Premier League Preview: Everton

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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.

Everton enter the 2013-14 season after an impressive 6th place finish in last year’s Barclays Premier League. Just one place shy of 5th placed Tottenham, Everton fell just short of its dreams of qualifying for Europe for the first time since 2008-09. But with only seven losses during the 2012-13 season and playing a more thoughtful style of football, Everton was a team that no one could afford to take lightly.

Now, the club that operates under the notorious shoe-string budget of owner and chairman Bill Kenwright must look to take the next step in its storied history. With David Moyes’ 11 year tenure at Goodison Park over, the blue side of Liverpool will now put its faith in the tactics of former Wigan manager, Roberto Martinez.

Transfers In: D Antolin Alcaraz (Wigan); GK Joel Robles (Wigan); F Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona, loan); F Arouna Kone (Wigan)

Transfers Out: GK Jan Mucha (Krylya Sovetov Samara); D Phil Neville (retired); M Thomas Hitzelsperger (free agent); D Jake Bidwell (Brentford); M Magaye Gueye (Brest, loan); F Conor McAleny (Brentford, loan)

source: Getty ImagesKey PlayerKevin Mirallas (pictured). In only his second year at Goodison Park, Mirallas already finds himself the key component to Everton’s success. The primary reason is one of circumstance.

With continued speculation surrounding the possible transfer of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines to Manchester United, Mirallas is the offensive weapon that remains a sure thing. The Belgian international, who led the Greek Super League in scoring with 20 goals in 2011-12, is more than capable of off-setting the 11 goals that Fellaini scored in last year’s Premier League. Outside of Baines, Mirallas also happens to be the squad’s most creative player – a dribbler whose silky touch and devastating cuts have been known to leave defenders on the floor.

Mirallas’ role becomes even more enhanced under Roberto Martinez. Under Moyes, Mirallas primarily operated on the right wing but under the new boss it appears the 25 year old will be featured in a central attacking role. Whether deployed as a striker to score goals or in the supporting role to create them, Mirallas will be the difference-maker in the Toffee attack. If he can avoid the nagging injuries that plagued him last winter, Mirallas has the potential to break out in a big way. A 20 goal season is not outside the realm of possibility.

Manager: Roberto Martinez arrives on Merseyside looking to instill a brand of attacking football on a club that has spent the last 11 years learning how to defend under David Moyes. At former club Wigan, Martinez favored a 3-4-3 approach that led to an attractive offense but a leaky defense. This preseason the Spanish manager has dabbled in that formation, as well as a 3-5-2, a 4-4-2 and Moyes’ favored 4-4-1-1.

Whatever formation he settles on, Martinez will be expected to defend as well as attack, or else feel the wrath of the Goodison faithful. Coming into a new club is never easy for a manager, but from all indications Martinez has taken to it well with players raving over his training sessions. The goal for Martinez is simple – keep Everton out of a relegation battle. Achieve that feat and his job should be secure going into year two.

Outlook: With Moyes out and Martinez in, the expectations at Everton will be reduced this season. Few are expecting the club to finish ahead of Liverpool for the third straight year and even fewer will expect a challenge for Europe. But the Toffees have the talent and heart to surprise anyone. A Top 10 finish should be the goal but don’t be shocked if come May we find Everton in the Top 8 for the eighth year in a row.

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FIFA probe: Al-Khelaifi confirms his presence in Switzerland

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi says he will go to Switzerland next Wednesday to answer questions from Swiss prosecutors investigating the suspected bribery of a top FIFA executive for World Cup broadcasting rights.

Criminal proceedings against Al-Khelaifi, who is also CEO of Qatar-owned BeIN Media Group, former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, and an unnamed businessman working in sports rights were announced by the office of Switzerland’s attorney general last week.

The case involves the award of broadcast rights for the next four World Cups from 2018 through 2030.

Al-Khelaifi is alleged to have offered advantages to Valcke – FIFA’s CEO-like secretary general from 2007 until his firing in January 2016 – for the award of media rights in certain countries for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup.

Speaking Wednesday night on Canal Plus television, after PSG’s 4-0 win away to Anderlecht in the Champions League, Al-Khelaifi confirmed his trip to Switzerland.

