PL Sunday preview: Unexpected battlers at the top, bottom

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Sunday’s slate of fixtures features a pair of relegation battlers as well as a pair of top-six chasers, only very few of the above happen to be who you thought they’d be at the start of the season…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City, Spurs win while everyone else drops points ]

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Everton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Of the four sides set for action on Sunday, only Brighton have started the season as many predicted: in 16th after seven games, just two points clear of the relegation zone. Of the other three, Newcastle United would have been the next most likely to be faced with a relegation battle, but alas it’s Everton who head into Falmer Stadium 17th in the PL table, one spot and four goals worse off than the newly promoted Seagulls.

After spending $200 million in the summer, the Toffees were supposed to be the ones bidding to break up the top-six hierarchy — not Newcastle, as is actually the case.

“I accept that everyone is entitled to his opinion and as a coach I don’t run away from criticism,” Everton boss Ronald Koeman said this week. “We know within Everton that we currently play under our level and that the results should be better. The moment I made the move from Southampton to a club with such ambitions, I knew I could be in a difficult situation if investments were not accompanied by results. I’m pretty calm with it.”

As for Brighton, things are slowly but surely turning around. Having scored just five goals through seven games, four of the five have come in their last two home games — 3-1 and 1-0 victories over West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle, respectively. Brighton boss Chris Hughton, for one, isn’t panicking.

“We could have had slightly more than seven points but we’re a new team coming into this division and we’ve already played Arsenal and Man City,” he said this week. “There’s not a sense of satisfaction at this moment because when you have competitive players, you don’t like losing. But there’s more positives to come from the game than negatives.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Tomer Hemed (suspension), Steve Sidewell (back), Beram Kayal (leg), Sam Baldock (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Davy Propper (thigh) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); RETURNING: James McCarthy (knee)

[ MORE: De Bruyne’s brilliance lauded | Klopp no fan of Mourinho’s style ]

Southampton vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

A win at St. Mary’s Stadium on Sunday could see Newcastle climb as high as fifth in the league table, depending on the margin of victory (a run-of-the-mill five-goal win would do the trick). Rafa Benitez‘s side is undoubtedly one of the biggest stories of the still-young season, having lost their first two games following a tumultuous summer of transfer dealings, only to rebound with three straight wins and points from four of the following five games.

As for their opponents, back-to-back losses to Manchester United and Stoke City leave Southampton chasing three points just to climb back into the top half of the table. While Newcastle will have been disappointed for the recent international break to arrive when it did (their 1-1 draw with Liverpool two weeks ago put everyone on notice), it couldn’t have come at a better time for Saints. These kind of early-season struggles are to be expected, though, according to midfielder James Ward-Prowse.

“This season we have a new manager, a new style of play and a few new signings as well, which have had a positive impact on the team,” he said this week. “It’s a building process still for us all, but it’s a positive one in the making. After this two weeks, it’s a great chance for us to hit the ground running and take the league by storm now.”

INJURIES: Southampton — PROBABLE: Shane Long (hip) | Newcastle — OUT: Paul Dummett (hamstring); PROBABLE: Jonjo Shelvey (finger), Matthew Ritchie (thigh), Christian Atsu (knee)

Slow start dooms Southampton again: “We lost the game in first half”

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Slow starts are, ironically, quickly becoming the story of Southampton’s Premier League season. It happened again on Friday, resulting in a 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

Through six games, Saints have conceded the first goal four times. In those four games, they have taken just one point. When scoring the game’s first goal, they have two wins and two clean sheets.

It would appear that Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side is set up to play one way, and one way only. Speaking after Friday’s defeat, Hasenhuttl lamented his side’s slow start, conceding that the game was all but lost when they fell 2-0 behind in the 35 minutes — quotes from the BBC:

“The finish was not important anymore. If you lose 2-1 or 3-1 it does not make too much difference. We lost the game in the first half.

“In the second half, we were sharp. Had about 26 shots to six from Bournemouth but the most important stat is the goals. They scored three, we scored once.

“We weren’t aggressive enough and too easy in the first half. It is not easy to be 1-0 down after 10 minutes. We had a lot of blocked shots and misses near the post. It was a good performance in the second half but without a result.

“For the second goal was had a lot of players in our attacking box so it was not easy to defend.

“We showed a good reaction because we knew we needed to be brave. We changed our shape and were aggressive for the second ball. It gave us 64% possession and we had a lot of shots. Maybe we didn’t deserve to take something because of our first half.”

Southampton’s next chance to start a game quickly will come in an away bout with Tottenham Hotspur next Saturday.

Bournemouth carried over the line by ‘fight and belief’

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It wasn’t pretty — at least not in the second half — but Bournemouth had enough “fight and belief” to get themselves over the line for a first-ever win away to Southampton on Friday.

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

Speaking after the game, Cherries manager Eddie Howe was obviously pleased by the victory in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry, but quickly turned his attention to a list of areas in which his team came up short and was perhaps fortunate to hold onto a 2-1 lead prior to Callum Wilson‘s gifted goal in the 95th minute — quotes from the BBC:

“It was a nice moment. We rarely get those moments in football where you get that pure emotion and joy for a few seconds. Then you start thinking about next week.

