Which EPL managers are under pressure already?

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The beach towels are packed away, the running shoes have somehow found their way out of the closet and the brand new stopwatches are ready to roll.

Preseason is here. Welcome to a soccer players nightmare.

Most English Premier League sides returned to training this week as managers, players and the coaching staff are preparing themselves for the long, hard slog between now and the end of the season in May 2014.

But it is perhaps, surprisingly, some of the managers who are already beginning to feel the strain of life in England’s top flight.

This may be crazy to talk about six weeks before the season even begins, but the odds are already out on which managers will be fired first in the EPL.

Preseason has just begun. But so has the dreaded sack race.

With the new bumper TV deal landing EPL clubs a cash windfall, last season saw intense pressure heaped upon the shoulders of managers. Some chairman actually resisted the urge to fire managers as they didn’t want too much upheaval leading to relegation.

But the upheaval has been immense since the last ball of the 2012-13 season was kicked on May 19, 2013. Of the current 20 EPL managers, 10 weren’t in charge of their current sides for the start of the 2012-13 EPL campaign.

So they’ve had their settling in period or summer of bedding in. The honeymoon is over and plenty of head coaches will be sweating in the English sun when August 17 arrives.

Let’s see who the contenders are to win the dreaded EPL ‘sack race.’

Steve Bruce (Hull City)

Yes, he just got Hull City promoted. But Bruce’s squad is in need of a major overhaul to compete in the EPL. They were the surprise package of the Championship last term and if things go pear shaped early on, expect Bruce to make a sharp exit.

Paolo Di Canio (Sunderland)

The eccentric Italian manager could guide Sunderland to the top six… or they could crash and burn. Di Canio has overhauled the squad and isn’t making many friends with the playing squad previous manager Martin O’Neill assembled. Di Canio has until Christmas to turning the Black Cats into a top ten team.

Alan Pardew (Newcastle United)

Newcastle United’s controversial appointment of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football has left Pardew in an incredibly tough position. Couple that with the Geordies relegation threatened season last-time out, and Pardew could be packing his bags by November. Plenty of new signings didn’t perform from January onwards, Pardew needs them to improve or his it out.

 Mauricio Pochettino (Southampton)

This is a bit of a long shot but the Argentine manager knows he must deliver a top ten finish for the St. Mary’s outfit. Southampton are planning to splash the cash between now and August and their ambitious chairman wants to kick on and challenge for a European spot. If they falter after a relatively easy start to the campaign, Pochettino could be packing his bags.

Martin Jol (Fulham)

Last season was a peculiar one at Craven Cottage. At times Martin Jol’s Fulham side looked like world-beaters but on other occasions they were reminiscent of an average League Two outfit at best. Jol is walking a tight-rope as fans are getting restless with the lack of progress on the banks of the River Thames.

Louis van Gaal to take over at Everton?

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Bookmakers have slashed the odds of Louis Van Gaal becoming Everton’s new manager.

Van Gaal, 66, is now the second favorite to be the next permanent Toffees boss with Watford manager Marco Silva still the favorite to take charge at Goodison Park despite Everton having two bids for the Portuguese manager knocked back.

David Unsworth continues to lead Everton on an interim basis but with unimpressive results and performances, the jury is out on him being handed the job on a permanent basis.

LVG has been out of work since being fired by Manchester United in the summer of 2016, a few days after he won the FA Cup. The Dutchman and his unconventional methods led United to fourth and fifth place Premier League finishes in his two season at Old Trafford but he was often criticized by fans for their slow, predictable style of play.

Would van Gaal be a good fit for Everton?

His “name” would perhaps suit owner Farhad Moshiri who is looking to push Everton onto the next level and LVG’s penchant for developing young talent throughout his managerial career certainly aligns with Everton’s philosophy. Given the large number of talented youngsters they currently have (Ademola Lookman, Tom Davies, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Mason Holgate to name a few) this may not be the worst appointment in the world.

Is van Gaal a bit odd? Yes, he’s pretty nuts. Would he be hungry to prove everyone in England wrong? Yes, he would be. Are Everton a team which has hit rock bottom and can easily improve in the coming months? Yes, that’s true. The lack of current candidates for the job do suggest that Everton’s expectations are perhaps a lot higher than their currently playing squad (assembled by LVG’s nemesis Ronald Koeman) can achieve.

