Premier League Top 5 Defenders heading into 2014/15 season

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Defenders get no love, which is exactly why pre-season Top 5 pieces like this exist.

Nailing down who, exactly, are the best defenders is no easy task. It wasn’t but a few years ago that center-backs were the most recognized of the back four but in modern football one overlooks outside backs at his own peril. They defend, they attack and in doing so they cause a lot of problems.

So let’s get to it.

Below are the Top 5 defenders heading into the 2014/15 Premier League season.

1. Pablo Zabaleta – Manchester City

Is there a better right-back in the world than Pablo Zabaleta? Evertonians might argue Seamus Coleman – and perhaps someday the Irishman will claim that title – but for now the 29-year old Argentine is king of the hill. An incredible one-on-one defender, Zabaleta is nearly impossible to slip by while offensively, his devilish runs and ability to both create and finish makes him the complete player. As always, he’ll be key to Manchester City’s hopes of a repeat.

2. Vincent Kompany – Manchester City

Joining Zabaleta on the Top 5 list is teammate Vincent Kompany. Built like a super hero, Kompany has the brains to match the brawn, a sublime touch, prescient anticipation and poses major danger on set pieces. His most valuable trait, however, is his world-class leadership. City rarely falls apart but when they do it’s almost always when Kompany is out of the match due to either suspension or injury. Fortunately, he’s a disciplined player so that rarely happens. Easily the best center-back in the Premier League, Kompany’s presence is crucial for City’s success.

3. Seamus Coleman – Everton

For five years Coleman’s talent had been building. He always had speed. Then he developed a touch on the ball, then a shot, then a cross. And then, finally, he mastered the art of defense, which made Coleman the total product – an attacking fullback with a penchant for goal. Last year the Irishman scored six times in league play while he and Everton conceded the third fewest goals of any club in the Premier League. Not bad for a kid bought five years ago for $800,000 from Sligo Rovers.

4. Branislav Ivanovic – Chelsea

Hard to find a tougher man in the Premier League than Branislav Ivanovic. Built like a tank, the Serbian is as hard to move off the ball as he is to get past on the dribble. He’s also incredibly versatile, able to play right-back or center-back with equal success. Going forward, Ivanovic is a danger but he truly thrives on set pieces where he’s nearly impossible to track and an expert header of the ball. Ivanovic may fly under the radar when it comes to Chelsea players but he’s a must-have for any conversation about the best defenders in the league.

5. Leighton Baines – Everton

The other half of Everton’s dangerous full-back corps is Leighton Baines. For years the left-back has been hailed as one of the best in England and last year he finally eclipsed Ashley Cole on the international level. For Everton, Baines’ trickery and ability to create from a defensive position makes him a nightmare for opposing teams. Last year his offensive contribution was somewhat diluted due to the injury to his usual partner in crime on the wing, Steven Pienaar, but Baines still made his mark from spot kicks, notably scoring an incredible double to help defeat West Ham at the Boleyn Ground.

Honorable Mention: John Terry (Chelsea), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Curtis Davies (Hull City)

Bobby Wood, Hamburg in danger of relegation after latest defeat

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Three matches remain in the Bundesliga season, and one U.S. Men’s National Team star might not be able to fend off relegation in his first top-flight campaign in Germany.

[ MORE: Tottenham revel in North London, but they want more ]

USMNT forward Bobby Wood and his Hamburg side fell 4-0 to Augsburg on Sunday, leaving HSV in 16th place in the German table with just several weeks left to play.

Wood has performed well with Hamburg during the 2016/17 season, scoring nine goals across all competitions, however, his side could surely use more goals in the coming weeks.

Including Sunday’s road loss, Hamburg has now lost three consecutive matches and puts Markus Gisdol’s men in a world of trouble down the stretch. Hamburg will face Mainz, Schalke and Wolfsburg over the final weeks of the season, and while those fixtures are actually pretty favorable, it still won’t be an easy test to fend off survival.

With only 18 teams playing in the top two flights of German soccer, the bottom two clubs in the Bundesliga are automatically relegated to Bundesliga.2, while the team that finishes in 16th participates in a playoff with the third-place side from the second division (currently Hanover 96).

Tottenham revel in ruling North London, but want more

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LONDON — The penultimate game at White Hart Lane produced a fitting farewell.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-0 on Sunday to not only keep their Premier League title hopes alive but also dominate North London for the first time in over two decades.

“North London is ours!” sang Tottenham’s fans as they taunted the small, disconsolate group of Arsenal fans tucked away in the far corner of the Lane. They must’ve wanted the ground to open up and swallow them. The emotions for Tottenham’s fans was entirely differently.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Spurs, Arsenal

A sense of relief and pride in the air was palpable as Spurs’ upward trajectory continues and they’ll finish above Arsenal for the first time in 22 years.

After Friday’s announcement that Spurs will be playing at Wembley next season ahead of moving into their new 61,000 capacity home for the 2018-19 campaign, the final edition of the North London derby at White Hart Lane was set.

For everyone connected to Tottenham it was a fairytale ending to the rivalry.

For manager Mauricio Pochettino and his players it was a nice way to provide a memorable moment, but their eyes are on a bigger prize.

“We are in the race for the title, we reduced the gap to Chelsea again and that is, for us, what we need to be focused on now,” Pochettino said. “We have another important game against West Ham on Friday.”

If Tottenham beat West Ham on Friday they momentarily be just one point behind Chelsea who play three days later against Middlesbrough.

Spurs have bigger fish to fry than their neighbors who appearing to be heading in a very different direction.

The ground shook at Spurs’ 118-year home as Harry Kane slammed home a penalty kick to make it 2-0, just 74 seconds after Dele Alli had made it 1-0 in the 55th minute.

