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Southampton’s victory made sweeter after Liverpool’s cherry-picking

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LIVERPOOL — Southampton’s fans were ecstatic to reach their first final of a major competition since 2003.

Reaching the 2016-17 final of the EFL Cup tasted even sweeter because it came at the expense of Liverpool.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

In the last three seasons Southampton have sold five star players to Liverpool, racking up $115 million in transfer fees. Although that has obviously boosted Saints’ finances considerably and they chose to sell the players, the fact the likes of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and now Sadio Mane all left for Anfield left a sour taste in the mouth for Southampton’s fans.

Liverpool have been nicknamed “Liverhampton” by many Saints fans such has been the level of their pilfering in recent seasons. Players and managers have left Saints for Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham, but the way Liverpool cherry-picks Saints’ top talent each summer leaves many of their fans sick to the stomach.

On Wednesday Saints showed they’d not only plugged the gaps after selling stars but they’d beaten Liverpool fair and square over two legs, reaching the League Cup final for just the second time in their history and securing another long-stated goal of reaching the final of a domestic cup competition.

“It’s not bad, eh?” manager Claude Puel joked post-game. “It’s fantastic. I am happy for all the squad because they work very hard since the beginning of the season and play all these games every three days which is very difficult. Often they can do fantastic work on the pitch without the good reward and today I think it’s fantastic to win this game, to see the qualify for Wembley and to have all this for the staff, the player and our fans.

“We have fantastic fans, Inter Milan away with 8,000 fans was fantastic and every time and every game they come and it’s a fantastic reward for all the good work. It’s not finished now. It’s interesting of course to go to Wembley and it’s not just to participate but to win this game. We have time to prepare this game.”

Puel will go down in folklore for leading Saints to a final and they put in the perfect gameplan against a Liverpool side renowned for their pressing and harrying. Yet, they’ve done very well against Liverpool since Klopp arrived, losing just one of their six games against the German coach with a 3-1-2 record.

It’s like they have something extra to prove…

Over the two legs Saints sat back, soaked up pressure and hit Liverpool on the counter. They did it so well their manager Jurgen Klopp congratulated them for their victory, then questioned why they don’t play on the counter all the time. He’s got a point.

Puel’s tactics usually see Saints dominant possession and then spurn chances. Their inconsistent form in the Premier League and early exit from the UEFA Europa League attest to the struggles they’ve had adapting to the Frenchman’s tactics in his first season in England.

However, he is just the third manager since 1976 to lead Saints to a major final. The man they called “the dog” in his playing days for his rugged style of play has transferred that spirit to his team as they’ve now kept clean sheets in all five of their EFL Cup games on the road to Wembley, knocking off Premier League opponents Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Arsenal and now Liverpool. Oriol Romeu was a warrior in midfield and Shane Long delivered the hammer blow in stoppage time by finishing off one final devastating counter attack.

As for Liverpool, those who switched St Mary’s for Anfield probably won’t be regretting their move. They left for one of the most famous clubs on the planet plus their bank balances have swelled considerably. Yet, just a part of them may have been a little jealous to not help Saints complete their remarkable journey from winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley in 2010 as a third-tier club to reaching the famous arch for the EFL Cup final in 2017.

After a shaky start to the 2016-17 season, Saints are in the ascendancy once again. Having to rebuild time and time again will eventually catch up with you and arguably that has happened to Saints this season as goals have dried up. Their young team came of age at Anfield and this was a significant moment in their development.

Meanwhile Liverpool’s slump of one win in seven games in January is indicative of Klopp’s methods wearing his players down. The pressure of slipping up in the title race (they could trail Chelsea by 13 points if they lose to them at Anfield on Tuesday) is weighing heavy on their shoulders and although they managed to create chances, they never looked like getting in-behind a makeshift Saints backline.

With young Jack Stephens stepping in for the injured talisman Virgil Van Dijk, he put in a fine display to show that Saints’ academy is still churning out stars. Whenever a Saints youngster comes through the ranks now and plays well, the first joke you see emanate on social media is something along the lines of “Welcome to Liverpool, Josh Sims/Sam McQueen/Jack Stephens.”

The conveyor belt from St Mary’s to Anfield may carry on.

Southampton’s fans won’t care about that too much right now after the magical night at Anfield. They celebrated wildly at the full time whistle and so did their players on the pitch and in the dressing room.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk if reaching the final not only presented a chance to win a trophy but also get back to Europe, Puel admitted the motivation to make up for their early European exit this season is strong.

