Redmond ready to become Southampton’s new star

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Nathan Redmond got his Southampton career off to a flying start on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season.

[ MORE: Saints’ U.S. plan revealed ]

Redmond, 22, scored Saints’ equalizer against Watford in the 1-1 draw at St Mary’s, forced their goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes into two fine saves and also had a late goal disallowed for a marginal offside call.

Involved in so much goal-mouth action already, Redmond has seen his position transform from a winger into a striker since his $13 million summer move from Norwich City to Saints.

Speaking to ProSoccerTalk, Redmond revealed his delight following a promising debut last weekend.

“It was an unbelievable feeling to score in front of the home fans on my debut,” Redmond said. “I wanted to get off to a good start here at Southampton Football Club and I hope I can build on this going forward. We’ve got some important games coming up and I hope I can continue to contribute and help the team.”

New Saints manager Claude Puel previously worked closely with Thierry Henry and helped transform Henry from a winger into a striker during his coaching days at AS Monaco.

Puel has spoken about similarities he sees between Henry and Redmond but the Southampton man is trying to focus on himself, despite admitting he looked up to Henry growing up.

“Obviously it is nice to be compared to someone as successful in the game as Thierry Henry but I like to focus on my own game and not get too far ahead of myself. I’m concentrated on trying to improve in every training session and playing as well as I can for Southampton,” Redmond said. “Henry is a Premier League great who I always watched when I was growing up. His blistering pace coupled with his finishing ability made him one of the most feared strikers in the world. He’s someone that inspired me as a boy and someone that I have always looked up to.”

With Saints selling forwards Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane this summer, Redmond has launched himself ahead of Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez in the pecking order at the club and started the opener alongside Shane Long.

So, has this switch from winger to striker been easy? And how has he settled in at his new club?

“I actually played as a striker in the Toulon tournament [for England] this summer but I’ve always tried to play with attacking freedom and take the opposition defenders on, so I’m really enjoying this new role. Something I want to work on this season is getting in the right place to score more goals and hopefully this new position gives me the perfect opportunity,” Redmond continued. “All the players and staff have been absolutely fantastic with me and have really helped me to settle in quickly. Everybody at the club is extremely friendly and welcoming and there is a really strong family spirit around the training ground and the stadium”

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Looking ahead to the Europa League group stage, Redmond played in the competition as a teenager with Birmingham City and he admits it is something he hopes he and his Southampton teammates embrace. Saints have reached this stage of the competition for the first time in their history and there is plenty of excitement ahead of draw for the group stage taking place next Friday in Monaco.

“Naturally I am really looking forward to testing myself on the European stage and playing against some of the best teams on the continent,” Redmond said. “I’ve been lucky enough to play in the competition in the past and I know it will make me push myself further in my development. It’s a fantastic challenge for everyone at Southampton FC and one that we can’t wait to take on.”

Heading in to the first Friday game of the PL season at Old Trafford against Man United (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on USA Network and online via NBC Sportswith Jose Mourinho making his home debut and Paul Pogba set to feature for the first time since his world-record $120 million transfer from Juventus, Redmond and Saints aren’t daunted.

In fact, Saints haven’t lost at Old Trafford for the last three seasons and have won back-to-back games 1-0 at the Theatre of Dreams. That said, Redmond admits it won’t be easy but Saints are confident.

“Playing against a great team in one of the biggest stadiums in the world is something we are looking forward to. As a player, you want to play in these types of games and show what you are about. We head to Old Trafford with confidence and belief and look forward to imposing our game plan,” Redmond said.

Looking ahead to the future, Redmond’s form for England’s U-21 side this summer, plus his fast start for Saints this season, could mean that new England boss Sam Allardyce may think about giving the pacey attacker a call up in his first England squad in early September. 

That’s something Redmond is hoping will take care of itself, but the level-headed youngster has aspirations to kick on following his promising start to life as a Saint.

“Obviously playing for your country at senior level is something that every player wants to achieve. First and foremost though, I have to concentrate on my performances at Southampton and see where it takes me,” Redmond said. 

Would Saul make sense at Man United?

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As Manchester United prepares its roster construction for the future, one player that’s reportedly on the shortlist is Atletico Madrid central midfielder Saul Niguez.

Although originally from Elche, in southeast Spain, Saul has been on the books of Atletico Madrid since 2008 (other than a season on loan with Rayo Vallecano), making his first team debut in 2012 and growing from a scrawny midfielder into an international-calibre box-to-box star for both club and country. Per Diario AS, Man United has been interested in signing Saul before, and now it’s been revived. The report states, “The interest from Manchester is very real, and strong.”

[READ: Arsenal comes back to beat West Ham]

So, what kind of a player is Saul?

As mentioned before, he’s a sturdy, powerful box-to-box midfielder who can win headers defensively and knows how to play well in a Diego “Cholo” Simeone system. At the same time, he’s certainly not afraid to make a late run into the box. Last season he tied a career high with four goals in La Liga and also scored in the UEFA Champions League.

At 25-years old, he’s a hardened veteran player. But is he what Man United needs?

If you look at the current squad at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s disposal, he’s got quite a few No. 8’s, right? There’s Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira, and Fred. You can argue Scott McTominay has at times played like an 8, as has Jesse Lingard on occasion. One might argue that what Man United really needs is a better No. 6, someone who can be a destroyer and cover a lot of ground, freeing up that side of the game so Pogba could feel more comfortable attacking.

If Man United were to sign Saul in January – or next summer – we could potentially see him line up in a midfield three, though he’d be center right with Pogba to his left. Behind the pair would be McTominay to clean up the messes.

On paper, it’s a decent midfield for sure, but it’s just one step on Man United’s path towards becoming a team that can challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.

