Sunderland

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.

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET