A day deciphering the Southampton, Bournemouth rivalry

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SOUTHAMPTON — Donning my black winter jacket and hopping on a train down from London for 90 minutes to the South Coast, this weekend was all about deciphering if the Premier League’s newest derby was even a rivalry.

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Leading up to the first-ever clash between Southampton and Bournemouth in the Premier League there has been much talk about whether this is a “derby” or a “rivalry” as the two South Coast settlements sit just 30 miles apart and are separated by a national park, The New Forest, but historically they haven’t been deemed major rivals.

That notion sparked my latest piece on NBC SportsWorld, trying to describe what this rivalry has been for many years and what it can become. Growing up on England’s South Coast, I can  say it’s a peculiar derby where fans of Bournemouth want it to be a full blown rivalry but fans of Southampton only have a rivalry with South Coast rivals Portsmouth, based 17 miles to their east.

[ MORE: Saints see off Cherries ]

Below is my account of “derby day” after starting the journey in a small town equidistant between Southampton and Bournemouth, deep in the New Forest.

NO MAN’S LAND

Waking up in the idyllic New Forest in a town called Brockenhurst, which is located 15 miles from both Southampton and Bournemouth, on Sunday it was hard to believe a big game between two Premier League sides was taking place a 15-minute train ride away. Ponies strolled the streets. A hastily assembled river blocked my way on a walk after heavy morning rainfall created it. There was no indication that this sleepy, beautiful national park in Southern England sits between two settlements set to square off on the pitch and in the stands in the most popular soccer league in the world on Sunday.

The intertwining of Southampton and Bournemouth is peculiar. As I wrote for SportsWorld, this is not a true derby. Not like Liverpool vs. Manchester United or Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur. These clubs usually play preseason friendlies against each other. Both sets of fans mingle amicably and generally get a long in day-to-day life. It is a friendly rivalry. Well, it always has been. When these two teams were slugging it out in the third tier in 2010, something more was brewing. Checking out of my hotel, the receptionist revealed he was a Bournemouth fan. “My Grandad was a big Cherries fan, so it is just a family thing really,” he explained. “I just hope we don’t get embarrassed today.”

[ MORE: Koeman hails Saints’ quality ]

Jumping into a cab to the train station, the taxi driver was a Saints fan. “The thing is, it is not really a rivalry. There is no hatred,” Mike said as he drove past a few ponies and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. Some have dubbed this rivalry “The New Forest derby” but it is so embryonic that the tag has yet to catch on between fans.

At the train station, fans of both teams mingled on the platform. Friendly banter was chucked back and forth. On the train, the 14-minute journey was packed with fans of both teams heading into Southampton, the banter was getting a little livelier. One Bournemouth fan opened up his can of beer and it started spraying everywhere. “You didn’t miss your mouth did you? Surely not…” said a Saints fans sat down with his son a few seats away. Laughter. Friendliness. Not one of the fiercest rivalries that soccer world has ever seen. Bournemouth fans were asking which pubs were best to go to in Southampton and soon enough, they were about to find out which was the best.

BREWING RIVALRY

Given this is Bournemouth’s first-ever season in the top-flight of English soccer and Saints have spent most of the past 50-years in the top-flight, it’s easy to see why Southampton’s fans don’t deem this is a rivalry. We are talking about a team who they used to loan out plenty of players to when the Cherries were in the third or fourth tier of English soccer and almost see them as a feeder club.

Walking outside a pub in Southampton City Center, troubled flared up momentarily. The pub had been taken over by Bournemouth fans in the top and bottom tiers and a few scuffles broke out between locals and the supporters as the police wadded in with batons and hooked out certain individuals.

“F*** off Southampton, we rule the South Coast!” chanted the Bournemouth fans. A Bournemouth fan was hospitalized in a serious condition after the game after reportedly being attacked by a Southampton fan after the game. The violent undercurrent of a fierce rivalry is brewing.

Saints and Bournemouth met for the first time in the PL on All Saints' Day.
Saints and Bournemouth met for the first time in the PL on All Saints’ Day.

Jumping in another cab towards St Mary’s, the cabbie told me how he had hardly ever seen riot horses and police lined up in the center of the city. There were over 20 horses lining the route from the station to the stadium as violence — a few outbreaks in previous meetings had occurred — was anticipated.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

In and around the stadium, Bournemouth’s young manager Eddie Howe, he played for Portsmouth and once turned down the manager’s job at Saints in 2010, had his players on the pitch nice and early. All the talk was about this rivalry and the fact that if Bournemouth could win a few, then it would truly become something special. Everyone I spoke to, be it Saints or Bournemouth fans, also agreed it would be a case of how many Saints would win by. “I just hope we play well and keep it close,” said the Bournemouth supporting hotel receptionist while printing out my bill in the morning.

