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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.

Everton season restart preview

Everton season restart preview
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Everton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Toffees when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Located six points back of the top seven, Everton will hope their long pause allowed Carlo Ancelotti’s system to sink deeper into the minds of his Toffees players. A three-match challenge of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea which yielded a lone point would’ve left Everton feeling burnt and sour for a good, long time. Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s strong attacking seasons are ready for the rebound.

[ MORE: Ranking every Everton player in 2019-20 ]

The return to the training ground hasn’t come without worry; Yerry Mina suffered a quad tear and may be out for the season, while summer signing Jean-Philippe Gbamin has experienced another setback and won’t be able to pitch into the fight for Europe.


Tactical analysis: Whether it’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin alone up top or partnered with Richarlison, Ancelotti likes power in the final third. He’s deployed Gylfi Sigurdsson a bit further back at times, trusting that Fabian Delph or Tom Davies could handle the lion’s share of the dirty work. Everton’s full back pair is one of the best in the game, so much so that back-ups Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman would start an awful lot of places. The crosses will be whipped into the mix. The biggest questions remains in goal, as Jordan Pickford is an excellent shot-stopper who hasn’t been very good at that this season but can distribute at a very high level. That part of his game is why he’s still there, and could be a big part of the 2019-20’s conclusion.


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Pickford —–

— Sidibe— Keane — Holgate — Digne —

—– Gomes —– Delph —–

— Bernard — Sigurdsson —  Richarlison —

—– Calvert-Lewin —– 

There are still plenty of questions here, with Alex Iwobi, Tom Davies, Seamus Coleman, and Theo Walcott would love to get their places in this XI. Mina’s injury means Micheal Keane will need to find his form of last season or even the one before that (or the one before that).


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Liverpool, Leicester City, Southampton, Aston Villa, Bournemouth
Away: Norwich City, Spurs, Wolves, Sheffield United

Predicted finish: Presuming a start versus Liverpool, Everton has a chance to make a major statement to anyone who’d fathom listening. There are 12 points of the remaining 27 that really should be in the bag and another three (Leicester at Goodison) that look solid. Leave the derby out of it and the remaining three away tilts (Spurs, Wolves, Blades) are European six-pointers. Everton has one of the more interesting stories to tell when the PL resumes.

Premier League social media wrap: Antonio, Pereira urge unity

Premier League social media
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The Premier League’s social media world was again focused on activism on Wednesday.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

West Ham forward Michail Antonio’s mind is understandably still on the racial issues which have gripped the world in a particularly strong way the past nine days.

A day after all 20 Premier League clubs and a large number of players and coaches spoke out against racism, Antonio wants to make sure that people don’t think one day of speaking up is enough to change a historical struggle.

He’ll appreciate another statement from Leicester City’s squad.

The Foxes gather center circle to take a knee, with Ricardo Pereira saying “humanity coms first” and echoing Weston McKennie’s “Enough is enough” video.

A huge number of Premier League players have donated shirts for a raffle to raise funds for the National Health Services’ charities as part of their #PlayersTogether campaign.

It’s a challenge to find more Premier League stars that have not posted about #ShirtsForHeroes than those that have, so we’ll choose should-be PFA Player of the Year midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.

It must’ve been chilly in Manchester.

Odion Ighalo is clearly happy to be back with United through January after it looked like the Nigerian striker was going back to Shanghai Shenhua.

But, man, both Ighalo and Luke Shaw in the wool hats/toques/skullies/whatever you want to call them.

Christian Benteke was none-too-pleased with the hassle he got from teammate Jordan Ayew at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

The Belgian striker’s words were in jest, no doubt, after Palace gave him photos of the club’s leading scorer taking advantage of being allowed full contact in practice.

Benteke hasn’t been scoring and will always be judged by his price tag(s), but he’s been better this season as a hold-up man and pest up top. Let’s see if he can lead the Eagles onto something special.

Eintracht nears safety with second-half surge past Bremen

Werder Bremen v. Eintracht Frankfurt recap
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Andre Silva and Stefan Ilsanker sent Eintracht Frankfurt to Bundesliga safety and sent Werder Bremen crashing to a new reality in a 3-0 at the Weserstadion on Wednesday.

