La Liga season preview, predictions: Can anyone outlast Real Madrid?

Leave a comment

Last season, La Liga closed up shop with its first champion not named Barcelona or Real Madrid since 2004. Manager Diego Simeone led Atletico Madrid to the mountain top, their 90 points enough to outlast the usual names.

But Simeone has lost Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois amongst others in his search to repeat, while both Real and Barca have loaded up in the transfer market (a task especially important to the latter, who won’t be able to make another transfer between the end of this window and January 2016).

[ RELATED: Torres in, Jimenez out for Mexico friendlies vs. Chile, Bolivia ]

La Liga would seem as unbalanced as ever, with 10 teams within 10 points of relegation and no one within 17 points of the ‘Big Three’, but is that an illusion? Who will win the league, who can make a charge and who will go down? Glad you asked…

Relegation battlers: Eibar and Cordoba are both making their first trips through La Liga in a long, long time. In Eibar’s case, it’s the first ever trip to the top flight, while Cordoba last played 42 years ago. Deportivo La Coruna is back after one year in the Segunda Division.

All three will struggle to stay up, but Almeria and Getafe both barely escaped with their safety last season. Can Rayo Vallecano replicated its second half of the 2013/14, and avoid the garbage dump that was the first half? Throw in Elche and Granada, and almost half the teams in the league could go down without qualifying as a major surprise.

source: AP
Can Sevilla improve on Europa League triumph?

The challengers: Athletic Bilbao finished in fourth place, 20 back of the title and 17 back of the third slot, and have not done much to replace the loss of Ander Herrera to Manchester United. Sevilla finished fifth and won the UEFA Europa League, though you get the feeling their place in La Liga would’ve been higher without the focus on winning Europa.

Real Sociedad faces major challenges to replicating its success, as Claudio Bravo, Antoine Griezmann and Haris Seferovic all skipped town, while Valencia made enough intriguing additions to move forward.

If you’re looking for a dark horse, try Malaga. They lost Wily Caballero but ably replaced the Man City-bound keeper with Mexican World Cup star Guillermo Ochoa, while also adding Arthur Boka from Stuttgart, Roberto Rosales from Twente and Luis Alberto on loan from Liverpool. Another dark horse is the aforementioned Rayo Vallecano, which has added Gael Kakuta and Alejandro Pozuelo.

The title tilters: Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti faces the challenge of dealing with an embarrassment of riches after his club picked up James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Keylor Navas to its already jacked lineup (and what if Angel Di Maria doesn’t leave?).

Atletico added Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic and Raul Jimenez, but may end up struggling to stay with Barcelona and Real thanks to the adjustment period. Barcelona will be very strong once Luis Suarez returns from his four-month ban, but also faces a bit of uncertainty as names like Ivan Rakitic, Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen acclimate to the Camp Nou and their teammates learn to live life without Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez.

Predicted order of finish (2013/14 finish)
1. Real Madrid (3)
2. Barcelona (2)
3. Sevilla (5)
4. Atletico Madrid (1)
5. Villarreal (6)
6. Valencia (8)
7. Malaga (11)
8. Rayo Vallecano (12)
9. Athletic Bilbao (4)
10. Celta de Vigo (9)
11. Espanyol (14)
12. Levante (10)
13. Real Sociedad (7)
14. Granada (15)
15. Getafe (13)
16. Almeria (17)
17. Cordoba (N/A)
18. Deportivo La Coruna (N/A)
19. Elche (16)
20. Eibar (N/A)

Top Premier League storylines – Week 35

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s a short Premier League weekend with the FA Cup taking place, but all eyes will be on the Emirates Stadium after Friday’s stunning news.

Arsene Wenger begins his farewell tour at Arsenal this Sunday as the Gunners host a London derby against West Ham United.

[MORE: Arsene Wenger’s legacy

Arsenal aims to finish season on a high
Arsenal vs. West Ham —  8:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN

The decision to step down has taken attention away from Arsenal’s defeat last Sunday when Newcastle came back from a one-goal deficit to defeat the Gunners, 2-1. Perhaps with the manager on his way out, Arsenal’s players will be extra motivated to end the season on a high note. If Arsenal continue to slip up, it could be out of Europe entirely, as the club sits just two points above seventh place.

For West Ham, a win would all but ensure the club’s place in the Premier League next season, but the club currently sit just six points above the relegation zone, and with the team going through a rough past few months, every point gained at home or away counts.

Does a guard of honor await Manchester City?
Manchester City vs. Swansea City —  11:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN

By virtue of Manchester United’s defeat last Sunday, Manchester City became officially Premier League champions-elect.

The club will get to raise the trophy officially at the end of the season, but for now, it appears Swansea City will be the first club to show its respect to Man City’s dominance throughout the season with a guard of honor. Man City is still chasing more Premier League records, but Swansea City, just four points above the drop zone, needs this win more.

