Ronald Koeman should be prepared for hostile return to Southampton

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Ronald Koeman will be readying himself for a bevvy of abuse, boos and jeers at St Mary’s this Sunday from supporters who adored him just a few months ago.

Koeman left Southampton in the summer to manage Everton in a move which angered the vast majority of Saints fans.

When Everton and Koeman come to town on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET CNBC and online via NBCSports.com) the home fans are ready to show their former manager how they really feel as Koeman returns for the first time since leaving.

There’s a pub not far from St Mary’s called the “Flying Dutchman” and in the aftermath of Koeman’s departure the name of the bar was photo-shopped to become the “Lying Dutchman” with Koeman’s face on the outside of the pub.

That image has stuck and most Saints fans have had this Sunday’s clash against Everton circled on their calendar since the schedule was released.

[ MORE: How Koeman left Saints ]

Why exactly did Koeman’s departure hurt Saints fans so much?

After all, with the constant sales of star players, plus managers like Mauricio Pochettino choosing to move on to larger clubs in recent years, Saints’ fans should be used to seeing quality depart St Mary’s and then welcoming the new wave of faces arriving as their rapid ascension from the third-tier to the top six of the Premier League in the past six years has shown.

When it comes to Koeman, though, it’s personal. For the second half of last season Koeman was asked constantly by the media about his contract situation at Saints and for many fans he went back on his words.

He had a deal at Southampton which ended in the summer of 2017 and he repeated time and time again that he wanted to remain at Southampton until at least 2017 and hopefully beyond that.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Southampton players and Ronald Koeman manager of Southampton celebrate their team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Crystal Palace at St Mary's Stadium on May 15, 2016 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

He literally said he would stay multiple times to journalists when asked and this is what he said after Southampton’s 4-1 win against Crystal Palace on the final day of the 2015-16 season which sealed sixth place in the Premier League and a Europa League berth.

“I still have a one-year contract,” Koeman said. “I spoke to the board and we had the meeting and it’s always my wish to stay because I like the club, fans and players.”

Yet, just a few weeks later he was gone.

Talks with the club were going well, everyone behind-the-scenes at Southampton thought Koeman would sign a new extension which had been offered to him (as we detailed in this piece at ProSoccerTalk) but then he changed his agent and his mind at the last minute and wanted to move to managerless Everton. He got his wish and has a reported $8.5 million per year deal at Goodison Park.

Saints’ fans were livid. They have since been further angered and confused by comments from Koeman stating he was handed an ultimatum by Saints’ board about signing a new deal and that Les Reed, the executive director of football, basically ushered him out of the club. Yet, that’s something those behind-the-scenes at Saints refute as they claim Koeman simply wanted to move to Everton.

It’s all a bit messy.

However, when he’s becoming one of the best paid managers in the Premier League thanks to the billions of Everton’s new owner Farhad Moshiri, can you criticize Koeman for making the leap and trying to be ambitious and lead a team clearly ready to invest heavily?

Southampton’s fans do. The main issue is more about how the situation was handled. The disdain from that remains and the fans will let him know what they truly think this weekend even though his replacement Claude Puel has called for respect for the work Koeman has done at the club.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Southampton fans celebrate during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and AC Sparta Praha at St Mary's Stadium on September 15, 2016 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Ahead of their UEFA Europa League defeat at Sparta Prague on Thursday, Saints’ fans congregated in Prague’s Old Town square to eat, drink and sing as the Christmas market was in full flow around them in the capital of the Czech Republic.

In that idyllic setting ahead of one of the most memorable games in club history, there were plenty of songs about Koeman, all of which I cannot print here. The animosity is real.

Yet, it’s not as straightforward as saying every home fans at St Mary’s on Sunday will hurl abuse at Koeman.

Many, whether they like to admit it or not, will applaud Koeman for what he managed to do in his two seasons in charge at Southampton.

The Dutchman transformed Saints into a top six team by the end of his time on the south coast and that was despite the likes of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren being sold just before he arrived and then Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne being sold in the summer of 2015. This summer Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane followed Koeman out of the door and their departures, couple with Koeman’s, leave Saints in a slightly more precarious position than they’d wish for after the opening third of the season under new manager Puel who is still finding his feet in his first-ever season in England.

Both Southampton and Everton need the points on Sunday and the former could be just one point off the relegation zone before kick off if results go against them earlier in the weekend. That fact is adding something extra to the plot too, because Saints’ fans feel like the club would’ve kicked on again and challenged for a top four spot if Koeman had stayed and more money was spent.

For the fans, Koeman was a likeable figure. He spoke the truth. He interacted on Twitter and was seen in bars and restaurants in the south coast city embracing their lifestyle. He seemed genuine. He really was one of the nice guys in the eyes of Southampton’s fans. Together, they believed he could lead them into they unknown to challenge the perennial big boys in the Premier League.

Abruptly, Koeman didn’t want to be a part of that any more.

