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Premier League Preview: Liverpool FC

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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.

History counts for a lot, of course, but it’s getting harder to recall that Liverpool FC has won more European trophies than any other English club.

Liverpool as a city was an economic mess in the 70s and 80s, but the soccer at Anfield Road was king, with hardware tumbling in regularly from league play, the FA Cup and European appearances. There is also some grim history attached to the club, which has been front and center in two of the game’s big black marks of another, more troubled time. In 1985, Liverpool was banned from Europe temporarily for its part in the Heysel Stadium disaster, where 39 Juventus fans died in Belgium.

And in 1989, 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death in the terrible Hillsborough tragedy.

Liverpool enjoys famous rivalries with Manchester United and Everton, the latter of which is the twice-annual (and highly volatile) “Merseyside derby.”

Transfers In: Kolo Toure (Manchester City), Luis Alberto (Sevilla), Iago Aspas (Celta de Vigo), Simon Mignolet (Sunderland).

Transfers Out: Jamie Carragher (retired), Danny Wilson (Heart of Midlothian), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City), Suso (Almeria), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Jay Spearing (Bolton Wanderers).

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: Uruguayan starlet Luis Suarez is a striker with significant bite to his game, as we know. What we do not know is long he’ll remain at Anfield, as this sad summer of “will he or won’t he?” drags on. Meanwhile, the attack doesn’t look too bad without him, and a lot of that is about emerging striker Daniel Sturridge and playmaker Philippe Coutinho.

Sturridge (pictured left) looms even larger in the Liverpool equation, given Suarez’s insistence on locating the rear exit. And we could argue that the young striker will shine even brighter as the attacking focal point. That’s saying a lot since Sturridge hit 10 goals in just 14 appearances last year.

Already an England international, one blessed with size, technique and pace, Sturridge wears the stamp of “budding star.”

Manager: The word seen so frequently around Brendan Rodgers over the last few months at Anfield is “patience.”  This year, increasingly, the term we are likely to see alongside is “running out,” unless he keeps things steadily moving in the right direction.

We are now a year into Rodgers’ modernization project at Anfield as the manager attempts to mold Liverpool’s style into something resembling his previous fine work at Swansea, with dynamic tactics, dominant possession, balls on the ground and a high defensive line.

Things didn’t start well in Rodgers’ first go-round at The Kop, but a stronger second half last year inspired hope of better days, something that looked like the actual “better days” around Anfield. Either way, the rebuilding certainly goes on for Rodgers, who may begin his second Liverpool campaign with five new starters, depending on the resolution of this Suarez situation.

In Rodgers, who is from Northern Ireland, Liverpool has an innovator who is looking to build a long-term model for success while constructing a team that can win with style; we’ll see if the supporters and the club’s American ownership have the patience for it.

Outlook: Liverpool is a tough PL nut to crack at the moment due to the Suarez tumult. Long story short, the team’s top man and easily its best goal scorer wants out; management at Anfield wants him to stay rather than chase Champions League ambition at Arsenal, and the situation remains a distracting stalemate. With Suarez, volatile figure though he is, a top four PL finish is far more reachable. His 51 goals in 90 matches for the club speak for themselves, as that is truly a prodigious rate.

Spaniards Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto, summer reinforcements for Rodgers, should help ease the sting of a Suarez departure while helping the manager establish that continental flourish.

Replacing Carragher’s presence on the back line is up to Kolo Toure, but it’s the longtime Liverpool man’s leadership that will be most sorely missed.

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Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.

Sean Dyche says Joey Barton should have a TV show

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Joey Barton of Burnley (L) and Matt Rhead of Lincoln City (R) exchange words during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Burnley and Lincoln City at Turf Moor on February 18, 2017 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Burnley manager Sean Dyche says Joey Barton‘s life is chock full of fascinating moments, so much so that he should have his own TV show.

Except when he’s behind closed doors at Burnley, of course. Then he’s a stand up individual. Right, sure.

“It could be a TV series,” Dyche said in his pre-match press conference ahead of an away tilt with Hull City. “Being Joey. It’d be interesting. Never a dull moment.”

But of course, immediately after that, Dyche switched gears. “Unless he’s in here, training with me,” he backtracked. “I think it’s pantomime stuff. I’ve seen a lot more controversy around Joey than that. If that’s as far as it goes, I’ll be a happy man.”

“That” referred to Barton’s embarrassing dive in the FA Cup loss to non-league opponents Lincoln City where the midfielder play-acted after nothing more than a brush of the elbow from Matt Rhead, falling to the ground and clutching his head. Barton was involved in a number of heated moments during that match, adding to his already massive list of controversial moments in a mercurial career.

“Joey’s been terrific,” Dyche said. “I thought by a mile, by an absolute mile, he was the best player on the pitch last weekend. So he’s been absolutely fine. He’s in good nick – as you can see – and he’s definitely up for the challenges that come in front of us.”

But word of Joey Barton apparently hasn’t reached London. A few weeks ago, ahead of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Burnley on February 12th, Blues manager Antonio Conte was asked if he was familiar with Burnley’s squad and Barton in particular – an admittedly leading question – and Conte was unable to give an immediate answer. He instead asked his press officer muttering, “Joey Barton?” under his breath. The press officer embarrassingly tried to save face before Conte stepped back in giving a generic answer that they had already played once and he was familiar with the squad.