Given his experience at Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man United, plus leading AZ Alkmaar, who had similar expectations to Everton, to a Dutch league title, perhaps the Toffees could do a lot worse than appointing LVG. That may be an unpopular opinion but if Everton can’t get Silva, can they really keep caretaker boss Unsworth in charge for much longer?

Plus, he’s always good value in press conferences and there would be plenty of added intrigue at Everton.

Niasse first-ever PL player to be charged with “deception”

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Oumar Niasse will go down in the history books. Not for a good reason.

[ RECAP: Palace 2-2 Everton

On Tuesday the English Football Association announced that Everton’s striker had succeeded in “successful deception of a match official” when winning a penalty kick for the Toffees at Crystal Palace on Saturday during their 2-2 draw.

In charging Niasse with simulation, he becomes the first-ever Premier League player to be sanctioned under new rules introduced in May.

Players in the lower-tiers of English soccer have already been banned for two games during this season for simulation and Niasse can either accept his automatic two-match ban or appeal the decision.

Niasse went down under minimal contact from Palace’s Scott Dann in the box and won a sixth-minute penalty kick which Leighton Baines scored. Niasse, who came close to joining Palace in the transfer deadline day in the summer, later scored an equalizer to make it 2-2.

The FA had the following to say about the decision to charge Niasse.

 “Incidents which suggest a match official has been deceived by an act of simulation are referred to a panel consisting of one ex-match official, one ex-manager and one ex-player. Each panel member will be asked to review all available video footage independently of one another to determine whether they consider it was an offence of ‘Successful Deception of a Match Official.’ Only in circumstances where the panel are unanimous would the FA issue a charge.”

Niasse did go down very easily and was looking straight towards referee Anthony Taylor for a penalty kick, which he received. If he appeals, it’s unlikely he will win it.

There is no place in the game for simulation and although it won’t get two points back for Crystal Palace, hopefully these bans will stamp it out of the game.

I’m all for more of these bans being dished out to stamp out the problem of simulation.

Premier League vet Kenwyne Jones retires at age 33

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It wasn’t the season that Kenwyne Jones had expected in his first Major League Soccer season, but the veteran Trinidad & Tobago striker had himself quite the career.

[ MORE: Miguel Almiron wins MLS Newcomer of the Year ]

Jones, 33, announced his retirement on Monday after boasting an extensive career in England prior to finishing up his playing with Atlanta United.

Atlanta opted not to renew Jones’ contract with the club after scoring twice in 17 appearances this season for the expansion side.

The Trinidadian posted the following message to supporters on Twitter this afternoon.

Jones spent nine seasons in the Premier League, including stints with Southampton, Stoke City and Sunderland.

Additionally, the forward played for Al Jazira from UAE in 2016 before moving on loan to Central in his native Trinidad prior to his arrival in Atlanta’s debut MLS season.

Eibar routs Betis 5-0 to snap 8-game winless streak in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Eibar routed 10-man Real Betis 5-0 in the Spanish league on Monday, ending an eight-match winless streak in all competitions.

Eibar hadn’t won since Sept. 15. It had lost six of its eight matches since then.

[ MORE: Brighton, Stoke finish level after Izquierdo’s second-half finish ]

The hosts got on the board with an own goal by Betis defender Jordi Amat just six minutes in, and midfielder Gonzalo Escalante scored with a header near halftime.

Striker Charles Dias scored twice in the second half, and Sergi Enrich closed the scoring in front of less than 5,000 fans at Ipurua Stadium.

“We deserved a victory like this to help us regain our confidence,” Enrich said.

Betis played with 10 men from the 55th as Aissa Mandi was red-carded for the foul that prompted a penalty kick converted by Dias.

“It was difficult to recover after we went a man down and they scored the third goal,” Betis midfielder Joaquin Sanchez said.

Eibar remained 17th in the 20-team standings, just outside the relegation zone.

Betis, winless in three matches, dropped to ninth place.

Barcelona leads by four points over second-place Valencia.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga