Robin Van Persie, Phil Jones

Premier League Preview: Top 5 strikers to watch

5 Comments

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.

Better chance to advance: Mexico or USMNT at Copa America Centenario?

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Alejandro Bedoya #11 of the United States Men's National Team in action against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium on September 10, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
1 Comment

We placed Mexico fifth and the USMNT seventh in our rankings of contenders for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Friday in California.

But how wide is the distance between the two sides, and is any gap in talent mitigated by bigger challenges in schedule?

That’s what we’ll try to suss out here.

Mexico embarrassed the United States in the CONCACAF Cup playoff match this Fall, and both sides have since seen more good results than bad.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The Yanks, of course, suffered the ignominy of a 2-0 defeat in Guatemala in World Cup qualifying, but are 7-1-1 in their last nine matches. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men have looked especially strong in the past match-and-a-half, dominating both Ecuador and Bolivia.

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Hector Herrera #16 of Mexico protects the ball against Michael Bradley #4 of the United States during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Qualifier at Rose Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

El Tri hasn’t lost since the 2015 Copa America, and that was not a full-strength squad. Following the tournament, Mexico began a 12W-6D run which includes a Gold Cup win — suspect as the run was —  and a draw against Argentina. No, El Tri hasn’t beaten many opponents of power during the run, but the record is far from shaky.

Honestly, Mexico should expect to make a run at history. While they stumbled in qualification for the 2014 World Cup, their U-23s won gold at the 2012 Olympics. This generation of El Tri has been building upward, more or less, since that tournament.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Mexico has rarely had trouble with group mates Jamaica or Mexico, and Uruguay will be without Luis Suarez. It would be shocking if El Tri failed to advance from the group, and Mexico should have a chance to win the group. Argentina or Chile likely await in the quarters, so the semifinals are neither a given nor particularly likely.

The U.S. is in a different spot altogether. Yes, they should be able to advance from Group A, but their host status is the only thing that will make them heavy favorites in any match. Costa Rica went further than the Yanks at World Cup, and Paraguay has drawn Argentina twice, Brazil twice (once losing in penalties) and Uruguay once in the past calendar year.

Britain Soccer USA Colombia
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The Yanks should be favored to finish above both those teams, but could be in a hole if they don’t start fast against Colombia on Friday in California. Colombia won its only warm-up match, a 3-1 decision over Haiti in Florida last week, but did not have star man James Rodriguez yet.

Winning the group is key for Klinsmann’s knockout round hopes, as Brazil should easily win Group B and face Group A’s runner-up. There’s a world of difference between facing Ecuador, Peru or Haiti, or tangling with Brazil.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released |Germany, too ]

So you could honestly make the case that while Mexico is far more dangerous side in this tournament, especially given their proximity to home, the United States edging Colombia for Group B gives them a far better chances of making the semis. The best team doesn’t always win. However, if the U.S. finishes second in Group A, it’s very difficult to imagine them taking down Brazil given September’s 4-1 thrashing at Foxborough.

The question is, would you fancy Mexico to have a better chance of upending Chile or Argentina? Most would say, “Yes.”

Soccer hooliganism still a threat heading into Euro 2016

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 26:  UEFA President Michel Platini and French Football Federation President Noel Le Graet speak during EURO 2016 Logo & Slogan Launch on June 26, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)
Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Hooliganism is making a comeback, and the timing could be bad with four high-risk matches in the first week of the European Championship in a country where the police force is already under huge strain.

Should one or more of these matches – England vs. Russia in Marseille on June 11; Turkey vs. Croatia the next day; and England vs. Wales and Germany vs. Poland both on June 16 – descend into violence, the football itself could quickly become overshadowed.

Police forces in France have been stretched since last November’s deadly terror attacks that killed 130 people. The last thing French authorities need is thugs causing mayhem. However, in the last two months alone there has been an increase in soccer violence around Europe.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released |Germany, too ]

At the French Cup final, fans managed to sneak flares and objects into the Stade de France, despite a two-meter high security wall and triple security checks, while others tried to invade the pitch, raising serious concern ahead of Euro 2016, where the opening match between France and Romania takes place on June 10. In Germany, too, several hundred fans from Dynamo Dresden were held back by riot police to stop them attacking bitter rivals Madgdeberg in a third-division match in April, and mass arrests were made in May during the troublesome local derby between Frankfurt and Darmstadt.

In Sunday’s League One playoff final at London’s Wembley, fights broke out among supporters; Rangers and Hibernian fans poured onto the field to do battle at Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup final – a worrying throwback to the mid-1980s when hooliganism blighted Britain – Liverpool and Sevilla fans traded punches in the Europa League final in Switzerland; FC Zurich thugs charged down the tunnel last Wednesday to try to attack their own players following relegation from the Swiss Super League, and then battled riot police outside.

Although centered on inter-club rivalries, these troubles highlight how hooliganism has been creeping back after several years of good behavior.

