Koeman hails Saints’ quality; Pelle “one of best strikers in Premier League”

Leave a comment

SOUTHAMPTON — Ronald Koeman believes Southampton produced one of the “best 45 minutes” of play since he took over in 2014 as they beat Bournemouth 2-0 at St Mary’s on Sunday.

[ MORE: Saints see off Cherries ]

Saints came flying out of the traps in the first half, scoring twice around the half hour mark via Steven Davis and Graziano Pelle, and despite going down to 10-men in the second half and Bournemouth pressing, they never looked like relinquishing their grip on the game against their South Coast rivals.

[ MORE: Understanding Saints-Cherries rivalry ]

Koeman believes his side put on a stellar display in the first half as they gave Bournemouth countless problems which they couldn’t recover from.

“That was the best 45 minutes, maybe the best in more than one year,” Koeman said. “It was a high tempo. We had good ball possession and if you watch the two goals it is all about high quality of football. I am very pleased about that but we know that we still have to learn from mistake and we know that you get a reaction from the opponent after half time. It is normal. How you deal with that reaction, keep winning battles and that confidence on the ball. Okay, we can do it better than we did in the second half.”

In the second half Saints sat back and after losing Victor Wanyama to two yellow cards and going down to 10-men, Bournemouth threatened.

“We lost battles and lost passes. It was not the same but it also depends on the opponent who put in everything in the second half,” Koeman said. “We have a good example against Leicester [2-0 up but drew 2-2] and we learned from the Leicester game. They didn’t create. Maybe one chance and a good save by Marteen Stekelenburg. Of course we like to continue playing and be dangerous like the first half but to play 95 minutes on that level what we showed in the first half, in my opinion that is impossible.”

The trio of Dusan Tadic, Sadio Mane and Pelle in attack tore Bournemouth apart in the first up, with Pelle nodding home his sixth PL goal of the season and the Italian international reached double figures in all competitions for club and country in 19 outings. Pelle was named man of the match and he, along with his partners in crime, signified Saints’ dominance in the first half.

“He is very important, but for Graziano, also like Dusan and Sadio, the difference between the first and second half was that we lost more balls,” Koeman said. “We had no help for them. Still they can learn from second halves like today but we know with Graziano, he is a very good striker, scoring goals, strong. I said before that in my opinion he is one of the best in the Premier League.”

With Southampton in seventh place after 11 games of the season, they sit just four points off the top four with winnable games against Sunderland and Stoke City coming up.

“We are not so busy with the position on the table,” Koeman said. “We know that we can beat everyone if we showed what we did in the first half. It is all about every day to work hard, try to do it better, play out of our strengths, what we know and fight for every minute. Then the quality makes the difference. We showed that in the first half.”

Asked about the issues reigning PL champs Chelsea are having and if that opens up a top four spot for Saints, Koeman was coy about his side pushing for UEFA Champions League qualification.

“My experience is that maybe they are struggling at the moment but they will not struggle until the end of the season. Normally they will come back because they have a great manager, great players and maybe one day they will be a little bit more lucky than they have been before,” Koeman said. “It is difficult. It is too early to make conclusions like that because we have played 11 games, still 27 to play. It is a long way but we know we can play good football and be competitive to big clubs in the Premier League.”

Speaking of the newfound rivalry between Bournemouth and Saints, Koeman hopes the Cherries stay up so he and his team can enjoy more days like Sunday.

“The atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic,” Koeman said. “It is a local derby and I hope that we also get to play next season.”

Benfica loanee Parks readies for playoffs with NYCFC

Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Keaton Parks plays the kind of hard-to-quantify midfield role that sends both stat nerds and eye test takers to a very good place.

Barely 22, the New York City FC midfielder doesn’t stand out in any one particular area. Since arriving on loan from Benfica, the American shuttler (of sorts) ranks near the top of the club rankings in pass percentage and aerials won while chipping in tackles and successful dribbles.

