Southampton dealt a reality check; Hasenhuttl “not afraid”

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SOUTHAMPTON — The euphoria around Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s first few weeks at Southampton did seem a little over the top.

And their 2-1 defeat at home against West Ham proved that there is still plenty of work to do if Saints are going to drag themselves further away from the relegation zone.

Despite his team going 1-0 up in the second half, Saints were well below par throughout their festive clash against an injury-hit Hammers side who were missing 10 regulars for the trip to St Mary’s. Nathan Redmond bundled Saints ahead controversially, but real quality from Felipe Anderson saw the Brazilian scored twice in six minutes to lead the Hammers to a deserved victory.

Speaking after the game, Hasenhuttl repeated his famous saying: “We don’t lose a game, either we win or we learn. And today was a big lesson.”

The biggest lesson of all was that his players were tired after they dug deep to secure back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time since May 2016.

“I think we didn’t have our best evening. Too many players didn’t perform how they did the last week or the week before, and although we didn’t we had a chance to win which is the good thing,” Hasenhuttl said. “You see what I tell my players, that this is the Premier League and if you make easy mistakes like we did on the second goal then you don’t deserve to win. First goal you can defend better. It was too easy how we gave our 1-0 lead away.”

The second goal was a rapid West Ham counter after a corner for Southampton was cleared, although it looked as though Jan Bednarek was clearly hauled to the floor by Declan Rice and Saints should have had a penalty kick. Hasenhuttl said VAR would have helped, but in truth his team deserved nothing against West Ham.

One thing that Saints keep doing this season is giving leads away and it will take the Austrian manager quite some time to kick that habit. They have now dropped a Premier League high 15 points from winning positions this season, and 12 of those have been dropped at home.

Saints had beaten Arsenal 3-2 and Huddersfield Town 3-1 heading into the West Ham game, but Hasenhuttl’s notoriously strenuous training sessions seem to have taken their toll during the busy festive period. His team gave the ball away cheaply time and time again and just didn’t have the energy to win it back high up the pitch.

“It was intense the last few games. We came out of position where we changed a lot. It was an intense time,” Hasenhuttl said. “I was expecting a time where you feel the freshness has gone, and the speed slows down. Today we made not so many deep runs. We made a lot of time the decision to play back. That was very different to the games before. Against a team which is so physically strong like West Ham, you don’t have time to play back. If you want to create chances, like we did a few times, you see when we play quick in the deep and we have deep runs, we create chances. When we turn back and wait until they are in their shape and balance, it is very, very difficult to score goals and make chances.”

“The last two wins helped us a lot to feel confident and feel that we just ran a lot but we didn’t feel it. Today you see after the 1-2, it was getting difficult every time. What you see is that the guys are trying until the end, they are trying to spring. Trying to attack. Trying to press. But you felt it was one step too late and when we had the ball the decisions were a little bit slower. It is always about turning forward and playing forward. And we played a lot of sides in the back, something like old behaviors we have seen today. I don’t want to see that in my game. From one day to the other, you cannot turn it completely off this behavior if you get tired, you get slow in your mind, you fall back into these old manners. We will try to give us the next step again. It is everything about showing them, learning video and watching and next time learn from the mistakes you made.”

Saints now face Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton and Leicester City in their next four games and all of a sudden they could be right in the thick of the relegation battle. Hasenhuttl admitted he would rotate his squad in the coming games, and is delighted to have captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg back from suspension and disappointed that teenage striker Michael Obafemi is out for a few weeks with a hamstring injury. It is quite clear he’d also like to add new players in January that suit his style of play better.

Yet with Saints old habit of coughing up leads kicking in, Hasenhuttl isn’t scared of what lies ahead. He knows the South Coast club aren’t anyway close to being out of choppy waters at the wrong end of the PL table.

“I am not worried but I know in the Premier League if not everything works in the right direction then it is easy to lose games,” Hasenhuttl said. “That is what we have seen today. But we also showed in the last week that we can also be the team which sets the power in the last 15 minutes like we did against Arsenal or against Huddersfield. I am not afraid about what will follow in the next few weeks. We knew we have a very good tough schedule in the next few weeks. That is the Premier League. We know it is a long journey until the end of the season and to save us in this division it will take all of the games we have. I guarantee that we work very hard until the end and then we will see what we will get.”

Atletico Madrid roster for MLS All-Star Game includes Felix

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Major League Soccer fans will get a good luck at one of the hottest prospects in world soccer when the MLS All Stars take on Atletico Madrid in next week’s MLS All Star Game.

Joao Felix, the $142 million 19-year-old, is among the roster announced by Diego Simeone for the match.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

Felix scored 20 times with 11 assists in 40 matches for Benfica before moving to Atleti in the summer. Those numbers include a hat trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarterfinals first leg.

The other stars will be there, too, provided no transfers happen in the interim. Koke, Thomas Lemar, Diego Costa, and Saul Niguez are in the squad.

New Atleti defender Kieran Trippier and longtime El Tri hero Hector Herrera will also be sure to help drive attendance in Orlando City.

The full roster is here.

Leagues Cup preview: MLS gets its next shot at Liga MX

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It’s not a typo; The s is very real.

The Leagues Cup — not the League Cup — is the new competition pitting Major League Soccer sides against some of the top sides from Mexico’s Liga MX.

The tournament has been expanded before it’s even seen a ball kicked in competition, as the second edition with go from eight to 16 teams.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

For now, though, we’ve got four American and four Mexican sides meeting over the next two months in a bid for North American supremacy not unlike a CONCACAF Champions League stripped of all the minnows.

Much like the CCL, the Mexican sides will be expected to triumph, even with all of the quarterfinals being staged in the United States.

Chicago Fire hosts Cruz Azul on Tuesday, followed by the LA Galaxy’s visit from Club Tijuana.

Wednesday will see the Houston Dynamo host Club America, and Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake.

The winners meet Aug. 20, while the final will be played Sept. 18 in Las Vegas.

There’s a lot of promise in this, and it gives MLS another chance to make some statements about the distance between it and Liga MX. The Mexican sides have flat out dominated the CCL, and it’s not difficult to make the same prediction for this tournament.

But, like many tournaments, it also gives success-starved clubs a chance to give their fans something big and their players a tonic. For Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s Chicago, for one, it’s a huge opportunity. And for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy, it’s a look toward another piece of silverware for one of the world’s biggest trophy cases.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.