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Premier League Top 5 Defenders heading into 2014/15 season


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)

Barcelona, Neymar make it formal: Signed into 2021

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Neymar of Barcelona holds off pressure from Raheem Sterling of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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T’s are crossed and i’s dotted on Neymar’s new contract, keeping him at the club through the 2020-21 season.

Neymar, 24, will make his 100th La Liga appearance with his next step onto the pitch.

Lionel Messi’s deal runs through 2017-18, and Luis Suarez’s goes through 2018-19.

[ MORE: Guardiola on Aguero omission ]

He’s scored 59 goals in league play, and has 91 total when you include all 150 of his matches in a Barca kit.

Neymar is on a similar scoring rate to last season, when he netted 31 times. The Brazilian also has 49 international goals in 73 caps.

Guardiola seethes at reports Aguero unwanted at Man City

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City is congratulated by Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola is seething with reports that claim star striker Sergio Aguero is not in his plans for Manchester City’s future.

Aguero started on the bench for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League loss at Barcelona, inspiringĀ talk that the Argentine star wasn’t long for the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Conte on Mourinho, Pogba ]

Guardiola says that’s garbage, and that he simply needed more midfielders for his attack. Next time, just ask.

From the BBC:

“It was a tactical decision. I wanted one more midfielder, I tried to keep the ball in the Camp Nou and when you have the ball, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez don’t.

“I spoke with Sergio and he was understanding, I thought in the last 30 minutes, with the Barcelona centre-halves tiring, he could help a lot from the bench. When Sergio decides to leave it will be his decision. Next time before you (the media) decide he is not in my plans you can call me.”

Still, not using Aguero is risky business.

The striker believes, rightly, that he’s among the most dangerous players in the world. Guardiola has said as much, too.

While few would put him in the class of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s difficult to imagine either being sat for tactical reasons against one of the best teams in the world.

Chelsea: Conte expects warm reception for Mourinho; Terry is fit

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  A fan wears a Chelsea scarf with the image of the club's former manager, Jose Mourinho before the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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The managers are meeting the media ahead of this week’s Premier League matches, and many eyes are trained on one specific match-up.

Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Sunday, the first time Jose Mourinho will manage against his old side since his unceremonious exit last winger.

[ USWNT: Holiday has tumor removed ]

Mourinho, of course, led Chelsea to the 2014-15 title only to see a miserable start to the following campaign. He was hired at Manchester United this summer, but Conte thinks Mourinho’s Chelsea laurels have earned him some love from Stamford Bridge.

“I have great respect for Mourinho.Ā He deserves a good reception. He was an important man for Chelsea and wrote part of the club’s story.”

Conte also touched on Paul Pogba‘s decision to head back to Old Trafford. Pogba is coming off a starring role in United’s 4-1 win over Fenerbahce, and Conte guided the French midfielder during their time at Juventus.

“It wasĀ Paul Pogba’s dream was to return to Manchester United. I wish him well, but only after this game.”

Conte said John Terry is available to return for Chelsea, and that could be invaluable against a big, strong forward like United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the Red Devils having played Thursday, Conte will like his chances a bit more than usual.

Canada vs. U.S. among top-notch CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 20:  Gershon Koffie #28 of the Vancouver Whitecaps brings the ball up field against Dax McCarty #11 of the New York Red Bulls at B.C. Place on June 20, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images)
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The bracket is set for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and ensures thatĀ at least one MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal will happen next Spring.

No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls will cross the continent to meet No. 8 Vancouver Whitecaps, with the winner moving on to face the victor of Mexico’s Tigres UANL vs.Ā Pumas UNAM.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]

The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.

Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.

Full schedule
New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)

The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).

Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).