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Hasenhuttl: Saints’ philosophy ‘perfect fit’

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SOUTHAMPTON — Ralph Hasenhuttl has a way with words and he is determined to turn Southampton’s fortunes around.

But he knows it will not be easy.

“If you want guarantees you have to buy a washing machine! In football there are no guarantees…” Hasenhuttl said, smiling.

He faced the media for the first time in England on Thursday and dazzled fans with his quick wit and amiable nature. The Austrian will need plenty of that in the weeks and months to come, but the mood at Southampton’s Staplewood training center seemed upbeat just 24 hours after his arrival was confirmed.

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Hasenhuttl, 51, has a huge task on his hands to drag Southampton up the Premier League table, out of the relegation zone and to give the entire club a new vision for the future.

The Premier League’s first-ever Austrian head coach said he is aligned with Saints’ overall plan to develop young talent and to punch above their weight against the PL’s big boys, and Hasenhuttl knows his first task is to drag them out of the drop zone.

“The history and the philosophy of this team fits nearly perfect to my philosophy of how to work in football,” Hasenhuttl explained. “So it was a good decision for me and I’m sure it is a good one.”

Known as a proactive coach who prefers a 4-2-2-2 formation, Hasenhuttl was nicknamed ‘The Klopp of the Alps’ in Germany during his time at Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig.

He brushed off those comparisons but there are many similarities in terms of their demeanor and intense nature. Hasenhuttl also revealed he and Klopp learned together when getting their coaching badges in Germany, and he made fun of Liverpool’s German coach for saying his name translated to nothing.

“His German is not very good because his English is maybe better than his German now!” Hasenhuttl smiled. “I was laughing about his explaining of my name and it’s hard to pronounce for you.”

In case you were wondering, Hasenhuttl loosely translates to “small rabbit house” in English.

Like Klopp, Hasenhuttl demands high levels of fitness and high-pressing from his team and when asked if he would be bringing in plenty of new players in January, he preferred to challenge his current squad to stick around.

If they are up to it.

“We just had a look at the players we have now. I want to bring them to their limits,” Hasenhuttl said. “I don’t know where there limits are and if they like to go this way with us they are invited to and when they follow us it will be an intensive, hard working way. When everyone is pushing his limits to a higher level, then we can see how far it will get us. When someone says ‘it is it too much running for or too much work for me’ they will fall very quickly beside us. That’s how I want to work until January and then we have a look.”

The group of players he has at Southampton have just one win from their first 15 games of the season.

Ahead of his first game in charge against Cardiff City on Saturday (Watch live 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Hasenhuttl admitted with a lack of training days ahead it will be tough for him to turn things around quickly.

Saints have six games in just over three weeks, with matches against Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea among them during the busy festive period.

Despite those fixtures, Hasenhuttl expects his name to be known across the globe very quickly indeed.

Fed up of walking around the Alps in his native Austria after leaving Leipzig at the end of last season, he’s now back to business.

“It is a big challenge for me but it is the next step in my career. It is my goal to get my name known here in the Premier League,” Hasenhuttl said. “I had a few successful years in Germany and when I left Leipzig in the summer I was thinking about my next step and I wanted to stand in front of a new team, with a new language to get developed personally and also in my view of football. That’s the reason I made this decision to come here, to come to Southampton. I had very good meetings with Ralph Krueger [Saints chairman], so for me it was relatively clear that I can help him in the situation the club is in at the moment.”

Drifting along over the past two years under four different managers, Saints have gone from being one of the best-run clubs in Europe to one that barely survived relegation last season and no longer has a clear playing identity or direction.

Hasenhuttl has been tasked with changing all of that as quickly as he can and he is not afraid about the daunting task ahead.

“It is tough with our schedule over Christmas. I am not frightened about it but the problem is we have a lot of games in the coming days,” Hasenhuttl said. “If you know me, I work on training sessions and habits and if you don’t have the chance to train it is not easy to change things in the team. We have just one training sessions tomorrow evening before the game. We will pay attention not to overload. My goal is to develop them [the players] as quick as possible but we have to pay attention.”

The Austrian has already held meetings with several different departments of the club ahead of meeting the players with his first training session on Thursday, as he got across his plan on how the club can succeed in the short and long-term.

