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Top 10 storylines of the 2013-2014 Premier League season

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In a Premier League season in which the title wasn’t decided until the last day, there are bound to be plenty of dramatic storylines that document the rise (and fall) of certain clubs. When you add in the fact that the entire bottom half of the table was involved in a relegation fight, the drama only increases.

In other words, it was tough to pick just ten story arcs that encapsulate the 2013-2014 season. Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite storyline, or one you think has been overlooked.

source: Getty ImagesThe “Hull City Tigers”
Let’s start at the beginning. Hull City, freshly promoted after a three year absence, were eager to prove themselves as a legitimate Premier League team. That meant changing the club’s name from “Hull City A.F.C” to “Hull Tigers LTD”.
Or at least, that’s what owner Assem Allam believed. He announced his intentions a week before the start of the season, saying that “Hull City” was too common and needed to be phased out. “Hull Tigers” would become the common name for the club.
Few agreed with him. Petitions were started, signed not just by Hull supporters but by sympathizers who felt this was a little…crazy. The Premier League agreed, stating that the club would continue to be referred to as “Hull City” in fixture lists, etc. It took until April, but eventually, the league rejected the proposal for “Hull Tigers LTD” outright.
Meanwhile, Hull made the most of their return. For much of the season they boasted a strong record at the KC Stadium, and fans were overjoyed by their victory over Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi-final. Although the final against Arsenal is still to come, Hull have already qualified for the Europa League, and will participate in European play for the first time in their history next season.

source: Getty ImagesMichael Jackson’s Influence over Fulham Football Club
Speaking of crazy owners, Shahid Khan certainly makes the cut. The owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars purchased Fulham in July 2013, taking over from Mohamed Al-Fayed. One of Khan’s first acts as owner was to take down the statue of Michael Jackson, erected in 2011 at Craven Cottage.
That was unwise.
Fulham went on to lose their next match, at Cardiff City. Things only got worse from there. Martin Jol was sacked on December 1, after six consecutive defeats. René Meulensteen didn’t last much longer, getting the boot in mid-February, with four wins from 17 games. But not even Felix Magath, who at least managed ten points from nine games, could save the side.
The Whites would eventual finish 19th, relegated in the penultimate game of the season after a 4-1 loss to Stoke City.

source: Getty ImagesVincent Tan and the Sad Sad Story of Cardiff
Yep, we’ve got one final tale of horrible mismanagement for you. Vincent Tan, who took over ownership of Cardiff back in 2010, continued to make blunder after blunder with the Bluebirds. The color change, instituted in summer of 2012, continued to outrage fans, who insisted that Cardiff would be forever blue, not red. In December, Tan sacked Malky Mackay, who’d guided the club to promotion and was publicly backed by the fans. Plus, he had a strange habit of wearing a kit over a dress shirt, tucked into slacks. No, Tan is not the most popular man in Wales.
Particularly since Cardiff’s Premier League experiment lasted just one year. The squad collected just three wins under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, going on to finishing dead last in the table.

source: APThe redemption of Luis Suárez
Alright, he may not be fully redeemed in the eyes of non-Liverpool supporters. But the Uruguayan has made a fine start. Starting the season a month late, thanks to last year’s bite on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović, Suárez did his best to stay quiet off the pitch (and keep his teeth to himself while on it). Recently, he may have helped burnish his public persona by tweeting a photo of himself and Philippe Coutinho eating bananas in support of Dani Alves and efforts to stop racism.
But even a totally reformed Suárez – one who’s never even criticized for diving, or for complaining to the referee – wouldn’t be noteworthy unless he continued to shine on the field. This season’s Luis Suárez did exactly that. In 33 games he scored 31 goals, the league’s top scorer. The forward seems more precise as well, and while obviously eager to score as many as possible, still willing to tee up his teammates.
With 101 goals scored in the season, Liverpool’s success did not all rest on Suárez’s shoulders. His partnership with Daniel Sturridge was fruitful, with Sturridge bagging another 21 goals in his 29 appearances. But his four goals in the Reds’ 5-1 thrashing of Norwich make it clear just how integral Suárez was to this season’s title chase: A fantastic half-volley from 40 yards out, a close-range volley, a tricky little flick over a Canary… all finished up with a direct free kick.

