What’s going wrong at Saints? How do they recover?

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The good news for Southampton is that they’ve hit rock bottom. The bad news is that they are likely to stay there for some time.

From top to bottom, Southampton are a sinking ship.

Given the manner of their 9-0 thumping at home by Leicester City on Friday, the issues which have been brewing behind-the-scenes for months, if not years, came to the fore. The way the players chucked the towel in at St Mary’s pointed to much bigger problems than a bit of bad luck, going down to 10-men early and Leicester being clinical.

Southampton are a rudderless ship. They have been since Gao Jisheng purchased a majority 80 percent stake in the club in August 2017. Just a couple of public statements from Gao over the past two years have left Saints’ fans, and some of those working at the club, bewildered. Nobody knows what the plan is and they have no vision other than just trying to keep their heads above water.

Gao said this summer that Southampton are ‘not a pig to be fattened’ and that they must be sustainable.

Unless he changes that model and adds key additions, especially defensively, in the January transfer window, Gao will lose huge sums with Saints no longer in the Premier League. Southampton almost went out of business in 2008, so the club will be hesitant to gamble by spending big, but if they don’t then relegation seems certain.

Relegation is highly likely unless something drastic changes, as they are one of the lowest net spending clubs in the PL over the past decade. Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Morgan Schneiderlin, Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic have all left to make the club huge profits.

But with the likes of Guido Carrillo, Wesley Hoedt, Mario Lemina, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Fraser Forster all out on loan, some horrific transfer buys have hamstrung Saints’ model of profitable player trading as the replacements haven’t been good enough.

That is why over the past two seasons they’ve just battled off relegation twice, they’ve sold all of their best players, again, and the players who remain are not performing, are expensive mistakes out on loan or are on huge contracts and seem to have no desire to prove themselves week in, week out.

Above manager Ralph Hasenhuttl there has been an almighty clear out in recent months. Director of Football Les Reed was fired 12 months ago. Chairman Ralph Krueger was fired in April. His replacement and former Head of Recruitment, Ross Wilson, left for Glasgow Rangers last week.

Add in that Hasenhutt’s trusted assistant Danny Rohl left in preseason to go to Bayern Munich and it is a case of last-man standing for their Austrian coach.

It seems like Hasenhuttl’s position is under threat given the clear unrest among the playing squad, as there have been murmurs of discontent for some time. He’s made strange tactical decisions all season long and has no idea what his best team is. Even dating back to last season some within the club felt Hasenhuttl had got lucky due to Huddersfield, Fulham and Cardiff City being that bad and getting relegated instead of Saints.

The constant intensity of Hasenhuttl’s training sessions, and his personality, are wearing his players down. He has managed to send plenty of players out on loan and sell others to try and rip apart the decay at the center of this squad. But he’s not an easy man to please and plenty of Saints’ current starting lineup have felt his wrath over the past 10 months.

Officials, players and supporters of Southampton are in a state of shock after this defeat.

They should be, but there should also be a realization that this hefty loss has been a long time coming and that it will take even longer to get themselves out of the mess they’ve created for themselves.

Hopefully, at least for their sake, it is a huge wake-up call that sparks them into changes across the club. For so long their recruitment policy and academy has been the envy of others. It still can be, but they’ve been treading water for the past three years since Ronald Koeman departed in 2016 and they’ve shown a severe lack of ambition since.

Focusing on the here and now, Hasenhuttl has a huge job on his hands to galvanize this squad which was totally humiliated on the global stage.

For years to come when you mention Southampton people will laugh and say “they were smashed 9-0!”

Just ask Ipswich Town fans. They’ve had to deal with that since they were thumped by that same record scoreline at Manchester United back in 1995.

Of course, the scoreline reverberates around the world and it is the worst defeat in Saints’ 134-year history. It was also the biggest-ever away win in the top-flight since the English Football League was founded in 1888. Think about that.

But aside from the mammoth hiding they took at the hands of a ruthless Leicester side, the manner in which Saints lost was utterly shocking.

The players let themselves down, the club down and their manager down.

Hasenhuttl may not pay the ultimate price in the coming days, and he should be given the chance to prove this thumping was a freak result and one which they can bounce back from and be stronger. Hasenhuttl did well to keep Saints up last season but since that initial impact he had has faltered and he is now part of the bigger problem and doesn’t seem to have help from his board and his thinking is muddled.

But it will take some doing for Saints to not only recover in the coming weeks but also stay in the Premier League this season. They need to bring through young players once again, and they have some promising youngsters coming through. Too many players in their current squad have had chance after chance and are clearly not good enough.

What is clear is that neglecting to add to the squad and having no direction from Gao over the past two years has hit Southampton hard.

The performance on the pitch against Leicester City was appalling and embarrassing, and that tone has been set by the total lack of competence at the top of the club.

Hasenhuttl mentioned the Titanic in his opening press conference as Saints boss last December. The doomed ocean liner left the Port of Southampton on its ill-fated maiden voyage, and Hasenhuttl jokingly said that he hoped his team didn’t hit an iceberg in their battle against relegation.

Southampton have, and now they are in a huge battle to stay afloat.

CCL wrap: Atlanta United, Cruz Azul advance

CONCACAF Champions League
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The underdogs did not have their days on Tuesday in the CONCACAF Champions League.

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MLS side Atlanta United and Liga MX mainstays Cruz Azul cruised to second legs win at home to clinch places in the quarterfinals.

Cruz Azul 4-0 (6-1 agg.) Portmore United

Bringing a pair of away goals from Jamaica, the Liga MX hosts just needed to put this one on ice early.

Orbelin Pineda did that in the 22nd minute, and Cruz Azul struck thrice in the second half to win in a landslide.

Atlanta United 3-0 (4-1 agg.) Montagua

It was all about the Martinezes in Georgia, as Pity sandwiched a pair of goals around Josef’s 61st minute tally to send the Five Stripes into the next stage.

All the goals showed calm under pressure, but Pity’s first was gorgeous football. He also assisted Josef’s goal in Honduras during the first leg.

Remaining Round of 16 second legs

NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

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“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

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

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

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The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

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So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…