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Southampton’s days of selling over?

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Southampton are no longer a selling club. At least, not right now.

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Executive Director Les Reed told Sky Sports in the UK that Saints will not be selling Virgil Van Dijk or Cedric Soares this summer, despite constant reports linking the duo with a move away from St Mary’s.

Speaking about the “bold” decision to fire Claude Puel and hire Mauricio Pellegrino over the summer, the main decision maker at Southampton said he hoped hiring Argentine coach Pellegrino would bring “stability” to the club which has so often lost star names since returning to the PL in 2012.

Reed further reinforced Saints’ solid stance that no stars will depart this summer, starting with Van Dijk and Soares.

“None of those players are for sale. I can’t make it any plainer than that and that’s the way we mean to go forward,” Reed said. “We built this squad over some time and think we have a strong squad. We will fine-tune it but, other than that, we are looking forward to a very competitive season next year and we plan to go forward on that basis. There may be players that go on the basis it is the right thing for them and the club at that given time, but we don’t expect that to be wholesale and this is simply doing sound business in the transfer window.”

The main thing for teams like Southampton is that selling players will no longer significantly boost their financial power. After finishing in the top eight of the Premier League in each of the past four seasons, plus having long-term deals with Under Armour, Virgin Media and many other sponsors, they’re set up to try and compete with the PL’s elite, as are each team who have benefited from the huge financial deals the PL have enjoyed over the past few years.

Plus, they are still in negotiations with Chinese investors Lander Sports about majority ownership potentially switching from the Liebherr family to give them more funds to invest in their squad. Saints believe they are ready to kick on to the next stage and aren’t willing to give up any more of their gems.

ProSoccerTalk spoke with Saints chairman Ralph Krueger in May and he was pleased to see several of Saints’ current stars locked down to new contract — Van Dijk, Oriol Romeu, Ryan Bertrand, James Ward-Prowse and Fraser Forster all have new long-term deals — and insisted nobody needed to be sold. Saints have said this in the past but this time it feels a little different, and more serious.

After making princely sums for Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw and Morgan Schneiderlin in the past, plus moving on Nathaniel Clyne, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle who were entering the final year of their contracts for sizable fees, Saints have a reputation as being an easy target for the PL’s top six to buy from.

Yet, with Liverpool forced to apologize after their alleged illegal pursuit of Saints’ star man and captain Van Dijk earlier this month, it appears the South Coast club is getting serious about their best players not being unsettled and remaining at Southampton. Van Dijk’s transfer value is set to be north of $75 million, and it now appears that Southampton will turn down any offer for their classy Dutch center back. That’s a huge shift in club policy, with Saints labeled a selling club for much of their recent history as Alan Shearer, Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are just a few of the star names who moved on from Saints in the past.

Whether or not this new policy can help them break through the glass-ceiling of sixth place (where they finished in 2015-16) and challenge regularly for a European spot remains to be seen, but after years of making big profits on their best players Southampton finally seem to be putting a halt to moving on stars consistently and replacing them with plenty of new gems each season.

That model has worked well for them financially, but last season’s regression — despite reaching the EFL Cup Final and having a Europa League campaign to negotiate they still finished eighth in the PL, but totaled 17 fewer points compared to their previous campaign — suggests they’re at a crucial point in their plans to become a regular contender to push into the top six.

Delivering Europa League action each season is the aim and Pellegrino will have a tough enough task to achieve that in his first season coaching in England.

That said, his task will be made much easier if Van Dijk, Soares and Co. do stick around as Southampton state they will.

Bundesliga schedule for Matchweek 29

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The return of German soccer has been hugely successful and the Bundesliga schedule for Matchweek 29 is locked and loaded.

Dust off your lederhosen, fill that stein to the brim and make sure you know which young American stars to keep an eye on. Live sports is back.

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Bayern Munich are top of the table with a seven-point lead after their big win at Borussia Dortmund, while RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach have all dropped points as their title bids have faltered.

Given that Bayern look likely to secure an eighth-straight title, there is an epic scramble for European qualification. The top four in Germany qualify automatically for the UEFA Champions League group stage and that means one of the five teams mentioned above as title contenders will miss out, while Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin are surging and Schalke and Freiburg have struggled in the Europa League spot.

Below is the full Bundesliga schedule for this week, as the fourth round of games to restart the campaign is a beauty.

Bundesliga schedule

Friday, May 29

2:30 p.m. ET: Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen

Saturday, May 30

9:30 a.m. ET: Hertha Berlin v. Augsburg
9:30 a.m. ET: Mainz v. Hoffenheim
9:30 a.m. ET: Schalke v. Werder Bremen
9:30 a.m. ET: Wolfsburg v. Eintracht Frankfurt
12:30 p.m. ET: Bayern Munich v. Fortuna Dusseldorf

Sunday, May 31

9:30 a.m. ET: Borussia Monchengladbach v. Union Berlin
12 p.m. ET: Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund

Monday, June 1

2:30 p.m. ET: Cologne v. RB Leipzig

Barcelona ready to sell six players this summer

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According to the latest news out of Barcelona, the Catalan giants are ready to rework their squad and want to sell up to six players to fuel their transfer plans.

Those players being sold are Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets… just kidding. Of course not.

