Premier League Preview: West Bromwich Albion

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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.

By final ranking, last season was a huge success for West Bromwich Albion, the club’s eighth place finish their best in 22 years. Look at the points, column, however, and you see a Baggie team that was closer to relegation than Europe. Having failed to secure the return of last year’s leading scorer, the West Midlands club looks unlikely to replicate last year’s success, but for a team that’s faced relegation three times since 2003, merely staying up is still considered a successful season.

Transfers In: F Nicolas Anelka (Juventus), D Diego Lugano (Paris Saint-Germain)

Transfer Out:  M Scott Allan (Birmingham City), F Marc-Antoine Fortuné (Wigan Athletic), D Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest), F Romelu Lukaku (loan expired, Chelsea), M Romaine Sawyers (Walsall), W Jerome Thomas (Crystal Palace)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: It probably doesn’t speak well of the Baggies’ summer that they’re left relying on Nicolas Anelka (pictured) to fill the shoes of the departed Romelu Lukaku, but with seven goals in preseason, perhaps the 34-year-old’s tank isn’t empty. In the few minutes he got at Juventus after his January loan from Shanghai Shenhua, Anelka seemed to have left his game in Asia. He only ended up appearing three times for Antonio Conte. Now, back in England have a year-and-a-half sojourn, Anelka’s hinting he may have something to give to his 11th club.

He certainly won’t be able to replicate Lukaku’s production, though, be it replacing the Belgian international’s goals (17) or helping get more out of Shane Long and James Morrison. Better for West Brom to hope the addition of Diego Lugano plus improved play from others at the back reduces their 57 goals allowed.

Manager: After nearly a decade as one of the most-respected assistants in England, Clarks finally got his shot at The Hawthorns, replacing Roy Hodgson after his predecessor took the England national team job. With the Baggies having finished 11th and 10th in Hodgson’s year-and-a-half, some expected West Brom to regress. Instead, the former St. Mirren and Chelsea defender forged the league’s eight-best attack, restoring some of the danger the team showed when they were promoted under Roberto Di Matteo.

Outlook: West Brom finished last season atop a relatively tight cluster of teams from eight to 18th. Between Lukaku’s loss, the lack of improvements elsewhere, and the moves their competition’s made, West Brom seem set for a significant step back. If things go wrong, they could battle relegation; if, however, Clarke can find replicate the magic he found with Lukaku, the Baggies could against finish in the league’s top half.

MORE: Read all the Premier League previews for each team here

Report: FIFA president Infantino in hot water

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The more things at FIFA change, the more they stay the same.

According to a bombshell report from The Guardian, FIFA president Gianni Infantino was under investigation by the FIFA Ethics Committee before the president disbanded the committee in May. The report states that Infantino spent around $1.16 million on his election campaign, despite declaring publicly he had only spent around $583,000 on flights around the world to meet with national FA presidents.

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The report claims Infantino was also being investigated by then committee chairman Cornel Borbely over whether he influenced the election of a new president in the Confederation of African Federations, or CAF.

FIFA rules state that presidential candidates must declare campaign expenditures publicly.

The latest bad press on FIFA follows the arrest of Spanish Football Federation president and UEFA vice president Angel Maria Villar and his son among other national and regional officials on charges of corruption and improper management.

Villar appeared in court on Thursday, and a judge denied he and his son bail.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Liverpool rejects Barca bid for Coutinho, Roma offer for Mahrez turned down

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Liverpool isn’t planning on cashing in on one of the Premier League’s stars this summer.

Jurgen Klopp and Co. gave Barcelona a resolute “no” after Barcelona submitted a transfer bid of more than $93 million for Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho signed a new five-year contract with the club in January.

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“The main thing I think about is how we can make the next step with the players we had last season,” Klopp told reporters in Hong Kong earlier this week. “The good news is that actually we didn’t lose – and we will not lose – a player we want to keep this summer. That’s the best news actually and then we’ll see who can bring into the squad.”

Coutinho signed for Liverpool in 2013 but had a breakout year in 2015-2016, earning the PFA Young Player of the Year. Last year Coutinho became an even more consistent goal-scorer and playmaker, scoring 13 goals with seven assists in 34 Premier League appearances.

Keeping Coutinho is of supreme importance for Liverpool, which is back in the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

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La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.