Pre-Season Friendly - "Vitesse Arnhem v Chelsea"

Ten Players to Watch in the 2014/15 Premier League season

Leave a comment

It’s never easy to craft a ‘Top 10 players to watch’ list, mainly because it falls into that amorphous space among lists concerning ‘Top 10 players’, ‘Top 10 transfers’ and ‘Top 10 dark horses’. So we dug deep, removed the ‘Top 10’ aspect and have put together the perfect list of Premier League players you need to keep your eye on in 2014/15.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

Of course, the list is still a bit subjective but if you disagree or feel we’ve lost the plot, have your say in the comments. Regardless, the most important point remains – the Premier League returns in only five days. Get in!

Diego Costa – Chelsea

If one were to single out where Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho got it wrong last year most would agree it was at striker where the trio of Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba proved lame. So this summer the Portuguese manager set out to find a powerful, clinical, hulking striker to play the role of Didier Drogba 2.0. Diego Costa, who scored 36 goals in all comps last year for Atletico Madrid, has been donned that man. And, just in case the Brazilian striker doesn’t come good, Mourinho went out and signed Drogba 1.0 as well (although he’s already caught the injury bug).

Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal

In one of the most high-powered signings of the summer, Arsenal broke the bank to bring Alexis Sanchez to North London. Similar to the deal for Mesut Ozil last year, it was one that Arsenal didn’t have to make out of necessity but instead, simply couldn’t pass up. Sanchez enjoyed a brilliant World Cup for Chile and made no secret of his desire to leave Barcelona – where he, like Cesc Fabregas, was under appreciated – to play under Arsene Wenger. How the gaffer will line up his stacked squad is anyone’s guess but expect Sanchez to pop up on the right and left wings, an attacking center midfielder and as a striker.

Luke Shaw – Manchester United

There isn’t a player in the league with more pressure on his shoulders than Luke Shaw, having arrived at Old Trafford this summer on a $50 million dollar transfer fee. For a 19-year-old left back, that’s some serious loot. Then again, Shaw is a big talent, both literally and metaphorically. The question becomes, what kind of impact will he have in year one? Louis van Gaal has already cut him down by publicly noting his lack of fitness and handing Ashley Young a fair shot to win the left-back spot. And, shockingly, the former Villa man has looked quite good in pre-season. Tough times for Shaw but watching him overcome the odds will be a joy.

Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea

Can’t wait to see Fabregas back on Premier League pitches but in Chelsea blue?! That will take some getting used to. The former Arsenal midfielder arrived at Stamford Bridge following a three-year stint at Barcelona where his qualities were not fully appreciated. Now, back on English soil, pundits will be looking to see if Cesc can re-capture the reputation he gained at the Emirates as one of the best play-makers in the world.

source: Getty ImagesRoss Barkley – Everton

Everton made headlines this summer with the $47 million purchase of Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea but equally significant was the re-signing of midfielder Ross Barkley to a new four year deal at the club. Barkley scored seven goals in 38 appearances for Everton last season, beasting opponents with a combination of power, skill and a knack for big goals.

Rumors were rife with Manchester United and Chelsea were in to sign the 20-year-old maestro but in the end Everton was too close to his heart: “This contract means everything for me. It is my dream to play for Everton. This is the club I love and I see it as home.”

Stevan Jovetic – Manchester City

Stevan Jovetic struggled with injury in his first season at City but has been fantastic in this summer’s pre-season. With injuries to Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo heading into the start of the season, look for Jovetic to partner Edin Dzeko up top and to finally make his mark in the Premier League. If the Montenegrin comes good for the Citizens early on, look for him to move out to the wing once Aguero returns from injury.

Enner Valencia – West Ham

Feels like ages since West Ham have had a healthy, proper striker ready to go. Last year they banked on Andy Carroll before injuries struck him down leaving the cupboard bare. This year, the Hammers smartly hedged Carroll (who recently injured himself again) by dropping $20 million on Ecuadorian striker Enner Valencia. The former Pachuca man (18 goals in 23 matches) dazzled in the World Cup, scoring three goals and proving himself a menace to opposition with blazing speed and incredible aerial ability. Here’s to hoping West Ham’s new gem can stay healthy.

