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Premier League 2014-15 preview: West Ham United

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A team absolutely riddled with injuries to start the season, West Ham will just be looking to tread water until the likes of Andy Carroll, Carl Jenkinson, Guy Demel, and other squad players return to full health.

With a number of positive new signings and few important players leaving the club, Sam Allardyce and company certainly strengthened the side this offseason.

The club flirted with relegation slightly last season (although so did almost everyone in the bottom half of the table) but they should be much better equipped this year to make a run at the top half.

However, the preseason has given fans a lot to worry about. The club drew with lower-league opponents Stevenage and Ipswich Town, lost to Australian top-flight clubs Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC, picked out a shootout win over Schalke after a goalless draw, and looked listless in a 2-0 loss to La Liga side Malaga. Their only win came in the most recent match, a 3-2 win over Italian club Sampdoria with 17-year-old Reece Burke bagging a last-minute winner.

[Related: Full PL season preview]

Transfers In: Enner Valencia (Pachuca), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal – loan), Cheikhou Kouyate (Anderlecht), Aaron Cresswell (Ipswich Town), Mauro Zarate (CA Velez), Diego Poyet (Charlton),

Transfers Out: Matthew Taylor (Burnley), Joe Cole (Aston Villa), Jack Collison (unattached), Stephen Henderson (Charlton), Alou Diarra (unattached),

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Last season: West Ham finished 13th in the last campaign, but with essentially the entire bottom half of the table engulfed in the relegation battle, the club struggled down the stretch with five losses in its last six matches.

They were helped by the fact nobody else took advantage, but even so many fans became wary of the club’s position. A winning run in March with four straight put them in 10th at the time, and those points certainly went a long way in helping weather the late-season struggles.

One somewhat shining moment was the club’s run to the League Cup semifinals, where they were stamped out 9-0 on aggregate by the eventual winners Manchester City.

Star Player: Andy Carroll Kevin Nolan

With English striker Andy Carroll sidelined for up to around four months for ankle surgery, it’s hard to find someone who can replace his “star” status, let alone his goals. 32-year-old captain Kevin Nolan seems to be one of the men who could replace some of his electricity, but struggled without Carroll in the lineup last year.

With the hitman out at the beginning of last season as well, much of the attacking weight fell on Nolan, and he produced just two goals. Once Carroll returned, he bagged five, all coming in a four-match span.  The same situation will again apply this year, and hopefully the seasoned veteran knows how to prepare better this time around.

Other players like Mark Noble, Ravel Morrison, and Matt Jarvis could be given shouts for the “star” player in Carroll’s absence, and even new striker Enner Valencia who impressed at the World Cup and has the attack to himself with big AC down, but Nolan is the leader on the pitch, and thus gets the nod.

Coach’s Corner: Sam Allardyce

Big Sam has withstood much in his time at Upton Park, not all of it good.  He’s seen the ire of fans after the aforementioned struggle at the end of the previous campaign, but has held the backing of the club throughout.

Many still view Allardyce as a quality manager, with his on-field tactics decent but his man-management and media management skills better than many mid-table managers.

If West Ham struggle in the opening stretch of the season, the 59-year-old very well may be in hot water thanks to the struggle in recent matches, but with a relatively solid squad, that doesn’t figure to be a large possibility.

PST Predicts: Since earning promotion back to the Premier League in 2012 (after just one season down in the Championship), they’ve had understandably mid-table expectations. However, with a few key signings this offseason and talent last year that somewhat underachieved, they should have a solid year.

They will hover around the 10th position, but the club shouldn’t have any serious spat with the bottom three, and although the top of the table seems crowded, they could make a run at the relatively unknown spots around eighth or ninth.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.

Sean Dyche says Joey Barton should have a TV show

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Joey Barton of Burnley (L) and Matt Rhead of Lincoln City (R) exchange words during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Burnley and Lincoln City at Turf Moor on February 18, 2017 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Burnley manager Sean Dyche says Joey Barton‘s life is chock full of fascinating moments, so much so that he should have his own TV show.

Except when he’s behind closed doors at Burnley, of course. Then he’s a stand up individual. Right, sure.

“It could be a TV series,” Dyche said in his pre-match press conference ahead of an away tilt with Hull City. “Being Joey. It’d be interesting. Never a dull moment.”

But of course, immediately after that, Dyche switched gears. “Unless he’s in here, training with me,” he backtracked. “I think it’s pantomime stuff. I’ve seen a lot more controversy around Joey than that. If that’s as far as it goes, I’ll be a happy man.”

“That” referred to Barton’s embarrassing dive in the FA Cup loss to non-league opponents Lincoln City where the midfielder play-acted after nothing more than a brush of the elbow from Matt Rhead, falling to the ground and clutching his head. Barton was involved in a number of heated moments during that match, adding to his already massive list of controversial moments in a mercurial career.

“Joey’s been terrific,” Dyche said. “I thought by a mile, by an absolute mile, he was the best player on the pitch last weekend. So he’s been absolutely fine. He’s in good nick – as you can see – and he’s definitely up for the challenges that come in front of us.”

But word of Joey Barton apparently hasn’t reached London. A few weeks ago, ahead of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Burnley on February 12th, Blues manager Antonio Conte was asked if he was familiar with Burnley’s squad and Barton in particular – an admittedly leading question – and Conte was unable to give an immediate answer. He instead asked his press officer muttering, “Joey Barton?” under his breath. The press officer embarrassingly tried to save face before Conte stepped back in giving a generic answer that they had already played once and he was familiar with the squad.