Southampton dealt a reality check; Hasenhuttl “not afraid”

Leave a comment

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.”

Manchester United: Solskjaer hopeful of new Paul Pogba contract

Paul Pogba contract
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is singing a new tune, hopeful that star midfielder Paul Pogba will stick around Old Trafford for the long term.

Reports say that United has an option to extend Pogba’s contract by an extra year beyond its 2021 expiry, but Solskjaer is thinking bigger. He has been praising Pogba plenty since the World Cup winner returned to the lineup.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

It’s a bit surprising given Pogba and his super agent’s constant time in the rumor mill, with Real Madrid often linked with the Frenchman. And that agent, Mino Raiola, has not been so nice when it comes to judging Solskjaer.

But Solskjaer is reportedly hopeful that Pogba can join Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and others in building a new power.

“I can’t comment on discussions between player and the club but. of course, we want to keep the best players around the club,” Solskjaer said. “We want to build a squad for the future and Scott and Nemanja are a similar position but at different stages in their careers. One at the start, one really experienced one.”

Pogba leads United in key passes per game with 2.3, though his minutes have been severely limited by injuries this season. He had 13 goals and nine assists last season, and turned 27 in March.

The way United’s performed in recent weeks it would not be a surprise if keeping its main talents while adding another stalwart center back and wing would propel it into a more serious table discussion.

Do you buy the idea that Pogba could be with United well into the future?

Suarez goal gives Barcelona win, relegates neighbors Espanyol

Espanyol relegated
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Seventh-place one season ago, La Liga mainstays Espanyol are being relegated from Spain’s top flight.

The final decision came at the hands of their Catalan neighbors Barcelona, who got a second-half goal from Luis Suarez to relegate Espanyol.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Espanyol are 11 points back of 17th place and can only capture nine more points this season following the 1-0 loss in a match where both teams had a player sent off.

Suarez’s goal was a nice one after Antoine Griezmann’s back heel pass to Lionel Messi saw the Argentine’s shot deflect onto the path of the Uruguayan finisher.

Espanyol had been in the top flight since 1994 and has only spent four single seasons outside La Liga since 1929. Leganes and Mallorca may join them soon.

Barcelona moves a point back of Real Madrid. Real has four matches left to Barca’s three and holds the tiebreaker.

Klopp reacts to Liverpool wins, says Henderson injury ‘not nothing’

Leave a comment

Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was a bit more what we’re used to from the Premier League champions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the post-match despite a highlight-reel show from Mohamed Salah, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp sounded an ominous note when asked about Jordan Henderson leaving the match with injury.

“I don’t know exactly but it was something with the knee I think. We know it’s not nothing.”

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Henderson’s not exactly a player to hit the deck unless he’s feeling pain, and Klopp removed him for James Milner with 10 minutes to play.

That’s about the only bad news from the win, as Liverpool became the first team this season to breach the 90-point mark and saw Salah’s brace move him within three goals of the Golden Boot lead.

Salah would only say, “Let’s take it game-by-game,” but it’s clearly on his mind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says the Egyptian is hungry to get a share of a third-straight Golden Boot.

From the BBC:

“He has his targets, he’s around the Golden Boot and it’s something he wants to retain,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s a world class player who scores so many goals for us and we try to get him on the board as much as possible.”

As for the match, Brighton almost as missed some big chances as Liverpool before the game was out of reach. Klopp admits that it was a challenge.

“We started really well,” Klopp said. “We had to adapt a little bit as we knew what they wanted to do but it was a little bit hard to defend. We left one or two players in a position where if we won the ball we had players in the counter-attack position. We got the first two goals with super balls but we could have scored more. I said to the boys at half-time they could have been 2-2 too. It was a nice game to watch.”

The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.

Liverpool march continues with 3-1 win at Brighton

Brighton - Liverpool recap
Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist in the first eight minutes of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday.

Salah is now three goals behind league leader Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool’s 92 points are 23 more than Man City. Jordan Henderson also scored for the Reds.

BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Leandro Trossard scored for Brighton, whose 36 points are nine clear of the bottom three with four matches to play (The 18th and 19th place sides do have a match each in hand).

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Liverpool’s 30 wins through 34 outings is a Premier League record and Jurgen Klopp’s men are chasing several PL records. The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.


Three things we learned

1. Salah somehow under the radar: Look, the Egyptian star’s 32-goal league season was an outlier. Not a lot of guys consistently hit 25, let alone the 30 mark in the Premier League. But Salah has rather quietly put together another amazing season with 19 goals and nine assists in PL play plus another four and three in cup competitions. Salah is one assist of joining the a small group of players to get double digit league goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

While it’s become sexy to praise Sadio Mane as the Reds’ top winger, Salah has been just as good. He could’ve had another goal in the 53rd but Mat Ryan made a fine intervention at close range. If Salah is under the radar, it’s because Liverpool has spread the wealth this season and had so many heroes in close matches. But boy, oh boy, is he their best weapon.

2. Lamptey shows glimpses, then youth: The sample size is very small, but 19-year-old Chelsea outcast Tariq Lamptey has played well at right back in most of his outings for Brighton since the return from the coronavirus pause. Lamptey was at blame for Liverpool’s third goal in both the chance conceded and actual finish from Salah, but the $4 million January buy looked well worth the price tag in a terrific first half at the Amex.

3. Seagulls still missing final ball: Brighton produced four big chances in the game to Liverpool’s two, but only put one in the back of the net (SofaScore). That’s sadly been par for the course this season, as Brighton’s style has been worthy of a top half place. Brighton entered the day with seven fewer goals than its expected goals total. Only Everton, Watford, and Norwich have been less fortunate.

Man of the Match:

Salah.


Brighton – Liverpool recap

Salah had a goal and an assist within 500 seconds of kickoff.

The Egyptian took a feed from Naby Keita to score off a Davy Propper giveaway and then set up Henderson’s second to have the Seagulls’ heads spinning early.

Brighton found a chance in the 19th but Neco Williams recovered with a slide to block Leandro Trossard from slotting a point-blank goal.

The Seagulls pulled within one just before halftime when in-form youngster Tariq Lamptey swept a cross into the mix for Trossard to punch home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Salah could’ve had it 3-1 at one end but Brighton’s Dan Burn asked the Egyptian to hold his drink with a butchered wide-open shot at the back post in the 60th minute.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t like the close score, and brought on Fabinho, Andy Robertson, and Sadio Mane in the second half. One of the players he removed, Naby Keita, had a strong hour before departing the contest.

Henderson almost produced a third Liverpool goal after a rare Lamptey error spring a chance that took a wicked turn off Dale Stephens.

The Reds made it 3-1 off the ensuing corner, Salah’s clinical header in front of Lamptey. Henderson limped off for Liverpool late in the contest.

Ryan denied Salah a hat trick in stoppage time and the Egyptian headed over the bar at the final whistle. He could’ve had five.