source: Getty ImagesArsenal’s Collapse
Ok, this one comes to us year after year, it seems. The Gunners look like they’re set to make a challenge for the top of the table, then fade away. This season, it looked like the rot had set in from the start, with an opening day loss to Aston Villa, and no one set to join up before the transfer window closed.
Then along came Mesut Özil, bringing the side a boost, though alas, still no striker. But who amongst Arsenal fans cared, when they were able to watch Aaron Ramsey week after week? He’d scored 13 in all competitions by the time Boxing Day rolled around…
And out went Ramsey with injury, not to be seen again until April. Other injuries certainly played their role as well, including Jack Wilshere’s two month absence and Theo Walcott’s season-season ending knee injury.
In fact, perhaps Arsenal’s season is best summed up by their activity in the January transfer window. The Gunners were once again unable to tempt a striker to join them, and so brought in midfielder Kim Källström…who promptly found himself injured.

source: Getty ImagesThe Race for the Bottom
For any fans not supporting a top-ten side, this season resulted in plenty of nail-biting, bum-clenching and random burst of uncontrolled weeping. It seemed if you weren’t in a race for a European place, you were fighting the drop. At the start of February, Aston Villa, sitting 10th, was just three points above the drop. Stoke, who ultimately finished 9th, didn’t know they were safe until less than a month remained of the season.
It was madness. Eight managers from the bottom sides found themselves in the unemployment lines. Some sides, like Crystal Palace, gathered themselves together and staged great comebacks. Others, such as Norwich, simply gave up the ghost. And in the end, Norwich joined Cardiff and Fulham in dropping down to the Championship, while everyone else wiped the sweat from their brows and looked around for a cold drink.

source: ReutersMoyes Out
The plane with the banner reading “Moyes Out” flew over Old Trafford on March 29. Manchester United beat Villa 4-1 that day, followed it up with an impressive midweek draw with Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals, and went on to thrash Newcastle 4-0.
Then came the second leg of the quarterfinals, in which United lost 3-1 in Germany to exit the tournament. Perhaps that would’ve been acceptable, losing to last year’s champions, except it was followed by a 2-0 loss to Moyes’ old club. That loss to Everton meant United were out of the running for next season’s Champions League.
Moyes got the sack, and Ryan Giggs was installed as interim manager. But the damage had already been done. Sir Alex Ferguson’s hand-picked successor had the club sitting 7th when he left, and that’s where they ended the season. Outside the European places, putting all their hopes on a money-making preseason tour, securing a successful manager and luring in top, top players.

source: Getty ImagesChelsea’s Bus(es)
Oh, the number of words that have already been written about the buses Chelsea parked on various pitches in England! For those who’d paid attention when José Mourinho’s Inter Milan won the Champions League back in 2010, the tactician’s defensive strategy came as no surprise. Particularly considering the infamous lack of production by Chelsea’s strikers, who had just two goals away from Stamford Bridge by the time April rolled around. If you can’t beat ’em, you gotta make them beat their heads into the ground.
And that’s exactly what Mourinho did to Brendan Rodgers at Anfield. At the conclusion of Chelsea’s 2-0 win, the Liverpool manager couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice, saying, “It’s not difficult to coach just getting 10 players right on your 18-yard box.”
The strategy backfired in Chelsea’s next match, the deciding leg of the Champions League semi-final against Atlético Madrid. Once the Spanish side had scored, the Blues’ plan went out the window, and with no one to score goals, they were out of the Champions League.
And the title race, with their next match a goalless draw against Norwich. Chelsea wound up third this year, with a top striker top on their list of top summer buys.

source: APSunderland’s Miracle
It was never meant to happen. Exactly one month ago, on April 12, Sunderland were sitting dead last in the Premier League table. Their only hope lay in the fact that they had two games in hand. Yet that hope was cancelled out by the fact that they needed to visit Chelsea and both Manchester sides.
But then the Black Cats drew with Manchester City. Three days later, they went to Stamford Bridge and walked away winners. They blew Cardiff out of the water with a 4-0 win at the Stadium of Light, before going to Manchester United and collecting their first win at Old Trafford in nearly 60 years.
Ten points in four games meant that, when West Brom visited on May 7th, Sunderland could clinch safety with a win. And they did it, and they did it easily. They wound up finishing 14th, five points clear of the drop.
No one denies the Black Cats have plenty of work ahead of them to ensure their supporters won’t need to take paper bags to the stadium next season. The miracle was great and all, but fans would appreciate less heart attacks next year.