The Cherries had not beaten Saints in a competitive game since 1987. That was a League Cup game where Harry Redknapp was in charge of Bournemouth. You have to go back to 1958 for the last time Bournemouth beat Southampton in a league game. Sunday marked only the 22nd time these clubs had met competitively in over 125 years.

THE GAME

“There’s only one South Coast derby” was the song from Saints fans in the opening 10 minutes as they wanted to remind their neighbors just how little they cared about them. Moments later, “We are Southampton, we don’t care about you” rang out.

The South Coast spirit was strong in Bournemouth’s squad. Southampton lad and former Saints academy graduate Andrew Surman started in central midfield. Howe, a Bournemouth man through and through managed the Cherries. Southampton fan Baily Cargill was on the bench for Bournemouth. Throughout the game Bournemouth’s fans burst out with chants of “scummers, scummers” (like Portsmouth, that is their nickname for Southampton supporters) to which Saints fans simply replied once again: “We are Southampton, we don’t care about you” and then in a teasing manner: “Aaaaagain… you’ll never play here again.”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and A.F.C. Bournemouth at St Mary's Stadium on November 1, 2015 in Southampton, England.
Saints’ players celebrate Davis’ opener in front of the away fans.

They may be right. Saints pummeled Bournemouth early on with Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane going close. Eventually Bournemouth succumbed to sustained pressure in the 27th minute as Ryan Bertrand‘s left flank cross found Steven Davis at the back post and he tapped home. Moments later it was 2-0 as Mane’s cross-field ball found Dusan Tadic and his cross was headed home by Pelle. 2-0 to Southampton and the gulf between these two sides, not just historically, was clear for all to see. Chatting to home fans at half time as I wandered around the Itchen Stand, many I spoke to just said: “I don’t see it as a rivalry, not at all.” Another had a bone to pick with their rivals from down the coast: “These Bournemouth fans have somehow got this idea in their heads we are rivals. I remember back in the day, we took our team down there for a friendly and helped raise money to save their club in their time of need. It’s bizarre.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

In the second half Saints took their foot off the pedal and the Cherries had plenty of the play. Bournemouth fans sat in and around Southampton fans in the home end, something which is not technically allowed or looked upon kindly in the PL, but they were easy to pick out. As brief moments of hope in and around the box arrived, it saw them rise among the home fans. When Junior Stanislas‘ free kick went narrowly wide, one elderly Bournemouth fan stood up among the Saints fans with his hands on his heads. There was nothing said. The friendliness remained during a few chants between both set of supporters and as the game headed towards a conclusion, it became more jovial in the stands. Acknowledging that tough times will be ahead in their debut season among the big boys with ACL injuries robbing them of key players, Bournemouth’s fans chanted: “Premier League, we’re having a laugh!” Victor Wanyama was sent off 12 minutes from time for two yellows which made things interesting, as tackles flew in and the Cherries gave it their all but came up short as they sit one point and one place above the relegation zone while Saints sit in seventh place, just four points off the top four.

“We are Southampton, the South Coast is ours!” sang the home fans as the final whistle blew to signify the win. So, after all, Saints’ fans did care.

POTENTIAL

What Sunday proved to me was that this rivalry is brewing but may not get the chance to flourish in the Premier League. The hunger for this to become a rivalry and a derby seems to be almost exclusively from Bournemouth’s fans. After years of living in the shadows of Southampton, the Cherries want to challenge the nearest club to them, geographically, and are desperate for this to become something more than it currently is. This rivalry is sometimes friendly, sometimes nasty, but if Bournemouth manage to stave off relegation and remain in the Premier League beyond this season, given the passion and pride on show in the stands, around the region before the game and on the pitch, the league will be a richer place for it.

Lampard explains why Pulisic is not playing

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LONDON — Frank Lampard made it crystal clear as to why Christian Pulisic isn’t playing for Chelsea right now.

He isn’t quite ready to be a regular in the Premier League.

The USMNT star was an unused substitute for the third game running, as Chelsea lost 2-1 at home to Liverpool on Sunday.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the game if Pulisic was a victim of Chelsea suffering three injuries to players during their defeat to Liverpool, Lampard said that wasn’t the case at all.

“He wasn’t a victim of the injuries. I’ve got a squad to pick from. Before that he had played a few games,” Lampard said. “Willian has come back in and been sharp and looked good. I decided to go with Mason [Mount] today, because we needed to stay strong in midfield and play Mason high up the pitch. That is my choice to make. He will get ample opportunities. He is a young player as well as everyone is talking about Mason and Tammy and Fikayo. He is actually as young, if not younger, than some of them. His chances will come.”

There have been some suggestions in the British media this week that Pulisic has been described as being shy and has struggled to fit in and settle down since his move from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea in the summer.