Relegation scrap on tap
Watford vs. Crystal Palace —  10:00 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN

It’s a proverbial six-pointer as Watford, about as far north you can go in the London area, takes on Crystal Palace in south London in a key relegation battle.

Just three points separate the two sides, but a win for Watford would push the club up to 40 points while a win for Palace would put the Eagles even on points with the Hornets at 37 each. Interestingly, via the Premier League, “Watford are winless in their last six home meetings with Crystal Palace in all competitions (D3 L3), since a 2-0 victory in the Championship in February 2009.”

Stats behind Wenger’s time at Arsenal

Arsene Wenger
Leave a comment

When you manage for nearly 22 years, you’re sure to accumulate numerous statistical milestones.

Arsene Wenger holds the record for most Premier League games managed (823), FA Cups won (7) and of course, his incredible run of 49 games without defeat with the 2003/2004 Arsenal invincibles team.

[MORE: ALL COVERAGE OF ARSENE WENGER’S DEPARTURE]

Our friends at Opta have put together some statistics together on Wenger’s achievements over his time at the club that spans three decades.

Arsene Wenger’s Career (as of April 20, 2018)

Titles

Premier League 🏆🏆🏆

FA Cup 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆

Community Shield 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆


Games Managed

Premier League – 823 games, 473 wins, 199 draws, 151 losses, 57.5% winning percentage

UEFA Champions League – 177 games, 83 wins, 41 draws, 53 losses

FA Cup – 109 games, 73 wins, 22 draws, 14 losses

League Cup – 73 games, 42 wins, 9 draws, 22 losses

UEFA Cup/Europa League – 23 games, 14 wins, 5 draws, 4 losses

UEFA Champions League qualifying – 14 games, 13 wins, 1 draw, 0 losses

Community Shield – 9 games, 6 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss

(more…)

Bocanegra, Hucles to chair USSF technical development group

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CHICAGO (AP) Former U.S. men’s captain Carlos Bocanegra and retired women’s midfielder Angela Hucles will chair a new technical development committee established by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The organization also appointed eight chief officers who will report to chief executive officer Dan Flynn, but the final two direct reports remain to be hired: general managers for the men’s and women’s national teams.

Bocanegra currently works as the vice president and technical director for Atlanta United while Hucles is a former CEO and has spoken at sports leadership summits. Both Bocanegra and Hucles are members of the U.S. Soccer board. Bocanegra in particular has been floated for the position of U.S. Men’s National Team general manager, and this appointment could be the first step. And with more than 100 caps for the U.S. Women’s National Team and time spent as an executive, Hucles could also be angling for the USWNT general manager position.

The USSF said its board also established a new commercial committee, raising the board’s committee total to six under new president Carlos Cordeiro, who succeeded Sunil Gulati in February.

Nico Romeijn was promoted to chief sport development officer from head of coaching education, Ryan Mooney to chief soccer officer from director of sport development and Brian Remedi to chief stakeholders officer from chief administrative officer. Tonya Wallach was appointed chief talent and inclusion officer

Department heads continuing senior roles who are direct reports to Flynn include Jay Berhalter (chief commercial and strategy officer), Neil Buethe (chief communications officer), Eric Gleason (chief financial officer) and Lydia Wahlke (chief legal counsel).

Kroenke’s statement on Wenger

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Stan Kroenke has been a mostly hands-off owner for Arsenal over the past 10 years, preferring to put his trust in Arsene Wenger.

But today, with Wenger’s public announcement that he will step away at the end of the season, Kroenke released a poignant statement, calling on the club’s fans around the globe to back the side as it looks to hold on to a place in next season’s Europa League.

[MORE: Reaction to Arsene Wenger’s decision]

“This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport,” Kroenke said. “One of the main reasons we got involved with Arsenal was because of what Arsène has brought to the club on and off the pitch. His longevity and consistency over such a sustained period at the highest level of the game will never be matched.

“Arsène has unparalleled class and we will always be grateful to him. Everyone who loves Arsenal and everyone who loves football owes him a debt of gratitude. Three Premier League titles, including an entire season unbeaten, seven FA Cup triumphs and 20 successive years in the Champions League is an exceptional record. He has also transformed the identity of our club and of English football with his vision for how the game can be played.

“We have high ambitions to build on Arsène’s remarkable tenure and to honour his vision by ensuring that Arsenal competes for and wins the biggest and most important prizes in the game.

“We must now focus on making a strong finish to the season and ask our millions of fans around the world to join us in paying appropriate tribute to one of the greats of Arsenal’s history and one of the greats of the game.”

Kroenke has drawn the ire of many Arsenal fans who had been calling for Wenger to be sacked for years, as the Arsenal board year after year continued to offer Wenger a new contract. It appeared that as long as the club was stable financially, with UEFA Champions League television revenues coming in and the team competing for a top-four Premier League position, the board was content.

However, the last two seasons have seen Arsenal slip, with a record amount of defeats during Wenger’s tenure and a second-consecutive season outside of the Champions League, leading to more lost revenue.