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.

Transfer news: Griezmann to Arsenal; Alaba to Man City

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In the latest transfer news Antoine Griezmann has been linked with a move to Arsenal, while David Alaba could be the man to help Man City out defensively.

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Starting in north London, a report from the Daily Express claims that Antoine Griezmann is unhappy at Barcelona after being left on the bench for the 2-2 draw against his former team Atletico Madrid. It goes on to state that Arsenal and Inter Milan want to sign Griezmann.

Griezmann, 29, joined Barcelona last summer for $125 million but it’s fair to say the move hasn’t worked out so far. Barcelona coach Quique Setien said that Griezmann isn’t in the starting lineup because they are not balanced with him in the team so as long as Setien is around, the French star is probably going to struggle for minutes.

He has scored eight goals and added four assists this season and things just haven’t clicked up top with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The report claims that Arsenal remain interested in Griezmann and with Barcelona being linked with a move for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, could a swap deal plus cash be on the cards?

Of course, Aubameyang is slightly older and has just one year left on his current contract at Barcelona but maybe Griezmann could head to Arsenal on a loan deal a la Philippe Coutinho to Bayern Munich?

Not the craziest idea, right? Arsenal have Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette who could both move on this summer and they can use them as bargaining chips to try and sign Griezmann and possibly Thomas Partey from Atletico. Inter Milan have a striker Barcelona want, Lautaro Martinez, so maybe a swap deal could be sorted out on their end too?

With the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic hitting everyone, but particular soccer, hard, finding ways to swap players and not spend cash could be the theme of the next few seasons. If that is the case, Aubameyang to Barcelona for Griezmann makes sense. Now, do the finances line up and would Griezmann want to leave Spain for north London? Arsenal don’t want to lose Aubameyang but if they gain Griezmann, that would help to soften the blow.

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Switching our focus to Manchester, it is believed Man City are keen on signing Bayern Munich and Austria defender David Alaba, according to the Guardian.

Alaba, 28, has one more year left on his Bayern contract and Pep Guardiola knows him well from his time in charge of the Bavarian giants.

The versatile defender can play at center back and left back, plus also in midfield, and Man City will need plenty of rebuilding in the coming years. With David Silva leaving this summer, plus Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero coming towards the end of their careers, this Man City side will look very different in 12-18 months’ time.

With Leroy Sane heading to Bayern Munich, there have been plenty deals discussed between the two clubs and Alaba would be perfect for Man City. He is calm on the ball, defensively solid and he could play in multiple positions for Guardiola.

Alaba is set to be offered a new deal at Bayern as Man City and Inter Milan both want to sign him. Man City’s main issue has been a lack of defensive depth and if Alaba arrives, that will go a long way to plugging multiple gaps.

Sheffield United – Tottenham stream: How to watch, start time, odds

Sheffield United - Tottenham preview
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Sheffield United – Tottenham Hotspur: There are European hopes dripping from Wednesday’s meeting of Sheffield United and Tottenham Hotspur at Bramall Lane (Watch live at 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

Blades’ European hopes have taken a big hit since the Premier League’s return from the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve lost two-straight league outings and have just one win from five.

STREAM SHEFFIELD UNITED – TOTTENHAM LIVE ONLINE

Spurs have taken four of six points in just two matches since the end of the break and need a win to retake seventh place from Arsenal.

Team news

Japhet Tanganga and Juan Foyth remain out for Tottenham, who is otherwise as healthy as its been since the calendar turned to 2020. Jose Mourinho has made one change as Dele Alli is dropped and Steven Bergwijn comes in.

Jack O’Connell is getting closer to a return for the Blades but Chris Wilder says they “won’t make a high risk decision on him.” John Lundstram is out injured and is replaced by Sande Berge, while John Fleck is also out injured with Ben Osborn coming in for his first Premier League start.

 

What they’re saying

Chris Wilder on the evolution of big January buy Sander Berge: “Sander is going to be a really good player for us. He’s 21 [sic], we paid decent money for him. £20m is not an unbelievable number. It is for Sheffield United, I understand that. So Sander comes with that pressure. But he’s a grounded boy and he’ll eventually play as a sitting midfield player. He’s a proper midfield player, he’s a really good kid and he always will get mine and the boys’ full backing.”

Mourinho on the struggles of big signing Tanguy Ndombele“Football is full of players who have made difficult starts and then ended well. When Luka Modric arrived at Real Madrid after six months he was labeled the worst signing in their history by the fans and the press. A few months later he was a champion, then a few months later he was European champion and then a few months later he was voted the best player in the world. So when the talent is there many things can happen with adaptation and if the talent is there anything good can happen.”

Odds and ends

The bookies aren’t so sure about this one, with DraftKings having hosts Sheffield United +225 and Tottenham +130.

Heung-min Son and George Baldock traded goals in a 1-1 November draw in North London.

Sheffield United – Tottenham Prediction

Spurs have the benefit of rest and potency up top. It’ll be a grimy one — Chris Wilder deems it so — but Tottenham gets the points 2-1.

Wolves – Arsenal preview: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

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Wolves – Arsenal should be an absolute belter on Saturday (start time, 12:30pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as both teams are in the hunt for Champions League qualification.

STREAM WOLVES – ARSENAL LIVE ONLINE

Nuno Espirito Santo and Wolves continue to upset the odds as they are the only Premier League team to win all three of their games since the restart and are now three points off third-place and have momentum in the race for Champions League.

As for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta, they’ve bounced back after a rough start to the restart and Mikel Arteta now has plenty of options and his team look hungry.

Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore will lead Wolves’ charge, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continues to be the talisman for Arsenal.

