Premier League 2014-15 preview: Sunderland

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Sunderland raised eyebrows last year with an incredible turnaround that saw them take four wins from their last five matches to ensure a 14th-place finish in the 2013/14 Premier League campaign.

Along the way the Black Cats took down a number of victims including including Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, brining Jose Mourinho’s home League winstreak to a halt. This season Gus Poyet’s men have enjoyed mild success in the transfer market acquiring goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon and midfielder Jack Rodwell from Manchester City, as well as highly-rated left back Patrick van Aanholt from Chelsea.

[Related: Full PL season preview]

Transfers In: Jack Rodwell ($15 million from Manchester City), Patrick van Aanholt ($3.5 million from Chelsea), Costel Pantilimon (free from Manchester City), Billy Jones (free from West Brom), Jordi Gomez (free from Wigan)

Transfers Out: Ignacio Scocco ($6 million to Newells), Carlos Cuellar (unsigned), Jack Colback (free to Newcastle), Craig Gardner (free to West Brom), Phil Bardsley (free to Stoke City), Andrea Dossena (unsigned), El-Hadja Ba (free to Bastia), Keiren Westwood (free to Sheffield Wednesday)

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

Last Season: After Paolo Di Canio put Sunderland bottom of the league with just one point from seven matches, Gus Poyet rescued the Black Cats from relegation helping them finish 14th in the table, three points clear of the drop. An uplifting first season for both Poyet and the Wearside fans.

source:  Star Player: Steven Fletcher

Despite another injury-riddled season last year, Fletcher remains the Black Cats best weapon. Slick on the ball, quick on the turn and clinical in front of net, Fletcher is a player Sunderland need to be healthy if success is in the cards for this year. Now healthy, look for Fletcher to join Connor Wickham or Jozy Altidore in leading the line this season. Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherrini are two other key players to the attacking fold, both of whom enjoyed strong seasons last year but will need to step up even more for the departed loan-man, Fabio Borini.

Coach’s Corner: Gus Poyet

As noted, Poyet manufactured a stunning escape from relegation righting the ship after a tumultuous start under Di Canio. Intelligent and mild mannered, Poyet has the feel of a real player’s player.

PST Predicts: If Sunderland are to avoid another season in the relegation race the Black Cats need to acquire some new talent. An aging backline could use an injection of youth while the attack, which mustered only 41 goals last season, desperately needs at least one playmaker to replace the departed Borini.

Wenger: Arsenal “complacent, had no ideas” in Ostersunds loss

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Perhaps Sunday’s League Cup final had already reached the forefront of their minds, but Arsene Wenger admonished his players, whom he said were “complacent, not focused” and “had no ideas” for much of Thursday’s Europa League defeat, at home, to Swedish side Ostersunds.

[ MORE: Premier League TV schedule | Man United vs. Chelsea ]

The Gunners advanced to the round of 16 on the back of their 3-0 first-leg victory last week, but Wenger was understandably displeased by the effort he saw and expressed such feelings in no uncertain terms, before quickly easing up and praising the fact they were able to pull back a goal against the current fifth-place team from Sweden — quotes from the BBC:

“We were not at the races in the first half,” said Wenger, who saw his side booed off at half-time and full-time. I think in the second half it was much better and we should have scored a few goals.

“In the first half, we were in trouble and in danger because we were complacent, not focused and were open every time we lost the ball. We had no ideas with the ball and that’s why we were in trouble.

“We responded very well because we did the job to qualify, but that’s what we have to take from the night and that’s all.”

With Arsenal now trailing fourth-place Chelsea by eight points (and seven back of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur), winning the Europa League might just be the Gunners’ last chance at qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.

Whitecaps defender Tim Parker being tracked by several teams from East

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
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Tim Parker’s next destination could very well be closer to his hometown, however, other MLS sides are in hot pursuit of the U.S. Men’s National Team defender.

[ MORE: CCL recap — FC Dallas falls, Club America struts its stuff ]

The Vancouver Whitecaps center back has been the subject of trade speculation recently, and Pro Soccer Talk has learned that Parker has turned down a new contract with the Cascadia side that would have kept the 24-year-old in Canada for at least three more seasons.

Multiple sources have told PST that the deal Parker rejected was worth over $1.4 million in totality. Metro New York’s Kristian Dyer was the first to report the story.

Parker was subject to make roughly $99,000 in 2017, according to the MLS Players Union, although he’s expected to receive a significant increase with any new deal that he signs. On an average basis, Parker would have made over $400,000 annually had he signed a new contract with the Whitecaps.

A New York-native, Parker has been looking to return to the East Coast after spending three seasons with the Whitecaps. The former Saint John’s University standout was selected in the first round by the Whitecaps in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, after spending all four years with the Red Storm on the collegiate level.

Sources can also confirm that D.C. United and the Montreal Impact have emerged as the leaders to obtain Parker’s services if a deal is struck with the defender, although a move to the New York Red Bulls hasn’t been ruled out.

The Red Bulls have shown interest in the young defender for some time — and would be the preferred destination for the player — given Parker’s New York roots. A combination of allocation money and a player would likely be needed from the Red Bulls if the Eastern Conference side proved to be serious about pursuing Parker.

D.C. has managed to acquire significant allocation money over recent years, particularly GAM, which would prove to be essential in signing Parker. Ben Olsen’s defense has been built around USMNT center back Steve Birnbaum — who arrived in 2014 — but an addition of Parker would surely benefit a D.C. back line that conceded 60 goals in 34 regular season matches a season ago.

Meanwhile, a move for the Impact would be logical given the fact that the Canadian side lost center back Laurent Ciman this offseason when the Belgian international was traded to expansion side Los Angeles FC.

Police officer dies after fan violence before Bilbao-Spartak Moscow

AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos
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BILBAO, Spain (AP) A Spanish riot police officer died of cardiac arrest after clashes involving Russian soccer fans before a Europa League match on Thursday between hosts Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow, raising concerns less than four months before the World Cup in Russia.

Basque Country authorities in northern Spain said the officer died in hospital after the confrontations outside San Mames Stadium in the city of Bilbao, which will host matches in the 2020 European Championship.

Police also said a Russian man was injured but the extent of his injuries was not immediately disclosed. Five people were arrested – three Russian nationals and two Spaniards.

The identity of the dead officer was not immediately disclosed.

Spartak won the match 2-1 but Athletic advanced 4-3 on aggregate.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of seriously injuring a British soccer fan during the European Championship in France two years ago.

The trouble in Spain erupted ahead of the round-of-32 match in the second-tiered European club competition.

Police were escorting some Spartak fans into the stadium but a stray group allegedly started igniting fireworks and throwing flares and objects toward Athletic supporters and police officers.

The fighting spread onto the streets near the stadium and police struggled to restore order. Many fans were seen trying to run away from the trouble as fireworks exploded all around.

There was concern ahead of the match because of the reported presence of `Ultra’ Russian fans in Bilbao, and a large police force was deployed to try to prevent fan trouble.

Six year ago a fan died in Bilbao in clashes after a match between Athletic and German club Schalke.