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Who will be the winners in Virgil van Dijk situation?

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The situation surrounding Virgil Van Dijk is fast becoming the transfer saga of the summer in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Chicharito to West Ham ]

Last week Southampton’s captain told his manager Mauricio Pellegrino that he wants to leave the club and he has now been told to train on his own back in England while Saints are on tour in France.

Van Dijk, 26, has been chased by Liverpool but Jurgen Klopp‘s men were forced to issue a public apology in early June stating that would “end their interest” in the player following a complaint from Southampton to the Premier League about an alleged illegal approach.

For most of preseason VVD has trained with Saints but the first warning signs arrived on their last trip to Austria where he did not play in their preseason friendly as he was said to be still recovering from a foot injury he suffered in January.

Now the Dutch international center back is effectively on strike at Southampton but with a $70 million pricetag around his neck and Liverpool, his preferred destination, seemingly out of the picture, he doesn’t have a lot of options. Chelsea and Manchester City were said to be interested but they have spent big elsewhere on defenders, so it’s Liverpool or bust for van Dijk.

Now that he’s an outcast at Southampton, many would suggest that’s that for van Dijk at Saints. Hold your horses.

As often as Southampton have sold star players over the past five seasons (Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne to name a few) they’ve also held firm when they wanted to. They insist van Dijk is not for sale and have done so since late last season season when Pro Soccer Talk spoke to their chairman Ralph Krueger.

“We do not need to sell a player this summer,” Krueger said. “Any transfer in and out now will be to increase the quality of the squad and do what is best for the club. I have to tell you, straight up, we do not have to sell anybody. We will do our best to retain the core, solidify the core and move with some synergy into next season.”

With past players Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane, they were all told to give Saints one more season before moving on to some of the biggest clubs in the world in Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool respectively. They did that and had their best seasons in a Southampton shirt knowing they were in the shop window and great play would help shape their future.

Could the same happen with van Dijk? This situation is slightly different but Saints have no interest whatsoever in selling him.

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The Dutchman signed a new five-year contract last summer and has been named team captain following his impressive displays since arriving from Celtic in the summer of 2015, plus he also signed on with a new agent over the summer. He is the face of this team and settling back into the squad and being accepted by fans just a few weeks after stating he did not want to play for the club won’t be easy.

An added layer to all of this is that it’s Liverpool involved, the club who has bought more Southampton players than any other over the past four seasons, plus some of Liverpool’s club legends have spoken in the media and told Van Dijk to go on strike. Animosity levels are high.

It’s unlikely van Dijk will be adored by Southampton’s fans anytime soon, and if he leaves he will booed and jeered just like Lallana and Lovren who reportedly pushed for a move away in 2014 and are still given that treatment every time they touch the ball from Saints’ fans.

Van Dijk’s name was sung loudly at every Southampton game and he is the one true world-class player they possess. They still possess him, but the dilemma for Saints here is do they buckle to pressure and sell him or do they keep hold of van Dijk and hope he changes his mind and wants to play for the club again?

If he doesn’t do the latter he will rot in the reserves while being one of the top earners at the club. Nobody wants that. Not van Dijk. Not Southampton. Nobody. But Saints can live with it if they have to.

That’s why they will hold out and hope that time away from the team will sway VVD’s mind into sticking around and help them push for another top 10 finish under new manager Pellegrino.

It is tough to stand in the way of a player when a team can offer him UEFA Champions League action and his talent clearly deserve that, but if Southampton don’t want to sell him, why should they?

Many would suggest player power is at an all-time high in the PL with contracts not worth the piece of paper they’re written on. Yet if you look around the league there are similar situations playing out at mid-sized clubs who are now benefiting financially from the PL’s riches and have no need to sell their stars to fund new signings and other projects.

Swansea are holding on to Gylfi Sigurdsson despite his refusal to go on their U.S. tour. Leicester aren’t prepared to sell Riyad Mahrez on the cheap despite his public declaration he wants to leave. And then there’s Southampton who don’t want, or need, to sell van Dijk.

Yes, Southampton are playing hardball and their manager Pellegrino has taken the drastic action to cut van Dijk from first-team training for the foreseeable future, but what else could they do? If it was any other player wanting to leave they would do the same.

Speaking to local journalists from the Daily Echo last week about his decision, Pellegrino summed up the situation, and his strong stance, perfectly.