In November, 2014, 43-year-old Deportivo fan Francisco Javier Romero Taboada died in hospital after emergency services had rescued him from a river where he was dumped after being heavily beaten during a fight against rival hooligans from Atletico Madrid.

This season, the Europa League has been hit with football violence. Heavy fighting at night between Italian side Napoli and Polish club Legia Warsaw, street battles between Spanish side Athletic Bilbao and Marseille; city center riots in Amsterdam between Ajax played Turkish club Fenerbahce. Other trouble involving, Lech Poznan from Poland; Belgian side Anderlecht, and Moscow-based sides CSKA, Lokomotiv and Dinamo.

[ MORE: Klinsmann says USMNT to “go for it” vs. Colombia ]

A further 10 matches at Euro 2016 are identified as risky – including Germany vs. Ukraine; Slovakia vs. England, and Russia vs. Wales – and there will be increased border controls and tighter security at train stations and airports, in addition to eight police spotters from each country to identify potential hooligans.

“All of those who are subject to a banning order will be prevented from leaving their country by their local police in so far as their legislation allows,” said Antoine Boutonnet, the head of French police’s anti-hooliganism division. “Furthermore, we have gathered information on potential risks and will continue to do so during the tournament.”

But hooligans show determination and ingenuity to avoid police detection.

—-

A LOOK AT THE 5 HIGH-RISK GAMES AT EURO 2016 AND OTHER RISK FACTORS:

ENGLAND VS. RUSSIA: JUNE 11 IN MARSEILLE:

The match is being held in the sunny seaport of Marseille and the fact that English and Russian football fans are likely to be drinking in the sun adds to the risk. As well as potential for violence between English and Russians, there is history between the English and the local Arab population of Marseille stemming from the 1998 World Cup, where Marseille’s old port and nearby beach were turned into battle zones in two days of fighting around the England-Tunisia game.

“That is a considerable time ago and the behavior of England fans has improved markedly since,” assistant chief constable Mark Roberts, who leads soccer policing in Britain, told The Associated Press. “(But) we need to be careful not to assume.”

The risk of confrontation with Russian groups could be higher because their traditional inter-club rivalries will have been put aside, with a new hooligan’s charter explaining how they should stick together. One bulletin point reads: “During Russian national team matches, all groups must be united, without fighting each other. This is cease-fire.”

TURKEY VS. CROATIA: JUNE 12 IN PARIS:

This match also carries risk, on a historical and geo-political level.

“When Turkey played Croatia in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals in Vienna (Austria), there were incidents in Mostar (Bosnia) where the Bosnians were supporting Turkey,” Loic Tregoures, a lecturer in world politics at Lille university and a specialist in Balkans football, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The Croatians have a few virulent groups, notably Dinamo Zagreb’s BBB (Bad Blue Boys) and Hajduk Split’s Torcida.

Another potential problem could arise from PSG hooligans, who were among the most active in Europe in the past 20 years until a massive clampdown five years ago. Banned from their own Parc des Princes stadium, PSG hooligans have targeted Champions League fixtures, clashing violently with Zagreb’s BBB in the Bastille area of Paris the night before a Champions League game in Dec. 2012. As well as the potential for clashes between PSG’s hooligans and BBB – another dark threat exists.

“There are Serbs among the former PSG hooligans, so you can imagine what could happen,” Tregoures said. “This kind of tournament is the opportunity to measure oneself.”

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL medal via Facebook ]

ENGLAND VS. WALES: JUNE 16 IN LENS:

Among the more prominent hooligan elements in Britain are Chelsea’s “Headhunters” and Cardiff’s “Soul Crew”- and hundreds fought on the Kings Road in London before an FA Cup match between the sides in 2010. Such inter-club rivalries may potentially resurface on the international scene, where hooligan groups have followed the national team. This means potential scope for trouble between thugs from Wales and other English hooligan groups should they come across each other; and also Welsh in-fighting between sworn enemies Cardiff and Swansea.

The location of Lens, in northern France, makes it easy and quick to reach from Paris.

“Given the proximity to France there is the potential for people to make multiple trips out there,” Roberts told The AP. “If we identify someone who causes problems we will seek a banning order immediately to prevent them traveling again to France.”

GERMANY VS. POLAND: JUNE 16 IN PARIS:

Polish and German hooligans seeking to clash at the 2006 World Cup were foiled when police intercepted Polish hooligans trying to enter Germany. The hooligan culture in both countries tends more toward pre-arranged meets – “Fights” – often in forests or deserted areas.

There has been a revival in hooliganism in Germany, especially in the east with teams from Dresden and Liepzig, while Poland has some of Europe’s most violent hooligan groups (Lech Poznan, GKS Katowice, Legia Warsaw, Cracovia and Wisla Krakow).

The main threat here would be a confrontation of a pre-arranged type, rather than a sporadic outbreak of violence.

