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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.

Deeney considers training return after talking with top doctor

Troy Deeney
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Watford captain Troy Deeney is considering a return to training after some of his concerns were allayed by a leading doctor.

Deeney, 31, declined to return to training last week due to fears of spreading the coronavirus to his five-month-old son, who struggles from breathing difficulties.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

He also expressed concerns over how the virus has disproportionately affected the black community.

Deeney stated he never said his absence from training was permanent and that talks with Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, have helped him.

From Sky Sports:

“I’m potentially going to go in next week. Even if it’s just to have a conversation. I’ve already been in dialogue with all the players and all the management.”

Deeney also said he received some vile abuse directed at his son following his first comments, which is disgusting but unfortunately not surprising.

Watford is currently outside the Premier League drop zone on goal difference, one of three teams on 27 points. Deeney’s six goals share the team lead with Ismaila Sarr, and the veteran has scored 129 goals in his Hornets career.

Hornets goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes said this week that Watford “cannot afford” to be without the striker and that he believed the environment is very safe. Hopefully all things work out for Deeney and his family.

Bundesliga: Takeaways from Germany’s midweek matches

Bundesliga team of the week
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This midweek was all about Bayern Munich, who will win its eighth-straight Bundesliga title next month unless it suffers a shocking and historic collapse.

Bayern Munich’s 1-0 Tuesday defeat of Borussia Dortmund took the steam out of their Klassiker rivals’ title hopes, and it only got worse for fans wanting the title race to stretch deep into June.

[ MORE: Davies shines again | McKennie scores ]

Any club within shouting distance declined to raise a hand in protest, with RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach drawing lower-half sides and Bayer Leverkusen forgetting how to defend in a blowout home loss to Wolfsburg.

So now a Bayern team which has not lost in 14 matches, winning 13 of them, will need to fail miserably over the final six matches while someone else will need to take all 18 points available to them.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Der Klassiker ]

Good luck with that.

Bayern’s six remaining matches were enough to think there would be a title fight if Dortmund at least drew the reigning champs but find the eight dropped points that would allow a perfect BVB to pass them:

Saturday – v. Fortuna Dusseldorf
June 6 – at Bayer Leverkusen
June 13 – v. Gladbach
June 16 – at Werder Bremen
June 20 – v. Freiburg
June 27 – at Wolfsburg

Maybe next year, because it’s incredibly unlikely this year.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]


Nagelsmann rages as Leipzig blows chance

RB Leipzig won’t have liked Bayern Munich beating Dortmund — it would’ve likely preferred a draw, but it would’ve liked almost everything else it liked on the scoreboard Tuesday.

So to allow an early goal off a set piece to bottom-half (but admittedly in-form) Hertha Berlin and then toss away the good fortune of taking a 2-1 lead despite being down a man is just terrible.

This is a Leipzig side which defends so well and entered the match week having allowed the league’s fewest goals.

“We started well, but fell behind because we defend a set piece like a school team,” Nagelsmann said after the game. “We simply did nothing, everyone is standing in position, yet (Grujic) could finish with his foot in the box. This is the second time in a row in a home game that we conceded from a set piece. We have to blame ourselves for this. We’re happy that we scored another point, but I’m not happy at all.”

Leipzig has a manageable run into the final day aside from a Dortmund visit. Nagelsmann’s boys otherwise face Paderborn, Koln, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Augsburg, and an uneven Hoffenheim. They had some hope of catching Bayern and gaining sharpness for the Champions League, but only the latter looks likely after dropping two points to Hertha


Player of the Week

Austrian youth international Christoph Baumgartner has been moved all over the pitch this season, but he was a wizard in the final third as an attacking midfielder.

Hoffenheim rebounded from a terrible first two matches since the return from the coronavirus pause to beat Koln 3-1 on Wednesday, red cards going to each team.

Baumgartner did his damage early in scoring twice and adding an assist in building a 3-0 lead. He had two key passes, was four-of-four in take-ons, and won eight of 11 duels over 77 minutes.

Still 20 until Aug. 1, Baumgartner six goals and four assists in his first Bundesliga season.

