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Southampton ‘not a pig to be fattened’

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Southampton’s majority owner Gao Jisheng has rarely talked about purchasing the Premier League club. If ever.

However, the Chinese real estate tycoon has now been talking and it doesn’t seem like he’s willing to pump much, if any, of his own money into Saints in the coming years.

In a rare interview with the Financial Times in Shanghai, Gao revealed some of his plans for the future of the South Coast club.

“I am not treating Southampton as a pig to be fattened and sold,” Gao said. “I am treating it as a child. But my children must believe they cannot depend on the boss. I have said to Southampton: ‘I am now your father. But I am putting you on the right track: you need to feed yourself.’”

He added: “The club’s financial situation is good this year and it doesn’t require more investment.”

Southampton’s fans will not be too shocked to hear these words from Gao, but will be intrigued to have had heard anything at all from him.

The Chinese businessman often attends games but has never spoken publicly about his reasons and motivations for buying an 80 percent stake in the club from the Liebherr family back in 2017.

With his property company Lander Sports buying the club, Gao recently sold a large chunk of his stake in Lander to the Chinese government which led to the Premier League requesting information from Southampton about whether or not they were now owned by the state of China.

Gao has brushed off those suggestions, saying he has given the PL the information they need and they are satisfied. Lander Sports, who own the 80 percent stake in Saints, are based in Hong Kong due to strict laws about risky foreign investments in mainland China.

All of this is a little confusing for Southampton fans, but the main thing to come from Gao’s comments is that they shouldn’t expect a huge flurry of big money signings as long as he’s the owner but they could spend some money this summer without selling anybody.

Gao wants the club to be self-sustaining and that is pretty admirable in this day and age when fans demand huge money spent on new players, and will then slam the club when relegation could see it spiral into financial meltdown.

Southampton have always been a club which produces young talent and then sells players on for a huge profit. That won’t change anytime soon.

But after two close shaves with relegation over the past two seasons, it is clear Southampton’s squad needs a large rebuild under Ralph Hasenhuttl this summer. If they can sell on a plethora of players who have been out of the picture and out on loan last season, then they will be able to reinvest that cash in new players.

How successful Saints are at doing that this offseason will determine if Hasenhuttl’s side can kick on and push for a top 10 finish next season. The coach has worked wonders with one of the youngest squads in the PL since he arrived last December and there is plenty of promise that a full season of Hasenhuttl-ball will see Saints not embroiled in yet another relegation scrap.

Gao’s comments underline the fact he will not spend big like Wolves’ Chinese owners Fosun, but given how much Saints have spent over the past few years (they are one of the few PL clubs to make a profit in transfer business year in, year out) this wasn’t a huge surprise.

With Southampton playing a game in China again this offseason, their new sponsorship deal with LD Sports (a company yet to launch in China) has seen them double their revenue in terms of sponsorship in a club-record deal.

Gao’s connections in China are helping the club financially in certain aspects, but it appears they will not pump money in to try and challenge the PL’s elite like they did in years gone by under Ronald Koeman. In truth, their success under Koeman was fuelled by selling a host of star names such as Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren and Morgan Schneiderlin, which allowed them to buy Sadio Made, Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and Virgil Van Dijk among others.

Saints must unearth a few more gems in the transfer window this summer to keep their model rolling along and bring about another push into the top half of the table. They have a great manager, some talented youngsters and a sensible owner.

The latter will hamper any progress their fans have of making another push for European qualification in the years to come.

Joe Gomez ready for Liverpool return

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Joe Gomez has handed Liverpool another huge boost in their quest to win the Premier League title.

The England international, 21, has been out since suffering a fracture to his lower left leg during a win at Burnley in December.

Initially, Gomez was only going to be out for a few weeks but complications have since arrived and he has had to have surgery and further treatment to rectify the issue.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Porto on Wednesday (Liverpool have a 2-0 lead from the first leg), Jurgen Klopp revealed Gomez is now available for selection and has travelled with the team to Portugal.

“Absolutely [he looks strong]. Ox and Joe both did really well at Leicester, it was a brilliant game by all of the boys, to be honest, I watched it back. It looked really good,” Klopp said. “It’s clear they still need time to get full match fitness but it’s nice to have them back and now Joe first as an option. He played right full-back, we need him as this option as well. We all know he played a wonderful season at the centre-half position until his injury, but he can play both and it’s good to have him.”

Klopp now has a lot of options in defense, as Joel Matip has stepped in and played pretty well alongside Virgil Van Dijk over the past few months, as losing Gomez for a pivotal stretch of the season was a big concern for Liverpool. Even though Matip has filled in well, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson are clearly Liverpool’s first-choice back four.

With Dejan Lovren out with illness, getting Gomez back is a big deal for Liverpool as the composed center back was developing a superb relationship with VVD in the heart of Liverpool’s defense. However, with only TAA as a right back option and the likes of James Milner having to fill in there at times, it seems likely Gomez will rotate in that full back role in the final weeks of the season rather than disrupt the Matip-VVD partnership.

