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.

Mourinho denies bust-up with Rose

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Jose Mourinho has denied he has had a training ground bust-up with left back Danny Rose.

Reports had circulated that Rose and Mourinho were involved in a heated argument in training on Monday after the England left back was unhappy to be left out of the squad for the 0-0 draw at Watford on Saturday.

Mourinho had said that Rose was out injured with a back problem but the left back has since denied he wasn’t fit to play against the Hornets.

Speaking to the media ahead of Spurs’ home game against Norwich on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Mourinho wasn’t having any of it.

“I don’t know what you mean by tension in the air, I don’t have a problem with him,” Mourinho said. “On the Thursday before Watford late evening I got a call from my medical staff saying that Danny was calling them with a problem in his back and he wouldn’t train the next day. Friday it was a bit of a surprise to see him training, but even so I decided to play with (Japhet) Tanganga and have Ryan (Sessegnon) on the bench. That is the situation.”

Mourinho added that Rose’s display against Liverpool was “not phenomenal” and reading between the lines, he was dropped.

If there wasn’t an incident or at least some anger between Rose and Mourinho, why would reports of this nature surface?

With youngster Japhet Tanganga starting at left back for Tottenham, and doing a very good job as Mourinho praised him afterwards, it is understandable that Rose would have his nose put out of joint a little.

The England international has less than 18 months left on his current contract at Spurs and has already spoken publicly about his plans to run down that deal as chairman Daniel Levy hasn’t offered him a new deal.

It will be intriguing to see how this plays out as Tanganga now seems to be Spurs’ first choice left back and Rose will have to be happy with playing a bit-part role between now and the end of the season.

His experience and quality is undoubted but with Spurs’ defensive unit all over the place this season, Mourinho is well within his rights to mix things up with formations and personnel as he tries to make Tottenham tough to beat.

Solskjaer: United have made “strides forward”

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Ole Gunnaer Solskjaer believes his Manchester United side have taken “strides forward” following their 2-0 defeat at bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday.

United were outplayed for the vats majority of the game and were lucky to be only 1-0 down heading into the 90th minute but the grit and determination they showed impressed Solskjaer who lauded his young team.

Without the injured star duo of Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba for the daunting trip to the Premier League leaders, United’s manager was in a positive mood ahead of their clash against Burnley on Wednesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

“We lost to Liverpool. A team that you all say are fantastic and we’ve been in the game until the last kick of the ball. For me, that’s strides forward,” Solskjaer said. “Of course we’re disappointed about losing the game. We don’t want to be behind them in the league. But there are signs there that we’re on the right track, definitely.”

Is Solskjaer’s positivity misplaced?

Some would argue that United were lucky that Liverpool’s finishing was lackluster and that is true but the Red Devils hung in there and should have equalized in the second half but Anthony Martial blazed over.

They were missing at least four or five players in key areas for the trip to United as Rashford, Pogba and Scott McTominay were out injured and they badly need another attacking midfielder (ahem, Bruno Fernandes) to help with their play in the final third.

Solskjaer is right, there were positives for United. Fred played extremely well in midfield and both Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka stood tall defensively out wide. But the main takeaway from their trip to Liverpool was that United were delighted to not lose by three or four goals. The gulf in class between the two teams was clear for all to see and although United are trying to sort out their disjointed and confused squad by signing young, talented players, they are so far off Liverpool it is scary.

USMNT youngster Vassilev praised by Villa boss

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18-year-old USMNT youngster Indiana Vassilev has been praised by Aston Villa boss Dean Smith after making his Premier League debut at the weekend.

Vasillev came on for the final 25 minutes at Brighton and Hove Albion with Villa 1-0 down and helped them rescue a point as his run opened up the chance for Jack Grealish to score a late equalizer.

The lively attacking midfielder/forward has excelled in Villa’s reserve side after his arrival in England in the summer of 2018 following impressive displays for the U.S. youth national teams.

With Villa struggling with injuries up top after main striker Wesley went down with a season-ending injury early this month, Smith is clearly ready to put his faith in Vassilev.

“He is definitely ready to start,” Smith said. “The kid’s a bright spark, and we’ve seen that when he’s come on so far. He gave them (Brighton) problems on Saturday when he came on. It was a super ball from Douglas but, unless Indi makes that run down the side, he doesn’t drag Webster across, and Jack get in for the goal. He knows what he’s doing up there, he’s got a lot of pace, and he can run all day as well.”

Villa’s boss didn’t stop there though, as he also revealed that the young striker born in Savannah, Georgia has the backing of the senior players around him to go on and become a regular contributor in the Premier League.

“I’ve never been afraid to go and put young kids in if I feel they’re ready. I congratulated him after the game and said, ‘You’re a Premier League player now.’ He’s surprised me in a good way,” Smith added. “Sometimes when you give an opportunity to a young player they can sink or swim. He is certainly a swimmer. He has looked really good so far. You can always tell how the reaction is through the other players, in their relationships with them. You can see them all behind him. He goes in and puts a shift in for them. If you do that and have quality to add to it you will do alright in the dressing room. He’s got a goalscoring ability, he knows where the back of the net is, he knows what runs to make. Tactically he’s intelligent. Physically he’s impressive as well.”

Vassilev comes from a long line of soccer players and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all played in Bulgaria and he was born and raised in the USA after his parents emigrated from the eastern European country in the early 1990s.

It looks like the USMNT have another top talent breaking through in Europe which is great news for Gregg Berhalter and potentially even better news for Villa as they badly need a forward to deliver goals in their fight against relegation from the Premier League.

Expect to see more cameos, and maybe even starts, from Vassilev in the final months of the Premier League season.

Chicharito on LA Galaxy arrival: ‘Right place, right time’

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Javier ‘Chicharito‘ Hernandez has made a living out of being in the right place at the right time.

The LA Galaxy’s newest Designated Player believes he is now in the “right place at the right time” in his career as Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer confirmed his move to Major League Soccer.

Hernandez, 31, joins the Galaxy from Sevilla in La Liga and the former Chivas Guadalajara, Manchester United, Bayer Leverkusen and West Ham United striker is ready to take MLS by storm.

“Like when people describe me playing. You know, that he’s always in the right place at the right time,” Hernandez said in his first interview as a Galaxy player, with the LA Times.

After a few years battling for minutes at West Ham in the Premier League and Sevilla in Spain after a successful spell at Leverkusen, Hernandez is heading closer to home as the Mexico star is ready to play week in, week out for the most-successful franchise in MLS history.

“I’m going to be playing. That’s what I want in my life,” Hernandez said. “People are going to say it was because I couldn’t make it [in Europe], but sometimes in football there are things that are not in your hands. The last two years, the managers decided on giving confidence to other players rather than me. And now, the LA Galaxy, the manager of the club and the league, are telling me, ‘Look, Javier, we want to give you all the trust, all the confidence to help us,’ and that’s why I’m taking this opportunity.”

He will link up with Mexico teammate Jonathan dos Santos in the Galaxy’s team as they try and wrestle back the City of Angels from MLS new boys and reigning Supporters’ Shield champions LAFC.

Hernandez was always destined to play in MLS before he retired and now that day has arrived. Following in the footsteps of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be easy but if anyone can score goals, it is Hernandez.

Get ready for his jersey to be the fastest-selling in history as Mexico’s favorite son is ready to become an even bigger star in MLS in the final years of his career.