Ward-Prowse issues Saints rallying cry

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SOUTHAMPTON — James Ward-Prowse is a living, breathing embodiment of the Southampton Way.

Coming through their famed academy, he has been at the club since the age of eight and has now been a key part of their first team since they were promoted back to the Premier League in 2012-13, as well as going on to become a full England international and being the long-time captain of the Three Lions’ U-21 side.

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But the current Southampton Way could soon include relegation from the Premier League with Saints two points from safety with eight games to go as new manager Mark Hughes prepares for an almighty scrap against the drop.

The first of those pivotal games comes at relegation rivals West Ham this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com) with the Hammers just one place and two points above Southampton.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk, Ward-Prowse, 23, knows that this match at the London Stadium falls into the category of a “six-pointer” as Saints are running out of games against direct relegation rivals.

“This is a game that we need to win, for sure,” Ward-Prowse said. “We can’t afford to lose games or draw games because ultimately that’s going to cost us. It may not necessarily be a game of good football or who can play the best football, it is about who can win the game. That doesn’t matter if it’s a scrappy 89th minute goal or a blitzing 4-0 win. We have to win the game and make sure we are solid throughout.”

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Ward-Prowse was speaking at the launch of a Saints exhibition at Southampton’s SeaCity Museum, as a history of the club “We March On: Then and Now” was unveiled as past legends Matt Le Tissier, Mick Channon and others reminisced about the good old times. There was an FA Cup trophy on show and plenty of reminders about Southampton’s remarkable journey back through the leagues as they rose from third-tier of English soccer in a journey which started in 2009, bankrolled by the Libeherr family.

With Saints now securing fourth-straight top eight finishes in the Premier League, plus reaching the League Cup final last season and European action in each of the last two campaigns, Ward-Prowse knows that staying in England’s top-flight is the only thing they can focus on.

However they do it, Saints must stay up.

“It is game by game but we just need to be in the Premier League next season,” Ward-Prowse said. “It doesn’t matter how it comes and we want to play nice football, of course, but we find ourselves in a situation that we are in and we have to reevaluate where we are, where we need to be and what we have to do to get there. We are confident with the manager and the players we have that we can do that.”

As for the new boss, Hughes’ arrival already seems to have had a positive impact on the squad. They beat Wigan Athletic in a FA Cup quarterfinal in his first game in charge and will now play Chelsea in the semi at Wembley next month to try and book a spot in a second major cup final in as many years.

What has been the key message from Hughes so far?

“To be a bit more positive,” Ward-Prowse explained. “For us, we are a good team, and confidence wise over the last few weeks we’ve maybe not been at it but he’s encouraged us to take risks and he has reminded us of the quality that we have got. The training sessions have been intense, they’ve been sharp and there’s been a purpose. It is very exciting looking forward for us.”

With 13 draws this season, the most in the Premier League, Southampton seemed negative and sometimes scared to attack under former manager Mauricio Pellegrino who was replaced with Hughes earlier this month.

Aside from a relegation battle, Ward-Prowse revealed the FA Cup run to the final four has been a welcome distraction for the team.

After losing narrowly to Manchester United in the League Cup final last season, Ward-Prowse, stood close to the only major trophy Southampton have ever won (upsetting United as a second-tier team in the 1976 FA Cup final) is eyeing another trip to a final.

“It is. It gives us something to look forward to. It’s not been a great season so far for us but this gives us a bit of excitement and it is a great distraction. We are all very excited to play our part in what will hopefully be a successful cup run,” Ward-Prowse smiled. “It’s not a game based on three points and it is the magic of the FA Cup. Anything can happen. It’s a game that hopefully we can win to give our fans yet another day out at Wembley. You’ve seen some teams go on great cup runs throughout the years and we can take confidence from last year, the way we applied ourselves in the cup run against Arsenal away and Liverpool away and home particularly, we dominated those games. We can take that going forward.”