Mark this down as another big plus for Liverpool in their quest to win the league title for the first time since 1989-90.

In other injury news, Klopp also confirmed that Lovren is out of the game against Porto, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain needs more fitness work, Adam Lallana has returned to training and Jordan Henderson is fit after a slight ankle knock against Chelsea.

All in all, good news for Liverpool as they enter a season-defining 10 days.

PL Sunday Preview: Liverpool host Chelsea; Man City visit Crystal Palace

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In what may be Liverpool’s toughest remaining league match of the season, the Reds host the Blues of Chelsea in an epic matchup between two big six sides. Chelsea will be looking to spoil Liverpool’s title hopes yet again. It was Chelsea and Demba Ba who pounced on Steven Gerrard‘s slip in midfield which led to Liverpool losing the title in 2014.

Liverpool v. Chelsea — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Liverpool took care of business last week early against Porto, and with a 2-0 lead, it may allow manager Jurgen Klopp to focus more of his attention on one of the biggest games of the season against Chelsea. When these teams met earlier in the season, Chelsea recorded a 1-1 draw in the Premier League and a 2-1 win in the League Cup. More than Manchester City, Chelsea may be Liverpool’s bogey team. The Reds haven’t beaten Chelsea in six games, dating back to 2016.

One of Liverpool’s big boosts heading into the match is the return of the marauding Scottish left wing back Andrew Robertson. That should allow James Milner to either return to midfield or take a place on the bench, where he can make a second-half impact with fresh legs. In addition, Joe Gomez is available after a long injury layoff while Adam Lallana is expected to take part as well. But it will be up to the likes of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to break down Chelsea’s backline and secure a massive three points to stay alive for the title.

An interesting little facet of this game is that it will come minutes after the end of Manchester City’s match at Crystal Palace. Liverpool and Chelsea’s players will know if Man City has taken back the lead in the table, or whether Liverpool can extend its lead at the top.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: None | Chelsea — OUT: None

Crystal Palace v. Manchester City — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Before Thursday’s defeat to Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City hadn’t lost a match since a 2-1 loss at Newcastle at the end of January. Now, Pep Guardiola heads back to London for the second time in a week looking to remain in the title hunt.

With Liverpool keeping pace at the top, Man City can’t afford a slip on on the road, but Roy Hodgson and his side will be hoping to pick up at least a point at Selhurst Park. Unsurprisingly, Crystal Palace has struggled against the Big Six sides this season, with the exception a 3-2 win….at Manchester City. Andros Townsend‘s world-class strike helped to prove the difference. Could Crystal Palace secure six points over the title-favorites?

Meanwhile for Man City, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane could inject some freshness back into the squad after sitting out the past couple of games. Also in Man City’s favor, Crystal Palace has lost 12 of its 16 Premier League home games this season. Plus, with a win, Man City goes one point ahead of Liverpool, putting all the pressure on Klopp’s side.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace —  OUT: James Tompkins (groin), Mamadou Sakho (knee) | Manchester City — QUESTIONABLE: Oleksandr Zinchenko, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy

Watch Live: Southampton v. Liverpool

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Southampton host Liverpool on Friday at St Mary’s (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), as Jurgen Klopp‘s men have the chance to go back to the top of the Premier League table.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Klopp knows that a resurgent Saints will be tough to break down, as new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl (he and Klopp completed their coaching badges together in Germany) has led Saints to seven victories in his 16 games in charge, but Liverpool are the heavy favorites to move two points clear in the title race with Man City in FA Cup semifinal action this weekend.

Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren are all returning to their former club, and they can expect a hostile atmosphere down on the South Coast given all of the transfer deals between these two teams in recent years.

In team news Saints have had to leave Danny Ings out as he is on loan from Liverpool this season before he makes his move permanent in the summer. Shane Long comes in for him, while Jannik Vestergaard returns to the lineup.

Liverpool make two changes as Naby Keita and Fabinho come in to the midfield.


LINEUPS

Watch Live: Fulham v. Liverpool

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Liverpool can go atop the Premier League table with a defeat of Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday (Watch live at 10:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

And Cottagers interim boss Scott Parker will be cognizant of Liverpool’s plan to exploit his leaky defense to reduce Man City’s 7-goal advantage in differential.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Fulham’s razor-thin chances of making up a 13-point deficit on 17th place need an unlikely result here, and likely a win.

Jordan Henderson and James Milner are out of the lineup that beat Bayern Munich 3-1 on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League, with Fabinho and Adam Lallana taking their places in the XI.

LINEUPS

Fulham: Rico, Fosu-Mensah, Chambers, Ream, Bryan, Seri, Cairney, Zambo Anguissa, Ayite, Mitrovic, Babel. Subs: Fabri, Christie, Odoi, McDonald, Sessegnon, Kebano, Vietto.

Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Matip, Robertson, Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Lallana, Salah, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Lovren, Milner, Sturridge, Moreno, Shaqiri, Origi.