Sofiane Boufal

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Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

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Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

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.”

La Liga: Barcelona draws nearer to title, Celta Vigo runs from relegation

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Barcelona remained nine points clear at the top of the La Liga table with five matches remaining thanks to a 2-1 home win over Real Sociedad.

Clement Lenglet beat his mark Mikel Merino in the air, scoring a header off a corner just before halftime to put Barcelona up, and after Real Sociedad leveled things up just after the hour mark, Jordi Alba was on hand to restore the lead with a right-footed blast low past Geronimo Rulli who reacted late on the shot through traffic.

Down the other end of the table, Celta Vigo earned a critical win in the relegation battle, knocking off Girona 2-1 on a 69th minute winner by former Southampton attacker Sofiane Boufal. The Moroccan international worked a tiny bit of space before delivering a fabulous curler that tucked in the far corner. That proved the difference after Iago Aspas and Portu had cancelled each other out on either side of the break. The win allowed Celta to rise up to 14th, three points above the drop with a crowded group below them.

Atletico Madrid extended its lead in second place with a 1-0 win over Eibar, needing an 85th minute breakaway goal by Thomas Lemar to seal the deal. That pushed them seven points ahead of Real Madrid, with Los Blancos still set to play on Sunday. It also saw Atletico keep pace with Barcelona, although it would take a massive collapse down the stretch by the leaders for Atletico to have a shot at the title.

Finally, Rayo Vallecano drew nearer to relegation with a 0-0 draw against Huesca at home, leaving them four points back of 18th placed Real Valladolid and five shy of safety. Rayo could only muster three shots on target of the 16 efforts they ripped off, failing to create many truly big chances.

La Liga: Sevilla, Atletico jump past faltering Barcelona, Real Madrid

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Real Madrid lost on Saturday and Barcelona drew on Sunday, and those around them made them pay.

Sevilla and Atletico Madrid took over the top two spots in the La Liga table with Sunday victories, pushing Barcelona and Real Madrid back to third and fourth.

Atletico Madrid went first and topped Real Betis 1-0, an impressive feat given that Betis had conceded just two goals over its last eight matches, including seven clean sheets. Atletico held just 36% possession, but they still managed to out-shoot Betis 13-5, including 5-0 on target. The goal came in the 74th minute as substitute Angel Correa, who had come off the bench just before the hour mark, burst through the middle and shot a speculative effort towards the far post which Betis goalkeeper Pau Lopez somehow wasn’t able to reach.

While that momentarily brought Atletico to the top of the league table, Sevilla took that spot hours later as they topped Celta Vigo 2-1 at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium. Pablo Sarabia got things started in the 39th minute with a bullet header on a corner. Celta Vigo then went a man down as Mexican international Nestor Araujo picked up two yellow cards just two minutes apart and was off. He fouled Andre Silva by pulling him back on the break, and then just ticks later he chopped Silva down to earn an early shower. Sevilla then doubled its lead on a beautiful play as Silva expertly chipped the back line to a free Sarabia down the right, and he crossed to Wissam Ben Yedder for an easy tap-in at the far post. Former West Ham forward Sofiane Boufal scored a consolation for Celta just minutes before full-time to make things interesting but it wasn’t enough.

The pair of victory saw Sevilla move to the top of the La Liga table on 16 points, with Atletico right behind them at 15. Barcelona and Real Madrid each have 14 points, only ahead of Espanyol and Alaves on goal differential.

Espanyol got to that position by beating Villareal 3-1 in Barcelona thanks to Sergi Darder’s game winner in the 79th minute. It came on a bad mistake by Villareal’s Manu Trigueros who completely whiffed on his clear, allowing Melendo’s cross to reach Darder near the penalty spot. The home side pummeled Sergio Asenjo’s net, finishing the match with 28 shots, including 12 on target.

Barcelona had the late kick, visiting Valencia needing a win to re-take the La Liga lead, and they were unable to make it happen, only rescuing a 1-1 draw thanks to Lionel Messi’s equalizing goal. Barcelona had 76% possession during the match and out-passed Valencia 901-232, but were only able to get 10 shots off, putting five on target. Meanwhile, Valencia also managed 10 shots, with three on target, and scored just two minutes into the match. 31-year-old Argentinian defender Ezequiel Garay directed a near-post header on net off a corner, and Valencia had a stunning lead. Messi leveled in the 23rd minute on a one-two with Suarez, shooting into the bottom-right corner from outside the top of the box. Still, Barcelona fell back to third in the table thanks to the draw.

Season Preview: What should fans expect from Southampton?

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Southampton at a glance:

Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 0 (best finish: 2nd, 1983/84)

FA Cups: 1 (last: 1975/76)

League Cups: 0 (best finish: runners-up twice, last 2016/17)

FA Community Shield: 0 (runners-up 1976/77)

[ MORE: 2018-19 PL season preview hub ]  


It is very difficult to gauge what an acceptable season would be this year at Southampton. The Saints finished 8th, 7th, 6th, and 8th four consecutive Premier League seasons before last year’s shock to the system, avoiding relegation by just one place and three points.

So what is the goal this season? Should they target the top 10? Is it simply to stay up? Or can it be both, with the team shooting for a top-half slot but satisfied with safety if they fall short of the former?

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Much of this will take shape as the season trudges along. The squad theoretically has the depth needed to compete at this level, and while this summer’s haul hasn’t exactly jumped off the pages, it’s been enough to plug some big holes. With Mark Hughes at the helm, there are plenty of unknowns headed into 2018-19 with the Premier League’s most mysterious enigma.


Southampton will finish top 10 because…the squad depth is enough to secure results. Every team deals with injuries over the course of a long league season, and Southampton is well-equipped to handle it. With five natural center-backs on the roster and four natural strikers, the team is deep from top to bottom.

Southampton will struggle through a relegation battle because…the squad doesn’t have the star power necessary to make noise. Gone are the days of Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk, Graziano Pelle, Jose Fonte, and the rest of the players who have filtered out after finding steps up. Even Dusan Tadic departed this summer after struggling to maintain his form last year. Hughes will need to figure out his best eleven players soon, or too much tinkering will bring the team down. Hughes’ biggest test will come at the back…three center-backs played over 2,300 minutes last season across all competitions, and the team brought in another in Vestergaard for a high price. Someone will need to step up and earn the right to be deemed a star, or the team may find itself rudderless.

Best possible XI:

—— McCarthy—

Hoedt——Vestergaard——Yoshida——

Soares – Hojbjerg – Romeu – Armstrong – Bertrand

—————Gabbiadini——Austin——————

Transfers In: Jannik Vestergaard ($28.9 million, Borussia Monchengladbach), Mohamed Elyounoussi ($20.8 million, FC Basel), Angus Gunn ($13 million, Manchester City), Stuart Armstrong ($9.2 million, Celtic).

Transfers Out: Dusan Tadic ($13.3 million, Ajax), Florin Gardos (Free, CS Universitatea Craiova), Sofiane Boufal (Loan, Celta Vigo), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord, Loan).

Ranking their offseason: B-

Bringing in Vestergaard is a solid move, but strengthened a position of strength for Southampton. Elyounoussi hasn’t been great in preseason, so he has work to do to crack the starting lineup. The acquisition of Gunn was a quality move with Fraser Forster likely to leave. The biggest problem with Southampton’s offseason was the sale of Dusan Tadic at the lowest his value’s been maybe in his entire career. The electric playmaker had raided Premier League full-backs for years, but struggled last season. Now, at age 29, Southampton bailed after one bad season. They not only dumped Tadic, but failed to adequately replace him, at least until Elyounoussi proves he can compete on this stage. Still, the Southampton squad didn’t have a ton of holes to fill, and their summer has been at least promising. Saints transfer policy hasn’t been strong in recent years, with the acquisitions of Clasie and Boufal not panning out, with both loaned out this summer.

Star player: This is tough. There’s no true superstar on this roster, and nobody stands out among the rest. That is a positive from the standpoint that no one injury could take down this team, but from a negative, obviously the club will want someone to fill that role. At this point, Ryan Bertrand is probably the closest thing this team has to a star. The likely captain terrorizes opponents down the left flank, and has improved his defensive capabilities. Still, he’s nowhere close to a true “star” and Hughes will need him to step into that role this season.

Coach’s Corner: Nobody more embodies where Southampton stands right now than Mark Hughes. While it’s impossible to figure out just where this Southampton squad fits in the Premier League, so too is it impossible to truly judge how good or bad Mark Hughes is as a manager. He had mixed success in charge of Manchester City, was critical to Fulham’s success before abruptly resigning, failed miserably at QPR, led Stoke City to its best Premier League years ever before inexplicably becoming completely inept, and saved Southampton from relegation. It’s difficult to get a bead on just where Hughes stands in relation to his Premier League compatriots, but this season will be a true test of his abilities.

PST Predicts: This is one of the toughest calls of the entire 2018-19 table. Who knows what Southampton will show up this season? It’s hard to imagine they reach top 10 unless a true star emerges. On that note, a 12-13 finish seems appropriate for a team with few weaknesses but also few strengths. Much depends on how well Mark Hughes does in his first full season at St. Mary’s.