Aaron Ramsey – Arsenal

Keep Aaron Ramsey healthy and Arsenal are realistic title contenders. At the beginning of last season the Welsh Wizard was brilliant for the Gunners, using his silky skills to playmake throughout the midfield while scoring eight league goals before the end of November. But in December, injury struck Ramsey and down went Arsenal’s title hopes. This summer he’s healthy and looking as lively as ever with Goonah fans everywhere frothing at the mouth over the prospect of Ramsey, Ozil and Sanchez linking up together.

source: APThibaut Courtois – Chelsea

After two years on loan at Atletico Madrid, the gigantic Belgian returns to Chelsea where one of the most compelling goalkeeping battles of all time is set to commence: Thibaut Courtois v. Petr Cech. Courtois’ size (6′ 7″), split-second reactions and soft hands have seen him rise the ranks of goalkeepers, with many believing he’s No. 2 just behind Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer. But what about Cech? He’s long been one of, if not the best, keepers in the Premier League and he’s not going down without a battle. How Mourinho decides to divide up the playing time and each player’s reaction towards that decision will be an incredibly compelling storyline for the entire season.

Ander Herrera – Manchester United

After multiple attempts to sign Herrera last year, United finally landed the deep-lying playmaker from Athletic Bilbao and he already looks at home in the Red Devils midfield. Lively, with brilliant technique and passing ability, Herrera will play alongside Michael Carrick and, at times, Darren Fletcher, to provide the creative link to Juan Mata. A fantastic signing for Louis van Gaal.

Others to Watch: Mathieu Debuchy (Arsenal), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Callum Chambers (Arsenal), Fabian Delph (Aston Villa), Danny Ings (Burnley), Felipe Luis (Chelsea), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Frazier Campbell (Crystal Palace), Dwight Gayle (Crystal Palace), Yannick Bolasie (Crystal Palace), Jason Puncheon (Crystal Palace), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), John Stones (Everton), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Muhamed Besic (Everton), Jake Livermore (Hull City), Robert Snodgrass (Hull City), Thomas Ince (Hull City), Marc Albrighton (Leicester City), Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City), Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City), Lazar Markovic (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City), Willy Caballero (Manchester City), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Remy Cabella (Newcastle), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Daryl Janmaat (Newcastle), Loic Remy (QPR), Jordon Mutch (QPR), Mauricio Isla (QPR), Victor Wanyama (Southampton), Saphir Taider (Southampton), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City), Steve Sidwell (Stoke City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Bojan Krkic (Stoke City), Adam Johnson (Sunderland), Connor Wickham (Sunderland), Jack Rodwell (Sunderland), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City), Ki Sung-Yeung (Swansea City), Bafetimbi Gomis (Swansea City), Jefferson Montero (Swansea City), Wilfried Bony (Swansea City), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Ben Davies (Tottenham), Joleon Lescott (West Brom), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Brown Ideye (West Brom), Kevin Nolan (West Ham), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham), Ravel Morrison (West Ham)

How Sevilla hope to destroy the Madrid-Barca duopoly in Spain

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 15: Samir Nasri  (2ndR) of Sevilla FC celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates during the La Liga match between CD Leganes and Sevilla FC at Estadio Municipal de Butarque on October 15, 2016 in Leganes, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Sevilla’s ambitious hopes of becoming a La Liga contender are beginning to materialize.

With an inspired team not afraid of confronting the powerhouses, Sevilla has shown it’s ready to take the next step and seriously challenge Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid.

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

One game before the halfway mark in the Spanish league, the squad revitalized by coach Jorge Sampaoli is only a point behind leader Madrid, a team it defeated in impressive fashion on Sunday.

The come-from-behind 2-1 win came thanks to another gritty performance by Sampaoli’s team, which has mixed high-intensity defense and a fast-paced attack to impose its style against opponents, no matter how strong they are.

“A victory in a game like this allows us to remain optimistic and believe that this team can continue this run if we maintain this same determination,” Sampaoli said. “Time will tell if we can succeed.”

Sevilla’s win halted Madrid’s 40-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. Sevilla had already come close to a victory midweek in the Copa del Rey, but it conceded two late goals in a 3-3 draw that led to its elimination. It lost the first leg the week before in Madrid 3-0.

“We had three difficult matches against Real Madrid and we were superior in two of them,” Sampaoli said. “We were able to beat a team that was unbeaten.”

