Premier League Breakdown: Robbie Earle talks Southampton FC

Leave a comment

There are few stories in the Premier League that are more intriguing than Southampton’s start to the season. Unbeaten in their last four matches and having only conceded two goals this season, the Saints currently sit fourth in the Premier League table.

So I decided to sit down with NBC Premier League pundit Robbie Earle and get to the bottom of just what makes this side so interesting.

THOUGHTS ON SOUTHAMPTON’S FOUR MATCH UNBEATEN RUN?

It’s interesting about Mauricio Pochettino (right) because when he took the job from Nigel Adkins – who was a well-thought-of coach – there was a bit of uproar in England about Johnny Foreigner coming in.

But 12 months on and people have seen a huge change in the way the club is run and they way they’ve moved forward. Yes, we’re only seven games into this season but I think we can all see where Southampton have big hopes. So credit to the chairman Nicola Cortese, he was brave in making the decision to hire Pochettino and it’s paying off in a big way.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT SOUTHAMPTON?

I like that they have a number of young English players who they’re developing, which isn’t the case at a lot of the big clubs. There’s Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, James Ward-Prowse. And I think Pochettino has brought in the right kind of quality additions who can help these young players flourish. It looks like some real thought has gone into assembling a diverse club and it has an interesting chemistry to it.

They have some young guys, some old guys, some fast guys, some powerful guys – it’s just a really nice mix of skill-sets and one that seems to make for a happy ship. I imagine going to training at that club and there being down there being a really healthy environment, one that’s competitive in all the right ways.

source: Getty ImagesWHICH YOUNG PLAYER DO YOU RATE HIGHEST ON SOUTHAMPTON?

I like Luke Shaw, he’s one who’s destined for a bigger club. This is the club where Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamerlain started before they moved on and possibly Shaw is the next one. I like his technical ability and the understated way in which he plays. You know, with some of these young there are dips in performances but Shaw is level and consistent. He seems to accept his responsibilities and take everything in stride.

HOW DO SOUTHAMPTON KEEP HOLD OF THEIR YOUNG TALENT?

The mindset of being a feeder club is starting to change. In an ideal world I’m sure Southampton would like to breed good talent and keep them forever. But they’re not there yet. And in fairness I think if five or six of the top clubs come knocking, players are still going to want to leave.

That being said, if they somehow find their way into Champions League football over the next five to ten years there’s no need to leave because everything starts going up. Competition goes up. Money goes up. Salaries go up. And really, that’s what drives players in the end. In the meantime, they need to try their best to hold on to this talent or else make sure that they sell them for the right amount of money and continue reinvesting in the academy.

SOUTHAMPTON’S GOAL IS TO MAKE THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – HOW SHOCKING WOULD THAT BE?

It would be about as shocking as if Crystal Palace wins the league (laughing). In all seriousness, Southampton finishing Top 4 would be an unbelievable turn out. If they can finish in the Top 10 or even the Top 8 it would be a massive step forward for them.

But let’s be realistic. Their ambition should be 10th place and upwards. And then every year, they should look to take little steps forward. I’m not one to knock ambition but it will take time for Southampton to get there.

source:  IS IT REALISTIC FOR 6-7 PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS TO HAVE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ASPIRATIONS?

Well, I like the optimism. The Premier League used to start every season with four or five teams saying ‘we’re aiming for the Champions League’ while nine or ten others would say ‘we just want to stay in the league. But within the last two years the league has moved on with the influx of things like money and foreign coaches. The perception has changed. Clubs are no longer saying ‘I want to survive,’ they’re saying ‘I want something more.’

A good example is Tony Pulis at Stoke City. He didn’t lose his job because his club were going to be relegated, he lost it because he lacked ambition in his style. Stoke wanted more. The fans wanted more. Clubs are investing more and demanding things improve.

Merely trying to stay in the league is a mentality that could earn you £50-60M but to have that outlook each season is a turn off. You want to develop a club. Improve each year. As Pulis found out, merely surviving just isn’t good enough anymore.