“I have an appointment on the 25th. I will go there to speak with them, the Swiss (authorities),” said Khelaifi, who attended Wednesday’s match in Belgium. “That’s all.”

The proceeding against Al-Khelaifi is one of the first direct links to Qatar in sweeping investigations by federal law enforcement authorities in Switzerland, the United States, and France concerning FIFA, international soccer, and the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Last week, the Paris offices of BeIN Sports were searched. Properties were searched in Greece, Italy, and Spain while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland.

Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

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The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.

Probe finds racial discrimination by England women’s coach

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LONDON (AP) Former England women’s team coach Mark Sampson racially discriminated against two of his players, a fresh Football Association investigation has concluded after initially dismissing allegations of wrongdoing and prompting a damaging public row with striker Eni Aluko.

Sampson was cleared of discrimination by earlier FA investigations but was fired last month because of an unrelated case of inappropriate conduct toward players in a previous job.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Only now has a barrister considered new evidence about Sampson’s conduct toward England internationals Aluko and Drew Spence, with the details being released ahead of a parliamentary hearing.

“I have concluded that on two separate occasions, MS (Sampson) has made ill-judged attempts at humor, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on grounds of race,” barrister Katharine Newton wrote in the report.

One racially discriminatory comment by Sampson in 2014 toward Aluko requested her family members from Nigeria didn’t come to a game because of Ebola.

“MS (Sampson) did treat EA (Aluko) less favorably than he would have treated a player who was not of African descent,” Newton wrote. “MS had therefore subjected EA to less favorable treatment because of her ethnicity.”

During a team meeting in 2015, Sampson also asked Spence if she had been to prison, and then suggested she had been arrested four times. Newton concluded that the comment was made “because of her ethnicity.”

[ MORE: Hamid leaving DC United ]

FA chief executive Martin Glenn apologized to Aluko and Spence before the hearing. But Aluko told legislators that Glenn’s earlier conduct toward her was “bordering on blackmail” after he threatened to withhold payments from an 80,000 pound ($105,000) financial settlement unless she published a statement saying the FA “was not institutionally racist.”

With Aluko sitting behind him, Glenn later told the hearing that the player had not been blackmailed.

Instead Glenn said that an August tweet by Aluko – “at least we now know the FA’s stance on derogatory racial remarks by an England manager. Ignore, deny, endorse” – was a “clear breach of the agreement.”

Aluko, who was part of the team that finished third at the 2015 World Cup, has not played for England since making her 102nd appearance in April 2016.

There was a more apologetic tone from Glenn in his written statement on Wednesday, saying that Sampson’s conduct was “not acceptable” and he “would like to sincerely apologize” to Aluko and Spence.

“Our ambition has always been to find the truth and take swift and appropriate action if needed,” Glenn said. “It was our decision to have the original, second and final investigation to ensure that due diligence was taken. It is regrettable that Eniola did not participate in the first external investigation as this would have enabled Katharine Newton to conduct and complete her investigation sooner.”

Report: Hamid leaving DC United to “push himself” elsewhere

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Bill Hamid is taking his talents elsewhere.

The 26-year-old has been with DC United since 2007, making an even 200 appearances across all competitions.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Hamid is thrice capped by the United States and widely considering to be one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, but the Washington Post’s Steven Goff says Hamid wants to showcase himself on a new stage.

“I want to push myself and see how far I can go because I know I have the work ethic and the hunger to take myself very far in this game. I know I can make it to the next level.”

Hamid is likely to wind up in Europe, and Goff said Danish club Midtjylland is the favorite. He’s also been scouted by Eintracht Frankfurt.

With a new United States men’s national team coach set to be appointed and Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando all on the back end of their time with the USMNT, Hamid has to look at himself as competing with Ethan Horvath and any number of young prospects.

Horvath is 22 and starting for Club Brugge. If their season continues on its pace, he’ll have a Belgian title and a Norwegian title under his belt.

U-20 players Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), Brady Scott (Koln), and Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf) are in German systems, while U-17 World Cup starters CJ dos Santos is at Benfica.

Age when making European debut and club
Tim Howard, 24, Manchester United
Brad Friedel, 23, Newcastle United
Brad Guzan, 23, Aston Villa
Kasey Keller, 23, Millwall
Tony Meola, 21, Brighton and Hove Albion
Ethan Horvath, 19, Molde