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

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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.”

Transfer rumor roundup: Mari to Arsenal; Defoe makes permanent Rangers move

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League outfits.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

Arsenal are reportedly hours from adding a defender to Mikel Arteta‘s squad.

Flamengo’s Pablo Mari has reportedly arrived in London and set for a medical at Arsenal, Sky Sports reports. The 26-year-old Spaniard will join the North London side for the remainder of the season with an option to buy.

It won’t be Mari’s first time signing for a Premier League side, however.

In 2016, the center-back signed with Manchester City, but never featured for the defending champions, instead making appearances for Girona, NAC and Deportivo La Coruna on loan.

Jermaine Defoe is not returning to Bournemouth.

On Saturday, Rangers announced that Defoe signed a pre-contract to join Rangers on permanent basis in the summer.

The storied 37-year-old English striker has 20 goals in 57 appearances since joining the Scottish giants last January on a 18-month loan. Defoe’s new contract runs through the 2020-21 season, a one-year deal.

“It’s fantastic news,” Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told the club’s website. “It’s something we have been working on over the weeks and it is great to finally get that done and dusted.”

“He is an incredible professional with the way he goes about his work on and off the pitch – he is a credit to himself and his family. And also on the pitch, which is the main thing. He is still contributing heavily – he is a major part of this group, this team and this squad and hopefully together we can go and share some success as I think he deserves that.”

This season, Defoe has scored 16 goals in 28 games.

Crystal Palace are in talks to sign Belgium international Yannick Carrasco, according to Sky Sports.

Carrasco, 26, wants to leave Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang and is currently training in Belgium, ahead of a return to European play.

Carrasco has scored 24 goals in 52 appearances since making a move to China from Atletico Madrid in February 2018.

Norwich City are actively pursuing Danel Sinani, according to the Daily Mail.

The 22-year-old Luxembourg winger is out of contract with Luxembourg side FC Dudelange this summer. If the parties involved can’t reach a deal this week,  the Canaries are reportedly ready to propose a pre-contract agreement.

Mourinho hints Spurs to sign Lo Celso permanently: ‘I think the boy is earning the decision’

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Tottenham Hotspur loanee Giovani Lo Celso is closer to permanently stay in North London than he is to return back to Sevilla.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints draw and force 4-th round FA Cup replay ]

The 23-year-old Argentine, who arrived at Spurs from Real Betis last summer on a season-long loan, experienced a rocky start in the Premier League. Lo Celso – with only 44 minutes of English top-flight playing time under his belt – suffered a hip injury with Argentina, ruling him out two months in the fall.

Since, the attacking midfielder has worked his way up Jose Mourinho’s pecking order, featuring heavily in the Portuguese’s scheme over the past few months. Most recently, on Saturday, Lo Celso displayed his well-balanced virtues in Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Following the match, Mourinho addressed questions on whether or not his club is going to sign the midfielder on a permanent contract. Praiseworthy of Lo Celso’s learning abilities, Mourinho hopes the midfielder will be a part of the club’s long-term plans.

“It’s not an obligation, it’s an option,” Mourinho said of Lo Celso, who is reportedly available at reduced price of $35 million. “I think the boy is earning the decision. He’s making an easy decision for the club to execute the option.”

“Incredible evolution since I arrived,” he added. “Barely played a game, I think he played against Red Star Belgrade, with me a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks. But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That’s normal, he earned it.”

With Christian Eriksen on the verge of departing the London side, Mourinho and company will have additional funds to land Lo Celso this winter before his price spikes in the summer.

Everything points to the creative midfielder having a future in London, but will Spurs brass follow suit and make it official soon?

Netherlands forward Rob Rensenbrink dies at age 72

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Rob Rensenbrink, the forward who was centimeters away from delivering the Netherlands a World Cup title in 1978, has died at age 72, the Dutch football association said Saturday.

“We have heard with sadness of the death of football legend Rob Rensenbrink,” the association said in a tweet.

Rensenbrink played most of his club football in Belgium with Club Brugge and Anderlecht, where his weaving runs earned him the nickname “Snake Man.” He also played briefly for the Portland Timbers in the United States in 1980.

He was a regular for the Netherlands national team in its period of dominance in the 1970s.

He played 46 times and scored 14 goals for the Dutch team known for its slick, position-swapping “total football.”

But he will always be best remembered for the goal he didn’t quite score in the 1978 World Cup final.

With the scores tied at 1-1 between the Netherlands and host Argentina and the seconds ticking away in injury time of the final in Buenos Aires, Rensenbrink’s shot hit the post. The match went to extra time and Argentina scored twice to win 3-1.

It was the second straight World Cup final defeat for the Netherlands, which has appeared in three finals and lost them all.

Rensenbrink was diagnosed with a muscle disease in 2012 and died as a result of the illness, according to Dutch national broadcaster NOS.

Anderlecht said he died Friday night.

“Thanks for everything Robbie!” the Belgian club wrote on its website. “We will never forget you.”

Serie A roundup: Ilicic powers Atalanta in historic win over Torino (video)

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Atalanta’s historic and overpowering win over Torino highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Torino 0-7 Atalanta

Josip Ilicic scored a hat-trick, including a center-line strike, as Atalanta humiliated Torino 7-0 on Saturday, handing the hosts their worst home loss ever in Serie A play.

With only nine men on the field towards the end of the match for Turin-based side, Atalanta were able to capitalize, elevating their goal count to 57 goals in 21 games this season. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men, who are back in Champions League contention, lead the league in goals.

Robin Gosens and Duvan Zapata, who scored a minute before the break, added to Ilicic’s first of three. A three-goal advantage after the first 45 minutes foreshadowed what Torino was going to encounter in the second half: more goals.

Eight minutes into the final 45 minutes of Saturday’s bout at the Olimpico di Torino, Ilicic quick-fired two more past an exposed Salvatore Sirigu.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Luis Muriel took the field for the visitors. And just six minutes after his first foot on the natural surface, the Colombian striker had a brace to his name.

“All we can do is apologize,” Torino coach Walter Mazzarri said. “In so many years of my career I had never had such a game.”

In fourth place with 38 points, Atalanta look to increase their seven-goal performances this season to three as they host struggling Genoa in a weeks time. Torino, on the other hand, meet AC Milan on Tuesday in the quarterfinal’s of the Coppa Italia.


SPAL 1-3 Bologna

Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa