Tottenham Hotspur's Bale reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Sunderland in London

Still no Gareth Bale. But final Premier League friendlies reveal plenty


LONDON — One man was missing, again, on Saturday as Gareth Bale wasn’t in Tottenham’s squad for their final preseason friendly against Espanyol on Saturday afternoon.

In fact, Bale wasn’t anywhere to be seen at White Hart Lane.

The 23-year-old Welshman is having his head turned by Real Madrid and rumors of a $120 million transfer fee continues to swirl around Bale and Tottenham.

But Bale’s future aside, the preparations are done. Preseason is all but over.

The final warmups are completed and in seven days the 2013-14 Premier League season will begin. And after today’s friendlies we have a much better idea of how some of the big teams will line up come August 17.

On Saturday some high-profile friendlies took place as the Premier League’s finest had one final tuneup before the curtain raiser next weekend.

Tottenham faced Spanish side Espanyol at White Hart Lane, while Arsenal and Manchester City squared off against each other in Helsinki.

Arsenal defeated Man City 3-1 in Finland, with goals from Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott cancelling out Alvaro Negredo’s strike.

While Spurs looked impressive at White Hart Lane, barely giving Espanyol a sniff in the first half. New $40 million signing from Valencia, Roberto Soldado, scored from the penalty spot on his home debut to open the scoring and as the game played out, Tottenham looked composed.

The old adage that flies around during preseason is true. “Results don’t matter.” “It’s all about fitness,” blah, blah, blah…

But it’s true. Nobody is worried about the scorelines. The performances matter and most importantly, who is out there playing.

Here are the starters for Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester City one week from the start of the season. And when Manchester United play Wigan in the Community Shield on Sunday, David Moyes’ first-choice lineup should be revealed. Wayne Rooney aside. While elsewhere, Liverpool and Chelsea have a pretty settle look to their squads.

Anyway, have a look at these. Which team looks the strongest right now?

Tottenham’s Starting XI: Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Fryers, Rose; Dembele, Chadli, Paulinho; Lennon, Soldado, Sigurdsson

Arsenal’s Starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Podolski

Manchester City Starting XI: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva, Milner, Dzeko, Negredo

Arsenal have hardly changed. Is that a good or a bad thing? Well, they only really need to add maybe one more holding midfielder and a top quality striker. After an incredible finish to last season, the Gunners haven’t lost anyone and look strong.

Man City are a work in progress but Negredo continues to score and City may start with two strikers with Edin Dzeko once again getting the nod. Their back four remains the same and Fernandinho has replaced Gareth Barry in the holding midfield role.

While Tottenham were exciting and dynamic going forward, with Soldado supported by Aaron Lennon, Nacer Chadli, Sigurdsson and brief forays forward from Paulinho and Dembele. But some work is needed defensively with Jan Vertonghen out injured.

You can never read too much into friendlies but these lineups give a great insight into what managers think their strongest XI is going forward.

Seven days to go. Will these starting lineups be the same for the opening day of the Premier League?

Why Arsenal can win the Premier League title

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LONDON — Before the 2015-16 Premier League season began, all of the momentum was behind Arsenal’s bid to win the Premier League title for the first time since 2003-04.

Eight weeks in, despite a topsy-turvy start to the season, the momentum is once again building behind Arsene Wenger‘s men as they rode a blistering start to seal a 3-0 win over fellow title contenders Manchester United on Sunday.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Many would suggest United fell at their first major hurdle this season, with Arsenal’s fluid front three of Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil ripping apart their makeshift backline. But what about the Gunners, can they kick on and sustain a lengthy title challenge?

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers fired ]

Manchester City is their biggest challenger, with the offensive power of Manuel Pellegrini‘s side making them the title favorites. However, considering how easily Arsenal brushed aside United thanks to their supreme attacking talents, Wenger’s men have supreme attackers of their own and sent out a message out to the rest of the PL. At least, that’s what striker Walcott had to say after he set up two goals and put in a dominant display.

“After the Olympiakos disappointment we started this game completely differently. We caught them on the break, we maybe eased off in the second half but the clean sheet was crucial for the whole team today,” Walcott said. “This game will send out a message to the Premier League that we are ready to have a go this season.”

So, according to Theo they are ready, but why can Arsenal win the title?


After his summer signing from Chelsea, the Czech Republic stopper has cemented himself as the undisputed No. 1 for the Gunners… no matter what Wenger says. The Arsenal manager was lambasted for leaving Cech out of Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League defeat to Olympiakos last week, as his replacement, David Ospina, made a howler to hand the Greek side a 3-2 defeat, but Cech proved his importance to Arsenal once again on Sunday. Looking past his mistakes in the opening day defeat to West Ham United, Cech has already made several stop saves this season (hence the bemusement for him being left out of the UCL games) and although Arsenal led 3-0 after 19 minutes on Sunday he was called into action at pivotal stages.

Right on half time Anthony Martial got free in the box and Cech saved at close range, gobbling up the Frenchman’s low shot. Not long into the second half he showed great bravery to dive at the feet of Bastian Schweinsteiger and he was faultless throughout as he claimed high balls and marshaled Arsenal’s backline. Cech, 33, won everything possible with Chelsea, now he could be the key cog in Arsenal’s quest for glory.