He is hoping for respect this weekend but he knows that isn’t likely.

“I can not change opinions and feelings of the fans,” Koeman said. “I hope they will respect me. We had a great time and after my career I will look back. Of course I understand the different opinions and reactions and I am not afraid of that. It’s time to think about Everton. I chose to make the move and am happy with that. What happened in the past is the past.”

Koeman isn’t expecting to get widespread respect. In truth, he will get the complete opposite from most inside St Mary’s on Sunday.

Sarri sacked: Juventus fire manager after one season

Sarri sacked
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Sarri sacked: Maurizio Sarri has been fired by Juventus after just one season in charge following the Bianconeri‘s shocking exit from the UEFA Champions League round of 16 on Friday.

[ MORE: Man City knock out Real Madrid ]

Juventus claimed its ninth straight Serie A title on the final day of the season last week, but bowing out of the one trophy which has eluded the Italian giants during their decade of dominance, at the hands of Lyon no less, was simply too much for chairman Andrea Agnelli to stomach.

The players struggled a great deal to adapt to Sarri’s tactical system and demands, as did Sarri to being back in Serie A, and things never seemed to click in the already-imperfect marriage. Star midfielder Miralem Pjanic summed up the differences between the sides rather succinctly after the loss to Lyon.

[ MORE: Guardiola: “We’re here to win the Champions League” ]

Juve thanked Sarri for his service in a brief statement on the club’s website.

The club would like to thank the coach for having written a new page in Juventus’ history with the victory of the ninth-consecutive championship, the culmination of a personal journey that led him to climb all the divisions of Italian football.

Mauricio Pochettino is the first, and biggest name, currently being bandied about in connection with the Allianz Stadium job. The Argentine has been out of work since he was sacked by Tottenham Hotspur in November, but it stands to reason he did enough at Tottenham to have earned a chance at a club like Juve.

Outside of Cristiano Ronaldo’s mammoth contract, the majority of the squad could be turned over and refreshed with little to no trouble. Juve have never been shy to spend big money for big stars — a luxury Pochettino didn’t exactly enjoy at Spurs — so if they are interested in Pochettino, the prospect of a project on the scale of Juventus will almost certainly grab his attention.

Guardiola: ‘We’re here to win the Champions League’

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Pep Guardiola has put down a marker as Manchester City beat Real Madrid to reach the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

He now wants his Manchester City side to go on and reach the holy grail and win the Champions League, the trophy their Abu Dhabi owners crave above all others.

Man City beat Real Madrid 2-1 in their Round of 16 second leg, and 4-2 on aggregate, as Guradiola outwitted Zinedine Zidane over two legs to set up a winnable quarterfinal against Lyon in Lisbon, Portugal next Saturday.

Asked by BT Sport after the game what this win against Real Madrid means for Man City and their mentality, Guardiola did not play down their chances.

“For us, it is of course important, we beat them twice. Zizou never lost one knockout game. You see the calm and personality they play with, they are good,” Guardiola said. “But we are here to try and win the Champions League. It is just one step. If we think that is enough, we will show how small of a team we are. To win the Champions League you have to beat the big clubs.”

Man City will face one of those big clubs, likely Bayern Munich or Barcelona, in the semifinal stage of the Champions League but first they have to get past underdogs Lyon, who stunned Juventus as Memphis Depay has led the Ligue 1 side to the last eight.

“I spoke to the scouting department and they told me ‘be alert’ and we have eight days, we will enjoy this tonight and tomorrow, then we will start to think about Lyon,” Guardiola said when asked about their quarterfinal opponents.

Man City are the heavy favorites to beat Lyon and they are the bookies’ favorites to win the Champions League overall.

Pep Guardiola has now piled the pressure on his team to prove just how good they are and even without the injured Sergio Aguero, and with Fernandinho playing at center back, they eased past Real Madrid.

Manchester City have fallen at the quarterfinal stage when favorites in each of the last two seasons and Guardiola knows this is their best chance to win their first-ever Champions League trophy as Bayern Munich or Barcelona are very good, but not unbeatable, if they get past Lyon.

Guardiola looks hungry and he badly wants to win the Champions League for the first time since 2011 as he failed to win the trophy at Bayern Munich and in his first three seasons at Man City.

The stars are aligning for Man City to deliver the one trophy Guardiola hasn’t won since he arrived in Manchester in 2016 and the one trophy the club hasn’t won since their Abu Dhabi owners took over in 2008.

In this year, just a month after they overturned UEFA’s decision to ban them from the Champions League for two seasons, success would surely taste even sweeter for everyone connected with Man City.

Lyon shock Juventus, reach Champions League quarterfinal

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Juventus – Lyon was mean to be a straightforward comeback win for the home side to reach yet another UEFA Champions League quarterfinal.