“The club was clear. The club told me they will not sell Virgil,” Pellegrino said. “I translated the idea of the club to the player and for me it was easy because I had to manage the dynamic of the team. Now he is not involved with the team because psychologically he is not 100 per cent. If you are not 100 per cent with the team I need to work with the players who are 1000 per cent to defend Southampton. It’s easy for me.”

These situations are never fun for anyone involved but van Dijk now has a decision to make. Southampton have made theirs and he is not for sale.

It’s now up to van Dijk to accept that or continue to refuse to play to force a move away. It may eventually happen later in this window or even in January, but he will lose not only playing time but respect from all corners.

Dest decision to stay with the U.S. significant for future

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With the shrill of the referee’s whistle on Friday night, with Sergino Dest expected to be on the field, his decision to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team will be final.

There have been plenty of dual-nationals before him and there will continue to be dual-nationals after him. But Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. is a significant one for multiple reasons.

First, there’s the whirlwind past six months he’s had. Before the summer began, Dest was a solid member of the Jong Ajax team, which is effectively the reserve side, though it plays in the Dutch Second Division. For the U.S., he started in four of the five games for the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team as it advanced to the FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinals this past May and June, beating France U-20s along the way.

After a strong preseason, suddenly Dest found himself promoted to the Ajax first team. Then, suddenly this then-18-year-old kid was starting for Ajax, first in the Eredivisie and then in the UEFA Champions League, and he was impressing. After not noticing him or not bothering to call him in to national team camps in the past, suddenly Ronald Koeman was interested, and Ajax coach Erik ten Hag was pushing the Oranje on Dest.

While the U.S. has recruited players from Germany, England, and Mexico among other countries in recent years, it’s rare that the player hasn’t been coveted as well by the bigger – or local national team compared to the USMNT. So it says something that the USMNT is such a welcoming place that Dest felt comfortable enough when making his decision to stick with what he knew.

Also, while the Tyler Boyd decision to play for the USMNT wasn’t seen as a huge recruiting coup – he had played in friendly matches for New Zealand in the past – Dest’s decision, considering that he plays at Ajax and gets minutes in the Champions League – is on the level of the Jonathan Gonzalez deal. Gonzalez of course decided to go with Mexico, but due to a loss of form and injuries, that decision hasn’t fully panned out over the past 12 months. Dest, meanwhile, has the opportunity to cement himself as the right or left back of the future for the U.S.

A player this young is usually not put in this position where they have to choose, but Dest – with official FIFA matches coming up – basically had to make his decision this month or risk being out of the USMNT and the Netherlands for multiple training camps.

Ultimately, while Dest’s decision is a great sign for the USMNT, it’s only the start. There’s plenty of American-born players that the USMNT is losing out on, especially to Mexico. Players like Efrain Alvarez, and Gonzalez are two players who could make a difference for the U.S. moving forward, but have chosen – Alvarez for now – to play for Mexico. Other current USMNT youngsters such as Richie Ledezma, Sebastian Soto, Alex Mendez, and Julian Araujo could all potentially play for another country as well, leaving the U.S. vulnerable should they leave.

And another caveat. Dest is only 19-years old, and it’s truly impossible to predict whether he’ll be the next Steve Cherundolo for the USMNT – owned the right back slot for more than a decade – or a short-term fix before an injury or loss of form keeps him away from the team.

So U.S. Soccer is on the right track with the commitment from Dest, but it still has an awful lot to do to keep growing the USMNT player pool.

 

Berhalter: No “like-for-like” replacement for Pulisic

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U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter may not be feeling any more pressure after the USMNT’s disappointing 2-0 defeat at Canada last month. But his task to beat Canada in the return match on Friday in Orlando became even more difficult with the loss of Christian Pulisic to injury.

Speaking at a pre-match press conference, Berhalter noted that there’s no one on the current USMNT team that could replace exactly what Pulisic brings – excellent dribbling, high soccer IQ, dynamic runs into the box – but they’ll need to compensate for his absence in other ways.

[READ: How will the USMNT line up v. Canada]

“When you think about his dynamic dribbling, you don’t see players like that around very much anymore.,” Berhalter said. “We’ll have to compensate with other types of skills. But what we do have is speed and physically, and we’ll want to take advantage of that. I think that will be a key component of the game.”

Even with Pulisic on the field for around an hour, the U.S. still seemed second-best, but it didn’t help when the USMNT’s best player was taken off. In the current squad, Berhalter will need to look for creativity and darting runs diagonally from players like Tyler Boyd and Jordan Morris on the wings, where they can potentially have an advantage over Canada’s outside backs.