Among soccer purists, Hasenhuttl back in the game is big news.

Austrian TV crews traveled to the suburbs of Southampton for the press conference and news outlets from across the UK were present as the hype around his appointment was clear. Promotions with upstart clubs, upsetting the odds and saving teams from relegation is the thing he seems to succeed at most.

“I want to put my footsteps in the snow here,” Hasenhuttl said, obviously not realizing he’s more likely to step in puddles in England. “I did it in the other clubs before and often had similar situations as we have at the moment and it’s back to the roots for me. Last year was maybe easier because I had a Champions League team and we were on a very high level with physical and tactical things. This step is not the easiest one but I never want easy in my life. I am always challenging myself. I am looking forward and I am not afraid of anything.”

Hasenhuttl delivered another witty line which suggests Southampton aren’t out of rocky waters just yet.

Asked what his first thought was after being approached by Southampton, Hasenhuttl referred to England’s South Coast city being where the Titanic set off on her ill-fated maiden voyage.  

“I was thinking about the Titanic leaving here, and I hope I don’t hit the first iceberg waiting for me,” Hasenhuttl said. 

Liverpool’s Klopp on facing Messi for the first time

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Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool is the only returning club in the UEFA Champions League semifinal, and the manager says that’s worth a bit of celebration.

“I’m happy for all the people in the club that it’s like this, second time in the second year in the semi-final,” Klopp said. “That’s a big statement. However you go there, it’s difficult. Everybody tries it and nobody did it in the last two years.”

[ UCL RECAPS: Man City-Spurs | Porto-Liverpool ]

That also means Klopp’s first “proper game” managing against Barcelona, and Liverpool’s first meeting with the Blaugranas since the 2006-07 UCL knockout rounds. All-time, the Reds are 3W-3D-2L versus Barca in European competition.

It also means an attempt to slow Lionel Messi, who at age 31 is in splendid form with 45 goals and 21 assists in 42 matches. Of those goals, he’s bagged 10 in eight Champions League appearances (two v. Manchester United, two v. Spurs, two v. Lyon, and four against PSV Eindhoven).

From LiverpoolFC.com:

“Thank God I don’t have to think about that tonight and thank God I have a few more nights to think about it! I think everybody tried it so far and nobody can really do it. We still will try it. But we are looking forward to it, but we have so many jobs to do before we meet Barcelona. So let’s first play these games and then let’s prepare for Barcelona. Then we will see. I have never played Barcelona in a proper game, so [it’s] my first time there and I’m looking forward to it.”

Messi went 90 minutes in his only appearances against Liverpool during that 2006-07 series, though he was 19 years old.

He’s just a bit wiser now, but remember it works both ways; As much as Klopp’s never had to stop Messi, he’s certainly had plenty of opportunity to watch what other managers have tried in bids to slow the Argentine. Could Klopp cement his tactical legacy and make another UCL Final, or will he just hope to outgun the genius of Catalonia?

This Alves stunner wasn’t enough for PSG to seal Ligue 1 (video)

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Paris Saint-Germain again failed to clinch the French league title after losing 3-2 at Nantes on Wednesday.

PSG could have sealed it this past Sunday and the weekend before that but picked up only one point from those two matches. The defending champion leads second-place Lille by 17 points with six games left and can celebrate at the fourth attempt by beating Monaco at home on Sunday, or if Lille fails to win at Toulouse earlier in the day.

[ UCL RECAPS: Man City-Spurs | Porto-Liverpool ]

It looked like the celebrations were on at Nantes when the veteran fullback Dani Alves put PSG ahead with a superb dipping shot from outside the penalty area. But the defense crumbled again, letting in an equalizer within four minutes, another goal just before halftime and a third shortly after the break to make it 10 goals conceded in three games.

PSG needed only a draw on Sunday to to seal the eighth league title in its history, but lost 5-1 at Lille – the biggest defeat since Qatari investors QSI took charge in 2011. Before that, PSG needed a home win against Strasbourg but drew 2-2.

PSG let in two goals against Lille from set pieces and did so again this time.

Center half Diego Carlos equalized when he headed in a corner from the left.

