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.”

Report: Chelsea to renew contract talks with injured Hudson-Odoi

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According to a report by Matt Law of The Telegraph, Chelsea is gearing up to offer Callum Hudson-Odoi a new contract after the young English international ruptured his Achilles against Burnley on Monday.

Despite Maurizio Sarri‘s stubbornness this season regarding the young winger, Hudson-Odoi has forced himself into the regular Chelsea lineup as the Blues fight for a Champions League place down the stretch of the season. The 18-year-old had started the last four matches before the injury ended his season early.

Due to his inability to crack the lineup before the last month, Hudson-Odoi had reportedly handed in a transfer request and rejected all contract offers with the hopes of finding a new home where he would be more appreciated on the pitch. There were multiple reports that Bayern Munich was heavily interesed in Hudson-Odoi and that the German giants were preparing to make an enticing offer with the youngster’s current contract set to expire next summer. Now, however, things have turned in Chelsea’s favor in the long-term.

According to the Telegraph report, Bayern’s interest in Hudson-Odoi is likely to cool thanks to the injury that will likely see him miss the summer and the start of the next campaign. With this opportunity, Chelsea could come to Hudson-Odoi with a renewed contract offer that reflects his status as a first-team regular.

Hudson-Odoi’s Achilles tear is a brutal blow to Chelsea this season, with the club entrenched in a brutal battle with Tottenham, Arsenal, and Manchester United for the Premier League’s final two Champions League places, as all teams sit within three points of each other. Chelsea is also still fighting on another front as well, as the Blues have secured a place in the Europa League semifinals. While Hudson-Odoi only just recently cracked the Blues’ league lineup, he had been a regular in the Europa League rotation, scoring four goals in his nine European appearances this season.

Still, there could be a significant silver lining to his injury. Considering the likely departure of Eden Hazard this summer plus uncertainty around Chelsea’s ability to sign players in the coming transfer window, securing Hudson-Odoi’s future at the club could be an enormous boost long-term, even with the injury leaving him sidelined for a significant amount of time. Christian Pulisic is arriving this summer thanks to an already-completed deal with Borussia Dortmund, but the two players are more natural on opposite sides of the pitch and could potentially play together. In addition, should a transfer ban come down on the Blues, the club may not even be able to register Pulisic for the first half of the season, leaving an even bigger hole in the squad.

Before the injury, it appeared there was no way back for Callum Hudson-Odoi at his boyhood club. Having joined the club in 2007 when he was just six years old, keeping the teen around long-term would be monumentally positive news for Chelsea moving forward, even if the injury is devastating in the short-term.

Solskjaer backs himself to turn Manchester United around

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As things continue to turn sour at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is adamant that he can turn Manchester United around.

The Red Devils have lost four of their last five matches across all competitions, with each result proving more and more devastating. The latest loss, a 4-0 drubbing to Everton, cost Manchester United the opportunity to jump into the top four after  Tottenham, Arsenal, and Chelsea all dropped points above them.

With just four league matches remaining, time is running out for Solskjaer to take charge of the situation and secure Champions League play for next season amid a bitter fight with four teams vying for two positions. Still, the Norwegian believes he is the right man for the job now and in the future.

“I’m confident in my team and myself. I’ll be ready to take this challenge on,” Solskjaer said ahead of Wednesday’s enormous Manchester derby that could define their run-in to the end of the season. “I know it’s a big challenge and that’s why, when I came in here, I said I’m going to enjoy every single second. I don’t like losing but it’s a challenge all the managers at this club have had. When you go through bad results, you’ve got to be confident enough to say this is the way we’re going to do it and plan ahead.”

Solskjaer began his tenure in electrifying fashion, winning his first eight games in charge and making it 11 unbeaten, but since he was handed the permanent position at the start of March, things have taken a turn for the worst. The club has lost six of its last eight across all competitions, with elimination from the Champions League and the FA Cup to go along with Premier League losses to Everton, Wolves, and Arsenal. The heavy 4-0 defeat to the Toffees last time out sparked a meeting with the players to help diffuse some tension.

“We had a meeting after the game and all the players were definitely, definitely disappointed but really, really hurt by that performance and the City game is the perfect one,” Solskjaer said about the upcoming game against Manchester City. “There is no hiding place on the pitch and the fans will back you if you give that effort.”

With the all-important derby on Wednesday, Solskjaer sees it as the perfect opportunity to make a statement that the recent slip was a fluke and the team is ready to contend in every match. “We’ve got to be ready for their pressing, so we’ve got to defend well, got to be ready for their aggression, they will snap at your heels and kick you, there will be fouls, absolutely no doubt about it and when you watch those games they commit so many players forward.”

It doesn’t get any easier for United after the derby, with a game against Chelsea at Old Trafford up next in league play before closing out the campaign against Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City. The Red Devils sit sixth in the Premier League table on 64 points, two back of Arenal in front of them and three behind Chelsea and Spurs in third and fourth.

Ryan Babel states he will leave relegated Fulham at end of season

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Ryan Babel has been a bright spot for Fulham since joining in January, returning to the Premier League eight years after departing and displaying positive two-way contributions for the Whites despite their confirmed relegation to the Championship.

