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.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.