But the focus remains fully on staying up. Ward-Prowse, more than most, is well aware of what relegation from the Premier League means and that could perhaps point to his improved form in the opening months of 2018 after a self-confessed slow start to the current campaign.

Ward-Prowse has scored four goals and added two assists since the turn of the year (he hadn’t scored this season before Jan. 6), contributing to more goals than any other Southampton player in that span as he aims to dig them out of the relegation battle they’re in and also has one eye on sneaking into the full England squad for the World Cup this summer.

The local lad has seen how relegation impacts the people in the City of Southampton and those working for the club, and when Ward-Prowse was a youngster in the academy the club went into administration and started the 2009-10 season on -10 points in the third-tier of English soccer.

Back then they almost fell off the face of the earth before the Liebherr family saved Saints and started their journey back to the top-flight. The impact of relegation surely won’t be as drastic this time around, if it happens, but it is unsure how the new Chinese owners of the club, the Gao family, would respond to Southampton suddenly becoming a second-tier club.

Although wary of what relegation would bring, Ward-Prowse revealed his past experiences of struggle at Southampton spur him on to make sure the club doesn’t go through it again.

“You always have to be wary of those sort of things but those feelings spur us on as players to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Ward-Prowse said. “I’ve seen that happen here and I’m even more determined to play my part to make sure that doesn’t happen. The quality of the players we have got should get us out of the trouble we are in… I’ve got a bit  more of an emotional attachment to the club with the journey I’ve been on. I’ve seen the lows and the highs, I am desperate to play my part and I’m sure they [other players] are as well. If we can do that collectively then we will be fine.”

Jose Mourinho to take charge of Juventus?

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Do we really think Jose Mourinho is ready for a return?

Multiple reports in Italy claims Juventus’ star forward Cristiano Ronaldo wants Mourinho to become their new manager after it was announced that Max Allegri is stepping down this summer after winning five-straight Serie A titles with the Turin club.

Mourinho, 56, has been out of a job since Manchester United fired him in December, but his status as a serial trophy winner remains intact.

Speaking recently on beIN Sport, where he has been popping up as a pundit on multiple occasions,

“One of the players that I have a great relation with, he plays for a team and he told me, ‘You should come here next season’, and I told him, ‘They don’t love me.’ He told me, ‘You win three matches and they will start loving you.'”

Hmm. Who could he be talking about?

Mourinho didn’t endear himself to Juve’s fans during his time at their rivals Inter Milan where he won the treble, including the UEFA Champions League in 2010. He then added further fuel to the fire as United won late on at Juve in the group stage of the Champions League earlier this season, which then saw Mourinho run out onto the field at full time and goad the home supporters who had mocked him the entire game due to his successful spell at Inter.

Would that stop Juve from hiring him? Probably not. Juve’s CEO Andrea Agnelli is a man who wants success and he wants it now.

Mourinho has also said he plans to be back in a job by this summer, just six months after being fired by United.

He has some time out to reflect on where things went wrong at United and how he can better understand the media demands which surround the game and now it seems like he is ready to dive back in at the deep end.

Juve are one of the biggest clubs in Europe, and everything is in place for them to make another deep run in the Champions League next season, and something drastic would have to happen for them to not win the Italian league in 2019-20.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Mourinho landed at Juve this summer as his defensive tactics suit Serie A and the Italian champs are desperate for success in Europe after bringing in Ronaldo, 34, on a huge salary to win the Champions League. Ronaldo will have a huge say on who the next Juve boss will be, and he is said to not be keen on either Antonio Conte or Maurizio Sarri taking over from Allegri.

If this happens, it would be a lot of fun. Have your popcorn at the ready…

Alaves seeks new coach after Fernandez resigns

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MADRID (AP) Spanish club Alaves says coach Abelardo Fernandez has resigned.

Alaves says it was Fernandez’s decision to leave after leading the modest Basque Country team to an 11th-place finish in the Spanish league.

