Mark Hughes

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Top Premier League storylines for Week 15

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It’s a quick turnaround from the weekend as the Premier League launches into a round of midweek fixtures on Tuesday and Wednesday — round 15 of the 2018-19 season.

[ MORE: Modric ends Messi, Ronaldo’s 10-year duopoly on Ballon d’or ]

Here are the five storylines we’ll be watching most closely over the next 48 hours…


Struggling Man United host surging Arsenal
Man United vs. Arsenal, 3 p.m. ET, Wednesday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

While Arsenal spent the latter days of Arsene Wenger‘s reign scraping and clawing their way to fourth-place finishes, Manchester United were still living the glory days of competing for, and winning, titles. Now, fast-forward a few years since Sir Alex Ferguson‘s retirement, and the Red Devils would bite your hand off if you offered them so much as a chance at finishing fourth come May. Following the club’s worst start in the PL era, fortunes haven’t improved all that much for Jose Mourinho’s side: just two points to show for their last three PL outings, while Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 12 and enter Wednesday’s trip to Old Trafford on the back of a 4-2 thrashing of Tottenham on Sunday.

Man City, Liverpool continue title race marathon
Watford vs. Man City, 3 p.m. ET, Tuesday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]
Burnley vs. Liverpool, 2:45 p.m. ET, Wednesday, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Manchester City and Liverpool have combined to drop just two points between them over the last six rounds of fixtures. Those two points, dropped by Liverpool away to Arsenal, are the difference between first and second heading into this midweek round of games. Both will be away from home against eminently beatable opposition, as City visit 10th-place Watford (winless in four games, including three losses) while Liverpool will take on 19th-place Burnley (winless in their last seven games, including five losses).

Post-Hughes era begins at Southampton
Tottenham vs. Southampton, 3 p.m. ET, Wednesday, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Mark Hughes became the second PL manager to be fired this season when Southampton sent the former Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and Stoke boss packing. Saints sit 18th in the table with just nine points after 14 games, and have grown more and more desperate for a turn of luck with each passing week. Saturday’s draw with Manchester United might prove a decent place to begin, but it clearly wasn’t enough to save Hughes’ job. On the other side, Spurs will be just as desperate to bounce back from their north London derby defeat to Arsenal and move back into the top-four.

Harsh reality check for Wolves
Wolves vs. Chelsea, 2:45 p.m. ET, Wednesday, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers’ return to the PL went just swimmingly for the first two months, at which point Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side sat seventh in the table. Since then, the harsh reality of competing in arguably the world’s most competitive league has set in with five defeats during their ongoing six-game winless skid. Heading into Wednesday’s visit from third-place Chelsea, Wolves sit a modest 12th place in the table, but their points total now closer to 16th place than they are to seventh.

Report: Saints, manager Hasenhuttl agree in principle

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Well, that was quick.

There’s a good reason that many reports of Mark Hughes’ sacking by Southampton included the note that Saints would like to hire Ralph Hasenhuttl as his replacement.

[ MORE: Four big Berhalter questions ]

Hasenhuttl has agreed in principle to take charge of the Premier League side after good talks on Monday, according to Sky Sports.

The 51-year-old Austrian manager has led Aalen and Ingolstadt to promotion in Germany’s lower tiers, and led RB Leipzig to Champions League qualification in their first Bundesliga season.

Hasenhuttl was eight-times capped by Austria during a 16-year career spent between Austria Wien, Austria Salzburg, and several other teams.

Saints sit 18th, a point back of safety.

Southampton sacks Mark Hughes

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Southampton has changed managers for the second time in eight months, this time firing Mark Hughes.

Assistant coach Kelvin Davis will take the reins for Wednesday’s match against Tottenham Hotspur, as a report says Saints could be set to appoint former RB Leipzig manager Ralph Hasenhüttl to the post.

UPDATE: Hasenhuttl has reportedly agreed in principle to join Saints.

The club is also said to be considering former Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores, and is looking at its former head of recruitment, Paul Mitchell, as a replacement for technical director Les Reed.

[ MORE: Klopp reacts, apologizes for celebration ]

Southampton lost a 2-0 lead in drawing Manchester United on Saturday, moving a point back of 17th place Huddersfield Town.

Hughes finishes his tenure at St. Mary’s with just three league wins in 22 matches, though he did rally the club to safety last season.

