Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Liverpool

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After spending over $100 million in transfer fees this summer, Liverpool need to challenge for a spot in the top four this season.

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Manager Brendan Rodgers will be under plenty of pressure to achieve qualification to the UEFA Champions League, but with Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard leaving, a new-look Liverpool could have plenty of growing pains. Traditionally the Anfield club are one of England’s most successful sides with 18 league titles, seven FA Cups, eight FA Cups and five UEFA Champions League titles during their rich history.

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Their Merseyside neighbors are Everton, who are based less than a mile away across Stanley Park, while Liverpool have a fierce rivalry with Manchester United.

Best possible XI:

—– Mignolet —–

— Clyne — Skrtel — Sakho — Moreno —

                                                                       —  Firmino  — Henderson — Milner — 

Coutinho

Benteke — Sturridge

Transfers In: James Milner (Free, Manchester City), Danny Ings (Tribunal fee, Burnley), Adam Bogdan (Free, Bolton Wanderers), Nathaniel Clyne ($20 million, Southampton), Roberto Firmino ($40 million, Hoffenheim), Joe Gomez ($5 million, Charlton Athletic), Christian Benteke ($50 million, Aston Villa)

Transfers Out: Raheem Sterling ($75 million, Manchester City), Steven Gerrard (Free, LA Galaxy), Brad Jones (Released), Glen Johnson (Free, Stoke City), Sebastian Coates ($6 million, Sunderland), Iago Aspas ($7.5 million, Celta Vigo), Javier Manquillo (Loan cancelled, Atletico Madrid)

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Coutinho will be the main man this season.

Last season: 6th in the Premier League, FA Cup semifinals, Champions League group stage – The Reds had an up and down season as they got off to a poor start and never really recovered. Despite going on a 13-game unbeaten spell at the turn of the year, Rodgers’ side could not remain in the top four after they had come agonizingly close to winning the title in 2013-14. It was a season of struggle as new players failed to bed in quickly and Daniel Sturridge’s long-term absence through injury, coupled with the sale of Luis Suarez, really hurt the Reds offensively. One high point was the form of Philippe Coutinho, as the Brazilian dazzled in midfield.

Star player: Philippe Coutinho – The Brazilian playmaker slots everything together and his play in-between midfield and attack will be crucial to the Reds’ success this year. If he can link up with countryman Firmino on the right and Lallana on the left to provide assists for Sturridge, Ings and Benteke, Liverpool will be in business. Still just 23, Coutinho now has two full PL seasons under his belt and he is getting better and better each month. With Gerrard gone, now is his time to step up and be the main man in midfield for Liverpool.

Coaches’ Corner: Rodgers is under pressure, there’s no doubt about that. Heading into his fourth season as Liverpool boss, he has yet to win any silverware and fans of the Anfield club are growing impatient as key players continue to leave. Will the likes of Milner, Ings, Firmino and Benteke settle immediately and help replace Gerrard and Sterling? Rodgers’ future as Liverpool boss depends on it, as despite preaching a free-flowing style of play, he reverted to a more defensive approach last season and the Reds struggled. His squad seems to be stronger this year with key additions throughout, but defensively the Reds still need help.

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Rodgers under pressure at Liverpool?

PST predicts: The Reds need to finish in the top four but it all depends on how quickly the new players settle in. This season Rodgers has added lots of talent who already have PL experience, so that should help. Expect Liverpool to be in and around the top four all season, but it may be another fifth or sixth place finish. Winning a cup competition could be vital to calling this season a success.

Sessegnon beats Neuer to score first Spurs, Champions League goal

Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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Ryan Sessegnon has his first Spurs goal, which also happens to be his first UEFA Champions League goal, and he’ll love telling the tale of it.

The 19-year-old Englishman ripped a rocket past Manuel Neuer of all people, collecting a deflection to equalize early in Tottenham’s match against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

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Sessegnon entered the day with an assist in 30 minutes spread across three appearances for Spurs, and needed just 20 more minutes to find a goal.