TALK ABOUT THE PARITY IN THIS YEAR’S PREMIER LEAGUE

The parity makes it such an attractive league. With all the managerial changes we’re seeing an even playing field where, seven matches in, even clubs like Liverpool have the respect of all top teams. They’re competitive. Arsenal are competitive. And even though they sold their best player, Tottenham have replenished the ranks and are competitive.

Add to this the fact that, in the Premier League, players give all they have for every match for the entire 90 minutes. I’m not sure that happens in other leagues like Serie A and La Liga. But in the Premier League, the fans won’t allow anything less than 100%. So you have these teams that just keep trying and trying and trying.

We saw that mentality when Sunderland played Manchester United. They just fired their manager and have some injuries, but they never quit. They just kept biting and biting and biting – being ultra competitive. I’m not sure you always see that in other big leagues in Europe. So that’s the kind of thing that keeps the league so attractive – you never quite know what will happen until the final whistle.

Europa League: Wolves through to Round of 16, Portuguese sides stunned

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal and Manchester United are still set to take the field, but there was an early round of Europa League matches that saw nearly half the Round of 16 field set.

Wolverhampton Wanderers knew it had room to breathe, and they made use of that, advancing cooly to the Round of 16 despite a 3-2 loss at Espanyol that saw them advance 6-3 on aggregate. The 4-0 first-leg win set Wolves up nicely, and they held firm behind equalizers from red-hot winger Adama Traore and Matthew Doherty.

 

Jonathan Calleri picked up a hat-trick for the hosts, including the winner in the 91st minute, but it wasn’t nearly enough to see the Spanish side truly challenge the massive deficit.

Elsewhere, Justin Kluivert gave Roma a spot in the Round of 16 with his 29th minute goal that saw the Italian side through via a 2-1 aggregate win over KAA Gent. The 20-year-old got a sumptuous through ball from Henrikh Mkhitaryan who laid it on a platter for Kluivert’s calm finish. The goal answered Jonathan David’s opener four minutes prior and set Roma up for a 1-1 draw that followed their 1-0 home win in the first leg.

USMNT veteran John Brooks started and played the whole 90 minutes as Wolfsburg rode a 3-0 second leg win to a 5-1 aggregate victory over Norwegian side Malmo. 21-year-old Croatian youth international Josip Brekalo was the lone goalscorer in the second leg, finding the net just minutes before halftime to seal advancement to the next round. Yannick Gerhardt and Joao Victor added second-half cherries on top with his 65th minute to put Wolfsburg into the next stage.

Bayer Leverkusen passed a tough test with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Champions League dropouts FC Porto. After a 2-1 home win in the first leg, the German side got an early 10th minute goal from Argentine international Lucas Alario, initially flagged for offside but corrected by VAR. Porto was awful, managing just one shot through the entire first half and conceding twice more after halftime to Kai Havertz and Kerem Demirbay. Mali international Moussa Marega got 65th minute goal for Porto but it was little more than a consolation.

The other Portuguese club in the competition, Sporting CP, suffered an equally disappointing result as they coughed up a 3-1 first-leg lead and to Istanbul Basaksehir in Turkey, falling 4-1 in extra time to complete a 5-4 aggregate defeat. After the hosts brought the aggregate back level, it seemed Luciano Vietto had saved Sporting’s lives, but Edin Visca scored in the 92nd minute to send the match to extra time on a 4-4 aggregate draw. Visca then played hero as he blasted a wonderful penalty in the 119th minute to win the matchup.

Former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel scored the opener just after the half-hour mark via a corner, nutmegging the goalkeeper with a header on the doorstep. Danijel Aleksic bagged Basaksehir’s second just before halftime with an absolutely incredible free-kick from miles away to put the hosts 2-0 up and level the aggregate at 3-3, with Basaksehir holding the away goal advantage from the first leg. Sporting CP was saved, however, by Vietto who scored with 22 minutes remaining 

Dutch side AZ Alkmaar slumped out of the competition to LASK, losing 2-0 in Austria which sealed a 3-1 aggregate defeat. 21-year-old Austrian youth international Marko Raguz hit for a quickfire double just before halftime, including one from the penalty spot, to send LASK through to the Round of 16.