“You want the players brought down to earth because you want the focus on consistent success. In the first, half we were okay. We didn’t hit the heights we are capable of. We were scrappy and didn’t keep the ball as well as I wanted, but we had spirit and sometimes that’s the most important thing.

“In the second half, we were reactive and looked tired and that’s where we needed to show our heart to see the game out. There were some heroics from our goalkeeper too.”

As for defender Nathan Ake, scorer of Bournemouth’s first goal, it was all about digging deep for the desire and will to win. The 24-year-old has established himself as one of the first names on Howe’s teamsheet every week at this point.

“It was a very tough game. The fans are buzzing. It was a great three points. The manager said to put the ball in the box.

“It was a great ball and it fell on my head. In the second half, we made it difficult for ourselves. We didn’t keep hold of the ball and had to defend more. The last result against Everton was great so it gives you confidence, but we had to fight and believe we could win.”

Had you offered anyone associated with Bournemouth 10 points from their first six games, they would have snatched your hand off to take them. A thoroughly solid start to the season. Up next is a visit from ninth-place West Ham United next Saturday.

Bournemouth picks up first-ever win away to Southampton

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Bournemouth picked up its first-ever victory (16 visits – all competitions) away to Southampton in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry, 3-1 at St. Mary’s Stadium on Friday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Nathan Ake and Harry Wilson got goals for Eddie Howe‘s side during a wonderfully dominant first-half performance before the roles were reversed in the second half. James Ward-Prowse pulled Southampton back to 2-1 not long after halftime and Saints pressed and pressed for an equalizer but ultimately came up empty. To make matters worse, Callum Wilson put the game away on a late Saints howler.


3 things we learned

  1. Slow starts for Saints — Through six games, Saints have conceded the first goal four times. For a team that’s built around the idea of defensive solidity and limiting chances, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side appears especially limited once forced to change its plan of attack and… well, attack. In the two games they didn’t concede first, two clean sheets and two wins.
  2. Halftime adjustments — Hasenhuttl certainly got his tactics wrong from the start, but whatever was said at halftime made a noticeable difference in the second half. Given loads more freedom to push forward in attack and to win back possession, Southampton made it a game from 45:01 onward.
  3. Making few chances count a lot — Bournemouth needed just six shots to get their two goals. On the other hand, they managed just six shots in 90 minutes. Highly efficient, or lacking in overall production? Both, perhaps?

Man of the Match: Oriol Romeu


Ake put the Cherries ahead in the 10th minute, rising high above the crowd to get his head to Diego Rico‘s corner kick. It was Bournemouth’s fifth goal (of nine scored) from a set piece this season.

It didn’t take long for Bournemouth to easily cut through Saints’ four-man backline — a tactical change from the three-man operation which secured a victory away to Sheffield United last weekend — and put the ball in the back of the net again. Joshua King finished a devastating counter-attack with a sublime finish, only to have the goal taken off the board for being narrowly offside, via video review.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Once again, Bournemouth met little resistance en route to doubling their lead, only this time the goal stood. Philip Billing got to the endline down the left side of Saints’ penalty area and cut the ball back to the penalty spot where Wilson was waiting to sweep it past a helpless Angus Gunn.

Saints were gifted their way back into the game in the 52nd minute, when Steve Cook went straight through Che Adams as Southampton broke down the left side of the box. Ward-Prowse stepped up to the spot and hammered the ball past Aaron Ramsdale to cut the deficit in half.

Saints’ best chance at drawing level came in the 82nd minute, but Ward-Prowse was denied Ramsdale from close range, and though he spilled the rebound in front of goal, Bournemouth were able to clear the ball away in just the nick of time.

Gunn and center back Jannik Vestergaard ran into one another outside the Saints penalty area in the 95th minute, allowing Wilson to pick the ball up and walk it over the end line for the late exclamation point on Bournemouth’s historic night.

Bournemouth’s defensive desperation was such that they attempted just the six shots in the game, including zero between the 38th and 85th minutes. Alas, Saints couldn’t find the equalizer and Bournemouth catapulted all the way up to third in the PL, for the time being.

Watch Live: Southampton v. Bournemouth

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Southampton takes on Bournemouth in a battle of south-coast clubs at the St. Mary’s Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Both teams enter the match with seven points, and a win can, for the time being, vault either side into the top four until the rest of the weekend’s games take place.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Interestingly, Southampton have ruled the roost when it comes to matchups against Bournemouth. Southampton has won three, drawn four and lost just once in Premier League matches against Bournemouth, but perhaps this time it could be different.

Both teams are coming off wins, though Bournemouth’s 3-1 shock of Everton could be seen as more impressive than Southampton’s 1-0 victory over Sheffield United.

Watch the game with us at the link above, and stay on PST for analysis and reaction at halftime and following the final whistle.


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