Ronald Koeman

Hasenhuttl masterminds Saints’ survival: Now it gets tough

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Southampton had one win on the board and nine points from their opening 15 games of the season.

They looked certain for relegation. Years of poor decisions in the transfer market had cost them dear. Fans took aim at the new owners and Director of Football Les Reed and Chairman Ralph Krueger (both of whom have left the club this season) for hiring and firing three managers in just over 12 months.

Then Ralph Hasenhuttl arrived for his first taste of English soccer and everything changed. Fans love his enthusiasm on the sidelines and his honesty in interviews created a Jurgen Klopp-esque bond. His first press conference set the tone perfectly. 

The talented but previously unenthused players have ran themselves into the ground and beat the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Wolves and Everton at home, results which were unthinkable earlier in the campaign.

Hasenhuttl’s clear vision led to gritty displays which saw Saints secure their status as a Premier League side on Saturday after their 3-3 draw with Bournemouth.

Now the really, really hard work starts if Saints are to return to being contenders for a top 10 finish rather than what they’ve now become, perennial relegation strugglers.

The former RB Leipzig head coach knows it.

“We will have a few players leaving. In every position we will try to get better next year,” Hasenhuttl said. “We had a very interesting last transfer period – no signings, just giving players away. This summer we will rebuild. We can start planning for next year tomorrow. A bit less stress would be nice [next season], sitting relaxed outside and taking the points we need. The target is to get 40 points earlier than this year.”

That planning for next season should start right now at Southampton.

The Austrian coach didn’t spend any money in the January transfer window, his only window since arriving at the club, and it is unlikely he will be able to spend that much this summer.

Saints are hamstrung by having expensive signings on long-term contracts who they can’t get rid of.

Similar to the likes of Aston Villa and Sunderland before them, who kept their heads just above water season after season before finally being relegated, Saints are stuck with a bloated squad who haven’t proved their worth.

Wesley Hoedt, Sofiane Boufal, Cedric and Guido Carrillo are all out on loan right now and are unlikely to return. Manolo Gabbiadini was sold to Sampdoria in January. Fraser Forster is one of their highest earners but hasn’t played since December 2017. Mohamed Elyounoussi has barely featured. The list goes on and on.

Quite simply, Hasenhuttl will have to live with the legacy of Saints getting it wrong in several transfer windows since Ronald Koeman left in the summer of 2016. Since that summer they’ve spent over $200 million in transfer fees alone, and although the sale of Virgil Van Dijk and others negate those fees, players are on very large wages for a club of Southampton’s size which is run to be sustainable. They should be in that group of teams just outside the top six, not battling against the drop.

Something drastic has to change, and Hasenhuttl is now the right man to lead these decisions as he’s rejuvenated many members of the current squad in just five months.

The best thing Saints can now do is let Hasenhuttl have the huge clear out they need. Deadwood needs to be chopped.

Whatever it costs, they need to take the financial hit and let players leave on loan or for good, and let Hasenhuttl start the 2019-20 campaign with a fresh, hungry squad. The way he has brought out the best in Nathan Redmond, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and James Ward-Prowse among others proves his skill in inspiring players he inherited.

Imagine if he could actually add a handful of players he wants…

This season has to be the wake-up call that Saints should have had last season when they survived relegation with one game to go. And that was largely down to Swansea’s slump rather than a good run of their own.

Saints’ academy is one of the best in the league and that is where a lot of their fresh talent can come from. Hasenhuttl has put faith in youth his entire managerial career and that hasn’t changed since he arrived in the Premier League, with Yan Valery, Michael Obafemi, Josh Sims and Ward-Prowse all becoming regulars under him. There are others waiting to break through too.

Hasenhuttl has been brave by cutting out more experienced players and he and Southampton have been rewarded for that.

Now Southampton, who don’t have a chairman or anyone in charge of the football side of the club long-term since Krueger left, must back Hasenhuttl. Krueger brought Hasenhuttl in, but the Austrian is happy to remain at the club and continue to push on, with a new leader or sporting director needed to get things right behind-the-scenes.

Saints can now start to focus on next season and they have Hasenhuttl to thank for that.

“We had to take a lot of points [after taking over in December]. If you told me after our first game against Cardiff, when we were five points behind them [that Southampton would stay up], it’s amazing,” Hasenhuttl said. “We deserve this. We invested a lot in this time and learned a lot. We showed how beautiful we can play. The next step must be to get more clinical in some situations. Two games before the end to be clear is fantastic for us.”

Transfer latest: Chelsea refuse to sell Hudson-Odoi, Arsenal eye signings

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For at least the next six months, it appears Callum Hudson-Odoi will remain a Chelsea player.

