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Jan Bednarek: the latest gem unearthed by Southampton?

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SOUTHAMPTON — The fans at Southampton call him the Polish Maldini. That tells you everything you need to know about how highly regarded Jan Bednarek is at Saints.

At 22 years of age, Bednarek is one of the first names on Southampton’s teamsheet and he’s enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past 12 months. He has now kicked his game on to new levels under new Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.

He throws his head in where it hurts, pulls off stunning last-ditch blocks and tackles, and his no-nonsense defending has seen him become a growing cult figure at Southampton. It has all happened rather quickly, too.

Last April he made his first start in the Premier League after arriving from Lech Poznan the previous summer for $7 million. He scored on his PL debut, a 3-2 defeat to Chelsea, and since then he’s played a pivotal role in Saints’ dramatic survival from relegation last season, scored a winning goal for Poland at the 2018 World Cup and is now one of the top emerging defenders in the Premier League.

Not too shabby. But sat in his training kit as the sun beats down on Southampton’s Staplewood training base, Bednarek is focused on one thing: beating Premier League title chasers Liverpool on Friday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at St Mary’s.

“The thing is, we need three points,” Bednarek says, matter of factly. “Of course, they fight for the title but the main thing is winning three points. We are going to fight for that. The main thing is to be brave. To do our best and we will find out after the game what we will happen… What I learned in England is that there are no easy games. We know their threat and all the great players they have, live Virgil Van Dijk who was here, and many others. Every single game is difficult. You have to do your best and focus on what you have been doing your whole life.”

One of the first things Hasenhuttl did when he took charge of Saints back in December was to bring in Bednarek from the cold. He had been bizarrely frozen out by Mark Hughes at the start of this season, but since Hasenhuttl arrived and Bednarek returned to the team, Saints have beaten Tottenham and Arsenal at home among seven wins which has seen them pull away from the relegation zone.

With Hasenhuttl’s side winning 24 points from his first 16 games in charge, Saints are on a huge upward curve.

Their high-pressing style is similar to that of Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool (Klopp and Hasenhuttl did their coaching badges together in Germany) and they have regained their identity as the PL’s plucky upstarts. The atmosphere is now a positive one at St Mary’s, a place where they hadn’t won until early December this season.

“We are playing better as a team, and it is obvious that if we are playing better the atmosphere is going to be better,” Bednarek said. “The fans can see that we are getting better and better. They can see that if they push us forward we are going to do better. It is good. We need to keep going as a team and it will be even better.”

Bednarek also lifted the lid on what it is like behind-the-scenes at Saints’ training ground with Hasenhuttl implementing plenty of discipline and promoting young players from their famed academy to mix things up.

The Austrian coach has talked about how he keeps an eye on the amount of time players spend playing video games, while he also hands out a different sort of fine. It doesn’t come down to finances, but asking players to instead work in the club shop or put on training sessions for youth teams if they are late, don’t leave their locker tidy or anything of that nature.

“At the moment everyone is aware of it and everyone is afraid of the fines,” Bednarek laughed. “There hasn’t been a situation where someone has to spin the wheel. I think that is good that everyone is disciplined and everyone have the respect and needs respect the rules at the training ground.”

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Bednarek’s focus has been key to his rise at Saints, with the defender hiring a mental coach from the Poland national team to help him with the mental side of being an athlete. During his long spell on the sidelines at the start of this season, he admitted it was tough but the mental coaching helped him stay fit and focused for when his opportunity arrived.

At a club famed for bringing through young talent, Bednarek said getting the chance to play as a youngster was his main motivation to join the South Coast club. Saints currently have one of the youngest teams in the PL, and Bednarek believes they can field a team entirely under the age of 23 in the future, if the right situation arises.

The towering Polish defender also revealed he likes to get away from it all by going on walks with his dog, Candy, and his girlfriend Julia in the Hampshire countryside. But most of the time he likes to relax on days off from the gruelling training sessions put on by Hasenhuttl and his staff.

Growing up in Poland, Bednarek played in goal and as a striker with his older brother Filip, who plays as a goalkeeper in Holland, but said there wasn’t a defender he liked and wanted to imitate.

