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Premier League Preview: Stoke City

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Stoke City have been in the top flight five consecutive seasons now, and with their reputation for the long ball, they’ve produced some of the less exciting matches during their Premier League stay.  During those five seasons, they have failed to push into the top 10 in the table, but have also not been too involved in any serious relegation battles.  Their table finishes since being promoted last have been a consistent 12th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 13th.  However, new management will look to some United States internationals to help crack the top half of the table for the first time since their automatic promotion.

Transfers in: D Marc Muniesa (Barcelona B, Spain), D Erik Pieters (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands), F Juan Agudelo – January 2014 (New England Revolution)

Transfers Out: GK Carlo Nash (Norwich City, England), D Matthew Upson (Brighton Hove & Albion, England), M Rory Delap (Burton Albion, England), M Dean Whitehead (Middlesbrough, England), F Michael Owen (retired)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: One of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League last season was Asmir Begovic (pictured), who practically kept Stoke out of the relegation battle single-handedly. Tony Pulis’s defense last season was a disaster, and Begovic was the biggest reason they gave up just 45 goals – fewer than any club finishing 8th or lower.

Stoke go as Begovic goes. The 26-year-old Bosnian was one of just four goalkeepers in the Premier League to have played every minute for the club, along with Joe Hart, Jussi Jaaskelainen, and Simon Mignolet.  By December 31 of last season, the keeper had the most clean sheets in the league with 9, which saw Stoke up to 8th position in the table.

To fix the leaks at the back, Stoke have shrewdly brought in highly-rated 21-year-old central defender Marc Muniesa from Barcelona on a free transfer, much to the surprise of many in the league.  The team also acquired young goalkeeping star Jack Butland in January after rumors flew that Begovic was on his way out to a Champions League club.  However, after Stoke warded off Arsenal and other suitors, Begovic will still be the key man for Stoke’s survival this season.

Manager: Tony Pulis stepped down after seven years in charge, an eternity in the European game these days.  Pulis was unable to get Stoke out of its stagnant bottom-half state, so by “mutual consent” the two sides went their separate ways.

Fellow Welshman, the “ambitious” Mark Hughes has taken his place, and after a tumultuous past three years, it’s probably Hughes’ last chance to prove to those in the game he can manage at a high level.  Hughes was sacked at Manchester City, but found himself amidst a successful year at Fulham.  The following summer, Hughes inexplicably left the job, proclaiming Fulham wasn’t “ambitious” enough for his liking, burning all his bridges there and creating quite a number of enemies.

He didn’t have a job in place when he left, and was passed over for jobs at Chelsea and Aston Villa.  He remained jobless for a year until being picked up by Queens Park Rangers, only to find himself sacked 6 months later with QPR bottom of the table.

Understandably, Hughes is in a position where only some serious success at Stoke could put him back on the radar of top clubs around the continent.

Outlook: Mark Hughes and the bunch have much to prove, although their findings in the transfer market (or lack thereof) don’t exactly reflect that. Hughes now has four Americans at his disposal, with Juan Agudelo joining Brek Shea, Geoff Cameron, and Maurice Edu. He needs to get moving to fill many more holes, including their difficulties last season scoring goals – they registered 34 scores, second-worst in the entire league. USMNT youngster Agudelo could help out here but that’s not until January. If they can’t find a player who wants to put the ball in the back of the net at the Britannia, it could be another long season for the Potters, and relegation could even be peeking over their shoulder come next spring.

Ranking the Copa America Centenario contenders

Copa America trophy — 2015 Copa America
AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo
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Sixteen teams enter next month’s Copa America Centenario tournament, and only one emerges as the champion of North, South and Central America.

Will it be Chile who continues its reign? Will Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay find revenge? Can a CONCACAF side thrive with the tourney in the United States?

[ PREVIEWS: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D ]

There a varying degrees of likelihood that a country rises above the field to win this year’s competition. In this post, we’ll rank the sides from 16 to 1, unlikeliest to likeliest.

16. Haiti — Happy to be there? Circling the Peru match on its calendar.

15. Venezuela — If Salomon Rondon can make things happen, who knows?

14. Bolivia — Lots of work to be done here.

13. Jamaica — Winfried Schaefer’s team has struggled since its strong Gold Cup.

12. Peru — Inexperience will be a problem.

11. Paraguay — Wins have been hard to come by for Los Guaraníes.

10. Panama — Are they primed for a run, or too old to outlast its group opponents?

9. Ecuador — Dangerous but inconsistent, La Tricolor has an easier group from which to advance than most.

8. Costa Rica — If the USMNT falters under the pressure of hosts, Los Ticos will be most likely to benefit in Group A.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

7. United States — Hosting is a big deal, and Jurgen Klinsmann seems ready to take a more orthodox approach to his lineups. The Yanks will run more than a few teams ragged, depending on how the chips fall.

6. Uruguay — Navigating the absence of Luis Suarez, which could last the group stage or longer, knocks them down a peg.

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

5. Mexico — It’s another golden generation for El Tri, and it’s not far-fetched to imagine Mexico makes a run at everything.

4. Colombia — James Rodriguez goes back to being the focal point of an attack, and will remind us just how good he is while under the spotlight.

3. Chile — Repeating is hard, and Chile had a lot of home cooking good fortune in its hosted run to a first title.

2. Brazil — No the side won’t be fully loaded, but Dunga has shown he knows how to run a side with or without Neymar.

  1. Argentina — This could be Lionel Messi’s year to lift hardware for club and country.

Ferdinand lauds Mourinho hiring: “This winner is now a wounded animal”

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Rio Ferdinand isn’t waiting for Manchester United to make it official, lauding the hiring of Jose Mourinho as his former club’s latest manager.

Ferdinand said Mourinho’s personality is “made for this great club”, as the longtime Red Devils defender took to Facebook to hail the Special One.

[ MORE: Five things United must do under Mourinho ]

Ferdinand, 37, made 455 appearances for United in a 19-year career that included stops at West Ham, QPR, Bournemouth and Leeds.

He says Mourinho will be a motivated and dangerous boss when he takes control in place of fired manager Louis Van Gaal.

“After his recent unsuccessful time at Chelsea in the final year, I can assure you this winner is now a wounded animal which makes him such a mouthwatering appointment. Jose went from winning the League Cup & Premier League to a season of disappointment at Chelsea and I am certain he will want to restore all of that very quickly.”

LISTEN: Copa America drops official song “Superstar” (Pitbull warning)

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Pitbull has joined forces with Becky G to make the official song of the Copa America Centenario, “Superstar”, which they will perform before the final.

I know Pitbull for liking light beer, and Becky G for going on dates with Sebastian Lletget of the L.A. Galaxy.

[ PREVIEWS: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D ]

This, in all its pop glory, has a catchy-enough hook and a stadium-like chant that hopes to catch on like “Seven Nation Army”. The kids should dig it.

That’s all I got. Enjoy the jammage.

Report: Mourinho signs deal with Manchester United

Chelsea's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho gestures during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on October 26, 2014.  AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS 

RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.        (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Noon ET.

That’s the time Sky Sports claims that Jose Mourinho put pen to paper on a deal that makes him the latest manager of Manchester United.

[ MORE: Five things United must do under Mourinho ]

The report says Mourinho returned home with a bottle of red wine after signing the deal at a London hotel.

From Sky Sports:

Mourinho symbolically wore a black and red tie for the final stage of negotiations, and the deal is completed on the 12th anniversary of his winning the Champions League for the first time with Porto.

Now, we wait. As a publicly-traded company, there are certain constraints United faces in making announcements that other clubs don’t have to entertain.