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Premier League Preview: Southampton v. Tottenham

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Tottenham Hotspur, finally on the mend and nearing a full complement of first-team players, now find themselves without manager Mauricio Pochettino for Saturday’s clash with his former club, Southampton (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), as well as the March 31 trip to Anfield, following his post-game vitriol aimed at referee Mike Dean.

Harry Kane recently returned from six weeks out; Eric Dier is back from both an appendectomy and tonsillitis in quick succession; Victor Wanyama came back from nearly six months out himself; and Dele Alli is set to return on Saturday. The return of first-team figures couldn’t come at a better time for Tottenham, who are winless in their last three Premier League games (two losses), have seen their 10-point lead on all three of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United cut to just three, and must remain fresh ahead of the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Southampton, on the other hand, are fighting for their PL lives. 17th in the table, just two points and one spot clear of the relegation zone, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side finds itself in the midst of a treacherous run of fixtures: Arsenal and Man United in the rearview mirror; Spurs and Liverpool still to come shortly.

Last weekend’s game at Old Trafford was particularly hard on Saints, as they were great value for a point — if not all three — until the Red Devils broke their hearts very late on.

“It’s really hard. The guys are very, very disappointed after the game and I that they put everything on the pitch that was possible today and showed a fantastic performance,” Hasenhuttl said this week. “Mainly the first half, but also in the second half we showed that we were very, very focused on our match plan and we wanted to get something here. We were not far away from it and also after the 2-1 we did not stop attacking them and creating for us.”

Injuries

Southampton OUT: Mario Lemina (abdomen), Danny Ings (hamstring), Michael Obafemi (hamstring) | Spurs — OUT: Kieran Trippier (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Harry Winks (hip); RETURNING: Dele Alli (hamstring)

What they’re saying

Hasenhuttl, on the defeat at United: “(James Ward-Prowse) scored a fantastic free-kick, it was a gorgeous goal and it’s a pity that Lukaku decided the game for them. “To be proud is one thing but when you wake up tomorrow and you feel that you lost, nobody asks how you lost. It’s like every manager doesn’t like to lose and we had a big chance but it was not enough.”

Pochettino, on leaving Southampton: “A lot of people were disappointed when I left the club and they are not going to forgive, but I still love them. In one year and a half I spent there, it was a great experience. For different circumstances that are difficult to understand, I left the club.”I cried a lot when I left, my family too. It was one of the most important periods in my life. I hope we beat them Saturday, but I wish all the best to them.”

Prediction

Spurs showed a ruthless, a different level of know-how, in surviving and winning in a completely different manner this week away to Borussia Dortmund. Confidence will be sky-high, and Harry Kane looks back to very nearly his best. The mountain will be tough — too tough — for Saints to climb.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.

Carlos Vela scored a celestial goal. We are blessed to have seen it

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Carlos Vela is making all other spectacular individual MLS seasons look run of the mill.

I mean, look at the gumption on this guy.

[ VIDEO: Rooney sent off, Kamara scores golazo ]

The Cancun-born playmaker left the San Jose Earthquakes back line on the beach with a soft shoe routine to give LAFC its third goal in a 4-0 win on Thursday

Vela, 30, now has 25 goals and 11 assists in 25 league matches for LAFC this season. He added two goals and an assist in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play.

But this one, yeah, this one takes the cake.

First, there’s Vela’s non-chalant dummy before picking up the pass.

Then, there’s Florian Jungwirth’s body language during and after his being cooked with a nutmeg. That’s an entire mood.

Next, Vela dribbles around the keeper and allows a slide tackler so glide past him before finishing with aplomb.

Diego Rossi also had a goal and an assist, while Mark-Anthony Kaye continued his strong season with an assist to ex-Fiorentina prospect Joshua Perez. It’s a first MLS goal for the California-born Perez, now 21.

WATCH: Rooney sees red for forearm shiver, Kamara scores golazo

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Midweek MLS provided plenty to talk about on Wednesday, with two red cards and a golazo in one match alone.

The two main talking points from the New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over DC United weren’t really part of what led the victors to three points.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

How? Well, one of the world’s marquee names earned a red card via VAR and a returning star scores an absolute stunner, that’s how.

Here’s Ola Kamara’s debut marker for the Black-and-Red, adding to a record which included 49 goals in 97 matches between Columbus and the LA Galaxy before moving to the Chinese Super League for a wildly disappointing time with Shenzhen FC.

All of that is forgotten.

As for the Rooney incident, the Red Bulls already led 1-0 when DC’s star striker went forearm shiver on Cristian Casseres Jr.

It’s the second red of the season for Rooney, who is set for Derby County in January.

Amro Tarek was later sent off for the Red Bulls, who moved ahead of DC in the standings. Kaku and Daniel Royer had RBNY’s goals.

Newcastle takeover could be back on if in holiday relegation battle

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How much do Newcastle United supporters dislike their owner Mike Ashley right now?

Enough that this report is likely to condemn many to hoping their favorite club in the world is in the Bottom 3 come Christmas.

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The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas speculates that Ashley will lower his asking price for the club if it is in a relegation fight come December — something that looks certain after the Steve Bruce-led Magpies got bossed around by promoted Norwich City.

Nothing But Newcastle transcribed Douglas’ chatter from his podcast, in which he says,

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear more in December because there are still people sniffing around that football club and if the team are in the bottom three, there’ll be people thinking they can get a bargain out of Mike Ashley again. … He will probably more open to listening to lower offers in January and December which is what happened last December. He was basically saying ‘take it off my hands, you now have to take the risk’'”

This is notable for two reasons. First: the social experiment of wondering how many fans could see themselves rooting for their team to take a major and perilous back step just to see the back of a man they perceive is at the root of their failures (and that perception is widespread in this case).

But second, we can see if this rumor comes true because it’s difficult to imagine Newcastle as comfortably mid table by Christmas.

Fan protests and anger are nothing new, but here’s an effort to show how wobbly Ashley’s reputation is on Tyneside: Fans have taken to selling a black and white striped shirt with player name and number but no sponsor just so they can have a Newcastle jersey that doesn’t put money into Ashley’s pockets. And this is after he broke the club’s transfer record twice in one year.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few seasons, though, it’s that boycotts and anger will spur Ashley into insisting that he’s willing to sell and just conveniently enough it will be before the January transfer window. He “won’t be able to buy any players” with the takeover in play, and talks will hit a wall come late January, when they’ll loan a couple young players from Top Six sides.

Yes he spent significant money on Joelinton, Allen Saint-Maximin, and others this summer, but one decent window doesn’t make a culture. Count us amongst the skeptical, for now.

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener on Friday.

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

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