“Yes. It’s an important big game, not just to play this final but perhaps to see another qualification for the European games,” Puel said. “It will be important for the squad to continue the work, to improve, and know the possibilities to play European games. All the information when they improve it’s important to put all this experience for next year in European games. It will be important to qualify.”

For now, Saints’ fans will savor a special night for everyone connected with the club.

Their march goes on. Without the stars who left for Liverpool.

Premier League standings

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The Premier League is back a three month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic. Below you will find a reminder of the Premier League standings as we get back to business.

[ MORE: Latest PL TV schedule ]

With 92 games remaining in the 2019-20 Premier League season, there is plenty to play for up and down the league and the standings are extremely tight.

Liverpool have wrapped up the Premier League in stunning fashion over Man City, with the reigning champions and current second-place side eager to focus on cup competitions.

Three of the top four should stay there unless Leicester City’s form dips considerably, but the race for fourth and fifth should be fierce. We may know whether fifth is a Champions League place after scheduled June 8-10 meetings to hear Man City’s appeal over its European ban.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

With between nine and 10 matches left for everyone and eighth potentially being a Europa League spot, all the teams between fourth and 11th still have European hopes in the balance. That would change should Norwich City or Newcastle win the FA Cup, so call it 13 clubs.

The action is going to come fast and often, with the league putting together a staggered schedule of kickoff times that will make matches even more of an all-weekend affair.

Below are the Premier League standings in full, as we will updated them throughout the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

PREMIER LEAGUE STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Liverpool 31 28 2 1 70 21 49 16-0-0 12-2-1 86
 Manchester City 31 20 3 8 77 33 44 11-2-2 9-1-6 63
 Leicester City 32 16 7 9 60 31 29 9-4-3 7-3-6 55
 Chelsea 32 16 6 10 57 44 13 8-3-5 8-3-5 54
 Manchester United 32 14 10 8 51 31 20 9-5-2 5-5-6 52
 Wolves 32 13 13 6 45 34 11 6-7-3 7-6-3 52
 Arsenal 32 11 13 8 47 41 6 8-5-3 3-8-5 46
 Tottenham Hotspur 31 12 9 10 50 41 9 9-3-4 3-6-6 45
 Burnley 32 13 6 13 36 45 -9 8-2-6 5-4-7 45
 Sheffield United 31 11 11 9 30 31 -1 7-3-5 4-8-4 44
 Everton 32 12 8 12 40 47 -7 8-5-3 4-3-9 44
 Crystal Palace 32 11 9 12 28 37 -9 6-4-6 5-5-6 42
 Newcastle United 32 11 9 12 33 43 -10 6-7-3 5-2-9 42
 Southampton 32 12 4 16 41 55 -14 4-2-10 8-2-6 40
 Brighton & Hove Albion 32 7 12 13 34 44 -10 5-6-5 2-6-8 33
 West Ham United 32 8 6 18 38 56 -18 5-3-8 3-3-10 30
 Watford 32 6 10 16 29 49 -20 4-6-6 2-4-10 28

 Aston Villa 32 7 6 19 36 60 -24 5-3-8 2-3-11 27
 Bournemouth 32 7 6 19 30 54 -24 4-5-7 3-1-12 27
 Norwich City 32 5 6 21 25 60 -35 4-3-9 1-3-12 21


Sheffield United – Tottenham preview: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Sheffield United - Tottenham preview
Photo by IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images
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Sheffield United – Tottenham Hotspur preview: There are European hopes dripping from Wednesday’s meeting of Sheffield United and Tottenham Hotspur at Bramall Lane (Watch live at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

Blades’ European hopes have taken a big hit since the Premier League’s return from the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve lost two-straight league outings and have just one win from five.

STREAM SHEFFIELD UNITED – TOTTENHAM LIVE ONLINE

Spurs have taken four of six points in just two matches since the end of the break and need a win to retake seventh place from Arsenal.

Team news

Japhet Tanganga and Juan Foyth remain out for Tottenham, who is otherwise as healthy as its been since the calendar turned to 2020.

Jack O’Connell is getting closer to a return for the Blades but Chris Wilder says they “won’t make a high risk decision on him.” John Lundstram is “touch and go,” according to the manager.

