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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.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.