Robin Van Persie, Phil Jones

Premier League Preview: Top 5 strikers to watch

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In addition to previewing two teams from the Premier League each day until the beginning of season, we will name five players to watch at each position, goalkeeper through forward. The 2013-14 season begins Aug. 17, and for the first time, every game will be broadcast live in the United States on NBC Sports.

With transfer evaluations climbing higher and higher, clubs are finding it more and more difficult to get a hold of world-class strikers.  Heck, Barcelona management claimed a while back that Lionel Messi, considered by most to be the best striker in the world, to be worth €580 million.  Right then. Back to the drawing board.

When looking at forwards in the Premier League, goals are obviously the first order of business.  It’s their job, after all.  But sometimes it’s not just about putting the ball in the back of the net.  Depending on the makeup of certain clubs, it can be just as much about teeing up your teammates as being the one to smash it home.  Let’s take a look:

Robin van Persie, Manchester United

Arsenal fans knew when the 30-year-old Dutchman departed the Emirates last summer that they would be watching something special over at Old Trafford.  Unfortunately, they didn’t think it would be this special.  Van Persie led Manchester United to Premier League glory in relatively dominating fashion, sending legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson off with a bang.  “RVP” banged in a whopping 26 league goals for the Red Devils, and at an age where many would be beginning their decline, van Persie shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.  In addition to the goal-tally that won him the Premier League Golden Boot award for highest goalscorer, he also laid off 15 balls that teammates buried into the back of the net.  He probably would have been the overwhelming favorite to win the PFA Player of the Year had Gareth Bale not run away with the award, something many people balked at since Bale also won the PFA Young Player of the Year award – some believe he shouldn’t be eligible for both.  Either way, van Persie unanimously made the PFA Team of the Year, capping off a fairytale season.  Sorry Arsenal fans.

Fernando Torres, Chelsea

Chelsea is a bit of a wild card this season up front, as Jose Mourinho has a number of different options to work with.  It will be interesting to see who “The Special One” goes with, although the initial feeling is that Torres will begin as the guy.  The Spaniard has had a whirlwind Chelsea career, seeing many ups and downs.  When he first moved to Stamford Bridge from Liverpool for a whopping £51 million ($79.8 million), the Anfield legend had an anvil of expectations on his shoulders.  He became a laughingstock soon after the move, as he almost appeared cursed given the chances he failed to convert.  The criticism hasn’t ceased, but he’s slowly improved – not to the level of expectations the transfer value has put on him, but he’s slowly getting back to the world-class player that came to play at Anfield every week.  A relatively successful final few months of last season coupled with a prolific Confederations Cup, I would imagine he’s the player to get the nod over Demba Ba and Romelu Lukaku.  If he does, those two will for sure be breathing down his neck for the spot in the Starting XI, and if he starts the season on the bench, his story is just as worth keeping an eye on.

source: Getty ImagesChristian Benteke, Aston Villa

While Aston Villa barely avoided relegation last season with a bitter fight down the stretch, Christian Benteke is without a doubt the reason they stayed up.  The 22-year-old Belgian came to Villa from Genk of the Belgian Juliper Pro League for £7.8 million ($12.2 million), an absolute steal given the 19 goals he racked up, which was good enough for fourth place on last season’s goalscoring list.  Benteke has effectively pushed former Sunderland star Darren Bent out the door, and cemented the spot as his own. At such a young age, Benteke is almost certain to get even better, and is battling with Romelu Lukaku for the starting spot at the front of the Belgian international side, a team which is making a ton of noise ahead of the 2014 World Cup.  While the move up the Premier League ladder that Benteke desired this offseason didn’t materialize, it’s Villa’s gain and he’s signed back on with a new contract until 2017 to help Villa once again avoid the drop.

Edin Dzeko, Manchester City

Having been left to play second-fiddle to Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, and Mario Balotelli for the last few seasons, it would seem that Dzeko has now fully grasped the starting striker spot for the Citizens as they aim to return the Premier League championship to the blue side of Manchester.  Dzeko has one of the best goal-per-minutes ratio in the Premier League over the past three seasons, and he hopes to bring that to a purely starting role.  Having been used often as a super-sub to change the course of a game, Dzeko will have to traverse the full 90 more often than not.  Providing both an aerial and ground threat, and a good combination of strikers behind him to give him rest when needed, Dzeko has the talent to make plenty of noise in the league next season and put Manchester City back on top in new manager Manuel Pellegrini’s first season in charge.