source: Getty ImagesThe Joy of Manchester City under Manuel Pellegrini
In a recent interview, David Silva talked about the joy and happiness felt around Manchester City with Manuel Pellegrini in charge. For neutrals, or those with no horse in the Premier League title race, we were just thrilled to finally see City’s attacking talent in full flow. The conservatism of Roberto Mancini became more and more apparent as the season went on.
After all, the majority of those scoring goals were there under the former manager: Yaya Touré, Sergio Agüero, Edin Džeko. Yet compare their 102 league goals from this season to last year’s measly 66. Pellegrini brought the fun to City, and he deserves any accolades that are sure to come his way.
The beauty of the Manchester City attack was in full flow by the end of September, when they beat rivals United 4-1. By January 18, they’d managed 100 goals in all competitions. And even when teams did their best to shut them down, City found a way to break through, working patiently and determinedly before unleashing a volley of goals.
Manchester City scored four or more goals in eleven games this season. Even when it was your team at the opposing end of that sort of brutality, you could only help but watch in awe, even applauding as a strike whistled past your own goalkeeper.
Plus, City’s top goalscorer is a central midfielder, who collected twenty this season. Twenty! For that reason alone, no one should begrudge them the title.

CCL Preview: MLS teams enter quarterfinal stage

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates a goal against the D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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CONCACAF Champions League action is back.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

Three teams from Major League Soccer remain in the tournament as an all-MLS tie takes place at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday between the Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls.

The first leg of their quarterfinal will provide an intriguing peek as to the offseason work both Carl Robinson and Jesse Marsch have done to crank their teams up a few notches, as both clubs will rely on plenty of young talent once again this season. Marsch has handed the captains armband to U.S. national team midfielder Sacha Kljestan after Dax McCarty’s departure in the offseason, while the Whitecaps have never lost at RBA in three previous visits.

Former Seattle Sounders star Fredy Montero won’t make his debut for the ‘Caps as he continues to work on his fitness but he could play on Mar. 2 in the return game at BC Place, while this tie at least confirms that one MLS team will be in the semifinals of North America’s top club competition.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Reigning MLS Supporters’ Shield champs FC Dallas also kick off the first leg of their CCL quarterfinal against Arabe Unido from Panama on Wednesday as the Texas outfit host the opener before heading down to Central America next week for the second leg. New DP signing Cristian Colman has impressed and given the absence of the injured Mauro Diaz, Oscar Pareja will look at him to make Dallas’ offense tick against a Panamanian outfit who went a perfect 4-0-0 in the CCL group stage.

In the two other CCL quarterfinals not involving MLS clubs, Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa drew 0-0 at home against Liga MX side Pachuca on Tuesday in the first leg of their quarterfinal. El Tri star Hirving Lozano was kept quiet by Saprissa but Pachuca will fancy their chances of advancing with a home game to come in the second leg. On Wednesday two Liga MX teams do battle as Tigres host Pumas in Monterrey as the runners up from last season look to make another charge to the final.

Below is the full schedule for the CCL quarterfinals, while you can stream the games on Facebook Live here.


CCL quarterfinal 1st legs

Deportivo Saprissa 0-0 Pachuca – Played on Tuesday, Feb. 21
New York Red Bulls vs. Vancouver – Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET
Tigres UANL vs. Pumas – Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Arabe Unido – Thursday, 8 p.m. ET

CCL quarterfinal 2nd legs

Pachuca vs. Deportivo Saprissa – Tuesday, Feb. 28 – 10 p.m. ET
Arabe Unido vs. FC Dallas – Wednesday, Mar. 1 – 8 p.m. ET
Pumas vs. Tigres UANL – Wednesday, Mar. 1 – 10 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. New York Red Bulls – Thursday, Mar. 2 – 10 p.m. ET

China, MLS: What’s the best option for Wayne Rooney?

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Reports continue to link Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney with a move away from Old Trafford in the coming weeks.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

Jose Mourinho’s comments on Tuesday about not ruling out a potential move to China for United’s all-time leading goalscorer hardly quelled those rumors.

With Rooney’s options wide-ranging, plenty of reports state he is heading to China, while others say he wants to remain at United. Other reports state he fancies a move to another Premier League team and further rumors suggest he could be on his way to Major League Soccer.

The bloke has options. Lots of ’em.

