelsea’s players have one final chance to impress Antonio Conte before the FA Cup Final, and the boss may hand John Terry one final start at Stamford Bridge. Meanwhile, Sunderland would relish one last big result before a season in the second tier.

Will the kids be alright?

Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace — 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com

Jose Mourinho is going to play a host of youngsters on Sunday, and Paul Pogba will return. This is a club that loves promoting its youth, and would love to see some new Old Trafford heroes take care of business against Big Sam Allardyce and mercurial Palace.

What impression will Puel, Hughes leave?

Southampton vs. Stoke City — 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com

Mark Hughes feels safer than Claude Puel, but both Stoke City and Southampton underachieved this season (at least in terms of total points produced). Puel led his club to a EFL Cup final and didn’t look bad in UEFA Europa League play, but has still be under fire at St. Mary’s. Hughes had a head-scratching year at the bet365 Stadium. A positive impression would help either heading into the summer.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Manchester United

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  • United won 3-2 in EFL Cup Final
  • And 2-0 at Old Trafford on Aug. 19
  • Man Utd leads all-time 63W-30D-27L

It’s an EFL Cup Final rematch at St. Mary’s on Wednesday, when Manchester United will look for season sweep of Southampton (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Southampton sits eighth in the Premier League table, and controls its own destiny with this being a match-in-hand on two of the three teams which can still finish eighth. Claude Puel knows his future may at stake, and will want to take every chance to end with positive impressions.

Meanwhile, United knows it will finish in sixth place in the league. Jose Mourinho may hand several youngsters playing time, with names like Joel PereiraAxel Tuanzebe, Demi Mitchell and Scott McTominay possibilties.

“I have to build some teams with the minimum of conditions to fight for a result,” Mourinho said. “We lost against Arsenal 2-0 and we fought for the result. We lost 2-1 [at Spurs] and we fought for the result.”

The match is one week before United faces Ajax in Sweden for the UEFA Europa League crown and a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

What they’re saying

Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger on Puel in an exclusive with JPW: “Claude has been a part of everything that has happened this year. It is really going to be the players or however else, it is up to football to give us the final grade and then we will see how we go forward.”

Man Utd’s Marcus Rashford on playing its best“”We’ve got to keep fighting till the end. As individuals, the way we’re made at this club is we want to win every game, no matter what game it is and what circumstances we’re in. It’s going to be the same approach until the end of the season.”

Prediction

Saints hopes of finishing strong at home in back-to-back St. Mary’s tilts will be met by United players hoping to impress Mourinho. Could be a lot of fun here with a 2-2 draw.