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Premier League 2014-15 preview: Stoke City

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A surprising revival under Mark Hughes has seen Stoke City become a club with plenty of potential.

Though they are without star players, flashy talent, or a beautiful playing style, Stoke has become a mainstay in the Premier League through hard work, physical play, and shrewd business.

A look through their roster reveals a number of players who somehow flew under the radar and landed at the Britannia, and through this conglomeration the success has slowly built. Last season marked their first-ever top half finish, and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be the goal this year.

Once again their strike force remains a question mark as people question the aging of Peter Crouch, but with the help of a brick wall behind them and some electric wing play, he did just enough.

Their goalkeeping situation is outstanding as well, with Asmir Begovic statistically proving himself season after season, and England youngster Jack Butland behind him should something go awry.

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

The real work for Stoke is done on the touchline, with a number of wide men the true value of the team. With very little done in the transfer market, Hughes is relying on the chemistry built last season to carry over into this year as well.

Transfers in: Bojan Krkic (Barcelona), Steve Sidwell (Fulham), Phil Bardsley (Sunderland), Mame Diouf (Hannover 96), Dionatan Teixeira (Banska Bystrica)

Transfers out: Matthew Etherington (unattached), Juan Agudelo (unattached), Michael Kightly (Burnley)

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

Last season: Mark Hughes was the first new manager at Stoke City since Tony Pulis began in 2006, meaning there were some growing pains. However, after failures at Manchester City, Fulham, and QPR, Hughes finally found a home to build on. He instilled a style of defensive solidarity along with a bit of attacking flow, and it earned Stoke its first top-ten finish in Stoke’s top-flight history.

With little done this offseason, supporters are hoping the team doesn’t get worse by standing still, but no doubt Hughes has finally been able to solidify his plans and make this team his own. With that, there’s no reason why the slow building process shouldn’t continue in an upward direction.

Star player: Marko Arnautovic

Hughes upon signing Arnautovic a year ago: “People will very quickly see what an outstanding talent he is. He has power and his pace, which is something I think we need in the squad.” Bang, right on the money.

The 25-year-old Austrian winger was a complete unknown when Hughes brought him to the Britannia from Werder Bremen last September. For a paltry $4.7 million, Arnautovic brought pace, electricity, and class to link between the hard-hitting Stoke midfield and its statues up front.

Where most players need some time to acclimate themselves to the Premier League style of play, Arnautovic needed none of the sort. He has the skill and pace to fly on the ball, and the strength to keep it in traffic and under challenge one-on-one. The Austrian pumped in four goals and 10 assists from the wing, and still managed to fly under the radar as no teams looked to swoop and cash in on his successful first year.

With a more free role to roam about the attacking half of the pitch as the season rolled on, expect plenty of the bold Potters’ #10 as they look for another finish in the top half of the table.

Coach’s corner: Mark Hughes

Despite his reputation built on a successful playing career, 18 months ago the managerial career of Mark Hughes looked to be just about over. He had taken four Premier League jobs, and had tanked at three of them. He built his resume after four pretty good years in charge of Blackburn, which saw Rovers finish in the top half of the table multiple times and even make it to European play.

However, it went downhill from there, and fast. He followed the money to Manchester City, but he was unable to help them reach the heights they so desired, and he was out after a year and a half. Fulham snatched him up hoping to replace Roy Hodgson, and he quit after a year due to creative differences, famously citing his “ambition” which the club apparently lacked (and later admitted he was wrong to leave). He moved to Fulham’s rivals Queens Park Rangers, where he is often credited for sewing the seeds of their relegation in the 2012/13 season and was out before December hit.

Cut to this summer, where Hughes got a chance at Stoke following Pulis’s sacking.  He released a large amount of the squad’s dead weight, and brought in some new talent, which was an immediate hit. The club plodded along last season earning some impressive wins along the way, and eeked its way to a top-ten finish. What seemed to be a career dead in the water is now revived, and should Hughes earn yet another solid finish, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some top-level interest in him once again.

PST Predicts: It hasn’t been a secret where I think this team ends up. A finish in the 8-10 area is certainly attainable, although outwardly they will likely be shooting for the Europa League hoping to build on last year’s success. However, in the Premier League, when it comes to top-ten finishes, treading water is often akin to growth, and another finish in that area of the table will certainly be welcomed. As Everton can prove, treading water in the top half of the table often leads to an eventual breakthrough, and is a much more successful model than trying to catch lightning in a bottle.

Arsenal’s Wilshere: “Hopefully we can go better this year and win it”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Jack Wilshere of Arsenal looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium on May 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Arsenal star Jack Wilshere is excited about the developments at his club and country.