Berhalter noted at the press conference that this week in training they’ve been focusing on bringing the intensity demanded for international soccer, as well as how to better succeed in the attacking third of the field.

“We’ve been working with the wingers, working with the attacking midfielder, having them focused on spaces we need to exploit, and being very aggressive around the penalty box,” Berhalter said. “One thing we weren’t happy with in the game in Canada was our lack of ability to get behind their backline and our lack of ability in the final third to deliver accurate crosses. We got into some good positions and didn’t take advantage of that. So, we focused on that during this week and it’s been looking pretty good.”

In some of the USMNT’s worst games in recent years, including the loss in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago and the loss in Toronto, Canada, it’s been the lack of creativity in the final third, or a lack of even setting up one-v-one opportunities in the final third that’s cost the U.S. That task becomes more difficult without Pulisic, but perhaps the USMNT can take advantage of Morris’ recent fine form, and use his speed down the left to get in behind Canada’s defense.

Sterling backs Gomez after boos were heard at Wembley

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Raheem Sterling came out in support of his teammate Joe Gomez, just a couple of days after Sterling lost his temper in practice and got into a scuffle with the Liverpool defender.

Multiple reporters at England’s 7-0 thrashing of Montenegro heard a smattering of fans boo Joe Gomez when he came on the field as a substitute. While not defensible, the boos were likely as a result of the dust-up and subsequent one-match suspension for Sterling. Unable to speak to the media after the match, Sterling took to Twitter to stand up for his international teammate.

[READ: England smash Montenegro, qualify for Euro 2020]

This is the latest example of Sterling taking the high road to deal with a tough situation. Whether it’s the boos he endures from Liverpool fans over his exit from the club, racism he’s experienced at home or abroad, and the media coverage he’s felt, Sterling has almost always offered a measured, intelligent response.

In this instance, it shows that Gareth Southgate has full control of his team and that there’s an accepting atmosphere in the squad. Sterling was obviously wrong to not let the Man City defeat to Liverpool go and to take it out on Gomez warranted the suspension. To back Gomez after he took some jeers from the crowd says a lot about Sterling’s character.

You can almost bet that the two will be on the field together as England faces Kosovo on the road this Sunday.

Euro 2020 Roundup: Ronaldo scores hat-trick, France, Turkey qualify

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The final two rounds of Euro 2020 qualification got underway on Thursday with plenty of great goals on display. Four nations qualified directly into the tournament as well, as we get closer to the final list of 24 teams.


Portugal rout Lithuania

While the result wasn’t a surprise, it was still an impressive performance from the defending European champions.

Portugal, behind a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, thrashed Lithuania, 6-0, at the Estadio Algarve. That included this terrific strike into the corner from outside the box, bringing the crowd to their feet.

It was Ronaldo’s ninth hat-trick for Portugal, which takes him to 98 goals overall along with 12 goals for Portugal in this calendar year, an incredible strike rate. Pizzi, Goncalo Paciencia and Bernardo Silva all scored as well. With a win at Luxembourg in three days, Portugal can assure qualification back to the European Championships, where it can defend its crown.


France comes back to beat Moldova

It’s safe to say that Les Bleus fans would gladly have taken a 2-1 result over Moldova in Euro 2020 qualifying, but the journey to get there was definitely out of the ordinary.

Moldova’s Vadim Rata put the visitors up 1-0 in the 9th minute with a goal-mouth scramble after a failed clearance from by Clement Lenglet, putting France under even more pressure. France brought wave and wave of attack towards the Moldova goal, but it was a controversial goal, credited to Raphael Varane, which brought France level.

In the 41st minute, as Olivier Giroud went for a ball, it appeared Giroud motioned to control the ball with his arm, only to move it out of his way at the last second, enabling Varane to head home. Giroud made amends for missing many chances throughout the match with a penalty kick goal in the 79th minute, earned by left back Lucas Digne.

With the win, France qualified for the 2020 Euros. Also qualifying on Thursday was Turkey, England, and the Czech Republic.

Here’s a look at the rest of Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualification results.

Qualification Group A

England 7-0 Montenegro
Czech Republic 2-1 Kosovo

Qualification Group B

Portugal 6-0 Lithuania
Serbia 3-2 Luxembourg

Qualification Group H

Turkey 0-0 Iceland
Albania 2-2 Andorra
France 2-1 Moldova