Premier League Preview: Everton v. Southampton

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• Everton have failed to score in three of their last four games against Southampton.

• Saints’ last win at Goodison Park was a 2-0 victory in November 1997, when Matt Le Tissier and Kevin Davies both scored.

• Southampton have kept 14 clean sheets – more than any other top-flight team this term. (BBC Sport)

It’s been a disappointing 2014-15 league campaign for the Toffees, who were among the Premier League’s best when they didn’t also play in a major tournament abroad.

Everton finished at fifth-place a year ago to prompt their inclusion in the Europa’s League group stage, while Roberto Martinez witnessed his side make an admirable push in that competition, advancing to the final 16 before Dynamo Kiev provided the 6-4 on-aggregate knockout in March.

Winning two of their past seven league contests, Everton is hovering around the middle of the table in 13th place: one point above West Brom and eight points below 10th-place Stoke City.

On the other end, Southampton have cruised through a largely wonderful year and have surpassed expectations. That’s why manager Ronald Koeman is a strong favorite for PL coach of the year.

[Other PL previews: Manchester United v. Aston Villa | Arsenal v. Liverpool | Chelsea v. Stoke City]

At sixth in the league table, the Saints fell to West Brom in a 1-0 defeat at the end of February but have made up for that misfortune by remaining unbeaten in their past three games—a draw to Chelsea with victories over Crystal Palace and Burnley.

Though nicely positioned to slide into that fifth-place slot where Liverpool currently resides, Koeman knows the following 2015-16 campaign, if Europa League qualification occurs, will be demanding for his current roster, presenting one of the highest-quality back lines in England now.

Catch the full live game online on NBC Sports Live Extra at 10 a.m. ET this Saturday.

What they’re saying

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman on Everton’s inconsistent season (Saints official website): “It’s a tough test because I think Everton deserve a higher position on the table because I like the way they play football. I like the way how Roberto Martinez is doing his job…They have good individual qualities in the squad but it’s a difficult season for them. I think one of the reasons because they play Europa League on Thursday and the risk to have more players injured is there.”

Everton manager Roberto Martinez on Ross Barkley’s performance this year (Sky Sports): “Although he’s a young man, I think Ross is already used to dealing with extremes. When he plays well, he’s the best footballer England could have and when he has a bad game, it’s the end of the world….I think what is true that Ross Barkley has achieved an incredible level of maturity this season. He’s had to go through a period of difficulty the same way we have as a team.”

Match injuries/absences

Romelu Lukaku was recently ruled out of Belgium’s double-header after sustaining a  hamstring injury in the Toffees’ last league match against QPR, and his status will likely be revealed by game time.

Darron Gibson’s stomach strain will face proper judgement. Kevin Mirallas, sidelined following Everton’s Europa League loss to Dynamo Kiev, and Steven Pienaar, out since December with a knee problem, may see time on the pitch.

Southampton midfielder Steven Davis might sit out due to a groin ailment picked up on international duty with Northern Ireland, and netminder Kelvin Davis should take Fraser Forster’s spot, who is coping with a notable knee injury.

Prediction

Although Everton’s not in the thick of contention for a top-five spot, a first-class display from the Toffees could well result in three points, and I like their chances at Goodison Park enough. Everton 1-1 Southampton.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.

FA Cup: Sheffield Wednesday into 5th round; Derby headed for replay

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Sheffield Wednesday became the first club to reach the fifth round of the 2019-20 FA Cup by beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Friday.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

The Owls took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Morgan Fox squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a tight angle, and Sam Winnall put the EFL Championship side 2-0 up by slotting the ball home just before full-time. QPR pulled a goal back through Nahki Wells just moments later, but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-1.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Wednesday has reached the fifth round after doing so just twice in their previous 17 seasons.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

Elsewhere, fellow Championship side Derby County, featuring Wayne Rooney who played all 90 minutes, couldn’t see off League Two side Northampton Town and will be forced into the dreaded replay after struggling to a scoreless draw away from home.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.