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, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

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Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

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Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.