That’s according to reports in England and Germany, which state that Chelsea has rejected Hudson-Odoi’s transfer request amid multiple bids from Bayern Munich. German publication SportBild reported on Monday that after a discussion with Chelsea executive Marina Granovskaia, Hudson-Odoi learned he would be staying at Stamford Bridge until at least the summer. Hudson-Odoi is in the final 18 months of his contract, and has so far refused to come to the negotiating table with Chelsea for a new contract offer, as he’s unhappy with the amount of playing time he’s received.

[READ: JPW’s Premier League Picks]

Hudson-Odoi has made five Premier League appearances this season but has not started yet. He has been a regular in the cup competitions, including the Europa League, but it appears Bayern Munich are willing to spend big, upwards of $40 million in transfer fees.

With Hudson-Odoi sticking around, he’ll have to bide his time and hope that he can produce some good performances. For Chelsea, keeping him around could also increase his value, enabling them to bring in an even bigger fee if they’re ultimately unsuccessful at re-signing him.

Make sure to tune-in for our special Transfer Deadline Day show on NBCSN on Thursday, Jan. 31 from 5 p.m. ET as we focus on all of the moves across the Premier League in the January window. You can stream the show live online right here.

Here’s more stories from across the Premier League:

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Everton’s owner hits out; aim is to ‘win the Premier League’

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Owner Farhad Moshiri has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Everton Football Club since he took over in February 2016, but the former Arsenal investor hasn’t had a good time of things so far.

Speaking at Everton’s general meeting the majority shareholder revealed that he has told manager Marco Silva that sitting in 11th place in the table “is just not good enough” but that he has the full support of the board to deliver the goods.

Denise Barrett-Baxendale, Everton’s CEO, has added that she believes the Toffees must win Premier League titles as the plough ahead with plans to move into a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock which would cost close to $630 million and seat close to 60,000.

“To win Premier League titles and compete regularly in the Champions League in a world-class, world-renowned football stadium,” Barrett-Baxendale said of Everton’s ambitions.

Steady on…

Evertonians will be delighted to hear all of this but on the pitch not much has changed since Moshiri took over. Sure, he’s chucked plenty of money at the Merseyside club but he’s also had four managers in Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce and now Silva, with only a seventh place finish to show for it.

The fact Everton made Silva their number one choice and gave him plenty to spend in the summer shows they have faith in him, but these comments from Moshiri show that frustration is building in the boardroom as well as the stands at Goodison Park.

Under Silva and new director of football, Marcel Brands, there have been positive results this season but also plenty of lows recently as the Toffees have lost four of their last five PL matches.

“We did our homework and we put a big bet on Marco and we stick with him. He has our total support and we have a professional in Marcel Brands who monitors the progress,” Moshiri explained. “Consistency has been an issue but we have had some terrific performances and the challenge in the second half is to have more of those performances. The football management team are totally focused on it. We know what we are and I’m comfortable.”

Everton last won silverware in 1995 and although they are still in with a decent chance of finishing seventh and qualifying for Europe this season under Silva, the development of the playing style is not going as well as Moshiri and Evertonians had hoped.

Richarlison, Lucas Digne and Andre Gomes have all been top signings, but some of the other recent buys (Theo Walcott, Cenk Tosun and Yerry Mina to name a few) just haven’t worked out.

Being the ‘best of the rest’ must be Everton’s aim and if Moshiri and Everton’s fans are unhappy with that, they must be more patient. Is sacking Silva, just like Koeman, really the road he wants to go down again?

Everton’s Silva laments “poor performance from the first minute”

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Marco Silva is struggling for answers after Everton walked into 2019 in a similar way to how they limped out of 2018, with a 1-0 loss.

[ RECAP: Everton 0-1 Leicester City ]

The Toffees have just one win in their last eight — at lowly Burnley — and sit in the same position they did last season when Sam Allardyce and Ronald Koeman underachieved at Goodison Park.

All this, of course, with a summer spend of over $100m bringing Richarlison, Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne, Kurt Zouma, and Andre Gomes to town (plus a free transfer of Bernard).

A mistake from Michael Keane gifted Jamie Vardy and Leicester their goal, but Everton had little danger in attack. That was supposed to be Silva’s expertise, and he has plenty of weapons in Gylfi Sigurdsson, Richarlison, and Theo Walcott.

Silva bristled before the game when asked about Top Six expectations, saying he never felt that was the case, and he tried to focus on the Leicester loss after the first disappointment of 2019:

“Poor performance since the first minute, we knew what they came here to do, playing a 4-5-1 and waiting for our mistake.

“First half of course we are in control but every time we got on the ball we started to become too nervous without reason. Not ambitious but anxious in some moments. When you are playing that way it is easy to miss passes and the game is a little confused.”

The 41-year-old manager will see his team in the bottom half after Bournemouth and Brighton play on Wednesday, and there’s certainly a question as to whether he’s the man for the job.