Rickie Lambert, Southampton

My surprise pick for this post, Rickie Lambert is coming off a dream week.  He marked his first-ever England international call-up by coming on for his debut and scoring a the winning goal on his first touch of the ball.  The story hasn’t just started though.  The 31-year-old bagged 15 goals last season for Southampton, and having led the club up from League One just four years ago, he paved the way for the Saints’ 14th place finish last year.  They’ll be looking to stave off relegation once again, but keep an eye out for the Englishman who’s soccer story isn’t up just yet, despite making his 500th career appearance last year.


Other Chelsea strikers Demba Ba and Romelu Lukaku got consideration here, but I only had five to choose from so went with the man I thought would get the most looks early.  Also getting honorable mentions here would be Fulham’s Dimitar Berbatov, Tottenham’s new signing Roberto Soldado, and Arsenal’s pair of Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski.  Luis Suarez is very possibly on his way out, and won’t feature in the first six matches anyways, so I left him off.

VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 6

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This lad is a samba sensation.

Philippe Coutinho is back at the heart of the Liverpool team and he was crowned as the Player of the Week in the Premier League for Matchday 6.

Coutinho, 24, scored a sensational long-range goal, grabbed an assist and created four chances in a dominant performance during Liverpool’s 5-1 win against Hull City on Saturday. 

Watch the video above to relive a Coutinho masterclass as Jurgen Klopp‘s side continue their fine start to the PL season.

No wonder some refer to Coutinho as Liverpool’s Harry Potter.

He’s a wizard.

China aiming for increased influence on FIFA

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - NOVEMBER 26:  CFA General Secretary Zhang Jian poses with the AFC 'Inspiring' Member Association of the Year award during the 2013 AFC Annual Awards at the Mandarin Oriental on November 26, 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The influence of China in world soccer could increase on Tuesday if high-ranking Chinese official Zhang Jian is elected onto the FIFA Council in elections to be held in Goa, India.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is holding an Extraordinary Congress to elect three representatives to FIFA’s new decision-making body which has replaced the scandal-hit Executive Committee.

The chances of Zhang, the vice-president and secretary general of the Chinese Football Association, increased on Sunday when one of the favorites, Saoud A. Aziz Al-Mohannadi of Qatar, was barred from running.

In a statement, the AFC said “FIFA has advised the AFC that, based on the report of the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, it has decided Mr Saoud A.Aziz Al-Mohannadi (Qatar) is not eligible to stand in the elections for the FIFA Council.”

Al Mohannadi has been charged by the Ethics Committee with refusing to co-operate with an inquiry. While details of specific accusations have yet to be released, FIFA has said it is not related to Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

The ruling leaves Zhang running against Iran’s Ali Kafashian and Zainudin Nordin of Singapore for two of the three seats.

Zhang has played a major role in the development of Chinese soccer and planning extensive reforms that aim to make the country, a traditional underachiever in soccer, a world power by 2050.

This has come at the same time as the recent and massive surge of investment in the Chinese Super League on famous foreign players such as Hulk, Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez and coaches Luiz Felipe Scolari and Manuel Pellegrini.

Zhng told South Korean media earlier this month that China also aims to host the World Cup.

“Although it is a case of the sooner the better, we will aim to do so at the right time,” Zhang said. “It seems that around 2030 or 2034 will provide a good opportunity for China.”

The third seat on the FIFA Council has been reserved for female candidates. Moya Dodd, a former Australian international and member of the now-defunct FIFA Executive Committee from 2013 to 2016, is running against Han Un Gyong of North Korea and Bangladesh’s Mafuza Akhter.

“I am doing my best to persuade the 45 voting members of Asia that I can be strong and part of a united AFC team working in FIFA,” Dodd told The Associated Press. “It is important that Asia puts its strongest team forward in FIFA as there will be a lot of issues coming such as discussions about whether to expand to a 40-team World Cup.”

The three successful candidates will take their places on the 37-member FIFA Council alongside existing AFC members from Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia as well as President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

Also ahead of the election, the AFC confirmed that South Korea’s Chung Mong-gyu had succeeded Zhang Jilong of China as the East Zone AFC Vice-President.

Zhang, who stepped down for health reasons, was the acting president of the AFC following the suspension of Mohammad Bin Hammam from football activities by the FIFA Ethics Committee in May 2011 as he ran for the post of FIFA President. Shaikh Salman was elected president in May 2013.

Sam Allardyce’s England future hangs in the balance

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Sam Allardyce manager of England looks thoughtful during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group F qualifying match between Slovakia and England at City Arena on September 4, 2016 in Trnava, Slovakia.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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England manager Sam Allardyce has not only been publicly humiliated but now he could lose his job.