Asked if Pulisic was struggling with his new life in London, Lampard said he didn’t think that was the case and again pointed to other players, aside from Pulisic, deserving more minutes too.

“No, I can’t speak exactly for him, but no, that is not the case,” Lampard said. “I have to make choices. There is him sitting on the bench, Pedro sitting on the bench, Ross Barkley on the bench, Batshuayi, who deserves more minutes for the way he’s training at the minute. Those are the unfortunate choices I need to make.”

Right now, Pulisic is suffering from Chelsea switching formations and the likes of Willian and Pedro returning to fitness. Add in Callum Hudson-Odoi soon to return from injury and Pulisic could slip to being Chelsea’s fifth-choice winger.

It is far too early to say this is a problem for the U.S. men’s national team, but Pulisic’s decision to join Chelsea in January may be seen as a step back if he doesn’t soon secure regular minutes.

Lampard obviously rates him and pointed to Pulisic only turning 21 years old earlier this week, but it is clear he doesn’t rate him enough to start the Pennsylvania native over the likes of Mount, Willian and Pedro.

That is a big problem for Pulisic.

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Liverpool

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LONDON — Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, as Jurgen Klopp‘s men stay top of the Premier League table with a perfect record after six wins from six. 

First half goals from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino set them on their way, with a disallowed goal for Chelsea, via VAR, causing plenty of debate. N’Golo Kante’s sublime strike in the second half set up a tense finish and Chelsea should have at least grabbed a point.

[ MORE: Match recap | Klopp reacts ]

Here’s what we learned from a dramatic encounter at Stamford Bridge.


VAR DELIVERS ALMIGHTY MOMENTUM SWING

In the space of about 60 first-half seconds Chelsea went from scoring a deserved equalizer to trailing 2-0. An almighty momentum swing was delivered, courtesy of VAR, and Chelsea never quite recovered. The fact Mason Mount‘s toe was offside made the pill even tougher to swallow, as just like the incident involving Heung-Min Son for Spurs at Leicester on Saturday, it knocked the stuffing out of Chelsea.

They had recovered after going 1-0 down to a piece of magic from Alexander-Arnold, but after prolonged celebrations following Cesar Apzilicueta’s ‘equalizer’ the moans and groans around the Bridge reflected how the home players felts as their shoulders slumped in unison. Premier League teams are still dealing with the momentum swings VAR decisions bring, and Chelsea’s youngster didn’t cope well with it at all. Initially.

In fairness, they roared back in the second half and should have grabbed a point from this game. But VAR is delivering the correct decisions, no matter how close the calls are, and players aren’t quite able to cope with the loss of momentum.


LIVERPOOL GRIND OUT YET ANOTHER WIN

Liverpool have now lost just once in their last 45 PL games, and are unbeaten in 23, their longest run in PL history. The last time they were unbeaten in 23 league games was back in 1990.

1990 was the last time they won the title.

It is now six wins from six this season and 15 victories Premier League victories in a row for Jurgen Klopp’s side. And just like the rest of this season, so far, Liverpool barely had to get out of second gear. That is the scary thing about this team.

The fact Jordan Henderson was barking at Alexander-Arnold for a slightly misplaced pass when Liverpool were 2-0 up tells you about the desire of this team. They aren’t happy with simply winning. They are becoming perfectionists and their five point lead atop the table feeds into that narrative. They are perfect six games in, and bigger tests than beating an inexperienced Chelsea side await. But the ease with which Liverpool are brushing aside their opponents is becoming all too familiar.

We are only six games into the season but Klopp’s side are a well-oiled machine who will push Manchester City all the way for the title once again. They were far from their best at Chelsea but they have a very handy habit of winning regardless of their performance.


DEFENSIVE ISSUES HOLDING CHELSEA BACK

Sure, Emerson Palmeri and Andreas Christensen went off injured in the first half and Antonio Rudiger is out, but the basic errors Chelsea are making continue to cost them. Lampard’s men could do nothing about TAA’s moments of magic from a free kick but to allow Firmino a free header six yards out is just not on. Chelsea have now conceded the second-highest number of goals (13) in the Premier League this season and unless they can somehow shore up their leaky defense a top four finish seems unlikely.

N’Golo Kante’s stunning strike gave the scoreline the look it deserved and his return from injury solidified midfield, as Liverpool’s famed speed on the counter barely surfaced. Chelsea are a work in progress under Lampard and the biggest area he has to work on is at the back. After creating numerous chances going forward, they won’t be worried about scoring goals this season. Keeping them out is their Achilles heel.

Lampard’s side were applauded off the field at the final whistle and the home fans are encouraged by the progress this young side is making. It wasn’t enough to get the past Liverpool, but if Chelsea can cut out silly defensive errors, the rest of their game is looking good.