Full Europa League results (bolded team advances)

Espanyol 3-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
FC Porto 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen
KAA Gent 1-1 AS Roma
Malmo FF 0-3 Wolfsburg
LASK 2-0 AZ Alkmaar
Istanbul Basaksehir 4-1 Sporting CP (AET)
FC Basel 1-0 Apoel Nicosia

2020 MLS Power Rankings, Vol. 1

Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the 2020 Major League Soccer season kicking off this weekend, here’s a (surely brilliant) predictive edition of the Power Rankings, which will be updated at the start of every month here on PST…

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s parting shots cause anger at Hertha Berlin ]

MLS Cup favorites
Los Angeles FC and New York City FC

We all remember what LAFC did last year, and the fact they didn’t win MLS Cup despite settling most every relevant league record will only serve as further fuel for Bob Bradley to demand even more from (inarguably) the most talented team in the league. One potential pitfall: after trading Walker Zimmerman (for a record amount of allocation money), it’s unclear who’ll start at center back, and if you think it’s clear it’s a less than ideal situation. As for NYCFC, they managed to fly under the radar last year despite finishing top of the Eastern Conference by six points. While they don’t have the household names of an LAFC or Atlanta United, Domenec Torrent’s side (now that of Ronny Deila) played every bit the attractive, fluid attacking soccer of the league’s darlings. In a week East, NYCFC could wind up Supporters’ Shield winners.


MLS Cup contenders
Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United, LA Galaxy and Toronto FC

These teams will be in the playoffs, 100 percent guarantee. (fingers are now crossed) With satisfactory answers to certain questions, they could make the leap from contenders to favorites with ease. Those questions are… Seattle: does the completely rebuilt backline come together, and how long does it take? Atlanta: will head coach Frank De Boer find the right balance between his preferred defensive slant and the roster’s natural tendency to attack at all costs? Galaxy: is the defense, which has been horrific for five or six years now, any better? Toronto: wait, why aren’t they on the “favorites” line? Ah, yes, because only one team per conference is allowed.


See you in the playoffs
Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Philadelphia Union and D.C. United

Here’s the thing about this group: the two teams from the East should finish fourth or fifth in the junior circuit (some ways back of the clear-cut top-three), but they probably wouldn’t make the playoffs in the West. By default, Philadelphia and D.C. get a bump in the tiers for the fact they’ll walk into the playoffs in the East. That is not — repeat not — to say they are as good as RSL or Dallas, who would actually push Atlanta and Toronto for second and third.


In the hunt
Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, Minnesota United, Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo, Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution and Montreal Impact

That’s a long list of teams. As stated above, the teams from the East will be in playoff contention due to not having seven standout sides. Basically, any combination of these teams could wind up in the playoffs. Looking to the West, Portland, Sporting KC and Minnesota have the potential to climb a tier (or two) if all goes right for them, but each of those sides has a glaring, and potentially fatal, flaw. The temptation to say Colorado will actually be quite good and also a playoff team is very strong, but it goes against all human instincts when you think back to how they opened the 2019 season, before firing Anthony Hudson and hiring Robin Fraser and almost making the playoffs anyway.


Fulfilling obligations
FC Cincinnati, Orlando City SC and Vancouver Whitecaps

Barely a month into their first season (last season), Cincinnati was very clearly the worst team in the league. Somehow, the offseason has gone even worse for them. They (probably) managed to improve enough so as to not claim back-to-back Wooden Spoons, but enough to contend for a playoff place? Highly unlikely. Orlando City has never — not once in their five-year MLS history — given me, or anyone, reason to believe they are a competent organization. Until they do so for a period of six (6) months or more, they just exist for existence’s sake. Speaking of merely existing, the Vancouver Whitecaps.