[ MORE: What now for Chelsea? ]

An undercover investigation from the Daily Telegraph, released on Monday, showed Allardyce meating with fictitious businessman and discussing how to get around rules of third-party ownership (TPO) of players and then negotiating a fee of over $518,000 for becoming an ambassador for what he believed to be a company set up in the Far East.

After just one game and two months in charge of England, it could all be over for “Big Sam” as Three Lions boss. The FA is reportedly already close to firing him as they don’t want their image and integrity questioned across the globe.

Allardyce, 61, took charge of the English national team this summer but the footage released of him discussing TPO, plus criticizing former England boss Roy Hodgson and assistant manager Gary Neville, and his employers at the FA among others, will cause the former Sunderland manager huge levels of embarrassment and it is tough to see him rebounding from the widespread criticism already flying his way.

When asked about TPO — which was banned by the English FA in 2008 and by FIFA in 2015 — and ways to get around the current system, Allardyce replied to the businessmen that it was “not a problem” and revealed he knew agents who are “doing it all the time.”

The FA have yet to open a formal investigation but multiple news outlets in the UK claim that English soccer’s governing body have spoken to the Telegraph to try and acquire all of the facts before speaking to Allardyce.

Big Sam has been silly and naive. It is not the first time he’s had allegations flung his way either, as a 2006 BBC documentary also alleged he’d been involved in taking bungs over transfers, something he vehemently denied. A subsequent investigation proved no wrongdoing but the fact that Allardyce names individuals in the footage released (censored for legal reasons) tells us that he knows ways of getting around TPO. He even admitted that Enner Valencia‘s move to West Ham, where he was manager, from Mexican side Pachuca in 2014 was via a TPO.

Now, it must be said, during the undercover footage Allardyce states that he would have to check with the FA (“the powers that be”) before agreeing to any deal to be an ambassador for the made up company. Still, it’s not good and many will view this as Allardyce being greedy and putting his own interests ahead of his main job of managing the English national team between now and the 2018 World Cup in Russia. God knows they need some focus and some inkling of being successful after their recent results in tournaments.

Just 67 days after taking charge of England, something Allardyce has described repeatedly as his “dream job” in football, he was discussing how to make extra cash with complete strangers. Allardyce already earns over $3.3 million a year as England boss and the Telegraph also state that a second meeting was held last week in Manchester to discuss plans on when the Englishman would fly over to Hong Kong and Singapore.

The Telegraph has promised more information will be released in the coming days as they say their 10-month investigation into the murkier side of English soccer has also “unearthed widespread evidence of bribery and corruption in British football.”

Whatever comes out in the following days, it is unlikely the English FA will look upon this episode kindly and they have to judge whether this was just poor judgement from Allardyce or something more sinister.

There’s no doubt about it, the next 24 hours is crucial and Allardyce’s future as England boss hangs in the balance.

NWSL Playoffs set: Portland, Washington, Chicago, Western New York

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The National Women’s Soccer League will crown its fourth champion in mid-October, and for the first time in three years the winner will not be FC Kansas City.

FCKC finished sixth after the 20-game regular season concluded this weekend, six points out of the final slot occupied by the Western New York Flash.

[ MORE: Allardyce on England hot seat? ]

The Flash join Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit in attempting to topple NWSL Shield winners Portland, a Thorns side which won the title in 2013 and has only missed the playoffs once.

Washington hosts Chicago on Friday in the first semifinal, while the Flash travel to Oregon for an Oct. 2 semi.

Portland Thorns (1) vs. Western New York Flash (4)

The two best goal differentials in the league meet at Providence Park, where Mark Parsons’ Thorns and their league-best defense will be tasked with stopping the highest-scoring offense in the NWSL. That means stopping Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams and runner-up Jessica McDonald, who’ve accounted for 21 of WNY’s 40 goals.

The Thorns are loaded. Women’s soccer legend Christine Sinclair, who once lifted a trophy for the Flash, is there with a quintet of USWNT mainstays. French star Amandine Henry, too, as well as leading goal scorer and Danish star Nadia Nadim.

USWNT regulars on each side
Portland: Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long, Emily Sonnet, Lindsey Horan

WNY: Samantha Mewis

Washington Spirit (2) vs. Chicago Red Stars (3)

The two sides split the season series, with Chicago hosting a 3-1 victory on Saturday. Sofia Huerta had a goal and an assist, as she and Christen Press combined for nine shots. They’ve combined for 15 goals on the season, though the Red Stars have only found nine goals elsewhere.

No Washington player has scored more than five goals this year, and the Spirit haven’t had a multi-goal game in September, but Argentina national teamer Estefanía Banini’s five goals in 13 matches in an impressive haul.

USWNT regulars on each side
Washington: Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn

Chicago: Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston, Christen Press