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Southampton’s Puel puts the pressure on Man United

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SOUTHAMPTON — Calm. Quiet. Focused.

Those are the best words to sum up not only Southampton’s manager Claude Puel most of the time, but especially this week. Think of that famous Seinfeld episode where Kramer learns to relax: “Serenity now!”

[ MORE: Saints’ journey goes full circle

For Puel, his first season managing in England has been far from relaxing. His team have already played 39 games this season across the Europa League group stage, FA Cup, EFL Cup and Premier League. The former Monaco, Lille, Lyon and Nice boss has now led his Southampton side to just the fourth major final in their 131-year history, as he has the chance to become just the second Saints manager to win a major trophy after Lawrie McMenemy in 1976 when they beat Manchester United to win the FA Cup and became heroes.

Serenity, now. The steely, soft spoken Frenchman is not getting distracted.

[ MORE: Latest EFL Cup final news ]

Puel has kept the focus on this game and he doesn’t want to talk about what it would be like to lead the team out at Wembley, even though he recognize the importance of the occasion.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk on a gloriously sunny late winter afternoon in Southern England, he has called for his team to write a new chapter in Southampton’s rather barren history book when it comes to trophies.

“It is an exciting game, I know the last win in the cup was 1976… it is time, perhaps to finally win another trophy,” Puel smiled. “I would like to, and all the players are with me, to give our fans a fantastic pleasure and enjoyment. It has been fantastic to see them always since the start of the season in every competition. To see 8,000 fans away at Inter Milan, it was fantastic. It will be a big reward and always our fans deserve a good result.

“For the moment it is important to keep our calm, a good concentration, good focus about our game. Just to think about the consequence of the result it would not be a good thing. It is important to play a strong game against this great team and to put in place a good collective, to defend together and also to take any opportunity to score and to go forward with danger.”

This week none of Southampton players have been permitted to speak with media outlets, with all of their pre-final interviews completed last week before they jetted off to Spain to enjoy a few days of intensive training in the sun. Saints are ready, prepared and focused.

Puel admitted his side are the underdogs against Jose Mourinho’s red-hot Manchester United this Sunday.

With United losing just one of their last 25 games in all competitions the pressure is is off Southampton, just like it was at Arsenal in the quarterfinal and especially in the semifinal victory against Liverpool.

“Yes, I think there is a big pressure for Manchester [United]” Puel said. “People expect a win for Manchester. We respect them but don’t fear team. In football all is possible. We saw this in the last game, the semifinal against Liverpool. We are the underdogs. I think it is important to respect them but to keep the good attitude and positive spirit and to believe in us. That’s the most important.”

The 55-year-old Frenchman won three French cups with Monaco as a player, while lost in the French League Cup final as a manager with Monaco in 2001. He hopes his experiences of playing and coaching in finals will help, even though it doesn’t stack up to Mourinho’s supreme trophy-wining ability.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

Over the two-legged semifinal against Liverpool, Saints had countless quality chances on the counter and although they beat Jurgen Klopp‘s side 1-0 home and away, they could’ve won more convincingly. The problem for Puel and Saints all season long has been being clinical. That create good chances but haven’t been finishing. New club-record signing Manolo Gabbiadini could be the difference on Sunday with the Italian international scoring three goals in two games since arriving in January from Napoli.

But Puel wants his team to be prepared to win anyway they can.

“All the games are different, sometimes we can have good possession and good set pieces, good possibilities,” Puel said. “Other games it is difficult, like against Liverpool because perhaps in the set pieces they were better than us. It is important for my players and my team to play with possibilities and the abilities with set pieces, possession and to counter-attack. I like that my players can have a good adaptation against any opponent. For me it is important to have the ability and capacity to play against any opponent, it is a good thing for the future.”

[ MORE: Latest EFL Cup final news

For the future, the prospect of Saints getting back into Europe is at the forefront of Puel’s mind. This season, their first in the Europa League group stage, they endured a disappointing exit on the total number of away goals scorer between themselves and Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Reaching Europe for a third-straight season only appears possible through winning the EFL Cup as Southampton plod along in 11th place in the Premier League table. That’s something Puel wants, badly.

