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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)

West Ham United 2-1 Liverpool: Ogbonna strikes after 120 minutes

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Jordon Ibe of Liverpool takes on Pedro Mba Obiang of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Angelo Ogbonna is now an FA Cup hero.

Two sides willing to move the ball and attack produced a fine FA Cup tie on Tuesday at the Boleyn Ground, with Ogbonna heading home the match-winner in the 121st minute of play for a 2-1 win.

Michail Antonio scored a first-half goal for West Ham before Philippe Coutinho equalized for the visiting Reds.

[ WATCH: Coutinho’s cheeky free kick ties the score ]

All told, West Ham heads to Ewood Park for a fifth-round date with Blackburn Rovers. Peterborough United hosts West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday to sort out the fourth round’s other replay.

Liverpool played a more second-string set than the home side.

Brilliance met brilliance in the 38th minute, as Dimitri Payet struck a gorgeous dipping free kick over the wall only to see Mignolet get the slightest touch to help the ball crank off the goal post. Cheikhou Kouyate failed to scissor kick the rebound, and Mignolet flew back into the picture to parry Antonio’s header.

Antonio would get his glory next, as Enner Valencia took Payet’s pass and dribbled through the left side of the 18 and toward the end line before crossing the ball. Antonio let the ball sink to hip height before volleying home. 1-0, 45′.

There were three goal posts struck in the first half.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

[ MORE: Recapping Week 25 in the PL ]

Coutinho scored on a clever free kick from the edge of the 18, betting on the wall jumping and cheekily rolling his shot under it and past Hammers keeper Darren Randolph.

Christian Benteke started and nearly finished a 56th minute chance inside the box, but his shot was blocked.

West Ham should’ve been awarded a penalty when Tiago Ilori pulled down Valencia in the box. Roger East didn’t see it that way.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or UEFA Champions League final a must ]

The match went to extra time after eight minutes of second-half stoppage time.

Mignolet made a solid flying stop on Mark Noble in the first frame of extra time. At the other end, Benteke struck a low chance wide of the right post. Moments later, Randolph came out to thwart Benteke on a breakaway.

If anyone needed a reminder of Daniel Sturridge‘s skill, the late sub let fly with a 108th minute bullet that missed the goal by inches.

Then Lucas Leiva gave up a free kick just as two minutes of extra time stoppage began, and Ogbonna struck.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Randolph, O’Brien (Moses, 83′), Reid (Collins, 64′), Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate (Carroll, 76′), Noble, Obiang, Antonio, Valencia, Payet.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Flanagan, Stewart, Tiago Ilori, Smith, Teixeira (Origi, 60′), Lucas, Chirivella (Milner, 102′), Ibe, Benteke, Coutinho (Sturridge, 60′).

WATCH: Liverpool’s Coutinho bewitches West Ham with cheeky free kick

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09: Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool scores from a free-kick during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Philippe Coutinho has some gumption.

Liverpool’s Brazilian wizard tied things up with West Ham United in Tuesday’s FA Cup replay at the Boleyn Ground, and did it in style.

[ MORE: Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must ]

With a free kick from just outside the 18, Coutinho thought West Ham would expect he’d hit a ball that would get up quick before dipping after the wall.

They’d jump, he figured, and he’d roll it under the wall. He was correct (video courtesy Fox Soccer):

USWNT’s Solo says Zika fears could make her skip the Olympics

Hope Solo attends the premiere of "He Named Me Malala" at The Ziegfeld Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
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As it stands, Hope Solo would skip the Olympics if fears over the Zika virus don’t subside in Brazil.

It’s been speculated that Zika increases the odds of certain birth defects, and Solo said playing in the Olympics is not worth risking future pregnancies.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

With CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying heading to NBC Live Extra at 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday against Costa Rica (All games of the tournament will be streamed on Live Extra), Solo is set to star between the sticks for the USWNT.

But in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, the 34-year-old netminder is far from ready to commit to the tournament.

She went as far as to say she wouldn’t go if the tournament was today, elaborating in this story from SI.com:

“I would never take the risk of having an unhealthy child,” said Solo, 34. “I don’t know when that day will come for Jerramy and me, but I personally reserve my right to have a healthy baby. No athlete competing in Rio should be faced with this dilemma. Female professional athletes already face many different considerations and have to make choices that male professional athletes don’t.”

Brazilian officials claim there will be minimal risk by the Summer Games because of the change in season, but that won’t alleviate all the concerns of female athletes. It will certainly be interesting to monitor how the situation develops in the coming months.

Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must

Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea FC
Brian Westerholt/AP Images for International Champions Cup
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Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is used to big matches, whether at Stamford Bridge, with the Belgian national team or during his loan to Atletico Madrid.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Courtois “standing tall” at Chelsea ]

If he doesn’t get one or two of those contests by the end of this season, a bad season will become an utter failure.

Courtois says it’s a long way to the Top Four, but Chelsea hasn’t given up on that hope. Regardless, he’s targeting wins over Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, respectively.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“After that we play in the Champions League and FA Cup against two great sides and we have to try to win those games because the only way to save our season is to reach the final in one or both of them.”

Chelsea’s star has fallen this year, but this is still largely the team that won the Premier League last season. Courtois’ goals are not unreasonable.