The club’s streaky nature mirrors what we saw from Silva’s team at Watford, and all things considered there are similarities to note from his near rescue of Hull City in 2016-17.

What did we learn on a pivotal day?

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Saturday encapsulated everything that is great about the Premier League.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

We had shock home defeats for Manchester City and Chelsea to swing the title race in Liverpool’s favor, amazing goals, plus a big win for an unexpected new manager at Manchester United.

Also, there were some huge wins towards the bottom of the table which set things up very nicely for the busy festive season ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Here’s what we learned from a potentially pivotal Saturday.


This is Liverpool’s title to lose

Somewhere Jurgen Klopp smile is getting wider and wider. This is now clearly Liverpool’s Premier League title to lose. The Reds will be four points clear at the top on Christmas Day and they are the only team who remain unbeaten in the PL. After Manchester City’s shock home defeat to Crystal Palace, Pep Guardiola‘s men are starting to show cracks. If Liverpool can expose those cracks when the two meet on January 3 then they will be seven points clear of Man City with 17 games to go. Of course, City and the deep squad they have can drag a big deficit back but all of the momentum right now is with Liverpool who have conceded just seven goals all season long. Plus, with the trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, and Xherdan Shaqiri and others chipping in, they look capable of scoring at least twice in every game they play. With Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal far from genuine title contenders, Liverpool’s fans will already be having dreams of seeing Jordan Henderson lift the Premier League trophy at Anfield in May 2019. The only thing lingering in the back of their minds: eight of the last nine teams to lead the PL on Christmas Day have won the title. The only team who failed to clinch? Liverpool in 2013-14. We are about to see how Liverpool can deal with the pressure of being the frontrunners instead of the hunters.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s perfect start at Man United
A 5-1 win away at Cardiff City sounds pretty routine for Manchester United, but given their struggles for most of this season it was a huge step forward for the Red Devils. And it was a perfect start for caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A man revered by United’s fans for his goalscoring prowess as a player, he somehow rejuvenated the entire squad who went out and expressed themselves in the Welsh capital. We have hardly seen them play like that under David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

Solksjaer hasn’t had long at all to work with this team on the training ground. A maximum of three sessions. But the belief he has already instilled in this squad suggests his caretaker role could become something more permanent. Yes, it is Cardiff City. Yes, it is only one game. But certain managers fit certain clubs at certain times. And after the emotional battering many of United’s stars took at the hands of Mourinho in recent years the shackles are now well and truly off. It is going to be a lot of fun to watch United between now and the end of the season, and a top four finish really isn’t out of the question as they’re now just eight points back of fourth with a favorable schedule coming up. The biggest difference we saw under Solskjaer was the full backs pushing high and the likes of Jesse Lingard (two goals) and Paul Pogba (who had three assists, more than in his last 17 games combined) given the freedom to make runs in-behind. Solskjaer’s reign may end in May, but everyone at United is on his side.


Familiar lack of focus for Chelsea

This has been coming for Chelsea as their players have not heeded recent warnings that Maurizio Sarri has given them. They’ve beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City in all competitions this season, but they’ve now lost to Wolves and Leicester City this month to all but end their title bid. Now 11 points behind Liverpool after their shock 1-0 home defeat to Leicester, Chelsea’s manager and players continue to use the same word to sum up their problems: “Mentality.” Or, more precisely, a lack of the correct mentality. This Chelsea team is showing the same signs it did under Jose Mourinho and then Antonio Conte. One minute they can be exhilarating, the next infuriating. Sarri will no doubt be given extra funds to spend in January and again in the summer to try and strengthen this squad, but if this team has a habit of rolling over easily, how easy is that to eradicate? Chelsea are far from title contenders and Sarri-ball is yet to be instilled in the majority of this squad. As soon as they go behind in games they forget to play how Sarri wants them to and panic. Teams who have a chance of winning the league don’t do that.


Southampton might be back

For the first time since April 2017 Southampton have won back-to-back Premier League games. After just a few weeks in charge, the Ralph Hasenhuttl effect is in full swing. Saints ran Huddersfield ragged on Saturday and were clinical in their 3-1 away win against their relegation rivals. Hasenhuttl talked about how important it was to back up their big win against Arsenal last week with a result at Huddersfield. The way his team pressed and used the pace of Nathan Redmond, Danny Ings and Michael Obafemi (who all scored) was a joy to watch as the players are clearly buying into his tactics and benefitting from his tough training sessions. Saints aren’t out of trouble just yet, but they are showing signs that the old Southampton is back. With five academy products in their squad on Saturday and Obafemi becoming Southampton’s youngest-ever goalscorer in the Premier League, Hasenhuttl is showing glimpses that he can return the club to the successful days of when Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman were in charge. A win against West Ham on Dec. 27 (Watch live 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) would cement the notion that Southampton have finally dug themselves out of a huge rut.