“For me it’s not just the opportunity to win a trophy, of course it is most important because a trophy is history and special. But for me the first thing in my mind is the opportunity to perhaps find again the European games next season, Puel explained. “It is most important to continue this work because we can play in different competitions this season, European games with young players and it was the first time they can play all these games. It will be interesting, very important to continue this work for next season and to find again possibilities to play these important games with change of teams and to have game time and to learn and improve with game time and maturity. All of this, for me, is this the most important to develop all of the squad.”

Can the Premier League form pick up if they win the EFL Cup?

“For the moment the Premier League has been frustrating,” Puel said. “Since the beginning of the season we can do good quality, good work without a good reward and without finding the good clinical without and with a lot of opportunities to score without conceding a lot of chances against us. Just before Boxing Day we were seventh place in the table, just two or three points off Manchester United. It is important to react and give a good answer. This final is an opportunity to give the season a good atmosphere, good spirit and a good reward for our fans and for our players also. In January and at the beginning of February we lost too many games. Which is is unusual for us.”

What is unusual for Puel is his current surroundings.

For a man who spent his entire 17-year playing career at Monaco, then 15 more years managing some of France’s top clubs, living on England’s South Coast is a little bit of a different proposition.

Still, Puel feels at home and enjoys being by the water in Hampshire and, most importantly, around knowledgeable fans who love their club passionately. Even if he can’t stroll down to the pub too often…

“It is difficult for me, like a lot of trainers I stay just focused about football. I read what Guardiola said, that it wasn’t possible for him to do anything else for 32 minutes. Perhaps for me it is 35 minutes,” Puel laughed. “It is a nice city, very interesting and I like the sea, it is the same as Monaco, for me.

“The weather is good, I was surprised because there is a lot of sun. Often I am surprised about this. I like this. I also like the atmosphere of the fans and people around the team, around the football, because I find that the fans know the football. They’re not just spectators. I like this. They give strong and fantastic opinions of the team and the players. I like this because it is a football country.”

Puel admitted that when he does get some free time, he’s been reminded by many how he and his players will become legends in the City of Southampton if they manage to upset United and joined the famous team of 1976 in the history books.

“We will see the result after this game. The most important thing is to focus about our game. The attitude of my players. It is important,” Puel said. “It is not me. That’s a shame, that I cannot play. It is fantastic for the fans and for the players to play in an exciting game. It is important to play this game with all the possibilities, attitude and a good spirit. To give their quality it is important they will stay focused.”

Focus is the buzzword around Southampton.

As a player at Monaco, Puel was (this will come as a huge shock) known for his focus, dedication and commitment. He was nicknamed “the dog” for his ferocious work as a midfield enforcer in Arsene Wenger‘s teams — to this day he is still good friends with the Arsenal manager — and tales of him flying into tackles in training with his players during his time at Lille, plus keeping up with them fitness-wise in drills, are commonplace around the French game.

Does he still join in with training now? Puel, somewhat begrudgingly, admitted he only fills in now and then when they need an extra man in games.

“Sometimes when I go to play on the pitch, sometimes the feeling of the player comes back,” Puel smiled. “It is difficult because now I have to be calm, I am a trainer… It is finished now, my playing. It is better.”

When you see him celebrate and jump up and down on the touchline during games as a manager, you get to understand a little more about his personality and his past as a player. Even if he isn’t box-office with quotes in his press conferences and is still mastering the English language, Puel is making his mark.

With Saints fans traveling from all over the world and snapping up tickets wherever they can to see their team in a major final at Wembley, Puel has a simple message for them.

All of the focus and hard work, it’s for them, and he is clearly blown away by the global reach of the Premier League.

“It is fantastic to have all of these fans all over the world,” Puel said. “The Premier League, before I came I knew it was a great championship with many fans in the world but when I see all this atmosphere, the positive atmosphere around the club with all the fans, I can just tell them thank you. I hope we can give them all the pleasure and enjoyment for this game.”

If Southampton win on Sunday, the quiet, calm Frenchman will be revered by every Southampton for the rest of his life and beyond. Perhaps that’s why he is so reluctant to think about leading the Saints to yet another famous upset in a final at Wembley against Manchester United.

