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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.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?