What they’re saying

Chris Wilder on the evolution of big January buy Sander Berge: “Sander is going to be a really good player for us. He’s 21 [sic], we paid decent money for him. £20m is not an unbelievable number. It is for Sheffield United, I understand that. So Sander comes with that pressure. But he’s a grounded boy and he’ll eventually play as a sitting midfield player. He’s a proper midfield player, he’s a really good kid and he always will get mine and the boys’ full backing.”

Mourinho on the struggles of big signing Tanguy Ndombele“Football is full of players who have made difficult starts and then ended well. When Luka Modric arrived at Real Madrid after six months he was labeled the worst signing in their history by the fans and the press. A few months later he was a champion, then a few months later he was European champion and then a few months later he was voted the best player in the world. So when the talent is there many things can happen with adaptation and if the talent is there anything good can happen.”

Odds and ends

The bookies aren’t so sure about this one, with DraftKings having hosts Sheffield United +225 and Tottenham +130.

Heung-min Son and George Baldock traded goals in a 1-1 November draw in North London.

Sheffield United – Tottenham Prediction

Spurs have the benefit of rest and potency up top. It’ll be a grimy one — Chris Wilder deems it so — but Tottenham gets the points 2-1.

Watchalong live: Join us for Manchester City v. Liverpool

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Join us for a Watchalong event on YouTube for Manchester City – Liverpool on Thursday (start time, 3:10pm ET on the NBC Sports YouTube channel).

Click on the video above to join us for the Watchalong, as ProSoccerTalk’s lead writer and editor, Joe Prince-Wright, will answer your questions and watch the action with you as you have a beer (or three) and some snacks.

The idea is to get fans together with JPW and have a good time watching the game.

Feel free to ask for his instant analysis on the game between the newly-crowned Premier League champions and the former champions by posting comments in comments section.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

JPW will join you for the entire game, as he breaks down the live action in Manchester City – Liverpool and you have the chance to have your say on what Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp should be doing in the game, plus dissect the tactics, which players are starring and more.

Basically, join us to watch the game (hence the snazzy ‘Watchalong’ name) and let’s all enjoy these juggernauts do battle with plenty of pride on the line as Man City try to put down a marker for next season.

[ PREVIEW: Man City – Liverpool: Everything you need to know ]

We hope you enjoy our Premier League Watchalong as the two best teams in the league collide at the Etihad Stadium. Click on the video or link above to get involved.

Lampard on Pulisic’s superb form: “It’s a big positive”

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Frank Lampard revealed his thoughts on another wonderful Christian Pulisic display, as the USMNT winger put in a third Man of the Match performance in a row to continue his superb start to the restart.

[ MORE: Pulisic Watch – Analysis ]

Pulisic, 21, won the penalty kick and free kick which led to Willian’s two goals and came close to scoring himself on two occasions as he ran West Ham ragged.

With two assists and two goals to his name in his three Premier League games since the restart, the Pennsylvanian native has been right up there with Bruno Fernandes and Danny Ings as the best players since the restart.

Speaking to reporters via Zoom after the shock 3-2 defeat at West Ham, ProSoccerTalk asked Lampard about Pulisic’s strong start to the restart and if his form is the main positive from the defeat.

“It is a big positive. He is playing well, as we can all see,” Lampard said on Pulisic. “I thought him and Willian as wingers, who gets his two goals, but with Christian I think we all saw it during the season when he had a patch running up to and around Christmas, when he was playing towards this kind of level as well. Then he got injured and he’s been out for a long time. It is nice to see him back fresh and hungry and playing with the qualities he has. He’s going to get better. He’s a young player with great talent.”

Pulisic has been unplayable across the four games he’s featured in so far. He seems to be fitter, sharper and hungrier than he has been in a long, long time. Perhaps this is purely down to having a rest after the suspension from March to June where he could focus on fitness after rushing to Chelsea last summer following the Gold Cup and never really having a break.

Whatever Pulisic is doing off the pitch and in training, it is having huge rewards on the pitch. Right now, the Eden Hazard comparisons are cropping up time and time again and he’s certainly having the best spell of his Premier League and Chelsea career.

No player under the age of 21 has scored more than his seven Premier League goals so far this season and when the 2019-20 campaign is over, it will be one where Pulisic will look back and see plenty of ups and downs but it’s definitely ending on a high.

His form will be key in whether or not Chelsea qualify for the Champions League next season as they are in an almighty battle with Leicester, Man United, Wolves and even Tottenham and Arsenal.