Then, one minute before halftime, right back Thilo Kehrer was easily knocked off the ball by Kalifa Coulibaly, and unmarked striker Majeed Waris finished at the back post. A corner from the left in the 52nd led to Carlos turning the ball in from close range, even with three PSG players around him.

Nantes, which moved up to 14th place, missed further chances before PSG substitute Metehan Guclu pulled a goal back in the 90th.

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

How the UCL results affect the Premier League title run-in

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The Premier League title may well be decided one week from now.

No, it won’t mathematically be impossible for Manchester City or Liverpool to catch the other, but the former’s exit from the UEFA Champions League certainly puts the season’s binoculars in better focus.

To recap: City trails Liverpool by two points but has a match-in-hand on its title rivals, a card which will be played next Wednesday across Manchester at Old Trafford.

[ UCL RECAPS: Man City-Spurs | Porto-Liverpool ]

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Liverpool 34 26 7 1 77 20 57 15-2-0 11-5-1 85
 Manchester City 33 27 2 4 86 22 64 16-0-1 11-2-3 83

It would be surprising if Liverpool finished with any less than 97 points given its remaining schedule, and downright shocking should the Reds lose a match (yes, we know red cards and penalties happen, and that Premier League does not yet employ VAR).

Liverpool faces Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United, and Wolves. The final two matches are in contact with a pair of Champions League matches against Barcelona, but dropping points more than once seems like a long shot.

By comparison, Man City has to rebound from Wednesday’s stunning thriller of a loss to Spurs with a rematch at the Etihad Stadium before making it three tough matches in eight days with a Manchester Derby on April 23.

Should Man City manage those two wins in five days, Pep Guardiola‘s men will (likely) have a one point lead on Liverpool with three matches left (two fewer than the Reds). If it comes to that, the advantage is squarely in Pep’s court.

Here are the remaining matches for both teams, not including the FA Cup Final or (possible) Champions League Final.

All times ET

Saturday – Man City v. Tottenham (7:30 a.m.)

Sunday – Cardiff City v. Liverpool (11 a.m.)

Wednesday – Man Utd v. Man City (3 p.m.)

April 26 – Liverpool v. Huddersfield Town (3 p.m.)

April 28 – Burnley v. Man City (9:05 a.m.)

April 30 – Barcelona v. Liverpool (TBD)

May 4 – Man City v. Leicester City (7:30 a.m.)

May 5 – Newcastle v. Liverpool (11:30 a.m.)

May 7 – Liverpool v. Barcelona (TBD)

May 12 – Brighton v. Man City -and- Liverpool v. Wolves (10 a.m.)

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Chelsea nurse advantages

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Only one of four Europa League quarterfinals sees two clubs within a goal of each other after 90 minutes, and that’s heavily-favored Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat of Slavia Prague in the Czech Republic.

So while it’s possible that the Czech side rebounds to take care of the Blues at Stamford Bridge, it’s rational to say that tie might be the least in the balance.

[ UCL RECAPS: Man City-Spurs | Porto-Liverpool ]

Olivier Giroud says Chelsea will not be overlooking the Red and Whites, if only because of the challenge presented in the first leg.

“We were very impressed by their quality and intensity,” Giroud said, from Chelsea.com. “You get used to it in the Premier League, but honestly the first half was very tough. They put a lot of pressure on us, good pressing all over the pitch, so it was a very tough. … So we know what kind of team we will face tomorrow. They are not going to give up, and that’s why we are still cautious about this game.”

Arsenal leads its tie 2-0 after the London-hosted first leg but faces a Napoli team quite capable of putting up goals in bunches.

Napoli averages almost two goals a match in Serie A this season, but Arsenal defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos says the Gunners can get the job done in Italy.

“I know my team,” he said via Arsenal.com. “I know that we are a team who play very good football. Every game we fight for the best. From the beginning we’ve improved a lot. Now we’re in the last steps of the Premier League and Europa League, and we want to win as much as we can. This is one more final and we’ll be ready to take this.”

Eintracht Frankfurt bagged four away goals and a two-goal advantage in Portugal, leaving Benfica in likely need of a three goals or better win, while Valencia scored three times at Villarreal to bring a two-goal advantage home.

Kickoff for all four second legs is 3 p.m. ET