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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

Full PL schedule | Watch Chelsea live via Live Extra | BPL on NBC schedule |

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.

Wenger slams criticism of Arsenal’s players ahead of fan protests

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Arsene Wenger is not a happy man.

I know, I know, tell us something we don’t know.

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However, the 66-year-old Gunners boss has taken exception to widespread criticism of his players ahead of fan protests against him which are planned for this Saturday’s game against Norwich (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) at the Emirates Stadium.

Speaking to the media on Friday, Wenger stood up for his players who are having their commitment questioned.

“I tell you, this team has character and attitude. Some people who question them, I know them well – they have less character than this team has. I saw them play, and even know them very closely, and they should not question the character of these players,” Wenger said. “There are some groups of people that try to manipulate our fans, but I believe apart from a personal agenda and a big ego there’s not a lot behind [the criticism].”

Okay then…

[ MORE: Wenger has a message for Arsenal’s fans ]

With empty seats galore at the Emirates last Thursday during the 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, Wenger had been dealing with growing fan unrest throughout this season.

Although Wenger urged fans of Arsenal to support the players on Saturday against Norwich he did admit he shares their frustration about limping out of the title race this season, of all seasons.

“I can understand the frustration,” Wenger said. “No one is more frustrated than me, but our disappointment has not to go too far. When a club cannot enjoy anything any more, it is in trouble, and we have to not forget that in football you go down very quickly and you come up very slowly.”

Arsenal looked certain to be making a title charge in February after they beat Leicester City late on but since that huge victory they’ve won just three of their last nine Premier League games, plus lost in the FA Cup to Watford and were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League by Barcelona at the Round of 16.

After two decades of Wenger in charge and no PL title in 12 years, Arsenal’s fans want more. They want trophies and success.

They also want answers from Wenger and as the protests on Saturday will show, the vast majority also want a new manager.

Goteborg apologizes over crowd trouble at abandoned match

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN - OCTOBER 31:  IFK Goteborg receives the silver medal after the match between IFK Goteborg and Kalmar FF at Gamla Ullevi on October 31, 2015 in Gothenburg, Sweden.  (Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)
Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images
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GOTEBORG, Sweden (AP) Swedish club IFK Goteborg has apologized for crowd trouble that resulted in a league match against Malmo being abandoned after a firework landed next to a visiting player warming up on the sidelines and he responded angrily.

Wednesday’s game was interrupted in the 77th minute, with the score at 0-0, when a firecracker tossed from the crowd exploded next to midfielder Tobias Sana, a former Goteborg player. Jolted by the loud bang, Sana reacted by throwing a corner flag into the stands.

[ WATCH: Sana throws corner flag into Goteborg fans ]

Match officials decided to abandon the match, saying a linesman who was also near the firework when it exploded was shocked by the incident.

Sana, who said he had a headache and ear pain following the incident, apologized for his actions.

“Now that I’ve gotten over the shock, I feel it was the stupidest decision of my life,” Sana said Thursday in statement. “There are many young people who look up to me so I really want to apologize.”

Malmo said that Sana wouldn’t face any sanctions from the club.

In a move suggesting the firework was thrown by home fans, Goteborg posted an apology on its website directed at Malmo, match officials and the spectators. The club could face sanctions from the Swedish football association’s disciplinary committee.

There was another security incident on a chaotic evening in Goteborg. After the match was suspended, a Norwegian hockey player ran onto the field, reportedly as part of a bet with teammates at recently crowned Swedish champion Frolunda.

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Newspaper Aftonbladet said Mats Rosseli Olsen, who played for Norway at the Sochi Olympics, was charged with a public order offense and could face fines.

Frolunda director Christian Lechtaler told Swedish news agency TT that Olsen’s behavior would have “consequences” but didn’t elaborate.

“Mats is very regretful and doesn’t feel good at all about this,” Lechtaler said.

Swedish football has been marred by crowd problems for years, including fans throwing objects at players and match officials and brawling with each other before or after games. Two years ago, a Djurgarden fan was killed after being attacked by hooligans ahead of an away match against Helsingborg.

Flores on future at Watford: “I need to feel happy”

during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Watford at the Boleyn Ground, April 20, 2016, London, England
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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On the surface, it sounds crazy: Why trade a manager who led a first-year Premier League club to relatively quick safety in England’s top flight and a FA Cup semifinal?

But Watford is not any club when it comes to their views on managers, having parted ways with Slavisa Jokanovic after the Serbian manager led them to promotion. Oh, and when hired Jokanovic was the Hornets fourth coach in five weeks.

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So current manager Quique Sanchez Flores isn’t safe despite the Hornets’ 12th place status. That probably has a lot to do with Watford’s four points since the start of March, a tough schedule run that included Leicester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and West Ham.

So, could he be gone this summer? Flores has a break clause after this season, and Watford may not have a choice even if they want to keep the Spaniard around.

From Sky Sports:

Asked if he wanted to stay, Flores said: “This is not the question for me now.

“I know the kind of people I want to work with. That’s the only thing I can say. In the last four or five years I work from my feelings. I work around people I feel completely protected with.

“These are my feelings. When we finish the season I will check what the conditions are but I need to feel happy.”

Who needs who the most? Flores’ season has been impressive even with the late struggles, but Watford’s managerial merry-go-round happened before the club advanced into the Premier League and they’ve survived despite making a change in the summer. Still, we’d do our best to keep Flores at Vicarage Road.

Ex-soccer star Weah to run again for president of Liberia

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - NOVEMBER 25: Liberia soccer legend George Weah speaks during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Preliminary Draw at the ICC convention centre on November 25, 2007 in Durban, South Africa.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) Former world footballer of the year George Weah says he will make a second bid to become president of Liberia.

The ex-AC Milan striker announced on Thursday he will stand as a candidate in elections next year, when current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s second and final term ends.

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Weah, who formed the Congress for Democratic Change party, lost to Sirleaf in the 2005 election.

Declaring his intention to stand again, Weah told supporters he sympathized with the plight of many poor Liberians. He said “there were times I didn’t have school fees. I continued to strive with the hope that one day life will get better.”

Weah was the world footballer of the year in 1995. He is a senator in his West African homeland.