And he’s got audacity for days. Look at this drag and drop assist to Steven Zuber.


BEST XI

Sommer (Gladbach)

Baku (Mainz) — Boateng (Bayern) — Pongracic (Wolfsburg) — Davies (Bayern)

 Grujic (Hertha) — Kimmich (Bayern) — Arnold (Wolfsburg)

Baumgartner (Hoffenheim) — Grifo (Freiburg)

Hennings (Fortuna)

Notes

  • Croatian center back Marin Pongracic was one of several big names to leave Salzburg in January, and the big man delivered for Wolfsburg in a big way with two goals in a 4-1 win over Bayer, also making four clearances, blocking two shots, intercepting two passes and winning four of six duels.
  • Fortuna needed a win in a bad way, and two come back against Schalke has to feel good. Veteran striker Rouwen Hennings turned back the clock and scored his 12th of the season in the win and first since before Christmas.
  • Gladbach’s 0-0 draw with Werder Bremen would’ve been worse if not for goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Bremen forced seven saves out of the veteran, who passed at 83 percent and completed 8 of 13 long balls.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]


SCORES

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Bayern Munich — RECAP | Kimmich reacts
Werder Bremen 0-0 Borussia Monchengladbach — RECAP
Eintracht Frankfurt 3-3 Freiburg — RECAP
Bayer Leverkusen 1-4 Wolfsburg — RECAP
RB Leipzig 2-2 Hertha Berlin — RECAP
Augsburg 0-0 Paderborn — RECAP
Union Berlin 1-1 Mainz — RECAP
Hoffenheim 3-1 Koln — RECAP
Fortuna Dusseldorf 2-1 Schalke — RECAP | WATCH: McKennie’s goal

WEEK 29 SCHEDULE (Full season schedule here)

Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen — 2:30 p.m. ET Friday
Mainz v. Hoffenheim — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Wolfsburg v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Schalke v. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Hertha Berlin v. Augsburg — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Bayern Munich v. Fortuna Dusseldorf — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Union Berlin — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund — Noon ET Saturday
Koln v. RB Leipzig — 2:30 p.m. ET Monday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 28 20 4 4 81 28 53 10-2-2 10-2-2 64
 Borussia Dortmund 28 17 6 5 74 34 40 10-3-1 7-3-4 57
 RB Leipzig 28 15 10 3 70 29 41 7-6-1 8-4-2 55
 Mönchengladbach 28 16 5 7 53 34 19 9-2-3 7-3-4 53
 Bayer Leverkusen 28 16 5 7 53 36 17 7-4-3 9-1-4 53
 VfL Wolfsburg 28 11 9 8 40 34 6 4-6-4 7-3-4 42
 1899 Hoffenheim 28 11 6 11 39 48 -9 6-1-8 5-5-3 39
 SC Freiburg 28 10 8 10 38 40 -2 6-2-5 4-6-5 38
 FC Schalke 04 28 9 10 9 34 45 -11 5-6-3 4-4-6 37
 Hertha BSC Berlin 28 9 8 11 41 50 -9 4-3-7 5-5-4 35
 1. FC Köln 28 10 4 14 44 52 -8 6-3-5 4-1-9 34
 FC Augsburg 28 8 7 13 40 54 -14 5-4-5 3-3-8 31
 1. FC Union Berlin 28 9 4 15 33 48 -15 6-2-6 3-2-9 31
 Eintracht Frankfurt 27 8 5 14 44 52 -8 6-4-4 2-1-10 29
 FSV Mainz 05 28 8 4 16 37 61 -24 4-2-8 4-2-8 28
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 28 6 9 13 31 53 -22 4-4-6 2-5-7 27
 Werder Bremen 27 5 7 15 29 59 -30 1-3-9 4-4-6 22
 SC Paderborn 28 4 7 17 31 55 -24 2-2-10 2-5-7 19

Bundesliga wrap: Fortuna sinks Schalke, Hoffenheim flies

Bundesliga
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Goals and tired legs were everywhere in the midweek matches of the Bundesliga’s restart.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

First, the 10 men of RB Leipzig saw their title hopes drift away in a 2-2 draw with Hertha Berlin.