However, he admitted he now looks at Liverpool’s star center back Virgil van Dijk — the Reds bought VVD for a world-record fee for a defender from Southampton last January for $100 million — as the best player in his position in the world and someone he wants to emulate. Bednarek played with VVD for six months last season, and he has clearly left an impression on him.

“There were many players I liked, like Zidane, Ronaldo, but there was not a center back that I followed,” Bednarek said. “At the moment, when I started to play in this position I watched [Giorgio] Chiellini, I watched [Sergio] Ramos, now it is [Virgil] van Dijk. When you watch them you can improve. There are so many great players you can watch and keep improving.”

Many great players have learned and improved at Southampton in the past, and Bednarek is in line to be the next gem they’ve polished to perfection.

West Ham hands Watford another home loss as record-signing Haller shines

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West Ham United’s record signing has manager Manuel Pellegrini feeling great and Watford boss Javi Gracia looking over his shoulder.

The Irons took care of Watford 3-1 at Vicarage Road on Saturday, with Sebastien Haller having a role in all three goals during a brace-bagging performance.

[ MORE: How did Pulisic perform v. Norwich?

Watford falls to 0-3, high hopes sincerely grounded having lost to Everton, Brighton and Hove Albion, and now West Ham. Two of those losses came at home, a year after the Hornets remarkable 2018-19 season ended with eight losses at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 


Three things we learned

1. Seb’s star show: West Ham United fans will be watching their big center forward closely this season as the club hopes it has its long-sought answer to the center forward position. Haller’s sensational pass helped the Irons earn a third-minute penalty, and he raced to the doorstep to deposit Felipe Anderson‘s second-half cross. After 15 goals and nine assists for Eintracht Frankfurt last season, Haller is every bit the multi-faceted playmaker required for the position. Will he be able to keep it up.

2. Don’t forget Felipe: West Ham’s transfer record holder prior to Haller’s arrival was as electric as ever. The Irons holding onto him this summer may’ve had a little bit of luck involved, but it was also a stroke of genius.

3. Will Hughes the silver blonde lining: The 24-year-old midfielder was very decent in defeat, getting an assist on Andre Gray‘s clinical equalizer before it all went back to poor form for the Hornets.

Man of the match: Haller


Noble’s penalty came after a clearly-fouled Manuel Lanzini launched himself into the air for what was a stonewall foul.

Gerard Deulofeu smashed a shot off the cross bar in the 7th minute after a terrific cross-18 through ball.

West Ham looked wide open in the midfield and allowed Hughes to show a bit of wizardry in cueing up Gray for his well-taken goal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The teams continued to battle well for the points in entertaining fashion, and it was West Ham’s all-time transfer buys who delivered the winner.

Anderson‘s cross through traffic met Haller at the back post for a hopeful winner, and Haller later made it two.

Djenepo stunner downs Brighton after Andone straight red

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It wasn’t that long ago that these two teams faced off in League One…nine years ago, to be exact. Now, both Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion are established top flight sides and looking to build.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

One of those building blocks for Southampton is young Mali international Moussa Djenepo who announced himself to the Premier League on Saturday with a thumping second-half goal that put Southampton through against 10-man Brighton 2-0, with Nathan Redmond adding the second late as Brighton was caught forward for an equalizer.

The win gave Southampton its first points of the campaign, while Brighton was dropped for the first time in the new season.

The Seagulls were the better side until Florin Andone earned a deserved sending-off for a horror challenge on Yan Valery. Dan Burn had the ball in the back of the net but VAR ruled it out for offside, and the halftime break saw Southampton regroup with the advantage and take charge for the final 45 minutes. Brighton, however, did have spells of possession throughout the second half that will worry Southampton supporters moving forward given the man and scoreline advantage.


