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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. 

Robben claims Anfield to be his “worst stadium”

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What goes up must come down.

That’s essentially what Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben said before the German side heads to Liverpool to take on the Reds in Champions League play this coming week.

“You always have your favourite opponent and there always has to be a negative one,” Robben said to The Guardian. “I think, if you ask [about] the worst stadium for me, it’s probably Liverpool.”

Robben had a pair of Champions League heartbreaks at Anfield, both coming with Chelsea in 2005 and again in 2007. In the latter, Robben had a penalty saved by Pepe Reina in the shootout that sent the Reds to the final against AC Milan.

“At that time [Liverpool] were really capable of being this cup fighter team, also in the FA Cup or [League] Cup,” Robben said of those difficult memories. “In one or two games they could really live up to it and perform; just not the whole season, which was maybe too much. That was their biggest quality: they were there at the moment they needed to be there.”

“Now I think it changed and they developed really well. The manager has done a great job.”

Robben is a doubt to even play in the match due to a thigh injury, and that will probably help Jurgen Klopp sleep at night. The German boss saw Robben score nine goals against Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund across all competitions, including the decisive goal in the 2013 Champions League final in the 89th minute.

PSG chasing another kid named Kylian Mbappe

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What’s in a name? Probably a lot for the 11-year-old named Kylian Mbappe whom Paris Saint-Germain is reportedly interested in signing.

While his older namesake is hailed as the best young player in the world playing for PSG’s senior team and the world champion French national team, younger Kylian Mbappe currently plays for Roissy-en-Brie, the same youth club Paul Pogba played for as a young child before moving to Le Havre’s youth system and then Manchester United.

According to the child’s father, PSG has made an approach to add him to their youth ranks, but the family is taking its time to make a decision about Mbappe’s future.

“He will do what he wants and we will not push him at all costs to become a professional footballer,” said the boy’s father Eric, who is Cameroonian, just like the father of older Kylian Mbappe. “If it is the case that he goes to PSG, who have approached us, we would of course become closer to the other Kylian.”

“I have often been asked if I did it on purpose to call my son what his name is,” Eric added, speaking to French publication Le Parisien. “People quickly forget that there is only an 8-year age difference between the two and so obviously he was not a footballer when my son was born.”

Child Kylian said, “Since the other one became big, I have got used to it. I don’t even pay attention to it even if it generally makes me feel good. I am a PSG fan, I would like to have the same career as him.”

Wouldn’t we all, Kylian, wouldn’t we all.

Balotelli scores again for new club Marseille

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Mario Balotelli sure does love joining a new club.

Balotelli scored in just his second professional match with Inter in 2008. He scored a winner in his first Manchester City appearance in 2010 in Europa League play and bagged a brace in his second Premier League start. He scored seven goals in his first six league matches with AC Milan in 2013. He scored five goals in his first three Ligue 1 appearances for Nice. And now, after signing for Olympique Marseille in the winter transfer window, he is on a tear again.

Despite failing to find the back of the net the entire first half of the season as his Nice career came to a close, in four appearances for Marseille since joining in late January, Balotelli has scored three goals, his latest coming on Saturday as Marseille topped Amiens 2-0 to move above St. Etienne into fourth in the Ligue 1 table.

The 30-year-old Italian is clearly loving life at the Stade Velodrome, as he poked fun at his own teammate with his goal celebration. Florian Thauvin had scored the opener 19 minutes in, but pulled up lame after striking his shot, muting the celebration somewhat. He managed to stay in the game, and when Balotelli scored just six minutes later, he began to mock Thauvin’s injury by pretending his own hamstring was hurt. Thauvin was loving the joke, even joining in to poke fun at himself.

While it’s been an up and down season for Marseille as they fight for their Champions League lives, the club has won three in a row ahead of absolutely critical matches against Stade Rennais and St. Etienne on the horizon. The club then hosts Nice, Balotelli’s old club, where he enjoyed a fabulous start to his time there which served as a sort of revival for the Italian after struggles at Liverpool and AC Milan.

It remains to be seen if Balotelli can enjoy an extended stay at Marseille and prolong his success or if it is just a flash in the pan, but he’s obviously become an important figure in the moment, and Balotelli has always been about the moment.

Sanchez speaks about Man United struggles

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Alexis Sanchez has been a bit-part player this season at Manchester United under two different managers, and it’s beginning to take its toll.

The 30-year-old Chilean admitted in an interview with BBC’s Guillem Balague that the lack of playing time at Old Trafford is sapping his enjoyment of the game, and his inconsistent time on the pitch is feeding his poor form.

“I’m a player that, if I’m not in contact with the ball, I lose that spark,” Sanchez said, “and sometimes I want to play in every game. You’re in, you’re out, and I’m used to playing.

“It’s not an excuse because if I go on for 10, 20 minutes, I have to perform because that’s what I’m here for, to make a difference. I would like to have brought more joy to the club. Yes, it worries me because I believe in my abilities as a player, I want to show it.”

Sanchez has made 14 Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season, with just six of those coming from the opening whistle. A hamstring injury at the start of December is a major culprit of his lack of playing time this season, but so has been a lack of the creativity that he showed at times during his time at Arsenal. Sanchez has just one goal and three assists in 615 Premier League minutes this season, far below what the team likely expected he would provide.

“Within the group there was that feeling that you were in the team, then out,” Sanchez said of the squad’s waning confidence in Jose Mourinho before he was fired. “Sometimes I didn’t play, then I did, then I didn’t and as a player you lose confidence. I’ve played football since I was five and if I have the ball taken away from me, it’s as if I lose my joy.”

With 12 matches remaining in the Premier League and a tight battle for the Champions League places under way, Sanchez will have plenty of opportunities to make his mark, but he will need to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup moving forward.