The English midfielder, 24, has a new coach for his country in ex-Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce, and a new big-money teammate in Granit Xhaka.

[ MORE: Immobile finds new team ]

Both moves have him feeling good, and Wilshere is looking to inch his club one spot higher in the Premier League table this season.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“This year is going to be interesting. There are six or seven teams who could potentially challenge for the trophy. Man United have got a new manager, [Manchester] City have got a new manager; both managers are known for winning things wherever they go. And Chelsea as well. And then there are Leicester City, who are going to have to deal with a totally different pressure of being champions last year,” he said.

“We feel we’ve got better as well,” Wilshere continued. “Over the year we finished fourth, then third, then second. Hopefully we can go better than that this year and win it.”

With the big pick-ups at Man City and United amongst other clubs, Arsenal’s low-key offseason has made many forget that the Gunners return almost everyone from their second place finish next year. What chance do you give them of seizing a title?

UEFA Champions League roundup: Celtic, Monaco snare first leg road goals

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 20: Patrick Roberts of Celtic celebrates his goal (Celtic's third goal) with Leigh Griffiths during the UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying Round: Second Leg between Celtic Football Club and Lincoln Red Imps   at Celtic Park on July 20, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Steve  Welsh/Getty Images)
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This is a draw that Brendan Rodgers will gladly accept.

Celtic went all the way to Kazakhstan and came back with a 1-1 draw against Astana in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie on Wednesday.

[ REPORT: Timbers add NUFC man ]

Yuri Logvinenko scored for Astana, but Leigh Griffiths did what he normally does for Celtic and the Scottish champs are bringing a road goal back to Glasgow for the second leg.

Elsewhere, remember Emmanuel Emenike? He scored twice for Fenerbahce, who boosted itself into a 2-1 advantage after one leg in a win over Monaco. Radamel Falcao scored for the visitors.

Wednesday’s first legs
Astana 1-1 Celtic
Astra Giurgiu 1-1 Copenhagen
Fenerbahce 2-1 Monaco
Rosenborg 2-1 Apoel Nicosia
Trencin 0-1 Legia Warsaw
Olympiacos 0-0 Hapoel Be’er Sheva

Sounders add Uruguay star Lodeiro as Designated Player

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 19:  Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Rodriguez of Uruguay celebrate a 2-1 victory in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Uruguay and England at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 19, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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SEATTLE (AP) Nicolas Lodeiro, the attacking midfielder who just helped Argentina powerhouse Boca Juniors reach the semifinals of the prestigious Copa Libertadores club championship in South America, has signed with the Seattle Sounders as a designated player.

The 27-year-old Lodeiro also has 48 caps for the Uruguay national team, including this summer’s Copa America Centenario in the United States.

[ REPORT: Timbers add NUFC man ]

“With the performance the Sounders typically have, they have always played in the playoff every season and are an important team in the MLS overall,” Lodeiro said through a translator during a press conference Wednesday. “That convinced me to come over here and be part of this project and be part of this team, and to help the team to continue to be successful.”

Success has been elusive for the Sounders this season, as they lag near the bottom of the standings with a 6-12-2 record. Wednesday’s move was their second major one in 24 hours.

On Tuesday, the team announced it had parted ways with coach Sigi Schmid, who had been in charge since Seattle joined MLS in 2009. Longtime assistant Brian Schmetzer was named the interim head coach and was delighted to add Lodeiro to the roster in just his second day on the job.

“I’m very keen on getting Nico and Clint Dempsey together,” Schmetzer said about pairing the newcomer with the U.S. national team forward. “All the guys, I’m sure, are going to get a good burst of energy from Nico’s appearance with the club.”

[ MORE: Full PL preseason schedule ]

Pending the receipt of his P-1 visa and international transfer clearance, Lodeiro could be available as soon as Sunday when the Sounders host the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“The decision of where I play is up to the coach,” he said. “The most important thing to me is to play with great players.

Added Schmetzer, “It gives us new options. Nicolas is going to have a big impact on the team, on and off the field. He’s going to work hard and he’s going to work smart.”

Loderio has played in three Copa Americas, including 2011 when Uruguay won it. He has been in two World Cups, helping the country finish fourth in 2010 and reach the round of 16 in 2014. He also was in the 2012 London Olympics.

Professionally, Lodeiro played three seasons with Uruguay’s Nacional, three seasons with Dutch side Ajax, two with Brazil’s Botafogo, and one with Corinthians of Brazil. He joined Boca Juniors in 2015, scoring three goals.

With Dempsey, rookie Jordan Morris, and veteran Nelson Valdez up front, Sounders officials said adding an attacking midfielder was a priority.

