Soccer-West Brom's Mel tackles old foe in first English joust

By Ossian Shine

SOUTHAMPTON, England, Jan 10 (Reuters) - West Bromwich Albion's new boss Pepe Mel could be forgiven for allowing himself a little smile when he rolls up his sleeves on Friday for his first full day in the Hawthorns hot-seat.

It will not be lost on the Spaniard that his first challenge as Baggies boss is to overcome an old adversary when his side visit Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton in an English Premier League tussle on Saturday.

The last time these two Latin leaders locked horns, Mel came out on top as Pochettino, banished to the stands, squirmed through his Espanyol side's 1-0 defeat to Real Betis at the Estadio Benito Villamarin in September 2012.

Swap Spain's La Liga for the English Premier League, that Seville stadium for St Mary's, and the pair are at it again.

This time, though, Mel is expected to be watching from the comfy seats as he gets up to speed and allows assistant head coach Keith Downing to see his charges through this clash.

Regardless of where Mel sits himself, the intensity will be palpable as the 50-year-old Spaniard plots a winning start to his new job.

Pochettino, on the other hand, is desperate to draw a line under a recent sticky patch threatening to undermine the Argentine's fantastic early work on the south coast.

Despite very different starts to the season - starts which saw Pochettino feted throughout England, and Mel's predecessor Steve Clarke sacked - just six points now separate ninth-placed Saints and West Brom in 14th.


Indeed, Southampton are seeking a first league win at St Mary's in more than two months, and Pochettino hopes a scrappy 4-3 FA Cup win over Burnley last time out will help his side recalibrate.

"The Burnley win was an important one, and this has been an important week," he told Southampton's television service Saints Player.

"Slowly but surely the players are starting to come back into training fully-fit, so the team is becoming more dynamic and as it was at the start of the season."

The Argentine said his target was simple. "To win games - there is nothing more to focus on than winning the games we have to face. It is clear that every single game in the league is important and every single one is going to be tough."

Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc is close to recovering from a hand injury he sustained at the start of December and may be involved against the Baggies, but Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama will not be fit in time.

Both Rickie Lambert and Uruguayan Gaston Ramirez look set to feature despite picking up knocks against Burnley, though, in news that will hardly thrill West Brom's England goalkeeper Ben Foster.

"Whenever Rickie Lambert has come in he has done the job," Foster said of the Saints striker's appearances for England.

"They have a lot of quality in the team," he added, reflecting on Southampton. "The way they play is very high tempo, they're always working and shutting you down.

"They don't give you a minute's breath." (Editing by John O'Brien)