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Fernandez said in a news conference on Monday the club did everything it could to try to keep him, but he felt he “would not be at 100 percent next season” and decided it was best to resign.

Fernandez joined Alaves at the end of 2017, helping the team finish 14th in the league last season, comfortably escaping relegation.

The club had a surprising start to this season, being as high as second in the standings and remaining in the fight for the final Champions League place until about 10 rounds to go.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Transfer rumor roundup: Felix to Man United; Sane to Bayern

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The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

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Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


Benfica’s teenage superstar Joao Felix reportedly has a release clause of $130 million, and Manchester United are among the host of clubs ready to trigger it.

A report from the Daily Record says that United and Real Madrid are both ready to seal the deal for the 19-year-old attacking midfielder. Per the report United have opened talks with Benfica and their representatives were in Lisbon to see him play for the final time this season.

Felix has burst onto the scene in Europe this season and has helped Benfica win the Portuguese league title. His 20 goals and 11 assists in all competitions this season prove his pedigree, and United certainly need to rebuild their squad. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has constantly spoken about adding young, hungry, talented players this summer, and Felix is touted as the best young playmaker in Europe right now.

This transfer deal would make Felix the most expensive signing in United and Premier League history, and it does make you wonder if a deal is being lined up to offload Paul Pogba to Real Madrid and replace him with Felix.


Manchester City are struggling to keep hold of one of their stars, as a report from the Daily Mirror says that Bayern Munich are increasingly confident of signing Leroy Sane this summer.

Sane, 23, has failed to agree a new contract at City despite being in talks with the club for 18 months and Pep Guardiola has admitted he could leave this summer in search of more game time. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva are City’s main starters in the wide attacking midfield roles, which has meant Sane and Riyad Mahrez have had to fight for minutes off the bench and starts here and there during their historic 2018-19 season.

That has often led to Sane looking pretty unhappy on the sidelines, but when he has got the chance to play he has been pretty good with his best-ever season in terms of goals scored with 16 across all competitions. Coming off the back of his shock omission from Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad, Sane has bounced back well and scored a pivotal goal in Man City’s PL win against Liverpool and a stunning free kick late on against his old club Schalke in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

Sane moving to Bayern would make sense as legendary wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are moving on, with Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman set to take their mantle and any summer move for Callum Hudson-Odoi now in doubt after his serious injury. The German international has delivered in his three seasons at City, but Guardiola often seems enraged by his penchant for drifting inside with his runs and with the ball instead of staying wide on the touchline.

It seems like the stars are aligning for Sane to return to Germany and be a star at Bayern.

Out of contract Premier League Best XI

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With the 2018-19 season in the books, Premier League clubs are already turning their attention to next season.

Players are coming towards the end of their contracts, with the PL’s summer transfer now open which means some players can move on free transfers when their deals expire, usually on July 1.

Which players are available to pick up at the end of their deals on freebies?

There is always a lot of chatter at this time of the year about who will stay, which players have a one-year option to extend their deals, and which clubs also have that option. Olivier Giroud will stay at Chelsea for one more season, but he would have been the top striker available on a freebie this summer, while Ander Herrera is expected to sign for PSG after announcing he will leave Man United when his contract expires.

However, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding several star names at some of the PL’s biggest clubs. If you are a newly promoted club (Norwich, Sheffield United and one of Aston Villa and Derby County) you are no doubt looking at this list of experienced PL players and getting pretty excited.

Take a look at our “Out of Contract Best XI” below, as several players have yet to agree new deals with their current clubs.


Premier League, Out of Contract Best XI – 4-4-2 formation

—– Michel Vorm —–

Danny SimpsonGary CahillPhil JagielkaNacho Monreal — 

Antonio ValenciaMohamed DiameJuan MataAlberto Moreno — 

—- Daniel Sturridge —- Fernando Llorente —- 

On the bench
Willy Caballero
Leighton Baines
Danny Williams
Ander Herrera (expected to join PSG on free transfer)
Samir Nasri
Bakary Sako
Andy Carroll