[ MORE: PHOTO — Juventus unveil new logo, identity rebrand ]

Sevilla this season also defeated Atletico 1-0, drew at fifth-place Villarreal 0-0, and routed sixth-place Real Sociedad 4-0. It lost 2-1 to Barcelona in an encouraging display.

It has won six of its last seven league games, including four in a row. In front of its diehard fans at Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, Sevilla has won eight of its nine games.

It lost the European Super Cup title to Madrid in extra time last year, and this season advanced to the knockout stages of the Champions League, where it will face Leicester City in the Round of 16.

Sevilla has thrived in the lower-tiered Europa League, winning three straight titles, but its last Spanish league trophy was in 1946. The last time it finished second was in 1957.

It hasn’t had this much success in the league since 2007, when a squad that included Dani Alves and Frederic Kanoute fought for the title and eventually finished third behind Barcelona and champion Real Madrid. Sevilla led the competition after 18 matches that season, but with 37 points, two less than it has now.

Sevilla, the Copa del Rey winner in 2007 and 2010, also finished third in the league in 2009.

While Atletico Madrid made its way to the top thanks to the stout defense of coach Diego Simeone, Sampaoli’s Sevilla has been balancing a competitive defense with an effective offense led by players such as Samir Nasri, Victor “Vitolo” Machin, Wissam Ben Yedder, and Luciano Vietto.

[ MORE: PL Playback — One from six; who are the title favorites now? ]

It’s the first time since the winning campaign of 1956-57 that Sevilla has scored 38 goals in its first 18 league matches. Only Barcelona (47) and Madrid (46) have scored more this season.

“This team likes to play, it likes to attack,” said Stevan Jovetic, who scored the injury-time winner against Madrid on Sunday. “There is still a long way to go and we will be fighting against some top teams, but we will keep doing our thing and see where we can end up.”

Sampaoli, the Argentine coach who arrived with high expectations this season, has made a mark by successfully rotating players. Despite not having the same budget as Madrid or Barcelona, he has been able to make the most out of the squad put together by renowned sports director Ramon “Monchi” Rodriguez.

But despite the recent success and all the hype surrounding Sevilla, president Jose Castro is trying to keep the club grounded.

“We are excited, we are one point behind Madrid, and one ahead of Barcelona,” Castro said. “We will try to win it all, but the goal is to secure a spot in the Champions (League). The Spanish league is for other teams with a bigger budget.”

Sevilla’s next game is at last-place Osasuna on Sunday.

Courtois: Chelsea can still win title without Costa

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A week from now, Diego Costa may still be a Chelsea player; he may also very well be off to the Chinese Super League by then.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The beauty insanity of the transfer market — and a volatile figure like Costa, in particular — is that no one knows which path he’ll take. After being made to train on his own on Monday, the best anyone can tell you is, “It’s 50-50.”

There aren’t many sides in the world that could stand to lose the league’s top goal-scorer (14 goals in 19 appearances this season; Chelsea have played 21 games) and still win the league title, but Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes that the current Blues squad is one that could hold onto its seven-point lead with 17 games remaining — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“Of course we have enough quality to replace Diego. Diego is important for us, but if he’s not there for one game, we know we can handle it as well.

“Was this a message to our rivals? Yes, just to see Chelsea won 3-0 and that loss at Spurs didn’t affect us and we can play without Diego if need be. I think everybody hoped for us to drop points and we didn’t so that was very good.”

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

Eden Hazard has chipped in with nine goals of his own this season — his performances have been bordering on brilliance at points — while Pedro and Willian each have five league goals to their name. 19 goals from three secondary-type scorers is what champions are made of, until you consider the only other true striker currently in the squad, 23-year-old Premier League newcomer Michy Batshuayi, has 1) made just 13 PL appearances (all as a substitute); 2) scored just once, all the way back in August.

Louis van Gone: Ex-Man United, Barca boss LvG retires from coaching

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United celebrates after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Louis Van Gaal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

In his mind, he probably imagine himself manager Manchester United for the duration of his three-year contract before riding off into the sunset after restoring the Red Devils as Premier League champions four months from now. At the very least, he’d agree to stay on one more season to complete a bit of unfinished business after narrowly missing out on the title in his third season in charge at Old Trafford.