The 32-year-old now says he will leave the club at the end of the season, with the hope of staying in the English top flight. While Babel says he’s enjoyed his time at Fulham and is grateful for the opportunity for Premier League redemption, his hope of making the Euro 2020 squad with the Netherlands will see him look to remain at the highest level.

“I am at the stage where I have to make the right decision for my family and the future,” Babel told reporters. “I have enjoyed playing back in the Premier League and I need to play top-flight football next season to be playing at the the Euros if we qualify. I still think I have two or three years ahead of me and of course if I have the opportunity to stay in the Premier League, that would great. Staying in the Premier League would be my first choice.”

Since joining Fulham in January on a short six-month contract, Babel has been a regular in the Whites starting lineup, starting all 13 league games and contributing four goals and three assists, including three goals over the last five matches. He scored a goal and assisted another in the surprise win over Everton two outings ago and is enjoying playing under interim manager Scott Parker.

“I think the intensity of being a team without the ball has changed,” Babel said of the play under the new boss. “Fulham have been playing pretty well all season with the ball but without the ball was the problem. We were conceding, in my opinion, easy goals, and now it is two clean sheets so something has improved.”

One natural link for Babel to stay in the Premier League could be Newcastle. Current boss Rafa Benitez signed the Dutchman back in 2007 at Liverpool, and while there is speculation about Benitez’s immediate future at the club, should he stay there could be interest, with English tabloid The Daily Star already making that connection.

Babel will likely be one of many changes at Fulham this coming summer, with young Ryan Sessegnon also likely to leave the club as the Whites’ front office looks to contend with the fallout from last summer’s failed transfer market where the club spent over $100 million mostly on flops.

PL Tuesday Preview: Tottenham hosts Brighton, Watford faces Southampton

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Thanks to results from Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea over the past two days, Tottenham didn’t lose any ground to its rivals despite its own loss early on Saturday.

Now, Spurs has a chance to earn points to secure another top four finish and keep one of its rivals out when it hosts relegation-threatened Brighton and Hove Albion. Watford, meanwhile, hosts a Southampton side with three wins in its last five games.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE HERE


Brighton and Hove Albion v. Tottenham — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

This match should have just about everything as both sides will be desperate for all three points. Tottenham can take advantage of Arsenal, Man United and Chelsea’s failure to jump ahead or catch ground with a big win on the road, especially after the big win at Man City in the UEFA Champions League. Heung-Min Son showed that Tottenham fans won’t have to miss Harry Kane too badly as he recovers from another serious ankle injury, and Son will be expected again to score and have a big impact in the attack. The team received a boost as well, with Eric Dier returning to fitness and Hugo Lloris set to return to the lineup this week, if not this weekend.

Meanwhile, down in Brighton it’s been a different story all season. The Seagulls have just 34 points after 34 games, sitting just three points above the relegation zone. Before Saturday’s draw with Wolves, Brighton had lost four straight games in the Premier League and five in all competitions, including in the FA Cup semifinals against Manchester City. Now, with only the Premier League on its mind, Brighton can focus on finding an answer to its defensive and goalscoring woes. After a strong start, Glenn Murray hasn’t scored in seven games, and club-record signing Ali Jahanbakhsh has zero Premier League goals this season. Brighton will take one step closer to Premier League survival with a massive win over Tottenham. With Cardiff City facing Fulham this weekend, it’s crucial for Brighton to receive at least a point to maintain space between it and Cardiff.

INJURIES: Brighton and Hove Albion —  OUT: Davy Propper (hamstring), Anthony Knockaert (suspension). | Tottenham — OUT: Moussa Sissoko (groin), Harry Kane (ankle); DOUBTFUL: Harry Winks (groin); PROBABLE: Hugo Lloris (muscle), Eric Dier (illness)


Watford v. Southampton — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSports.com/Gold

While much of the Premier League drama focuses on the top four and the bottom three of the table, there’s quietly a very dramatic race for seventh place, which could still end up with a Europa League berth should Manchester City beat Watford to win the FA Cup (if Watford wins, only the fifth and sixth-placed teams would earn Europa League berths).

Watford is among a small group of four teams all within one point of another that could finish anywhere from seventh to tenth by the end of the season. Watford currently sits tied with Everton in seventh place and is looking for a third win in four Premier League games, though its last two wins were over Fulham and Huddersfield. One aspect Watford will have to work on in this match against Southampton is recording a clean sheet. Watford have conceded a goal in eight straight Premier League matches, their longest run this season without a shutout.

Southampton on the other hand are looking to bounce back from a 3-1 defeat against Newcastle. Like Brighton, Southampton is currently safe but still in a precarious situation, just five points clear of Cardiff and the relegation zone. Ralph Hassenhuttl has done a decent job in securing some breathing room for the Saints in his half-season at the club so far. If Southampton can replicate its form from its April 13 3-1 win over Wolves, in which Nathan Redmond scored a pair and even Shane Long found the back of the net, it will surely help towards Premier League survival. Also working in Southampton’s favor is that it has five wins, five draws and one loss in its last 11 matches against Watford.

INJURIES: Watford —  OUT: Troy Deeney (suspension), Jose Holebas, Tom Cleverley, Domingos Quina and Sebastian Prodl (all knee). | Southampton — QUESTIONABLE: Jannik Vestergaard (injury), Yan Valery (illness), Mario Lemina