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.

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.

Running Away With It

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Christian Pulisic scored and played a part in three other goals as the United States rained goals down on Honduras in a 6-0 win at Avaya Stadium in San Jose early Saturday morning.

Clint Dempsey scored two goals, and Michael Bradley and Sebastian Lletget also scored as the U.S. moved into fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Their next match is Tuesday in Panama.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ]

The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes got off to a flying start.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal. Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

The Yanks didn’t stop, and Lletget drew a yellow card when he beat Ever Alvarado down the right flank and forced a take down from the Honduran defender.

Alberth Elis slipped John Brooks’ mark, and the Houston Dynamo man turned to fire on goal. Tim Howard was well positioned to scoop it up.

Lletget turned out to be injured by the Alvarado foul, and Bruce Arena turned to Alejandro Bedoya in the 17th minute.

Geoff Cameron was given a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul on Roger Espinoza. That gave a free kick to Honduras from 30 yards out, and Romell Quioto fired right at Tim Howard.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

Honduras then took a bigger hit: the loss of star attacker Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo) to an apparent shoulder injury.

Brooks bailed out an out-of-position Gonzalez just before halftime to keep the lead 3-0.

The Yanks needed 15 seconds to make it 4-0, with Dempsey winning a 50-50 tussle and finding Altidore for a flick to Pulisic. He netted his fourth USMNT goal. He’s 18.

Pulisic then won a free kick 25 yards out from goal by embellishing a foul, and Dempsey’s free kick tricked Escober. 6-0. For real.

A scary moment late as a dazed and wobbly John Brooks was forced off despite no apparent injury. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks (Ream, 70′), Cameron (Zusi, 58′); Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′, 49′, 54′), Pulisic (46′)

 

Player ratings from USMNT’s pounding of Honduras

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Battered. Throttled. Eviscerated.

Pick your verb of dominance, the United States likely fit it well in a 6-0 destruction of Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

[ MORE: Recap + video | Three things ]

The win boosts the U.S. in World Cup qualifying after their 0-2 start, but how did the individuals fare? Obviously well.

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 7 — The team just feels in a safer place with the veteran back there. If the U.S. goes to the 2018 World Cup, Howard remains their No. 1 (and there probably never should have been a question. Sorry Brad).

Jorge Villafana — 7 — Tidy passing and a low-risk game from the Santos Laguna man.

John Brooks (Off 70′) — 7 — An early error before recovering to be his usual free-clearing, athletic self. Scary injury took him out late, as he looked dazed. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

Omar Gonzalez — 5  — He wasn’t bad, but Gonzalez is still a positional question mark. Bailed out a couple times by Brooks.

Geoff Cameron (Off 59′) — 6 — Out of position and a bit hobbled, he wasn’t at his best.

Michael Bradley — 7 — One of his better USMNT games in a long time.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 17′) — 8 — Scored, then got hurt on a roasting run down the right.

Darlington Nagbe — 6 — One or two electric moments in the first half, but overall a quiet enough night for the Timbers man.

Christian Pulisic — 9 — Hard to not to hand the kid a 10. He’s quite frankly the most exciting American talent in the history of the program.

Clint Dempsey — 10 — Along with Howard, the sort of player you knew would make sure this game ended with three points. The fact that he nabbed three goals, too, is just a bonus.

Jozy Altidore — 7  — Pretty darn good night holding up the ball, and passed as well as ever, but did he drop a bit too deep too often? The answer is probably, “Who cares? They won 6-0, dude.”

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 18′)  — 6 — Typical high energy, space eating job in the middle of the park from the Union man.

Graham Zusi (On 58′)  — 6 — Good late clearance preserved the shutout.

Tim Ream (On 70′)  — 6 — Interesting to note that Arena went to him over Walker Zimmerman or Matt Besler.

Three things to take away from USMNT 6-0 Honduras

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The United States men’s national team pulled a Leicester City.

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That’s a joke with truth wrapped around it, because the Yanks have had plenty of time and even a pair of friendlies to respond from the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann.

But in their first serious match without their old coach, the U.S. looked a team renewed and unleashed. Now the Americans may find themselves back in an automatic World Cup qualifying spot with a win on Tuesday in Panama.

Things change.

Vindicated

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and all of the USMNT players waited months and months to get the chance to answer their critics following a pair of embarrassing losses to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Sure, having Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard back helped a whole lot, and the seasoning Christian Pulisic is getting at Borussia Dortmund is unquestionably good for an 18-year-old.

But there’s little doubt Michael Bradley and Co. were fired up to silence their critics. Whether they admit it or not, this is a bunch that was stung by those who said they failed their old coach.

Most expected the U.S. to get a point or better against Honduras, but to do it the way they did is an unexpected bonus. A win in Panama on Tuesday would boost them into the Top Three.

And don’t worry, the old boss was pleased for his former charges.


The future is now…

I Tweeted the following after a late second half pass from Pulisic, and there was little disagreement.

Pulisic won’t be credited with an assist for his shot which rebounded to Sebastian Lletget for the opener, but he will walk away with his fourth international goal and two proper assists.

One was an absurd scoop to Clint Dempsey’s chest, and the other was a long avenue that shouldn’t have existed. Still, Pulisic found that street and provided an absolutely dynamic force all over the park.

There have been U.S. teens at big European clubs, and U.S. teens who’ve made impacts on the national team, but never both at the same time and never both at this level. Pulisic is for real, and finding his ceiling is an adventure we’re all undertaking with great enjoyment.


…But the legends sure helped

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will go down as two of the most important players in United States men’s national team history.

Actually, they may be duking it out for Nos. 1 and 2 when it’s all said and done.

Dempsey’s hat trick was his career in a nutshell. The first saw him body off a defender while collecting a Pulisic pass off his chest, then lashing a shot with power despite said defender dragging him down.

The second was a burst of speed to run onto Pulisic’s through ball and classic calm in the face of an onrushing keeper, holding onto the ball before sliding it home from an acute angle.

The third was this free kick. A bit aided by goalkeeper Donis Escober, but such is life.

And don’t sleep on Howard’s early performance as Honduras tried to find some sort of foothold in the match. Always well-positioned, the team just feels safer with the Colorado Rapids man between the sticks.