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According to a report from the Daily Mirror, Barca have made Rafinha, Arturo Vidal, Jean-Clair Todibo, Nelson Semedo, Junior Firpo and Moussa Wague available for permanent transfers. Wague is currently on loan at Nice, while Todibo is on loan at Schalke and Rafinha at Celta Vigo. Ousmane Dembele is another player who has been consistently linked with a move away from the Nou Camp too, as he continues to be hampered by injuries.

Why the huge exodus? It is believed Barcelona want to sign Lautaro Martinez from Inter Milan and Miralem Pjanic from Juventus to spruce up their squad under relatively new manager Quique Setien, who only arrived in mid-January.

It is believed Inter boss Antonio Conte is a big fan of Vidal, but any deal for the Chilean midfielder would reportedly be separate for a deal for Martinez. The Argentine striker has been sensational for the Italian giants so far this season and is said to have been in close contact with Messi about a move to Barcelona.

As for Pjanic’s potential arrival, what does that mean for Ivan Rakitic? He has just one year left on his current Barcelona contract and seems relaxed about his future but Pjanic plays in a very similar position to the Croatian playmaker.

One thing is for sure, Barcelona need to freshen up this squad and there is plenty of transfer news floating around when it comes to ins and outs. They are just ahead of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga and Real have certainly had a huge overhaul over the last 12 months with Vinicius Jr., Eden Hazard, Brahim Diaz, Ferland Mendy, Rodrygo and Luka Jovic all arriving at different times.

Barcelona’s old guard remains intact with Messi, Busquets, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba as instrumental as ever but there’s no doubt Setien will want to strengthen his squad as they aim for Spanish and European glory next season and beyond.

With plenty of talk about Barcelona’s financial situation and the huge contracts that Messi, Suarez and Antoine Griezmann in particular have, offloading this many players suggests they have to cut their cloth accordingly in order to bring in top talent.

Setien will be hoping he can offload as many players as possible reshape this Barcelona squad which is still incredibly talented but has a few glaring needs.

Premier League to restart on June 17

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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, Sky Sports confirmed on Thursday.

The Premier League is holding in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs and, among other matters, and June 17 has emerged as the date games will return. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Premier League season was suspended on March 13 with 92 games remaining.

Other reports also indicate clubs and the league have agreed on that date, which is five days later than the original placeholder date suggested last month. It has been reported the two games in hand, Man City v. Arsenal and Aston Villa v. Sheffield United, could be played on June 17 so all teams are on 29 games played, then the rest of the games would kick off on June 19-21.

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It is believed that the clubs want the Premier League season to be finished by August 1, so clubs can then focus on the FA Cup and European action in the Europa League and Champions League, while the 2020-21 season can then resume in early September.

Other reports suggest that a sticking point remains neutral stadiums as police forces in the UK want certain high-profile games to be played at neutral stadiums over fears of fans congregating outside home stadiums. However, it is believed the majority of games could be played at home stadiums as normal.

More details will no doubt filter out in the coming hours, while the meeting is also set to discuss the plan for possible curtailment if playing the remaining games of the 2019-20 season is not possible. The schedule for how games will be played will also be discussed, with five games back-to-back on both Saturday and Sunday reported as a possibility.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, with contact training now allowed after a return to small-group training was a success.

The third round of COVID-19 testing saw a slight rise in positive tests compared to the last, as a total of 2,752 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out on Premier League players and staff with a total of 12 positive results.

All 20 Premier League clubs have agreed to return to contact training in stage two of the ‘Project Restart’ plan, as the main focus is to agree on a Premier League restart date that managers and players can now focus on.

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith’s father dies of COVID-19

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Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has lost his father, Ron, who died at the age of 79 after contracting COVID-19.

Ron Smith was a lifelong Aston Villa fan who worked at Villa Park as a steward and passed on his love of the club to Dean and the rest of his family.

The Premier League club released the following statement honoring Smith.

“The Aston Villa Family are saddened to announce that Ron Smith, the father of our current head coach Dean, has passed away at the age of 79.

“Ron, who had recently been living in a care home after being diagnosed with dementia six years ago, contracted coronavirus four weeks ago and after a short spell in hospital passed away with his family at his side.

“A lifelong supporter, Ron was a steward at Villa Park for many years and passed on his love of the club down to his children. As well as being a regular at home games, Ron was also there to witness that greatest of days in May 1982 when Villa lifted the European Cup in Rotterdam.

“The thoughts of everyone at the football club are currently with Dean and his family at this most distressing of times and would kindly ask for the family’s privacy to be respected.”

Dean Smith is a hardcore Aston Villa fan and the fact he joined them midway through last season and got them promoted back to the Premier League via the playoffs was a hugely emotional moment for the former Walsall and Brentford manager.

He has spoken candidly in the past about his close relationship with his father and the impact dementia had on his dad. Last summer Dean Smith revealed this story before he led their beloved Aston Villa to promotion back to the Premier League.

“I went to see my old man on Friday and I managed to get his eyes open for two minutes and I said to him ‘next time you see me I’m going to be a Premier League manager’,” Smith said. “He smiled and nodded, for me that’s enough.”

Man City manager Pep Guardiola lost his mother to the coronavirus pandemic and the Premier League rallied around the Spanish coach. They will do the same for Smith who has lost the man who introduced him to the beautiful game in the first place.