Premier League 2014-15 Preview: Tottenham Hotspur

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There’s little change in the Spurs squad from last year, but with the managerial roller coaster last season, the biggest change is the club’s commitment to former Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino.

With a positive air around this club, and the team flying very much under the radar as all teams above them spend oodles of dollars on foreign players, fans are quietly optimistic ahead of the new season.

The club will almost certainly display a higher level of cohesion this year than last, which was their undoing in the previous season. With a tactical genius in Pochettino now at the helm, if anyone can piece these players properly it’s the former Southampton boss. Tottenham will be better than last year.  The question is, will they improve as much as the teams around them?

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

Transfers in: Ben Davies (Swansea), Michel Vorm (Swansea), Eric Dier (Sporting CP)

Transfers out: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), Jake Livermore (Hull City), Iago Falqué (Genoa), Kevin Stewart (Liverpool)

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

Last season: Spurs finished sixth last season in their first year without Gareth Bale, a dip from the previous year’s fifth.The overarching theme focused on the large amount of new talent brought in with the Bale money. There was a disconnect between many of the players, and the team struggled to play like one.  The club beat many of the teams they were supposed to, but earned just five points off teams that finished above them in the table.

The club sacked Andre Villas-Boas in December after 5-0 and 6-0 defeats and posted longtime Spurs fixture Tim Sherwood as interim manager. The 45-year-old performed about as well as could be expected, but couldn’t manage to get any higher than Everton, whose impressive season earned many more plaudits.

Meant to be the club’s talisman, Roberto Soldado struggled mightily in his first season with the club, scoring just six goals and missing countless simple finishes.  Soldado could be off, back to his home in Spain, but if he stays, he won’t have the starting striker spot locked up like he did at the beginning of last year.

Star Player: Christian Eriksen

One of the more high-profile additions of last summer, Lamela came over from Ajax and initially struggled to establish himself into the Premier League like many of his fellow new arrivals. However, Eriksen eventually found his footing, and proved his purchase wasn’t for naught.

Eventually the 22-year-old winger showed his electricity, and with freedom from Pochettino this season, he should be an attacking force for Spurs. He often played on the wing in the early part of the season, but his best performances at White Hart Lane last year came when he had more freedom from Sherwood to roam both on the touchline and into the wing.

With the club searching for a superstar following the departure of Bale, French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is the most recognizable name on the club, but Eriksen is likely to be the star up front, and will establish himself as one of the more creative players in the league.

Coach’s Corner: Mauricio Pochettino

Pochettino took a talented but young Southampton squad last season and lit up the league, but he – like many of the other Saints stars – used the club’s success to cash in and move on for bigger and better things.

Argentinian by birth, Pochettino has very little managerial experience in comparison to many of the other top teams in the Premier League, but last season proved there are fewer minds as tactically adept as his.

He will fare well at Spurs with his high back line and pressing style of play, but he must stamp out any mental mistakes in order to succeed, as the club often had senior moments last year that led to poorly conceded goals.  Look for some of the faith he put in Southampton youngsters last year to carry over, and young club talent like Harry Kane and Zeki Fryers should benefit.

PST Predicts: This team has established itself as perennial top-7 finishers, but breaking into the top four has proved a very difficult and so far an unattainable task.  That doesn’t look to change this year, not because Spurs has a deficient squad, but because so many teams above them improved this offseason, while Spurs did not due to last summer’s spending spree.  Even arch-rivals Arsenal spent gobs of money.

The team’s true weakness last year (albeit mostly due to injury) was the outside of defense, and Pochettino will need to shore up the back line with his attack sure to gel better than last season and pick up a fair amount of goals.  Fifth once again will cause supporters to wonder if they actually improved, but with five or six of the top clubs all looking better than last year, it will be difficult (but not impossible) for Spurs to find a top-four position.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

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Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.