Saints visit Spurs on Wednesday before heading to Cardiff City in a big relegation six-pointer on Saturday. After that, it’s Arsenal and Huddersfield on the fixture list.

Southampton has one win this season, a Sept. 1 win at Crystal Palace.

Hughes says Southampton struggling to grasp key moments

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Mark Hughes was left shaking his head again after Southampton slumped to a 2-0 defeat at Monlineux, and knows the team can earn results if they just grasp hold of games better.

With the Saints sitting 15th in the Premier League table on just five points, owning just a single win on the season, Hughes believes the team has to start earning results befitting of the 90-minute performances.

“As an away team, as an away performance, I thought it was a good performance,” Hughes said. “But, when you’re in games like that, you’ve got to get the key moments and details of the game right, and you’ve got to make sure you take something out of a game you’ve played a big part in and for long periods dominated. On too many occasions we’ve done ok in away games, but not got what we’ve deserved, and that was an example today.”

Wolves wasn’t exactly the better team over the course of the 90 minutes on Saturday, and Southampton owned a slight advantage in both possession (51%-49%) and shots (17-14 total, 6-6 on target). Mohamed Elyounoussi was dangerous at times, and Danny Ings came into the match in good goalscoring form.

It’s not the only time this season Southampton struggled late in games. They slumped to a 2-2 draw late against Brighton & Hove Albion after conceding a 2-0 lead, and coughed up a 1-0 lead to Leicester in a 2-1 loss.

“I think frustration is the key element of the dressing room,” Hughes said. “We were quite comfortable at half-time. We had the majority of the play, good possession, we kept the ball away from them well.”

“I think we’ve had more possession, more shots on goal, so it’s not as if we’ve sat back and waited for our fate to be decided. We’ve come here with good intention and a positive attitude, and I feel if we’d have scored first we would have won the game. But goals change games. They got the second while we were trying to get back on level terms, and that can happen, but disappointed in the manner we conceded.”

It won’t get any easier for Saints, who host Chelsea at St. Mary’s next weekend followed by a visit to 9th placed Bournemouth after the international break.

PL Preview: Liverpool vs. Southampton

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  • Southampton has not scored a PL goal vs. Liverpool since 2016, a run of 4 games
  • Liverpool has never won its first 7 matches in a season in club history
  • Southampton has not won vs. any of last season’s PL top 6 teams in 24 games

Liverpool finally showed a weakness. Liverpool was finally human.

Until they weren’t.

When the Reds toppled Paris Saint-Germain in the 91st minute on Tuesday, it struck fear into the hearts of the rest of Europe. Can anyone actually stop this whirring machine? Sure, you might score some goals against Liverpool, but can you score enough?

[ WATCH LIVE: Liverpool vs. Southampton on NBCSports.com ]

Southampton visits Anfield hoping to avoid becoming Liverpool’s next victim Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com. The Saints have been a mixed bag so far this season, but coughing up a 2-0 lead at home to Brighton last weekend was a less than ideal way to send the team off to Anfield. Not only that, but they’ll have to match the Reds without top scorer Danny Ings, who is ineligible to play against his parent club.

That thrusts strike partner Shane Long into a solo role, or forces Mark Hughes to bring on the misfiring Manolo Gabbiadini to pair with Long, although the Italian is struggling with a hamstring injury himself and will require a late fitness test to make the squad. Either way, it appears a daunting task for the visitors to Merseyside.

For the Reds, Roberto Firmino is fully healthy, having recovered completely from his eye injury suffered last weekend against Tottenham. Adam LallanaDivock Origi, and Dominic Solanke are all out injured but otherwise the squad is nearly complete. Only Dejan Lovren remains on the sidelines, but even the Croatian is nearing a return from his pelvic injury.

What they’re saying

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on playing at home: “Are we ready to create the best atmosphere of all games? That would be cool. We need to show Southampton how difficult it is to come to Anfield.”

Southampton manager Mark Hughes on playing Liverpool: “It’s a game that is going to test us because the team we are facing looks on top of their form in terms of individuals and the collective functioning really well.”

Prediction

Southampton has looked promising this season in spurts, but this isn’t the game where they put it all together. Liverpool is a nearly unstoppable force at home, and there’s no reason that should change. The only concerning bit of information for Liverpool heading into this match is last season’s record following Champions League games, when they won just once while losing once and drawing four, but this year has proven Liverpool has a new gear. The Reds will win 3-1, with things shaky for some time down the stretch until a late insurance goal puts the game away.