Ranking new Premier League kits for 2020-21

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Premier League kit rankings are absolutely one of our favorite things to do each summer.

New kits have been dropped by plenty of Premier League clubs ahead of the new 2020-21 season, with fresh looks galore.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Some teams have kept it simple, while others have gone for something very different.

With big name kit suppliers arriving on new deals at clubs, there will be some very different looks for next season and beyond.

Check out our 2020-21 Premier League kit rankings from the shirts released, so far.


1 – Sheffield United: Absolutely stunning design. Simple and striking at the same time. Love it. The away kit is a beauty too.

2 – Southampton: Classy retro kits to celebrate their 135th anniversary, as Saints return to their original look.

Southampton

3 – Aston Villa: Clean, sharp look and you can’t go wrong with claret and blue. Love the larger badge too.

 

4 – Arsenal: Loving the retro vibes and yet another fine Arsenal kit.

 

5 – Brighton: Gone for an all blue number with white pinstripes. This is very good and a big chance from the bigger blue and white stripes. Retro, again.

6 – Tottenham Hotspur: Very sleek look and Spurs have kit it simple. Like the away kit, a lot.

7 – Manchester United: Nice little design throughout the kit which adds something extra.

8 – Liverpool: New Nike kits for the first time in history. The teal trim looks smart. Kept it simple and safe.

9 – Wolves: Another team which has gone for the retro look and it works.

 

10 – Man City: A little too much going on with the home and away kits for some, but a sleek look and adventurous from Puma.

11 – Everton: Hummel are underrated and the home kit has a nice retro look to it, and a return to the yellow away jersey is nostalgic too.

12 – West Ham: The Hammers are celebrating their 125th anniversary in style. Very nice. Classic look with a massive badge. Maybe a bit too plain?

13 – Chelsea: The new sponsor logo and the size of it has been ridiculed and it does ruin the very snazzy looking kits.

14 – Similar look for Leicester and this is a nice design. Big fan of the sleeves.

 

15 – West Brom: The barcode stripes are slightly jarring but the colors, badge and design are good.

 

16 – Newcastle United: Does what it says on the tin. Black and white stripes, and that’s it.

Barcelona v. Bayern Munich: How to watch, team news, start time, odds

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich is a massive UEFA Champions League quarterfinal on Friday (start time, 3pm ET) and here is everything you need to know ahead of the clash in Lisbon, Portugal.

Many believe the 2019-20 Champions League winner will be one of these two teams, as they face the winner of Manchester City v. Lyon in the semifinal.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Barcelona and Lionel Messi have the disappointment of losing their La Liga title in recent weeks to spur them on in the Champions League, while Bayern Munich swept all before them in Germany this season with Robert Lewandowski scoring 53 goals in 44 games in all competitions.

After just a few months in charge, Barca boss Quique Setien likely needs to win the Champions League to keep his job as Messi is firing in attack but Barca are still suspect at the back. As for Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick, who has masterminded a masterful turnaround since taking charge last November, he and the Bayern hierarchy will see this as the Bavarians’ best chance to win the Champions League since they last did so in 2013.

[ MORE: Key battles in UCL quarterfinals ]

Below you will find all of the details you need on Barcelona – Bayern Munich in what is set to be the game of the Champions League season so far as both teams love to attack.


How to watch, stream Champions League: Barcelona – Bayern Munich

Dates: August 12, 3pm ET kick off
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


Team news

Barcelona will likely be without the injured Ousmane Dembele who hasn’t featured since having surgery on his hamstring in February, but could be part of the squad.

Bayern are without Benjamin Pavard who has an ankle injury, but apart from that they have a fully fit squad to choose from as Alphonso Davies sat out of training with a slight adductor problem but is expected to be fit.


What they’re saying

Antoine Griezmann on Barcelona’s mindset: “We are looking forward to it, we have worked well tactically and we are ready to play the game. We know it will be difficult, but we know what we have to do to qualify for the semifinals. It will be a very good match. We hope to take advantage of the quality we have. We are in a good moment and we can play a good game. We have to be together, up front and at the back, and try to have the ball as much as possible.”