Three things we learned:

  1. Brighton looks more dangerous than last season going forward, a positive sign for those who saw the Seagulls struggle to score last season. Before the red, they were by far the better side, and even after falling a man down they had moments of positivity despite being forced back. Graham Potter refused to bunker in after the red, something supporters will appreciate, and they had chances to get back in the game down the stretch.
  2. VAR continued to correctly apply the laws of the game. Lewis Dunk had a potentially stunning opener after going a man down, but it was disallowed as Dan Burn all alone and very offside backed goalkeeper Angus Gunn to the ground. It could have easily been given as a foul, but instead VAR wiped it off for offside, also a fair call as he interfered with play. While some may not like how intrusive the technology has been, it has done a solid job of applying the laws to the game, albeit in a somewhat clunky manner.
  3. Southampton will take the three points no questions asked, but there is no doubt the Saints need to improve. They were second-best for much of the game, even at times with the advantage, and could have been pegged back with an embarrassing result. They were out-passed in the attacking third and nearly doubled up in chances created despite an hour-long man advantage.

Man of the Match: Youri Tielemans


Brighton was the most dangerous team early on and had a number of chances in the opening 20 minutes. Off a set-piece, Neal Maupay got his head to a seventh minute corner at the back post but he didn’t have the necessary accuracy and goalkeeper Angus Gunn also got a slight touch to keep it out. They had another chance from a 3 v. 1 short corner off the training ground minutes later but Dan Burn whiffed on his open header at the doorstep. Then Martin Montoya put a long-distance header wide left on the 20-minute mark.

With the game calming down past the half-hour mark, out of nothing, the match turned on its head as Brighton’s Andone produced one of the most shocking challenges you will see, with a heavy touch on the ball followed by a studs-up lunge straight into the leg of Valery, who was lucky to come out of the collision unscathed. Referee Kevin Friend showed absolutely no hesitation in sending Andone off.

The opener came on 55 minutes when Djenepo collected the ball in space outside the top of the box and as nobody closed him down, he unleashed a fabulous curler that found the top corner and opened his Premier League account having just come off the bench two minutes earlier. He created the space required thanks to a slight touch inside to his right before

Nathan Redmond came close to putting Saints two-up and burying the game, but he put his low chance just wide right on 64 minutes. Jurgen Locadia had Brighton’s biggest chance to get back level, hammering the post with a volley on 87 minutes on a tight-angle chance he should have deposited in the back of the net. Southampton made them pay, killing off the game in the first minute of stoppage time as a low cross from Sofiane Boufal found a sliding Redmond at the doorstep for a 2-0 lead.

Palace stuns wasteful Manchester United at the death

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Manchester United found a way to throw away a dominant performance through more penalty drama and a poor late concession from its well-paid goalkeeper.

Crystal Palace had not beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford since 1989, and never topped the Red Devils in the Premier League era, but now has a 2-1 Saturday win for its resume.

Daniel James‘ 89th minute goal seemed to have given United a result for its controlling effort, letting Marcus Rashford off the hook for a missed penalty, but De Gea allowed Patrick Van Aanholt to score a near post, stoppage time winner with poor goalkeeping after Paul Pogba was caught in possession and allowed Christian Benteke to spring a rush.

[ MORE: How did Pulisic perform v. Norwich? ] 

Marcus Rashford smashed an effort off the post less than a week after Paul Pogba saw his effort saved at Wolves.

VAR absolved Palace of a possible first half red card and seemingly clear second half penalty, and Jordan Ayew scored on the Eagles’ only true chance of the morning.

James set the game level with a gorgeous strike after quickfire, clinical passing in the 89th minute.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

United has now won just three of 15 matches in all competitions since defeating PSG in the UEFA Champions League.


Three things we learned

1. MORE PENALTY DRAMA: Yes, all caps. Should we bold, too? After Anthony Martial raced to make sure Marcus Rashford would take United’s 70th minute penalty, the English youngster did what Paul Pogba did and missed his chance. Rashford smashed off the post.

2. Everyone can finish a glorious chance (even Palace): Roy Hodgson‘s goal-starved Eagles needed a bit of help to get on the score board, and Ayew’s finish came on Palace’s first touch inside the Manchester United 18. Victor Lindelof underestimated Schlupp in the challenge, and Ghanaian won a Vicente Guaita goal kick onto the path of Ayew. 1v1 with De Gea, he didn’t miss.