Stream Wolves – Arsenal by clicking on the link above and here is everything you need to know ahead of the clash.


Team news

Wolves aren’t being impacted by injuries and they are fit and hungry with Santo resting Traore for moments during their first three games of the restart.

Arsenal are still without Bernd Leno, Sokratis, Callum Chambers, Pablo Mari and Gabriel Martinelli but Lucas Torreira is back fit and available. Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nkeitah were all rested for the win against Norwich.

What they’re saying

Raul Jimenez on his partnership with Adama Traore: “Every striker wants a teammate with his conditions. He can cross from anywhere, you know he’s going to be at the final line and he’s going to cross, so you have to be there at the right time to score. We train on it in the week. We talk to each other before the games, or in the training sessions, so we know where we’re going to be, his crossing and where I have to move. It’s not a coincidence, it’s something we train and work for.”

Mikel Arteta on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: “A player that is able to score as many goals as he’s done in that short space of time tells you everything about the importance that he has for us. We need players that can make the difference at any moment in the game every three days, in different competitions, and that’s a big test for him. He’s done that at different clubs, he’s willing to stay with him, he’s really happy where he is and can see what we’re trying to do. Hopefully he can evolve as well in some parts of his game that in my opinion he can improve. We are pushing him every day towards that.”

Odds and ends

Wolves are the clear favorites for this game via DraftKings (+125) but Arsenal are dangerous and could be good value at +235 for the win. +225 for the draw seems like a very good bet too, as both teams are well matched with similar attacking units but Wolves have the edge when it comes to defensive players.

Prediction

This will be a tight, tense clash and the star attackers for both teams will be key. If Jimenez and Traore are firing on all cylinders then you have to fancy Wolves, if Aubameyang and Saka are on form for Arsenal, they could edge it. With both teams hopeful of Champions League qualification, the stakes are high and I think this will be a draw. Let’s say 1-1.

Champions League, Relegation picture: What’s going on?

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The Champions League and relegation picture is pretty wild right now in the Premier League.

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With six matchweeks remaining, there is so much to play for across the entire league. From Champions League to Europa League and a crowded and tight relegation battle, there are so many permutations.

Given the tough remaining schedules for some teams and easier slate of games for others, surely that will come into things. Pressure does strange things to teams at this point of a season though.

[ MORE: Remaining Premier League fixtures ]

Let’s take a look at the Champions League and relegation picture a little closer.


Champions League race

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Liverpool 31 28 2 1 70 21 49 16-0-0 12-2-1 86
 Manchester City 31 20 3 8 77 33 44 11-2-2 9-1-6 63
 Leicester City 32 16 7 9 60 31 29 9-4-3 7-3-6 55
 Chelsea 32 16 6 10 57 44 13 8-3-5 8-3-5 54
 Manchester United 32 14 10 8 51 31 20 9-5-2 5-5-6 52
 Wolves 32 13 13 6 45 34 11 6-7-3 7-6-3 52
 Arsenal 32 11 13 8 47 41 6 8-5-3 3-8-5 46
 Tottenham Hotspur 31 12 9 10 50 41 9 9-3-4 3-6-6 45
 Burnley 32 13 6 13 36 45 -9 8-2-6 5-4-7 45
 Sheffield United 31 11 11 9 30 31 -1 7-3-5 4-8-4 44
 Everton 32 12 8 12 40 47 -7 8-5-3 4-3-9 44
 Crystal Palace 32 11 9 12 28 37 -9 6-4-6 5-5-6 42
 Newcastle United 32 11 9 12 33 43 -10 6-7-3 5-2-9 42
 Southampton 32 12 4 16 41 55 -14 4-2-10 8-2-6 40

So, yeah, this is getting bonkers. With Leicester City and Chelsea both losing this week, Wolves and Man United are just three points off third place and this is going to be extremely interesting. Man United have a very easy remaining schedule and they have momentum, while Sheffield United have some tough games remaining. With fifth-place potentially a Champions League spot due to Man City’s European ban (which they have appealed) that means Arsenal, Tottenham, Sheffield United and even Burnley are in the hunt too. When it comes to Europa League, Everton, Palace, Newcastle and Southampton still have a chance as eighth place could be a qualifying berth due to the FA Cup winners likely to finish in the top six. Simply put, the entire league aside from the bottom six are in the hunt for European action. Lots to play for.


Relegation battle

 Brighton & Hove Albion 32 7 12 13 34 44 -10 5-6-5 2-6-8 33
 West Ham United 32 8 6 18 38 56 -18 5-3-8 3-3-10 30
 Watford 32 6 10 16 29 49 -20 4-6-6 2-4-10 28

 Aston Villa 32 7 6 19 36 60 -24 5-3-8 2-3-11 27
 Bournemouth 32 7 6 19 30 54 -24 4-5-7 3-1-12 27
 Norwich City 32 5 6 21 25 60 -35 4-3-9 1-3-12 21

Things are just as interesting at the bottom of the table. Somehow Norwich are still in with a chance of survival despite losing all three of their games since the restart. They have to start winning soon though. Bournemouth and Aston Villa have some ridiculously tough games to finish with and look like they will go down but West Ham and Brighton have tough schedules too, with the latter playing Liverpool and Man City back-to-back next week so they could get sucked back into things. It looks like being three from the bottom five to go down and both West Ham and Watford have showed they have enough grit to grind out points. Can Villa and Bournemouth do the same? Will Norwich win four or five of their last six to save themselves? Things get crazy in the final weeks at the bottom and this is shaping up to be one of the best relegation battles in Premier League history as goal difference is so tight between all of the teams.