Hansi Flick on the style of play he wants from Bayern: “Defensively to win the ball – and offensively, purposefully and consistently to score goals. The intensity of our actions is crucial. We also want to play attractive possession football. The most important thing is that we see ourselves as a team and that everyone knows what their task is. Every player has to get involved and be able to rely on his neighbor on the pitch. This is extremely important to us.”


Odds – Full matchweek odds

It is not often that Barcelona (+235) are the underdogs but they are here, and that shows you how good Bayern Munich (+115) have been in recent months. Bayern will be wary of Messi but with Lewandowski banging in goals for fun and a stable midfield and defensive unit behind him, the Bavarian giants are the favorites for a reason. The tie at +255 provides value and this should be a goal-fest.


Prediction

If this turns into a straight shootout, you would probably fancy Barcelona to advance with Luis Suarez, Messi and Antoine Griezmann in attack. But Bayern will keep it tight, look to slow play down and then launch counters which Lewandowski can finish. I think this game will be stretched and become the attacking feast all neutrals are hoping for, but the Germans are just a more ruthless and solid team right now. Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich.

Premier League transfers: Every deal from all 20 clubs

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Premier League transfers will ramp up throughout the summer months and here you will find every deal from all 20 Premier League clubs ahead of the 2020-21 season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Premier League transfer window runs from July 27 to Oct. 5 in the summer, as the shortened offseason means there’s a flurry of action already happening and most clubs will want their squads sorted before the 2020-21 season kicks off on Sept. 12.

Given the fact that clubs have less than 40 days before the new season starts, you’d think that chairman, sporting directors and managers would all be pretty busy right now as they try and get their business done early. But we all know that when it comes to Premier League transfers, clubs can’t stay away from a deadline day.

[ MORE: Predicting the 2020-21 Premier League standings ]

Even during the coronavirus pandemic amid huge financial implications, huge sums of money are still being talked about when it comes to potential transfers.

Below are the lists of deals for each club, as we will update this page as and when deals happen from now until Oct. 5 when the summer window shuts.


Arsenal

Out
Tobi Omole (Released)
Matthew Dennis (Released)
Zech Medley (Gillingham) Loan
Zak Swanson (MVV Maastricht) Loan
Dinos Mavropanos (Stuttgart) Loan

Aston Villa

Out
Ross McCormack (Released)
Callum O’Hare (Released)
Jack Birch (Released)
Anton Hooper (Released)
Colin Odutayo (Released)
Dimitri Sea (Released)
Jamie Searle (Released)
Matija Sarkic (Wolves) Free
James Chester (Stoke) Free

Brighton and Hove Albion

In
Jensen Weir (Wigan)
Adam Lallana (Liverpool) Free
Joel Veltman (Ajax)
Lars Dendoncker (Club Brugge)

Out
Leon Balogun (Wigan) Loan
Archie Davies (Released)
Lewis Freestone (Released)
George Cox (Fortuna Sittard)
Anthony Knockaert (Fulham)
Beram Kayal (Released)

Burnley

Out
Joe Hart (Released)
Jeff Hendrick (Released)
Adam Legzdins (Released)
Aaron Lennon (Released)
Oliver Younger (Released)
Scott Wilson (Released)
Joel Senior (Released)
Joel Senior (Released)
Ryan Cooney (Morecambe) Loan

Chelsea

In
Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) More info
Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) More info

Out
Josh Grant (Released)
Marcel Lavinier (Released)
Richard Nartey (Released)
Willian (Released)
Pedro (Released)

Crystal Palace

In
Nathan Ferguson (West Brom) Free
Jake Giddings (Free)

Out
Kian Flanagan (Released)
Dion-Curtis Henry (Released)
Daniel Tupper (Released)

Everton

In
Niels Nkounkou (Marseille) Free

Out
Morgan Feeney (Released)
Alexander Denny (Released)
Matthew Foulds (Released)
Luke Garbutt (Released)
Oumar Niasse (Released)
Morgan Schneiderlin (Nice)
Leighton Baines (Retired)
Maarten Stekelenburg (Released)
Nathangelo Markelo (FC Twente)
Kieran Dowell (Norwich City)
Manasse Mampala (Released)
Korede Adedoyin (Released)
Cuco Martina (Released)