[ MORE: Immobile finds new team ]

“Nicolas is going to be a tremendous presence for us going forward,” general manager and president of soccer Garth Lagerway said. “Even five years ago, the thought that the playmaking midfielder for Boca Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in all of the Americas, would come and play in MLS in the prime of his career at age 27 was unbelievable.

“This is a game-changer for us.”

Nicolas Lodeiro, the attacking midfielder who just helped Argentina powerhouse Boca Juniors reach the semifinals of the prestigious Copa Libertadores club championship in South America, has signed with the Seattle Sounders as a designated player.

The 27-year-old Lodeiro also has 48 caps for the Uruguay national team, including this summer’s Copa America Centenario in the United States.

“With the performance the Sounders typically have, they have always played in the playoff every season and are an important team in the MLS overall,” Lodeiro said through a translator during a press conference Wednesday. “That convinced me to come over here and be part of this project and be part of this team, and to help the team to continue to be successful.”

Success has been elusive for the Sounders this season, as they lag near the bottom of the standings with a 6-12-2 record. Wednesday’s move was their second major one in 24 hours.

[ MORE: Conte questions PL spending ]

On Tuesday, the team announced it had parted ways with coach Sigi Schmid, who had been in charge since Seattle joined MLS in 2009. Longtime assistant Brian Schmetzer was named the interim head coach and was delighted to add Lodeiro to the roster in just his second day on the job.

“I’m very keen on getting Nico and Clint Dempsey together,” Schmetzer said about pairing the newcomer with the U.S. national team forward. “All the guys, I’m sure, are going to get a good burst of energy from Nico’s appearance with the club.”

Pending the receipt of his P-1 visa and international transfer clearance, Lodeiro could be available as soon as Sunday when the Sounders host the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“The decision of where I play is up to the coach,” he said. “The most important thing to me is to play with great players.

Added Schmetzer, “It gives us new options. Nicolas is going to have a big impact on the team, on and off the field. He’s going to work hard and he’s going to work smart.”

Loderio has played in three Copa Americas, including 2011 when Uruguay won it. He has been in two World Cups, helping the country finish fourth in 2010 and reach the round of 16 in 2014. He also was in the 2012 London Olympics.

Professionally, Lodeiro played three seasons with Uruguay’s Nacional, three seasons with Dutch side Ajax, two with Brazil’s Botafogo, and one with Corinthians of Brazil. He joined Boca Juniors in 2015, scoring three goals.

With Dempsey, rookie Jordan Morris, and veteran Nelson Valdez up front, Sounders officials said adding an attacking midfielder was a priority.

“Nicolas is going to be a tremendous presence for us going forward,” general manager and president of soccer Garth Lagerway said. “Even five years ago, the thought that the playmaking midfielder for Boca Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in all of the Americas, would come and play in MLS in the prime of his career at age 27 was unbelievable.

“This is a game-changer for us.”

Premier League preseason: Four road sides win, Chelsea faces Liverpool tonight

KINGSTON UPON THAMES, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Yannick Bolasie of Crystal Palace celebrates with Freddie Ladapo of Crystal Palaces after he scores his sides second goal during the pre-season friendly between AFC Wimbledon and Crystal Palace at The Cherry Red Records Stadium on July 27, 2016 in Kingston upon Thames, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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The main event of Wednesday’s preseason schedule is still to come, but we have four results in the books before dinner time.

[ REPORT: Timbers add NUFC man ]

Chelsea and Liverpool will tangle in an International Champions Cup date at the Rose Bowl come 11 p.m. ET, but Sunderland, Southampton, Swansea and Crystal Palace all played earlier.

Dijon 2-3 Sunderland

David Moyes oversaw another win for the Black Cats, who took on a Ligue 1 side in Dijon. Star midfielder Wahbi Khazri scored again for Sunderland, Fabio Borini converted a penalty and Joel Asoro also scored. Sunderland never trailed but gave away a pair of leads on the evening.

FC Twente 1-2 Southampton

Virgil Van Dijk and Sam Gallagher scored for Saints as by all accounts they had a rather comfortable afternoon despite the hosts scoring with a quarter-hour remaining in the friendly.

[ MORE: Full PL preseason schedule ]

Swindon 0-3 Swansea

Modou Barrow had a goal and two assists as Swansea won its third match of the preseason, with Andre Ayew and Jay Fulton also netting in the victory.

AFC Wimbledon 2-3 Crystal Palace

Palace led 1-0 and 3-1, but had to hold on for the win after a Papa Souare own goal brought the hosts to within one in the second half. Palace’s goal scorers were Connor Wickham, Yannick Bolasie and new boy Freddie Ladapo.

Chelsea vs. Liverpool — 11 p.m. ET