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)

LIVE, League Cup semi: Bristol City host Man City

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Bristol City host Manchester City in the second leg of their League Cup semifinal on Tuesday, with the Robins 2-1 down from the first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

The winner will play either Arsenal or Chelsea in the final at Wembley, with the London rivals locked at 0-0 as they play their second leg at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Follow Bristol City-Man City ]

Lee Johnson’s Bristol City are the heavy underdogs, once again, but their fairytale run in the League Cup has seen them oust four Premier League opponents previously in Watford, Stoke City, Crystal Palace and Manchester United. Surely the runaway Premier League leaders won’t be Bristol City’s next scalp…

Pep Guardiola has named a strong starting lineup as he aims to reach his first domestic cup final as Man City boss, with Claudio Bravo replacing Ederson in goal the only major change.

Bristol City, who sit in fifth place in England’s second-tier, five points off the automatic promotion spots, have two absentees with goalkeeper Frank Fielding missing out, while defender Nathan Baker is only on the bench after late fitness tests.

We are all just waiting (and hoping) for Bristol City to score so they can put up an awesome goal GIF…

Click on the link above to follow the action live, while below are the starting lineups for both teams. We will have analysis and reaction on the semifinal second leg right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

LINEUPS

Bristol City: Steele, Wright, Flint, Magnusson, Brownhill, Pack, Smith, Walsh, Bryan, Paterson, Reid. Subs: Wollacott, Baker, Eliasson, Kent, Engvall, Taylor, Diedhiou

Manchester City: Bravo; Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Zinchenko; Fernandinho; Bernardo, Silva, De Bruyne, Sane; Aguero. Subs: Ederson, Danilo, Kompany, Sterling, Gundogan, Mangala, Yaya Toure

Phil Neville named new manager of England women’s team

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Phil Neville has been named as the new manager of the England women’s national team.

Neville, 41, has been appointed as the Lionesses head coach through the 2021 European Championships.

The former Manchester United, Everton and England defender has previously been a first-team coach at United and an assistant manager at La Liga side Valencia, but this is his first involvement in the women’s game.

Speaking about his appointment on the FA’s website, Neville was thrilled to begin his new job.

“I am honored to be given the chance to lead England. With the new coaching team we are putting in place, we can help the players build on their great progress in recent years. This squad is on the verge of something special and I believe I can lead them to the next level,’ Neville said. “I can’t wait to get out on the training pitch and down to work with an elite group of players at the top of their game.”

Neville added that “there is no greater honor than representing your country and it will be a privilege to do it again” as he represented England at EURO 96 and EURO 2000, winning 59 caps in his nine-year international career.

England haven’t had a manager since Mark Sampson was sacked amid controversy in September 2017 due to previous “inappropriate behavior” when he was manager of Bristol Academy, at the same time as allegations from forward Eni Aluko swirled around Sampson and his coaching staff as the FA apologized for Sampson’s comments which were “discriminatory on the grounds of race.”

The Lionesses are currently ranked No.3 in the world and finished in third-place at the 2015 World Cup in Canada. They were also knocked out at the semifinal stage of the 2017 European Championships in the Netherlands last summer. Neville will have a lot of work to do to adapt to the women’s game quickly, but his high-profile could see even more interest in the England women’s team as attendance figures continue to rise for national team games.

Neville’s first game in charge of the Lionesses is a 2019 World Cup qualifier on Apr. 6 against Wales at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sturridge to Inter; Laporte to Man City

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Inter Milan appear to be pushing hard to sign Daniel Sturridge on loan from Liverpool.

Phil McNulty from BBC Sport believes that Inter want a loan move until the end of the season for the 28-year-old striker.

England international Sturridge has seen his appearances dwindle at Liverpool this season with just nine games and two goals in the Premier League. Injuries have once again impacted Sturridge’s season and with Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane ripping it up in a fluid front three, there doesn’t appear to be a place for Sturridge in Jurgen Klopp‘s plans.

Sturridge has started just six games in all competitions, making 14 appearances and scoring three goals in total.

Sevilla are reportedly also interested in Sturridge, while several other Premier League clubs have also been suggested as a potential temporary home.

As he tries to earn a spot in Gareth Southgate‘s England squad, regular action will be key for Sturridge between now and May. He may not get that at Liverpool, even with the Reds pushing to finish in the top four of the PL, plus still in the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League. He will likely get some minutes in the cup and some league games but unless he plays, and scores, regularly then his hopes of going to the 2018 World Cup will be far-fetched.


Sky Sports are reporting that Manchester City are in talks to sign Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao for $83 million.

Per the report  negotiations are ongoing about a deal for the young defender.

Laporte, 23, has an $83 million release clause in his contract, hence the bid, but the French international center back previously turned down the chance to sign for City.

With Vincent Kompany once again struggling with injuries, plus the erratic form of John Stones this season, Guardiola has been looking to beef up his options at center back for a while. Jonny Evans and Real Sociedad’s Inigo Martinez are reportedly other options for City in January, with Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala the only other recognized center back around after Kompany and Stones.

Laporte is a product of the Athletic youth system and made his first team debut in the 2012-13 season. He was included in the 2013-14 La Liga team of the year and is known as a tough tackling, ball-playing center back who has an excellent turn of pace and he is left-footed.

$83 million is a lot of cash to splash but Man City have a little in the bank given their failure to land Alexis Sanchez. Guardiola needs to strengthen in defense and at the age of 23, with five seasons in La Liga under his belt, Laporte seems like a very good long-term project.

Sean Dyche signs new contract at Burnley

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Burnley have extended Sean Dyche‘s contract until the summer of 2022.

It is believed the Englishman was on a 12-month rolling contract, but given the Clarets being around the top six for most of this season, plus Dyche linked with previously vacant positions at Everton and Leicester, the Lancashire club have moved to lock down the “Ginger Mourinho” long-term.

Speaking to Burnley’s website about signing the new contract, Dyche, 46, was delighted to commit himself to the Turf Moor club.

“I am quite young in management terms. I am still learning and still improving, I believe, so for my personal reasons, as well, I think it’s the right place to be,” Dyche said. “It’s a very good environment and I enjoy it and I enjoy the connection I’ve had with this area. There’s lots of work to be done, but I’m definitely ‘in’ for the work to be done.”

Dyche has been in charge of Burnley since October 2012 and has led the Clarets to two promotions to the Premier League, building a solid squad and turning his team into a steady PL club while balancing the books. A recent bad run of form has seen Burnley drop to eighth place, but they are still comfortably in line for their best-ever finish in the PL era.

We can get used to hearing Dyche’s gravely voice for many years to come as he now has the chance to build on his success at Burnley.

In the Premier League only Arsene Wenger and Eddie Howe have been in charge of their clubs longer than Dyche, as continuity has bred success at Burnley.