[ MORE: PST talks public pitches, youth development with NYCFC director Reyna ]

He’s averaging near one key pass per game but has just a goal and an assist, due more to his responsibility in Dome Torrent’s system than a particular skill set (He has eight goals and seven assists across two-plus seasons between Varzim and Benfica B).

“In the midfield it really helps to play both sides of the ball,” Parks told ProSoccerTalk. “I take pride in doing that, and I love to make a tackle as much as getting in the attack and assisting or scoring goals. It doesn’t bother me that I’m not scoring or making all of the assists. I like to be the solid player who keeps the balance on the team.”

(Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

Parks has been an enigma to American soccer fans for some time in that he’s been in a celebrated club in Benfica but playing in a developmental role that’s near impossible to track without single-minded dedication to Portuguese football (Dramatic? Sure, but you try to catch every Liga Pro game).

But in moving to New York City FC to play under Dome Torrent, he’s had an easier transition than most due to his upbringing with Benfica, which annually ranks amongst the top possession teams in Portugal. Torrent, of course, left his last managerial gig at Girona in Spain to spent a decade-plus on Pep Guardiola‘s staff at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City.

“Dome likes to play a possession style, a confident style,” Parks said. “I still have to fight for my spot on the team but the playing style I was used to right away.

“You can see the experience Dome has, and he mirrors a little bit of what Pep does, so it’s been amazing to be able to learn from him and see the experiences of the players he’s been able to coach in his career.”

NYCFC begins its playoff run on Wednesday against Toronto FC at Citi Field in Queens, and Parks says he’s feeling better after missing three matches with injury.

And while he’s focused on the playoffs — “We want to win the Cup and be at the top” — there is a question of what’s next for him, still on the books at a perennial UEFA Champions League club but very important with a CONCACAF Champions League club.

[ MORE: MLS Playoffs preview/predictions ]

“I’m just going to be looking forward to whatever club I’m at next, whether here or back at Benfica or wherever I am and also with the U-23s going into Tokyo next summer.”

He’ll, in theory, be an imperative part to Jason Kreis, ironically a former NYCFC man himself, and the Yanks bid for a first Olympic run in three cycles. The team should be powerful, and Parks is happy.

“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “We have so much talent on the team with guys playing first division all over the world. I believe we can make a run all the way to these Olympics.”
NYCFC and Toronto FC kick off 7 p.m. ET Wednesday at Citi Field.

MLS conference semifinal preview and predictions

Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’re not sure we should be allowed to make Major League Soccer playoff predictions after getting two upset bids wrong in the first round, but we go again anyway.

No, DC United did not outlast Toronto FC at BMO Field nor were the Portland Timbers able to get a win over Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto but… we got the other four right?

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

It gets trickier at midweek for the conference semifinals, as two of those six victors from the weekend face well-rested one seeds (We suppose they could be rusty, not just well-rested).

NYCFC v. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
TFC 4-0 NYCFC (April 29)
NYCFC 1-1 TFC (Sept. 11)

Toronto hasn’t lost since Aug. 3 (5W-6D) and is well-equipped to deal NYCFC’s possession system on a postage stamp pitch. NYC’s only loss in its last 11 was a throwaway loss to a desperate Revolution side in New England. TFC has a lot of experience in spots like this, but Dome Torrent’s done an incredible job with City. It’s a coin toss, but ultimately it feels like that coin lands TFC side up. 2-1 aet.

Seattle v. Real Salt Lake  — 10 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
Seattle 1-0 RSL (April 6)
RSL 3-0 Seattle (Aug. 14)

This one’s also close, as RSL has a number of players who won’t be bothered by the pressure but man is this home field advantage a real one. The Sounders only lost two home matches this season, and haven’t lost a home playoff match under Brian Schmetzer. Call it 2-0 for Seattle.

