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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.

LIVE, UCL: Tottenham, Man City both in action

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Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City are in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday, but both Premier League clubs face very different situations.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Spurs host Red Star Belgrade knowing they have to win to give themselves a decent chance of reaching the last 16, while Man City can make it three wins from three if they take care of Atalanta at home.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid head to Galatasaray, Juventus host Lokomotiv Moscow, PSG face Club Brugge and Bayern Munich take on Olympiacos.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s late games, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action live, while we will have you covered with a roundup of the action right here on Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League schedule

Group A
Club Brugge v. PSG
Galatasaray v. Real Madrid

Group B
Tottenham Hotspur v. Red Star Belgrade
Olympiacos v. Bayern Munich

Group C
Man City v. Atalanta

Group D
Juventus v. Lokomotiv Moscow

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Our latest Premier League player Power Rankings have landed.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Matchweek nine provided plenty of star performances, with eight new entries in our top 10. Man City, Chelsea, Everton and Leicester City are all well represented in our rankings this week.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


1. Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea) – Even
2. Youri Tielemans (Leicester City) – New entry
3. Marcus Rashford (Man United) – New entry
4. David Silva (Man City) – New entry
5. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – New entry
6. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – Up 12
7. Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – New entry
8. Daniel James (Man United) – New entry
9. Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford) – New entry
10. Theo Walcott (Everton) – New entry
11. Jorginho (Chelsea) – Down 8
12. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Down 2
13. Andre Gomes (Everton) – New entry
14. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 9
15. Dean Henderson (Sheffield United) – Even
16. Rui Patricio (Wolves) – Down 3
17. Gabriel Jesus (Man City) – New entry
18. John Lundstram (Sheffield United) – New entry
19. Danny Ings (Southampton) – New entry
20. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – New entry

Beckham’s stadium complex for Inter Miami taking shape

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Piles of steel sit at one end of the property, waited to be lifted into place. Workers were going in all directions, some pounding nails into wood, others ready to pour concrete, others driving heavy equipment over piles of dirt.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

For now, it’s a construction site.

Before long, Inter Miami will call it home.

“Organized chaos,” Inter Miami sporting director Paul McDonough said as he took a look around the site of the now-demolished Lockhart Stadium where work on a new complex is happening 12 hours a day, seven days a week. “But we’ll be ready.”

These are hectic times for McDonough and Inter Miami, the team headlined by soccer icon David Beckham that will embark on its inaugural MLS season starting early in 2020. The team doesn’t have a coach yet. Or players. Or a schedule. Or even the first blade of grass for its new pitch.

Over the next few weeks, all those issues – and countless others – will be addressed. Construction is on schedule, with all signals pointing toward everything being ready for the team’s first home match that’s likely to come in March.

Still, that doesn’t do much to help McDonough’s sleep cycle.

“This takes up a ton of time and everything keeps me up at night,” McDonough said. “But it’s OK. We’re just on an accelerated timeline. There’s so much stuff going on. But this is expansion. It’s awesome. Everything we’re doing here, we’re trying to do it right.”

At any given time, there are about 225 workers on the job site – the whereabouts of all of them tracked with an app that gets data from a chip attached to the back of their hard hats. If there’s lightning in the area, work gets halted for 30 minutes until the cell passes. And that’s a big deal, because even with next season still months away every minute counts.

Nothing is ready, yet – but it will be.

“The way it was built out, we’re thinking of the athlete first from the minute they walk in,” said Jacklyne Ramos, the team’s vice president of communications as she stood inside what will be the building containing the locker room and other key spaces for the team. “The main stadium, that’s for the games. Where we are now, this is where they’ll live.”

The Associated Press got a tour on Monday of what will be Inter Miami’s inaugural home. The shell of the team’s headquarters – locker rooms, equipment room, dining area, coach’s office, what will become the sports performance lab, the academy workout facilities and more – is coming together. Every detail has been thought of; the walk from the players’ parking lot to the building will be short, the training room will be small (“I don’t want them comfortable in there,” McDonough said), and an area will be built just off the outside wall of the locker room to air out cleats after training sessions.

“They’ll never be in the building,” McDonough said. “Boots can stink.”

Beckham spent about five years trying to get MLS back in South Florida, and after many sites were considered – there’s still plans for the team to eventually play in another stadium that Beckham and his partner Jorge Mas want built in Miami – they settled on the former Lockhart site. Lockhart is where the MLS’ Miami Fusion played from 1998-2001, eventually folding because of poor attendance.

The centerpiece of everything is the 18,000-seat stadium, and parts of what will become the field are already largely marked off. Drainage was installed first, followed by four inches of rock for a base. From there, sprinklers go into place and four thin pieces of wood are set in place to mark where the goalposts will go. About a foot of soil will be added in the coming weeks, watered and compacted and graded. Sod is scheduled to go in Nov. 14; from there, it’ll be protected and fenced off and finally, what now seems like an oversized sand pit right now will look like a place to play soccer.

Behind that are more fields, including a turf one can be used for high school football and other events. The other half-dozen grass fields will be for training and the team’s affiliate clubs.

A coach will be hired soon. A roster is coming. There are plans for a soft opening a few weeks before the season and then, when the first match is played all the mess and chaos will be forgotten.

“I wasn’t ready for this. I’m still not,” McDonough said. “I’m learning as we go. Conduits, positioning of poles, there’s so many things that you don’t realize until you live it. But that’s what it takes and we’re getting it done.”

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

Champions League score predictions: Week 3

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The pivotal third matchday of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage is here, and there are some tough clashes coming up for the four Premier League clubs.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Below we predict the scores for all 16 UCL games taking place over the next two days, with Tottenham needing a win at home against Red Star Belgrade to get their UCL campaign back on track, while reigning champs Liverpool face Genk, Chelsea heading to Ajax and Man City host Atalanta.

Elsewhere, Inter host Borussia Dortmund and Lille and Valencia do battle in a tasty clash, while the likes of Juventus, PSG and Bayern Munich face tricky but winnable tests.

Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday

Group A
Galatasaray 1-3 Real Madrid
Club Brugge 1-2 PSG

Group B
Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Red Star Belgrade
Olympiacos 1-2 Bayern Munich

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Dinamo Zagreb
Man City 3-2 Atalanta

Group D
Juventus 3-0 Lokomotiv Moscow
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen


Wednesday

Group E
Genk 1-4 Liverpool
Red Bull Salzburg 2-4 Napoli

Group F
Slavia Prague 1-3 Barcelona
Inter Milan 2-1 Borussia Dortmund

Group G
Leipzig 2-1 Zenit
Benfica 1-1 Lyon

Group H
Lille 2-1 Valencia
Ajax 2-1 Chelsea