Eintracht’s 35 points put it eight points clear of the bottom three with five matches to play, while Bremen’s three-match unbeaten run ends with it standing three points back of 15th-place Mainz.

Silva has scored 12 goals on loan from AC Milan, eight coming in the Bundesliga and four in the five matches since the league returned from the coronavirus pause.

For Ilsanker, his goals mark his first ever in the Bundesliga over 87 appearances, and first in any competition since scoring for RB Leipzig in the 2015-16 2.Bundesliga season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

The first half was very cagey, with little to report aside from a penalty denied Bremen, who again looked nothing like the side that’s been in the relegation places for so much of the season.

Eintracht thought it’d gone ahead with a Dominik Kohr goal before the hour mark, but either a slight offside or handball by the passer counted against his hopes.

The visitors scored as the clock struck 60:00. Makato Hasebe starts the play and Filip Kostic crossed for Silva to head inside the near post.

Bremen boss Florian Kohfeldt responded by putting USMNT striker Josh Sargent in for Davie Selke.

Davy Klaassen wasted a 78th minute counter attack as Bremen showed some desperation and Leonardo Bittencourt hit a wayward attempt a minute later.

Ilsanker made it 2-0 within moments of subbing into the match, a Bas Dost-redirected corner kick landing in his path for a close-range finish. Fellow sub Jonathan de Guzman then spun a free kick around the fray for an emphatic Ilsanker header.

Americans Abroad: Sargent’s half-hour was non-descript. Dost flicked the corner kick before Sargent could head clear. He was eight-of-eight passing on 11 touches and completed his lone long ball. Sargent won 2-of-3 duels and drew a foul. Judging by what we saw from Davie Selke, Sargent could get another turn in the Starting XI versus Wolfsburg.

Timmy Chandler was an unused sub for Eintracht, a little over a week after playing super sub with a match-winning goal.

Crystal Palace season restart preview

Crystal Palace season restart preview
Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Crystal Palace is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Eagles when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Palace has navigated injuries and a disappointing season from superstar Wilfried Zaha to sit within striking distance, or at least hoping distance, of a place in the Europa League. The journey won’t be easy, with six of nine matches coming against top five hopefuls, but Roy Hodgson’s done a good job at Selhurst Park despite limited contributions from the center forward position.

[ MORE: Ranking every Palace player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: The club can line up in what looks to be either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 depending on what Roy Hodgson is asking of his Wilfried Zaha, Jordan Ayew, and/or Andros Townsend. Zaha hasn’t lived up to his standards this season but remains the club’s best threat, with Ayew enjoying his most productive season since leaving Ligue 1 in 2015 (or Swansea two seasons ago if you’re being generous).

A lot of of what Palace has done well this year revolves around center midfielder James McArthur and the two men who join him (some combination of Cheikhou Kouyate, Luka Milivojevic and James McCarthy).


Possible XI (4-1-4-1) 

—– Guaita —–

— Ward — Dann — Cahill — Van Aanholt —

—– McCarthy —–

— Ayew — McArthur — Kouyate — Zaha—

—– Benteke—–

McCarthy had played quite well in the three-match streak leading into the pause, and was much, much better in 2020 than he’d been while struggling for starts in the first half of the season. Gary Cahill and Scott Dann have been steady if unspectacular in front of Vincente Guaita, while Van Aanholt’s best days are still elite, if fewer and farther between. Pretty solid side and good work from Hodgson with plenty of injuries to handle over the first 29 matches.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Burnley, Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs
Away: Bournemouth, Liverpool, Leicester City, Aston Villa, Wolves

Predicted finish: The only thing certain is that Palace would have to fall all over itself to finish anywhere near the bottom three, even given a tricky schedule. Really, it depends upon the intensity of the competitors, because Palace is safe from relegation barring something traumatic but needs a number of signature wins to be involved in the top seven fight. And how will the Eagles react if Arsenal and Sheffield United get points from their June 17 matches-in-hand and the Europa League looks more and more an unlikely dream? Tenth seems the place, but anything can happen when eighth may be a Europa League place.