Atlanta United v. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
ATL 1-1 Philly (March 17)
Philly 3-1 ATL (Aug. 31)

The Union are resilient, and Jim Curtin seeing success is an absolute joy. So deserved, but Frank De Boer is showing his mettle in making the tough decisions and Ezequiel Barco looks a terror. A side that is able to bring Tito Villalba and Pity Martinez off the bench is unfair. Atlanta, 3-1.

LAFC v. LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
Galaxy 3-2 LAFC (July 19)
LAFC 3-3 Galaxy (Aug. 25)

Can hardly wait for this one. Bob Bradley and Carlos Vela look to send Zlatan Ibrahimovic packing after a riotous summer competition. LAFC is so, so good, and the lack of rest for the Galaxy is a problem. Still, betting against Zlatan seems borderline insane, and Jonathan dos Santos has big game mettle of his own. We’ll call it 2-2 and a place in penalty kicks, where David Bingham’s the difference for the Galaxy in a history-writing upset that takes El Trafico to the next level. Yes, we are predicting for storylines now.

Champions League preview: Chelsea, Liverpool hit the road

Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Frank Lampard has a selection headache amongst his wingers as he tries to figure out Chelsea’s best avenue to break down Ajax on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League.

Youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic starred in the Blues’ weekend win, and Lampard also has Pedro and Willian available at Johan Cruyff Arena before a weekend visit to Burnley.

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

From ChelseaFC.com:

“Callum gave me that in his display from the start and Christian gave me that in his display coming on, and in terms of the wingers I have, Willian gave me that, Pedro gives me that so I have good selection problems when people come on and make a difference. That is what we are all about.

“The extra level that is the Champions League, the detail, the focus, concentration for 90 minutes, making the most of tiny moments, will be a test for all the young players, not just Callum.”

The good news for Pulisic in his bid to match wits with fellow USMNT (for now) player Sergino Dest is that he’s had experience on the UCL stage with Borussia Dortmund.

The other PL side in action is Liverpool, and the Reds will be expecting to get all three points in Belgium against Genk.

But Genk drew Napoli 0-0 at home on the second match day and the Reds will be wary of a slip-up.

“It’s a really good football-playing team,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. “They are organized and brave in their positioning. They don’t play with the pressing line too much but go for second balls, have speed and good midfielders and very active full-backs.”

Klopp will not have Trent Alexander-Arnold (illness) and Joel Matip (knee).

Other highlights…

— American manager Jesse Marsch hopes to lead Red Bull Salzburg to a home win over Napoli when he matches wits with Carlo Ancelotti.

Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan could really use a result against tricky Borussia Dortmund in Italy.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Ajax v. Chelsea
RB Leipzig v. Zenit Saint-Petersburg

3 p.m. ET
Slavia Prague v. Barcelona
Red Bull Salzburg v. Napoli
Genk v. Liverpool
Inter Milan v. Borussia Dortmund
Lille v. Valencia
Benfica v. Lyon

Man City’s Guardiola issues Rodri update; Zinchenko also injured

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Man City boss Pep Guardiola expects to be without Rodri for at least a couple of matches after his heavily relied-on midfielder hurt his hamstring on Tuesday.

Rodri was removed from the match after 40 minutes, having partnered with Fernandinho at center back for the second-straight match.

[ MORE: Man City 5-1 Atalanta ]

A center mid and a fine one by trade, Rodri’s absence coupled with the still-hurt Aymeric Laporte leaves City significantly weaker in its heart.

“I think tomorrow we will know and hopefully it will be between 10 days if it is not broken,” Guardiola said. “If it is broken, it will be three weeks or one month.”

The club also announced before the match that Oleksandr Zinchenko had suffered a knee injury and will undergo tests.

City visits Aston Villa this weekend and then hosts Southampton in the League Cup and the Premier League before a visit to Atalanta in the Champions League.

That’s when Liverpool at Anfield arrives on the schedule, and the absence of Rodri would take some of the luster off of it for sure.