“(Polish hooligans) will try and make contact, offer to arrange meetings – but whether anyone accepts is a different matter,” Tregoures says.

UKRAINE VS. POLAND: JUNE 21 IN MARSEILLE

While football violence in Ukraine is prominent at club level among hooligans from Dynamo Kiev, Shakhtar Donetsk, Meltalist and Dnipro, Ukrainian hooligan groups don’t usually travel to national team games. However, they have put aside club feuds and have extra incentive to come to France.

“This is the first tournament since the war, and the Russian presence may increase their motivation to travel,” Tregoures said.

MOTIVATION LEVELS:

So long as they manage to enter the country, journeying to France should not pose a problem for thugs because their motivation goes a long way – sometimes literally.

Last November, hooligans from Red Star Belgrade drove for hours in white minivans – slipping the police by claiming they were on a wedding-party trip to Athens – in order to attack Balkan rivals from Dinamo Zagreb’s BBB hooligans at Athens airport.

Zagreb fans were flying back from the airport following a Europa League game against Olympiakos. So Red Star teamed up with thugs from Olympiakos – friends from a long-standing alliance – to attack BBB hooligans.

The explosion of ultra-violence, in broad daylight and captured on Greek TV, ended with two BBB hooligans lying on the floor, blood pouring from their heads.

When Dynamo Kiev hosted Dinamo Zagreb in 2012, Russian hooligans from Spartak Moscow travelled nearly 900 kilometers to fight with BBB.

“They left three days before, saying they were going to a concert,” Tregoures said.

POLICE OVER-REACTION

Unlike other countries like Germany, the French riot police do not initiate dialogue with troublemakers. It is more about repression than defusing a situation, and police over-reaction can escalate a rowdy situation into a dangerous one. When Lille hosted Everton in the Europa League in October, 2014 beer-fueled Everton fans, singing songs and dropping the odd glass, were baton-charged and had CRS gas sprayed on them. When PSG faced Chelsea in the Champions League in February, there were reports of Chelsea fans being tear-gassed during their goal celebration.

There will be multiple situations during Euro 2016 where large groups will gather, drinking and singing – without necessarily posing a threat.

“We have got to understand that the numbers going, some of them may not have been to football before,” Roberts said. “They will have been encouraged to go by the festival atmosphere. And when you get that number of people taking drink there is always the potential for some issues.”

AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in London contributed to this report.

Injury reveals kidney cancer for Richmond Kickers striker

richmondkickers.com
richmondkickers.com
Leave a comment

A Richmond Kickers striker will hopefully be able to credit a back injury with saving his life.

Matthew Delicâte has been with the USL side for 10 years, and picked up a knock in training that required an MRI.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released | Germany, too ]

That scan revealed a mass on his kidney, and Delicâte is now set for 8-12 weeks on the sidelines and major surgery.

From RichmondKickers.com:

“I was frustrated after hurting my back and not being able to train and feature for the team, but in hindsight, I am very fortunate to have caught this at an early stage,” commented Delicâte. “I hope the team continues to work hard in my absence and I am aiming for a full recovery as quickly as possible.”

“Events such as this immediately put the importance of winning soccer matches into perspective,” added Leigh Cowlishaw, Richmond Kickers Director of Soccer.  “We wish Deli a successful surgery, speedy recovery and look forward to having him score more goals for the Kickers in the months to come.”

The 34-year-old English forward played at Virginia Commonwealth University before embarking on a pro career with Richmond and the Rochester Rhinos, briefly heading home to England for a spell with National League side Ebbsfleet United.

All our best to Delicate, his family, and the Kickers.

Pele to conduct $5-plus million auction of unique items

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - MAY 29: Pele looks on during the England Footballers Foundation charity event at Sopwell House on May 29, 2016 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images for 10Ten Talent)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images for 10Ten Talent
Leave a comment

No surprise here: the most famous footballer of all-time has acquired a wide variety of extraordinary items, many of them as unique as Pele himself.

The 75-year-old Brazilian is going to auction a lot of those items come June in England, with at least part of the money going to a pediatric hospital in his come country.

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL medal via Facebook ]

Some of these items are going to get crazy money. Consider: He’s selling a one of a kind Jules Rimet Trophy given to him after the 1970 World Cup, and the boots he wore in “Victory”.

Here’s what Pele says of the sale, expected to fetch at least $5 million, according to a BBC Business story:

“It was a difficult decision to make but it takes a lot to properly care for these artefacts, and I felt I could do much more good by sharing these items with the world, as well as helping my causes that are important to me.”

Less expensive items, like a match-worn New York Cosmos jersey, are still expected to have purchase prices as high as $8-10,000. So, yeah, a lot of us are going to be left out of the process.

Then again, they’re just Earthly possessions, no? If Pele doesn’t need them, I can be content in also being shut out.