Then came the 2:30 p.m. ET kickoffs, which saw a wonderful goal from an American at Schalke and an even better assist from Hoffenheim’s Christoph Baumgartner.

Read on, as the relegation and seventh-place pictures swung a little on Wednesday.

Fortuna Dusseldorf 2-1 Schalke

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie’s diving header of a 54th-minute free kick gave goal starved Schalke a lift, but Fortuna Dusseldorf knocked it back to earth in painful fashion.

Rouwen Hennings and Kenan Karaman scored six second-half minutes apart as Fortuna picked up a huge three points for its bid to stay in the top flight. Fortuna moves a point back of safety and five points clear of 17th place Werder Bremen.

Schalke is now winless in 10 and sits ninth, dropping five points back of sixth-place Wolfsburg and two behind Hoffenheim. Seventh place may be enough for a Europa League spot.

The 21-year-old McKennie’s second goal of the season came in his 70th career Bundesliga match. It was just Schalke’s third goal since Jan. 17, and only two have come in the last seven (both from McKennie).

[ WATCH: McKennie’s diving header goal ]

The hosts dominated the early stages of the match but Schalke had the first real danger when Daniel Caligiuri used a slick flick and hard shot to force a fine save out of Florian Kastenmeier.

Fortuna had 76 percent of the ball at halftime and a 5-2 advantage in shots, but Everton loanee Jonjoe Kenny could’ve easily had it 1-0 to Schalke after the break had he got his foot around a Guido Burgstaller feed.

Kevin Stoger’s smashed free kick was only palmed into the air by Schalke keeper Markus Schubert in the 63rd minute and Hennings nodded the equalizer over the line from close range.

Hoffenheim 3-1 Koln

The red mist went both ways as 10-man Hoffenheim rebounded from a slow restart to Bundesliga life and collected a 2-0 home win over 10-man Koln.

Christoph Baumgartner’s two goals and an assist joined a 26th-minute red card for the visitors to build a 3-0 advantage, but Hoffenheim’s Benjamin Hubner picked up a second yellow in the 50th minute to put both sides down a man.

Jacob Bruun Larsen and Robert Skov played providers for Baumgartner and Steven Zuber also scored as Hoffenheim climbed into seventh with 39 points. Seventh could still be a Europa League spot depending on the winner of the German Cup.

Koln’s Florian Kainz scored at the hour mark but Mark Uth saw a late penalty saved by Oliver Baumann. Koln fails in a bid to join the top half and leaves Wednesday in 11th with 34 points.

Just look at Baumgartner’s pass on the third goal. He was absolutely feeling it.

Union Berlin 1-1 Mainz

A bonafide relegation six-pointer, Union and Mainz traded goals in the first 33 minutes before a second Robert Andrich yellow card put the hosts in danger of slipping closer to the relegation places.

Union remained strong at the back, with 15 tackles, 11 interceptions, and 15 clearances to collect a point and, more importantly, keep Mainz three points in the rear view mirror.

Union sits 13th with 31 points, while Mainz’s 28 is just one more than 16th-place Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Augsburg 0-0 Paderborn

Last-place Paderborn needs wins but collected its third-straight draw of the restart and remain dead last with 19 points.

The visitors will feel they were the better win on the day, out-shooting Augsburg 15-11 but missing two big chances.

Augsburg is now just four points clear of the bottom three with 31 points.

WATCH: USMNT’s McKennie scores diving header for Schalke

Weston McKennie goal video
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Schalke hasn’t been able to buy goals lately, but its USMNT midfielder went to the dirty areas to steal his side a Wednesday lead.

Weston McKennie’s diving header of a Bastian Oczipka free kick gave Schalke its third goal since Jan. 17. McKennie has Schalke’s only two goals in their last seven matches.

Schalke has four draws and five losses in the stretch, and has conceded twice since McKennie’s opener in the 10th match of the winless run.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

Take nothing away from the quality of McKennie’s 54th-minute goal.

The 21-year-old’s second goal of the season came in his 70th career Bundesliga match and 86th senior appearance for the Royal Blues.