Klopp: Liverpool almost made statement in Chelsea win

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Liverpool is a perfect 6-0, even after a not-so-perfect 2-1 win over Chelsea on Sunday, and that result under those circumstances only seems to underscore its power.

The Reds built an early 2-0 lead that nearly disappeared and perhaps should’ve led to a draw had Michy Batshuayi and Mason Mount provided the finishing touch.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

But they didn’t, and a sloppy second half at the back didn’t hurt the Reds aside from N’Golo Kante’s undressing of Fabinho.

Yes, there’s a certain vibe of destiny around this unit, and everything is going according to Jurgen Klopp‘s plans.

He’s downright giddy, but you can tell he cares about matching performances like Man City’s 8-0 clobbering of Watford and that any goal against his men is a bit of luck.

“3-0 would have been a statement but then N’Golo Kante makes his little run and with his big toe kicks it in.

“Then it is completely normal that you come under pressure but we defended well. There were a couple of good saves from both goalkeepers. Good situations in an exciting game and that is how it is in the top six and in the Premier League.”

Apologies to Klopp, but the Kante quip is an absolute scream. Chelsea’s midfielder left Fabinho for dead and then took advantage of slow-to-react Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk to smash a delightful goal past Adrian with the side of his foot. Just tip your cap, Jurgen.

The Reds are now the first PL team to go 6-0 to start consecutive seasons, though it seems there’s a certain team in his head.

“It is exceptional. What can I say? We have to keep on going. It never looks as easy as it did for City yesterday but we have not had these games yet. We have to work for it.”

Circle Nov. 10 at Anfield, okay? The next round of Klopp v. Pep.

10-man Arsenal wins thriller over Aston Villa

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Remember how many joked that Arsenal was just gonna have to go outscore everyone due to their firepower up top and not much at the back?

They did it again Sunday, coming back from a goal down and a man down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Calum Chambers, and Nicolas Pepe scored to help overcome Ainsley Maitland-Niles‘ pair of early yellow cards as Arsenal moved fourth with 11 points.

John McGinn and Wesley Morales provided Aston Villa 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the game. Villa remains 18th with four points.


Three things we learned

1. David Luiz might be a Chelsea secret agent: The ex-Chelsea man was again heavy in blame in the concession of an Arsenal goal, as his sleepy, tepid attempt to stop Jack Grealish‘s cut back to Wesley ended with the latter smashing the ball into the goal moments after the Gunners had equalized from the spot. The veteran defender has been almost automatic for a big error per game.

Also, don’t just hate on Luiz. Look at this defending on the first Arsenal goal.

2. Aubameyang in the rarest of airs: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has played for two attack-forward teams, and drawn so many, “Yeah, buts” from critics, but the Gabonese wonder has been absolutely sensational. He has seven goals in seven matches this season across all competitions, and where would the Gunners be without him?

3. Gunners step up late: Down a man and 72 hours after playing in Germany, the Gunners had to find a hero. They found two, one likely and the other not so much. Chambers found a wonderful Guendouzi pass and outworked two Villa defenders to level the score at 2, and Aubameyang slashed a free kick home in the 84th.

Man of the Match: It was probably Pepe, who got his first Arsenal goal to go with an industrious day down the right. His vision is exceptional, perhaps outdone only by his freakishly athletic skill set. But you’re forgiven if you plug Aubameyang’s name in this space. And McGinn was terrific in defeat, but flubbed a chance to make it 3-3.


[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Ainsley Maitland-Niles could’ve had Arsenal ahead in the first minute, but he sent Saka’s cross high into the stands despite his station unmarked near the spot.

John McGinn forced Bernd Leno into the first save of the match two minutes later at the other end. The same keeper would stop the same shooter in the 11th minute.

Aubameyang couldn’t get purchase on a headed pass from Sead Kolasinac in the 16th minute after a Nicolas Pepe cross.

McGinn’s third bite at the apple was wide open and successful, as Anwar El Ghazi‘s cross spotted his run at the penalty spot and Leno had little hope of interfering with the opportunity. 1-0, 20’.

Maitland-Niles then slid into a challenge and caught a stamp during his foul. A second yellow was awarded and Arsenal was down a goal and a man.

Villa couldn’t find a second goal despite numerous chances, and Matteo Guendouzi won a straight-forward penalty off barging defender Bjorn Engels. Pepe converted the goal.

But Villa restored its lead within a minute, Jack Grealish blazing down the left side to cut back to the middle, where Wesley darted in front of sleepy David Luiz to finish the chance.

Chambers was the next to finish off a terrific pass from Guendouzi and even better work from the fullback. And Aubameyang’s free kick… holy smoke (embedded atop the page).