Premier League 2014-15 preview: Everton

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After flirting with a Top 4 finish last season and falling one spot short, Everton have enjoyed an active summer in the transfer market carefully addressing their needs to make Champions League dreams become reality.

Renowned as a club tied to a shoe-string budget, Everton shattered that reputation this summer when manager Roberto Martinez convinced theater producer-come-chairman Bill Kenwright to smash the club’s transfer record and pony up $47 million to acquire Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea. Scoring 16 goals in all competitions, the Belgian striker was a revelation at Goodison Park while on loan last year and the Toffee faithful will hope he can replicate the effort this year as the club once again eyes that elusive Top 4 finish.

[Related: Full PL season preview]

Transfers In: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, $47 million), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros, $3 million), Gareth Barry (Manchester City, $3 million)

Transfers Out: None

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Last Season: Expectations were exceeded during Martinez’ first year at the helm as the Toffees finished 5th and qualified for the UEFA Europa League. Arguably even more important was the stylistic transformation the Blues endured, going from a conservative, Route 1-infused approach under David Moyes to a Barcelona-esque, sweet-passing side under Martinez.

source: Getty ImagesStar Player: Romelu Lukaku

You don’t pay more than double what the club typically spends in any given summer and not call Lukaku the star player. Only 21-years-old, this is the reputation Lukaku deserves and will be forced to live up to at Goodison. An absolute nightmare to mark, the 21-year-old behemoth can beat defenders as easily on the ground as he can off the ball or in the air. Fortunately, the weight on his shoulders shouldn’t prove too heavy as this Everton side is loaded with more stars than perhaps ever before. Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman are a pair of marauding full-backs, Tim Howard has aged like fine wine and is one of the Top 10 keepers in the world, the powerful Ross Barkley is fast becoming one of the dominant young attackers in the league, Phil Jagielka is a rock at center-back while the pace and clinical finishing of Kevin Mirallas can not be understated.

Coach’s Corner: Roberto Martinez

In just one season on Merseyside, Martinez single-handedly transformed the club into one of most stylish and competitive in England. His brilliant tactics combined with his charming personality have made him a hit with pundits and players alike, with the coup of Lukaku proof-positive of the latter.

PST Predicts: Life in the Premier League will be more difficult this season with the addition of Europa League play but Martinez has done well to strengthen his squad in key areas. Lukaku’s presence up top will be immense but Arouna Kone, healthy after an ACL injury derailed him last year, must establish himself as a viable alternative to provide the Toffees with different albeit dangerous looks. In the midfield, the addition of Muhamed Besic looks a slick move as the Bosnian packs a sharp set of skills to compliment his love for the tackle. He’ll rotate with another key signing, Gareth Barry, alongside James McCarthy in the holding role while the return to health of Darron Gibson adds additional depth at this key position. The back four is another place Besic can fit in but isn’t unlikely to do so as Baines and Coleman are backed by Bryan Oviedo and Tony Hibbert, while John Stones will press Sylvain Distin for his starting spot alongside Jagielka at center-back.

When all is said and done in the 2014-15 Premier League season you can once again expect Everton in and around the Top 4.

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.