Rooney, 31, has 18 months left on his current contract at United and the transfer deadline for the 2017 Chinese Super League season is next Tuesday. That means if any reported deal to China happens — Rooney could become the highest paid player in history with wages of $43.5 million a season, per reports — it has to happen fast. However if a CSL team moves on one of their four allotted foreign players outside the window they are allowed to replace him.

The two favorites to sign Rooney in the CSL are Guangzhou Evergrande and Beijing Sinobo Guoan (the two most valuable clubs in China), with the former winning the CSL title six seasons on the spin and already having the likes of Jackson Martinez and Paulinho in their ranks and Luiz Felipe Scolari as their manager.

That said, the Daily Mail claims he has interest from Major League Soccer, plus Everton are reportedly interested in re-signing the boyhood Evertonian 13 years after they sold him to United. However, Rooney’s wage demands could be a stumbling block for the Toffees.

Is MLS a better option for Rooney than China? Financially, probably not.

[ MORE: Rooney returns to training after injury ]

We’ve seen MLS’ model changing in recent season with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba all moving on this summer and clubs hankering to entice the next Sebastian Giovinco over from Europe instead. MLS’ shift towards attracting younger DPs from Europe by offering huge wages has been hampered by the rise of the Chinese Super League and its mammoth salaries which have enticed the likes of Oscar, Ramires, Hulk, Jackson Martinez and Graziano Pelle from Europe’s top leagues.

MLS will still be a very attractive option for Rooney and his family but with clubs like the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls changing their tact in recent times and opting to nurture Homegrown players over expensive veteran imports, Rooney’s options in MLS have all of a sudden become a lot more limited.

Maybe LAFC would offer him a chance to move to LA when they arrive in MLS in 2018? Orlando City SC has an open DP spot. And then there’s Atlanta United but they already have all three DP spots locked up. Also, New York City FC have one DP spot open but could a Manchester United legend really play for a club so heavily linked to Manchester City? Probs not.

Anyway, whatever Rooney ends up deciding to do in the coming weeks or in the summer he will have plenty of options. China and MLS seem like the best way for him to have one final payday and play regularly. No matter what he has achieved in his glittering career for club and country, Rooney is no longer guaranteed regular minutes at United and that would be the case at any other top six team in the Premier League.

The emergence of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard at United mean he will be a bit-part player now and in the future. He spoke out last month about his frustration regarding that situation and the writing is on the wall for United’s all-time leading goalscorer as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba continue to grab the spotlight at Old Trafford this season.

Rooney is entering the final acts of an imperious, somewhat elongated show at United. It’s obvious his future lies elsewhere, but where?

China plans for 50,000 soccer academies by 2025

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  China's President Xi Jinping addresses an audience of dignitaries including the British Prime Minister David Cameron (not seen) at Manchester airport on October 23, 2015 in Manchester, England. The President of the People's Republic of China, Mr Xi Jinping and his wife, Madame Peng Liyuan, are paying a State Visit to the United Kingdom as guests of The Queen.  They will stay at Buckingham Palace and undertake engagements in London and Manchester. The last state visit paid by a Chinese President to the UK was Hu Jintao in 2005.  (Photo by Oli Scarff - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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BEIJING (AP) China plans to have 50,000 football academies by 2025 as part of an ambitious blueprint to grow into a soccer superpower.

The announcement, made by China’s football association Vice President Wang Dengfeng, more than doubles the earlier target of 20,000 academies by 2020.

Wang was quoted by state media on Wednesday as saying that each school would be able to train 1,000 young players on average, fulfilling the goal laid out in a plan announced last April of having 50 million competent players.

“This is a solid way to select football talent for our future reserves. Improving Chinese football is no longer just a dream,” Wang was quoted as saying on the website of the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

China’s men have only qualified for one World Cup and President Xi Jinping has made boosting China’s football fortunes a national priority. Plans call for again qualifying for the sport’s marquee event, hosting it and winning the title by 2050.

To that end, China last year signed Brazil’s World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi to take over the national men’s team. The government has also ordered the creation of 70,000 football fields to fill gaps in its youth program.

Teams in China’s professional leagues, meanwhile, have recruited international stars such as Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez on highly paid contracts, raising concerns that they are neglecting home-grown talent.

In response, China’s football association last month said it plans a series of measures in response to “irrational” spending by clubs. It also reduced the number of foreigners who can play per club at any given time from four to three and required that each team’s starting list must include at least two Chinese players under age 23.

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”