It was anything but as Lyon shocked Juventus to dump Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. out of Europe as Maurizio Sarri’s side continued their poor form since the restart.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions

Juventus won 2-1 on the night, as Ronaldo scored twice but Juve came up one goal short and for the second season running Ronaldo has failed in his quest to lead the Italian giants to the Champions League title.

As for Lyon, who haven’t played in over 5 months as the French league was cancelled in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, they put in a heroic display as they now face Manchester City in Lisbon, Portugal in the last eight on Aug. 15.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Lyon got off to the perfect start in Turin, but it was fortunate, as Houssem Aouar won a very dubious penalty kick as VAR checked the decision but somehow it stood.

Memphis clipped home a delicious panenka to put Lyon 1-0 up and leave Juventus needing to score three goals on the night to advance.

Federico Bernardeschi went close and Anthony Lopes saved well from Ronaldo’s free kick as Lyon sat back and soaked up pressure.

Juventus won a penalty kick before half time, as Memphis handled Miralem Pjanic’s free kick but it look harsh as his arm wasn’t in an unnatural position.

Ronaldo slotted home the spot kick to make it 1-1. Game on.

At the start of the second half Ronaldo smashed home a beauty to make it 2-1 as Juve needed one more goal to advance to the last eight.

Ronaldo was everywhere and he then set up Gonzalo Higuain to head home, but his effort was off target from close range.

And Juve couldn’t find one more goal to send them through as Lyon advanced on the away goals rule and shocked everyone by dumping the Italian champions out of Europe.

3 things learned: Man City v. Real Madrid

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Manchester City – Real Madrid was a fairly straightforward win for the hosts, as they reached the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals by beating the 13-time European champions 2-1 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

Raheem Sterling opened the scoring for Man City after a bad mistake from Raphael Varane was ruthlessly punished. Real’s Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema combined well at times and although Ederson denied them early on, Benzema pulled one back in the first half as Rodrygo’s cross was nodded home by the French striker.

Benzema and Jesus both went close for either team in the second half and the latter made the most of another big mistake from Varane to make it 2-1 and seal Man City’s spot in the quarterfinals for the third-straight season with relative ease.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Etihad, as Manchester City – Real Madrid was an open affair but the hosts always looked in control.


CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DREAM ALIVE FOR MAN CITY

Pep Guardiola is like Indiana Jones entering the desert on his way to reaching the holy grail. Lisbon is now his ‘Canyon of the Crescent Moon’ as Man City have a quarterfinal, semifinal and final between them and footballing immortality. Man City have longed for Champions League glory and given their successful appeal against their two-season UEFA ban, they will now stride into Lisbon, Portugal as the favorites to be crowned champions of Europe. They strolled past Real Madrid and even without the injured Sergio Aguero, you’d fancy them to sweep all before them to reach the promised land. Man City have always found a way to mess things up in the Champions League but this season feels different. They gave up their Premier League trophy easily to Liverpool but it seemed like the Champions League was always the main focus this season. They now face Lyon in the quarterfinals and then their toughest test, likely either Barcelona or Napoli in the semifinals. Guardiola knows the holy grail is within reach as he is closer than ever to finally delivering the trophy Man City’s Abu Dhabi owners have built this whole project to win.


SLOPPY REAL MADRID EXIT WITH A WHIMPER

Missing captain and legendary Sergio Ramos through suspension from the first leg, Real Madrid needed young defender Edgar Militao to step up in is place. They did not need silky smooth defender Raphael Varane to give the ball away early on to give up a cheap and avoidable goal. Although Real recovered from that early error, they failed to get Luka Modric on the ball as much as they wanted to and Eden Hazard and Benzema only showed flashes of promise. Just when it seemed like Real would push hard for a second goal which would have taken the game to extra time, Varane made another big mistake. And that was that. After impressing in La Liga since the restart and winning the Spanish title, Real Madrid looked remarkably subdued as perhaps a few weeks off before this game impacted them. The Kings of Europe will have to wait another year to add another crown to their collection. Manchester City – Real Madrid was historic, as it marked the first time Zinedine Zidane has ever lost a Champions League game in the knockout rounds. The way his team limped out of Europe was surprising and disappointing for Real Madrid.


PEP BEATS ZIZOU, BUT FALSE NINE FAILS

It was a surprise to see Phil Foden start ahead of David Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva in a game of this magnitude but there’s always a method to Pep’s madness. And it isn’t madness, is it? It’s genius. Just like he did in the first leg at Real Madrid, Pep raised eyebrows as he started a central midfielder (Foden this time, Kevin de Bruyne in the first leg) as a false nine. Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling were rampant from each flank early on, putting defenders under pressure in their own box, and that was how they opened the scoring. But Man City then failed to build on that lead and let Real back into the game. Pep changed things around at half time and Jesus looked more comfortable centrally and so too did Foden. It was a small tweak but it got Man City back on track and Guardiola’s tactical nous made the difference, even though Man City were handed the win on a platter thanks to Real Madrid’s shaky defensive display.