Leeds United

In
Helder Costa (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Illan Meslier (Lorient)
Jack Harrison (Man City) Loan
Joe Gelhardt (Wigan)

Out
Ryan Edmondson (Aberdeen) Loan
Kun Temenuzhkov (Real Union) Loan

Leicester

Out
Calvin Bassey (Rangers)
Viktor Johansson (Released)
Ryan Loft (Released)
Connor Tee (Released)

Liverpool

In
Konstantinos Tsimikas (Olympiacos) More info

Out
Daniel Atherton (Released)
Pedro Chirivella (Nantes) Free
Nathaniel Clyne (Released)
Shamal George (Released)
Jack Walls (Released)
Dejan Lovren (Zenit)
Adam Lallana (Brighton) Free

Manchester City

In
Pablo Moreno (Juventus)
Ferran Torres (Valencia) More info
Nathan Ake (Bournemouth) More info

Out
Ernest Agyiri (Released)
Leroy Sane (Bayern Munich)
Jack Harrison (Leeds) Loan

Manchester United

In
Odion Ighalo (Shanghai Shenhua) Loan

Out
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (Released)
Dion McGee (Released)
Angel Gomes (Released)
Ethan Hamilton (Released)
Michael O’Hara (Released)
Largie Ramazani (Released)
George Tanner (Released)
Alexis Sanchez (Inter Milan) More info

Newcastle United

In
Mark Gillespie (Motherwell) Free

Out
Luke Charman (Released)
Jack Colback (Released)
Robert Elliott (Released)
Liam Gibson (Released)
Nathan Harker (Released)
Victor Fernandez (Viitorul Constanta) Free
Jake Turner (Morecambe) Loan

Sheffield United

In
Wes Foderingham (Rangers) Free

Out
Mark Duffy (Released)
Keenan Ferguson (Released)
Oliver Greaves (Released)
Jake Eastwood (Kilmarnock) Loan
Tyler Smith (Swindon Town) Loan

Southampton

In
Kyle Walker-Peters (Tottenham)

Out
Alexander Cull (Released)
Mohamed Elyounoussi (Celtic) Loan
Maya Yoshida (Released)
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Tottenham)

Tottenham Hotspur

In
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Southampton)

Out
Jan Vertonghen (Released)
Michel Vorm (Released)
Tariq Hinds (Released)
Rayan Clarke (Released)
Jonathan Dinzeyi (Released)
Phoenix Patterson (Released)
Maxwell Statham (Released)
Maximus Tainio (Released)
Troy Parrott (Millwall) Loan
TJ Eyoma (Lincoln City) Loan
Kyle Walker-Peters (Southampton)

West Bromwich Albion

Out
Chris Brunt (Released)
Finn Azaz (Cheltenham Town) Loan

West Ham United

In
Tomas Soucek (Slavia Prague)

Out
Sead Haksabanovic (IFK Norrkoping)
Carlos Sanchez (Released)
Pablo Zabaleta (Released)

Wolverhampton Wanderers

In
Matija Sarkic (Aston Villa) Free

Out
Jordan Graham (Released)
Connor Johnson (Released)
Callum Thompson (Released)
Helder Costa (Leeds)
Tsun Dai (Shenzhen)
Ryan Giles (Coventry) Loan
Elliot Watt (Bradford)

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United still in the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for the two Premier League clubs in the next week.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League semifinals and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments take place in Germany and Portugal.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United beat Copenhagen in extra time and will face Sevilla in the semifinals and are the lone Premier League club after Wolves were knocked out by Sevilla.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Semifinals (August 16-17)
Sunday, August 16: Sevilla 1-2 Manchester United
Monday, August 17: Inter Milan 2-0 Shakhtar Donetsk


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+195) Sevilla v. Manchester United (+150). Tie: +215
(-132) Inter Milan v. Shakhtar Donetsk (+350). Tie: +280

Outright winner
Inter Milan (+160)
Manchester United (+190)
Sevilla (+280)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+800)