Instead, he was fired last May, two days after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, and has been out of a job ever since. Van Gaal’s unemployment will now continue for the rest of his days, as the 65-year-old announced on Monday that he has retired from coaching after 26 years at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands (twice), Bayern Munich and Manchester United — quote from the BBC:

“I thought maybe I would stop, then I thought it would be a sabbatical, but now I do not think I will return to coaching.”

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

After the stress put upon his shoulders while at Man United, the last eight months must have felt like heaven to Van Gaal. Why on earth would anyone ever go back?

AFCON: DR Congo go top of Group C with win; Ivory Coast, Togo draw

Congo's Lomalisa Mutambala, right, with Morocco's Faycal Fajr, left, during their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Morocco at the Stade de Oyem in Oyem, Gabon, Monday Jan. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Monday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ivory Coast 0-0 Togo

OYEM, Gabon (AP) Ivory Coast’s Europe-based stars stumbled in the heat of northern Gabon in their African Cup of Nations opener, with the defending champion held by Togo to 0-0 on Monday in another twist to start the tournament.

Ivory Coast’s title-winning coach fared worse as Congo beat Herve Renard’s Morocco 1-0 in the day’s second game.

Congo, a team that was on strike and refusing to train two days ago, finished with nine men on the field and on top of Group D.

Ivory Coast created few clear chances against Togo, with Wilfried Zaha‘s blocked shot in the second half after a clever run probably its best. Zaha was substituted two minutes later and, although Ivory Coast pressed hard in stages, it never broke open Togo’s well-drilled defense in the first game in Group C in the northern jungle town of Oyem.

Togo was competitive in the first half and had two good openings with around 10 minutes to go, when Kodjo Laba missed with a header from in front of goal and Mathieu Dossevi’s deflected shot dropped onto the roof of the net.

Four of the first six games at the African Cup have been draws, with Ivory Coast’s fellow title challenger, Algeria, held to 2-2 by Zimbabwe, a team that hasn’t qualified for the African Cup in over a decade. Also, host Gabon couldn’t beat outsider and tournament debutant Guinea-Bissau in the opening game.

“After Algeria-Zimbabwe and Gabon-Guinea-Bissau, we were very careful,” Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer said. “But we still have two (group) matches so we are still confident.”

Togo even started better, and Dossevi was clear on goal in the 29th minute only for Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo to smother the chance.

Zaha was at the heart of Ivory Coast’s two best attacks, first in the first half when he sped down the right wing and sent across a dangerous low cross that was scrambled away. Then, in the 68th minute, he tricked his marker with a clever turn, cut inside, and hit a low shot that was headed to goal before two Togo defenders managed to get in the way.

Senegal and Congo are the only teams to win at the tournament.

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

DR Congo 1-0 Morocco

Junior Kabananga got the winner for Congo in the 55th minute after a mistake from Morocco `keeper Monir el-Kajoui. Congo’s Lomalisa Mutambala was sent off for a wild tackle in the 81st and played the last six minutes of normal time plus six minutes of injury time with nine men when captain Gabriel Zakuani went off injured with all their substitutes used up.

Still, victory was a major mood-changer for Congo, whose players refused to train on Friday and Saturday, claiming they hadn’t been paid tournament bonuses. They also posted a video on social media during their strike, where they complained about their treatment.

On Monday, Morocco was the one frustrated: Midfielder M’Bark Boussoufa hit the crossbar in the second minute. Goalkeeper El-Kajoui tried to block a cross with his feet and managed only to divert the ball to Kabananga to score the winning goal. Then, substitutes Youssef En Nesyri and Youssef el-Arabi missed late chances.

Although Ivory Coast and later Renard failed their first tests at the tournament, the Stade d’Oyem held up despite a desperate race to be ready in time, which saw workers scrambling around the venue finishing all sorts of jobs on the day of the game. Television viewers won’t have seen the construction debris that surrounds the outside of the stadium, which juts out of dense jungle canopy around 15 kilometers outside of Oyem.

Even organizers couldn’t do anything about the heat during the opening match, though, with Togo coach Claude le Roy’s shirt covered in dark sweat patches after urging his team on to a promising draw against the defending champion Ivorians.

“It was very hot. We were sweating so much,” Le Roy said. “We did what it takes. We are satisfied with the draw.”

Tuesday’s AFCON schedule

Ghana vs. Uganda — 11 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Egypt — 2 p.m. ET