Arsenal’s success on Sunday was largely down to having a settled front three who all knew their jobs and performed them with ruthless efficiency. With Walcott through the middle, Alexis Sanchez off to the left and Mesut Ozil off to the right, the Gunners possessed the perfect amount of creativity and pace. With Olivier Giroud up top, the Gunners are sometimes too reliant on knocking high balls up to the Frenchman and hoping for the best. With the Walcott-Sanchez-Ozil trio, United couldn’t deal with their movement in behind their backline.

It may have been Sanchez and Ozil who got the goals, but Wenger reserved special praise for Walcott after the game as his non-stop running saw the England international lauded by the home fans throughout.

“I hope and I believe it can,” Wenger said when asked if the trio is the answer. “I must say, Walcott had a hugely committed performance today and a very convincing one. He didn’t score but I like to praise the strikers when they don’t score but contribute and give assists. He was involved in two goals and he showed that he can fight and commit and protect the ball as well. He is gaining aspects of his game as a center forward and is improving.”


When you look at the rest of the Premier League, the title race doesn’t seem wide-open. Yes, United, City and Arsenal have all lost two of their opening eight games of the season, while Chelsea has lost four times, but when you look at it overall, only Arsenal and City have the credentials to challenge for the title. Given City’s tendency to blow hot and cold, there may have not been a better time for the Gunners to win the title in the past 10 seasons.

Arsenal have now faced Chelsea away and Manchester United at home, while their next six PL fixtures (trips to Watford, Swansea, West Brom and Norwich, plus home games against Tottenham and Everton) give them a chance to set up a battle with City for the top spot between now and the busy festive period. Wenger agreed with Walcott and believes his side sent out a statement to the rest of the PL as they thrashed United.

“To win in a big game is always a statement and we are in it, you know. We are two points off the leaders Manchester City,” Wenger said. “I hope that result today will give us belief and ambition to fight for it [the title], yes.”

Who next? Klopp, Ancelotti main contenders to take over at Liverpool

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With Brendan Rodgers fired by Liverpool on Sunday, the first question many are asking is: who is next?

Rodgers, 42, was sacked just eight games into his fourth season in charge at Anfield, as a poor start to the current campaign, coupled with spending over $280 million on largely under-performing new players in the past two summers, has seen the Northern Irishman lose his job.

[ MORE: Rodgers fired by Liverpool ]

Despite almost leading Liverpool to their first Premier League title in 2013-14, Rodgers’ side have been on a downward spiral ever since. With the likes of Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling all leaving Anfield over the past 12 months, the pressure has been building on Rodgers as his new recruits haven’t been up to scratch.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Rodgers getting sacked ]

The former Swansea City manager is famed for creating an attractive brand of soccer, but with talk surrounding a transfer committee making plenty of decisions on signing new players, his assistant coaches being fired in the summer and growing unrest as Liverpool have failed to win any silverware during his time in charge, it proved too much for Rodgers to withstand.

Let’s take a quick look at the main contenders to take over at Anfield:

  • Jurgen Klopp – The former Borussia Dortmund manager is the overwhelming favorite to take over. His passion and ability to reignite a sleeping giant with a large fanbase (see: Dortmund) will resonate strongly with Liverpool’s owners. He won two Bundesliga titles at Dortmund with a young, exciting team and also led them to the UEFA Champions League final in 2013. The German coach speaks very good English and is currently on a self-imposed sabbatical after leaving Dortmund at the end of last season. Klopp has been waiting for a chance to manage in England for quite some time. Now, it seems to have arrived.
  • Carlo Ancelotti – He delivered the Premier League during his two seasons at Chelsea, and Ancelotti is a man with an incredible resume when it comes to winning the biggest trophies at the biggest clubs in Europe. He led AC Milan to a Serie A title and two UEFA Champions League trophies, then led Real Madrid to Champions League glory in 2014 before leaving last summer. Many believe Ancelotti is a man you bring in to manage top class players, which Liverpool is lacking at this point in time. At 56, could this job be too late in his career to undertake?
  • Frank de Boer – A long shot, the Dutch manager has done exceptionally well with a small budget and a group of young players at Ajax. He has won four Dutch titles in five years as Ajax boss. This would be way out of left field if it happens, but de Boer has the pedigree from a fine playing career and has cultivated an exciting playing style in Amsterdam.
  • Walter Mazzarri – The former Napoli manager brought plenty of success to Stadio San Paolo as he brought an attacking brand of soccer in a 3-4-3 formation and took the Serie A side to the UEFA Champions League. He didn’t fare so well at Inter Milan, but Mazzarri has a track record of working with exciting attacking players such as Hamsik, Cavani and Lavezzi.
  • Who else? – That is the biggest question and perhaps points to why the decision to fire Rodgers is baffling, if Liverpool don’t have a replacement already lined up. Current PL managers such as Garry Monk and Ronald Koeman have been mentioned, as well as Zenit St Petersbug boss Andre Villas-Boas, but the truth of the matter is, outside of Klopp and Ancelotti, there doesn’t seem to be many managers capable of taking Liverpool to the next level of challenging for silverware and getting back into the UEFA Champions League.