Expansion teams, TBD
Inter Miami and Nashville SC

Here’s the thing about expansion teams: they aren’t to be trusted, either way. What looks good on paper can sometimes look terrible on the field, and what looks terrible on paper can sometimes look great on the field. We’ll give Miami and Nashville their first assessments after a month of games.

LIVE, Europa League: Man United, Arsenal, Wolves go for last-16

Photo by MB Media/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s time to settle 14 more ties in the Europa League round of 23, including three involving Premier League sides.

Ahead of Thursday’s seconds legs, Arsenal lead Greek side Olympiacos 1-0, Manchester United are level with Portuguese side Club Brugge at 1-1, and Wolverhampton Wanderers are the comfortable ones of the bunch with their 4-0 advantage of Spanish side Espanyol.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

All three PL sides are expected to go through to the round of 16, where they are once again eligible to face one another.

Meanwhile, some of the competition’s other remaining heavy hitters are also in action: Inter Milan lead Ludogorets Razgrad 2-0; Roma lead Gent 1-0; Sevilla are level with Cluj at 1-1; and Ajax trail Getafe 2-0.

Full Europa League schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Espanyol v. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Basaksehir v. Sporting CP
Porto v. Bayer Leverkusen
Gent v. Roma
Malmo v. Wolfsburg
LASK v. AZ Alkmaar
Basel v. APOEL Nicosia

3 p.m. ET
Arsenal
v. Olympiacos
Manchester United v. Club Brugge
Inter Milan v. Ludogorets Razgrad
Ajax v. Getafe
Sevilla v. Cluj
Benfica v. Shakhtar Donetsk
Celtic v. Copenhagen

Colossal Juve-Inter clash could be played in empty stadium

Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte probably won’t have to sit through a torrent of boos when he returns to Turin for the first time to face former club Juventus.

That’s because there could be no fans there to see it.

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s parting shots cause anger at Hertha Berlin ]

The Derby d’Italia, one of the season’s biggest matches, may be played in an empty stadium on Sunday because of the virus outbreak in northern Italy. The epicenter of the outbreak is in the Lombardy region, and Milan is its capital.

“I hope that from today there will be a regression in the diffusion of the virus so that I, too, can go see Juventus-Inter,” said Attilio Fontana, the governor of the Lombardy region. “We’re monitoring the situation. I’m very calm. We need to see what the situation is. It’s the same as for the schools. We’ll do a check Saturday and then we’ll see.”

Four Serie A matches scheduled for last weekend were postponed, including Inter’s match against Sampdoria. Italy has the most cases of the virus in Europe.

Serie A president Paolo Dal Pinto sent a letter to the government on Monday asking that games no longer be postponed in the affected areas but played without fans in attendance, something which Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said they were in agreement with.

[ MORE: Man City makes statement, comes back in Madrid ]

However, no official decree has been made by the Turin council and Serie A’s governing body has also yet to release a statement, giving rise to the hope fans could be allowed in.

Italy had 447 virus cases as of Wednesday. Twelve people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments, or both.

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two hardest hit regions and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Inter’s Europa League match against Ludogorets was scheduled to go ahead in an empty stadium on Thursday.

On Sunday, Conte will return to Juventus as opposition coach for the first time since he left the club in 2014. Conte led Juventus to the first three of its eight straight league titles and also spent most of his playing career with the Bianconeri.

[ MORE: Alan Pardew confronted by frustrated Den Haag fans on training field ]

“Soccer needs the crowd, to hear the atmosphere around it,” Conte said. “That’s the best thing about the game, the atmosphere around the soccer being played. These decisions have been taken with public health in mind but I hope that everything returns to normal as soon as possible.”

Inter trails the Serie A leaders by six points, although it has played a match less. Juventus, meanwhile, will have to bounce back from Wednesday’s surprise 1-0 loss at Lyon in the Champions League.

“We didn’t play the match we wanted. We have a lot of work to do,” Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey said. “Let’s focus on ourselves and do better than we did today, starting on Sunday with Inter.”