Tottenham’s fans, players and manager will miss their atmospheric home but Spurs have bigger plans. They include usurping Arsenal each season but also 18 other teams in the Premier League.

“I am happy because when you play a derby like Tottenham against Arsenal, it is always important to win,” Pochettino said. “But I have a massive respect for him (Wenger). I admire him, for what he has doing in a club like Arsenal. It is a fantastic job. Of course I am so happy but are challenge and our aim is to win. Not only to beat Arsenal. It is to win against 19 other teams that play against us in the Premier League. But of course I am very happy but I am calm because we have four games left. Now it is important to focus and reduce the gap.”

Ironic chants of “Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay!” were belted out by Tottenham’s fans as they made it clear how they felt about the Arsenal boss staying on beyond this season.

Speaking after the game, Arsene Wenger was downbeat as his team would finish below Spurs for the first time in his tenure at the club.

Arsenal sit six points off the top four with five games remaining (they do have a game in hand over their rivals) as the possibility of the Gunners finishing outside the top four for the first time in 21 years is very real. That fact coupled with Spurs’ rise makes it even tougher for Arsenal to accept.

“Look, do I believe or not, the gap is there,” Wenger said. “That is often in the final part of the season, that can go one way or the other without really reflecting the difference between the teams.”

There is an incredible gap developing — 17 points to be exact — which was showcased on Sunday as Petr Cech made four fantastic saves to keep the score down. Yes, Arsenal have won PL titles, FA Cups and qualified regularly for the UEFA Champions League. But that was then. This is now.

Spurs are a club living in the moment and with a clear plan for the future. Arsenal are not.

With Spurs in the ascendancy on the pitch, their young squad improving together each month and their stunning new stadium rising higher each week, the future is bright for Tottenham.

Sunday was about soaking in nostalgia too as Pochettino waited for each and every one of his players to come off the pitch.

“We have to feel proud and happy because the last derby against Arsenal, all that it means for all our fans and everyone that loves Tottenham, it was a fantastic afternoon,” Pochettino said. “Of course we are disappointed that we didn’t reduce the gap to Chelsea but we are so proud of the team. ”

Pride is the key word in Tottenham as they’re finally top dogs in north London. Now they have bigger and better things to achieve as they leave Arsenal in their wake, the Gunners shuddering with fear and wrangled with jealousy.

Mourinho blames fatigue for Swansea collapse

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Following a 1-1 draw with Swansea City, Jose Mourinho has begged Manchester United fans to give his players their full support as they navigate a period of serious fixture congestion.

The Red Devils have gone unbeaten in a whopping 25 straight Premier League matches, but still remain outside the top four due to a plague of draws that has befallen the squad, again failing to secure a lead after a late Gylfi Sigurdsson free-kick pegged them back at Old Trafford.

“Did the supporters know it [that the players are struggling]?” Mourinho said in his post-match press conference. “Because if they know it, and they think about it, they would be more supportive of the players who give everything, deserve everything and are at their limits. The team is in trouble, the boys are in trouble. But when you give everything I cannot demand more. I’m not happy with the result. I’m very happy with the boys.”

United is suffering from a host of injuries, particularly to the defense. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were both unavailable for the Swansea match Sunday, and both Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly both left the field injured during the 90 minutes

[ RECAP: Swansea City salvages 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

“Luke has to be a big injury, when you’re out after 10 minutes, it has to be a big injury,” Mourinho said. “Eric, maybe he is injured but, at the same time, maybe it’s in relation to him being the guy who’s played 800 minutes of football in April.”

In addition, midfielders Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini were unavailable for the match, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s season is over thanks to a double ACL/PCL tear.

Mourinho went on to explain his team’s schedule in further detail, and the issues behind it. “You cannot be punished because we play the League Cup final, you play the final and then you have to play a game in midweek. Why don’t you stop the competition [the Premier League] when you play the final?

“You are punished for doing well and if we beat Celta, we have the final — in this moment that is obviously hypothetical — but the Europa League final is on the Wednesday and then we play against Crystal Palace on the Sunday. We play Southampton away two days before the final. So they want us to play the final, and we would be playing in disaster consequences.”

Matt Miazga, Vitesse win Dutch League Cup

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USMNT youngster Matt Miazga started and played the full 90 minutes as Vitesse Arnhem defeated AZ Alkmaar 2-0 to win the KNVB Beker. The trophy is the club’s first in its entire 125 year history.

Former Norwich City striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel scored the winner in the 81st minute, crashing in a header past lazy AZ defenders on a pinpoint cross by 20-year-old Kosovo international Milot Rashica. The former Premier League striker struck again in the 88th minute to put the game away.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned in the North London derby ]

Miazga has been a fixture for Vitesse this season, making 21 Eredivisie appearances this season and seeing the field in every Cup game. Vitesse conceded just four goals throughout the entire Cup run, and just one over the final four games. They shut out Feyenoord in the quarterfinals, a game which Miazga was a late substitute. Vitesse also kept clean sheets against lower league opponents in Jodan Boys in the Round of 16, and again in the finals, games that Miazga saw the entire 90 minutes.

The 21-year-old American is on loan from Chelsea, and after a slow start, has earned a significant place in the side. In the latest 10 league matches for Vitesse, Miazga has played the full 90 minutes in eight of them, with five wins and two clean sheets in that span. Vitesse sits in ninth position in the Eredivisie table, but their problems have come more so up front, as they’ve conceded just 38 goals in 34 matches, better than all but the top two teams in the table.

Another Chelsea loanee, central midfielder Lewis Baker, finished the competition as its top scorer, bagging five goals in Cup games. The 22-year-old England youth international had a brace in the 2-1 semifinal win over Sparta Rotterdam. Chelsea is known for its loan relationship with Vitesse, with four players currently loaned to the Dutch club.