3. The kid’s got flair: Daniel James’ second finish in three PL matches for United was a beauty, a quickly snapped side-of-the-foot offering that swam over the gloves of a flailing Vicente Guaita. The 21-year-old’s $20 million transfer tag looks pretty justified early.

Man of the match: Martial


United was far and away the better team in the match, aside from Marcus Rashford’s penalty miss.

The Red Devils had VAR work against them on three separate occasions, and only one really passed the smell test. While we’ll acknowledge that the VAR crew knows what it’s watching far more than us, Gary Cahill getting off the hook for a take down of clearly through Anthony Martial and the same Frenchman being denied a penalty shout after Martin Kelly put off his shot effort with some since groping will be watched again and again.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Before all that, though, Ayew scored with Palace’s first touch in the United 18.

Barnes thumper sees Leicester City past Sheffield United

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Jamie Vardy and Oli McBurnie cancelled each other out, but young Harvey Barnes produced a moment of brilliance to see Leicester City through for their first win of the young season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Barnes’ second career Premier League goal was an absolute stunner, coming just six minutes after he entered the fray at Bramall Lane off the bench. The 21-year-old unleashed a rifling volley that saw the Foxes through, with Kasper Schmeichel and the Leicester City defense preserving the lead over the final half-hour.

Another youngster, Hamza Choudhury, covered himself in glory across the 90 minutes in a defensive midfield position, covering the back four well and keeping Leicester City comfortable in defense as Sheffield United looked for an equalizer down the stretch.


Three things we learned:

  1. Poor touches in midfield can be dangerous. Chris Basham will be kicking himself for a cheap giveaway right on the halfway line that directly lead to Vardy’s opener. It came out of nothing more than slight pressure from behind, and put the Foxes in with Sheffield United’s back line pressing higher on the ball. Midfielders have to be better, especially if Sheffield United has any long-term prospects of staying in the Premier League next season.
  2. Boy can Leicester City run a scything counter-attack. The goal came on a gifted counter, but they ran others that deserve plaudits as well, including one just after halftime that saw Vardy combine well with James Maddison and new boy Ayoze Perez, with the latter ending up with just too tight an angle to finish from. Do not give the Foxes any opportunities to break, because it will not end well for you.
  3. Leicester City continues to be the sum of its parts. Some teams repeatedly struggle to implement quality brought in via the transfer window, but the Foxes have been one of the best and adding talent that truly improves the club as a whole. James Maddison is a brilliant addition, Ayoze Perez is contributing up front, and Harvey Barnes – brought in from West Brom last winter – is making his presence known. 21-year-old Choudhury, a recent youth team promotion, also performed fabulously at the back to preserve the victory.

Man of the Match: Hamza Choudhury.


The first 20 minutes of the match were incredibly sloppy, with Leicester City holding the majority of possession but doing very little with the ball in an attacking sense and unable to put anything together going forward. The first chance of the match fell to Sheffield when George Baldock rifled a one-time volley towards the top corner a half-hour in but it had little movement and Kasper Schmeichel collected easily despite solid pace on the effort.

Leicester City went in front out of relatively nothing seven minutes from halftime as Chris Basham lost the ball in midfield leading to a vicious counter from the Foxes. James Maddison sent through a ridiculous ball forward with the outside of his boot, lofting it over the scrambling defenders to Jamie Vardy, and the England striker made no mistake with a thumping finish at the near post.

The Foxes looked more likely to score a second than Sheffield United did an equalizer, but against the run of play McBurnie bagged his first Premier League strike. Baldock came good from his earlier mistake with a fabulous delivery from extremely deep on the right flank and it found the head of the former Swansea man who buried the chance to level the scoreline.

That wouldn’t last long, however, as Barnes was on hand to collect the ball off the head of Caglar Soyuncu and rifle it one-time before it hit the ground, delivering an absolute howitzer into the top corner for a moment of brilliance that put Leicester City in front for good. Schmeichel was required to preserve the three points with 15 minutes to go, somehow parrying a close-range effort by John Lundstram he should have scored from. Sheffield pressed for an equalizer but Leicester City’s defense was up to the task, locking things down for the win.