Of course, this is all theoretical. Saul carries a $166 million transfer release clause, and for the player he is, considering he doesn’t score many goals and affects the game in little ways, it’s a lot to spend for a guy who isn’t a guarantee to improve his team enough to make it back to the Champions League.

But if Man United was able to negotiate a better transfer fee for Niguez, they could do worse than a talented midfielder from Atletico Madrid. The question then will be – is Saul a system player (only successful under Simeone), or can he find success in the Premier League too?

USWNT’s Rapinoe named SI Sportswoman of the Year

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In 2019, Megan Rapinoe won a World Cup title, Golden Ball, Golden Boot, FIFA World Cup MVP, and the Ballon d’Or. Now, she can add her name to another distinguished list.

Sports Illustrated on Monday revealed that Rapinoe had been named SI’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. She’s the first individual soccer player from any gender to win the award, and she follows the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team as the second USWNT-related athlete to garner the award.

[READ: Rapinoe wins 2019 Ballon d’Or]

Other notable winners of this award are Serena Williams, LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali.

“Even in a year with many great candidates, choosing Megan as the Sportsperson of the Year was an easy decision,” Steve Cannella, co-editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated said in a statement released by the magazine. “She is a force of nature on and off the field, a trailblazing soccer player who also proves every day how large and loud a voice a socially conscious athlete can have in 2019.”

Rapinoe has had about as good of a year as a player can have, and she did it under enormous pressure. She withstood verbal and online taunts from the U.S. president for her noted opposition against his political decisions, as well as dealt with injuries during the tournament. Even if she wasn’t always at her best on the field, she found a way to score key goals at important moments.

Every Women’s World Cup seems to raise the profile of the USWNT and soccer in this country, but beyond her work on the field, Rapinoe’s hair, media savvy and ultimately, her performance won over any critic she could have. What she’s done for soccer in this country is immeasurable, and hopefully there are people that have a desire to keep watching the beautiful game after the World Cup, thanks in some part to Rapinoe.

Rapinoe will grace the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Dec. 16 issue.

Ljungberg on Pepe: He ‘showed his quality’

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Arsene Wenger used to say that players needed around six months once they came to the Premier League to get adjusted to both living in England and getting acclimated to the pace and physicality of the league.

For Nicolas Pepe, it was advice well heeded.

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Offensively, Pepe was outstanding as he scored a goal and an assist in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham. At the same time, Pepe worked hard on the defensive end, making life difficult for West Ham left back Aaron Cresswell and anyone down West Ham’s right flank.

On Monday, Pepe showed that he was worth his $87 million transfer fee, and he only needs a yard of space to create something magical.

“People always ask me about Nico and I try to explain,” Ljungberg after the game. “He comes from the French league, he comes to the Premier League – in my opinion the best league in the world – and it’s a lot faster and a lot harder. He needs to adapt. People put pressure on him but that’s not so easy, and I thought what he did today was he worked really hard offensively and defensively and showed his quality.

“I’m so pleased for him because at the same time he was a big, big buy for the club and then comes pressure with that as well. He will fall asleep with a smile tonight.”

In the 66th minute, Pepe found himself isolated on the wing with just Cresswell to beat. After cutting inside, Pepe curled home a beauty which ended up being the game-winning-goal. It was just his second Premier League goal of the season and his first from open play. Perhaps now after five months of bedding in at Arsenal, Pepe is ready to shine.

There’s no doubt that with Arsenal’s defensive issues, they need their attacking stars to score in bunches from here on out. If Pepe can finish the season with ten goals and ten assists, it will be a wild success, and set him up well for the next season.

Judge rules players not guilty in match-fixing case in Spain

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MADRID — The 36 players on trial in Spain’s most high-profile match-fixing case were cleared of wrongdoing on Monday.

A Spanish judge issued the “not guilty” verdict, saying there was not enough evidence to convict the players and others on trial – including former Mexico coach Javier Aguirre.

More than 40 people were accused of match-fixing involving the Spanish league game between Levante and Zaragoza at the end of the 2010-11 season.

The judge convicted two former Zaragoza officials of fraud – then-president Agapito Iglesias and club director Javier Porquera. They were given a one-year, three-month prison sentence, although they were not likely to face jail time because sentences of less than two years for first-time offenders are often suspended in Spain.

Those accused were facing two years in prison and a six-year soccer ban.

Among the players on trial were Ander Herrera, now with Paris Saint-Germain; former Leicester midfielder Vicente Iborra; former Atletico Madrid captain Gabi Fernandez; River Plate midfielder Leonardo Ponzio; Serbian defender Ivan Obradovic; Lazio forward Felipe Caicedo; Itailan defender Maurizio Lanzaro; and Uruguay striker Cristhian Stuani.

Aguirre was Zaragoza’s coach at the time. He was among those who appeared in court to testify.

The investigation began after Spanish league president Javier Tebas denounced the alleged match-fixing, saying a former player told him a result had been fixed.

Prosecutors said there was evidence 965,000 euros (nearly $1 million) was paid to Zaragoza’s squad and later transferred to Levante’s players to lose the match in the final round of the season. Zaragoza won 2-1 to avoid relegation. Deportivo La Coruna was demoted as a result.

Former Zaragoza officials said the money was paid to motivate players, not fix the result of the game.

Prosecutors said players on both teams were aware of the match-fixing and there was evidence the money was transferred to Levante players after analyzing tax reports and banking transactions at the time.

The judge said in his ruling “there were was no evidence the money was given to Levante players to lose the match.”

A lower court had shelved the case but it was reopened last year after an appeal by prosecutors in Valencia, where Levante is based and where the match was played.

Zaragoza returned to the second division in 2014. Levante is currently in Spain’s top league.