He made a big money move from Fulham this summer, having made a remarkable 120 senior appearances. Almost all of those came before he turned 19, and he’s scored 25 times with 18 assists.

Kingsley Coman has Bayern’s goal as the teams remain locked at 1 after Bayern hung 7 on Spurs in England earlier in the group stage.

 

Jesus hat-trick downs Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta qualifies for knockouts

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Manchester City looked sluggish again, but Gabriel Jesus made sure it didn’t matter.

The Brazilian cropped up at a critical juncture for Pep Guardiola, sending Manchester City through into the knockout stage on a winning note as his hat-trick sealed a 4-1 come-from-behind victory that knocked Dinamo Zagreb from European competition altogether.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The first half was especially lackluster for the English visitors to Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, with lots of possession but little to show for it. The hosts went in front early on, punishing Man City on the counter on a fabulous volleyed finish from former Barcelona youth product Dani Olmo.

That was the best goal of the day, but Man City picked itself up and pulled back level before the break, with Jesus grabbing his first via a header as Dinamo Zagreb shut off, screaming for Man City to put the ball out with a Zagreb player down. The visitors rightly did not, and Dinamo was punished by the equalizer.

After halftime, Man City was much better, hammering the left flank to take a commanding lead. The second came on excellent work by Jesus in the box to shake a defender and finish with his right, while the third flew in minutes later on a pinpoint Benjamin Mendy cross that Jesus met with a flying karate kick. Pep Guardiola had one eye on the festive fixtures, withdrawing Jesus soon after the hour mark, replaced by Oleksandr Zinchenko who curiously took Jesus’s place at the striker position.

Phil Foden was the best Manchester City player throughout, and finished off the scoreline with seven minutes to go. An excellent buildup down the right saw Bernardo Silva sprung through, and he cut back to Foden at the top of the six-yard box who slid to meet the ball with pace and poke home the cherry on top.

Elsewhere, Atalanta topped Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in the Ukraine on goals by Timothy Castagne, Mario Pasalic, and Robin Gosens, meaning the Italians secured the second spot in Group A, qualifying for the knockout stage. The Ukranians were left dead in the water after right-back Dodo was sent off 13 minutes from time, leading to the second goal to seal things up. Atalanta’s advancement marks a stunning comeback given the Italian side failed to secure points in any of their first three group stage matches.

That left Shakhtar in third, dropping to the Europa League, while Dinamo Zagreb was left at the bottom of the group, on the outside looking in.

Charlotte MLS club files trademarks for eight potential names

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It is being heavily reported that Charlotte is the next city to earn a club in the rapidly expanding Major League Soccer landscape, and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has taken the next step towards that possibility.

The new club needs a name, and they appear to be nearing a selection. Tepper filed for eight different name trademarks, according to multiple reports, including The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue who confirmed the filings were made under Tepper’s Panthers address.

Here is the list of names he filed copyright requests for:

“Charlotte FC” would be a bare-bones and generic name that follows in the footsteps of recent MLS expansion clubs such as Orlando City SC, NYCFC or LAFC. Others are a little more colorful, including “Carolina Gliders FC” or “Charlotte Monarchs FC,” while a few others like “Charlotte Town FC” or “Charlotte Athletic FC” clearly call forth thoughts of smaller English clubs.

Rodrigue speculated that the relative lack of “Carolina” encompassing names is potentially due to the possibility of an expansion bid from Raleigh down the road, and a Carolina team would potentially provide an unnecessary roadblock to that future prospect. There is a clear lack of region-encompassing names in Major League Soccer, with “New England Revolution” the only example, and there’s no real reason to break that mold with another potential bid city down the road.

Which name is your favorite? What would you have gone with if you could name the club?

LIVE, UCL: Two knockout spots remain; Man City, Tottenham in play

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Two more spots in the knockout round remain unclaimed as the final day of group stage play begins on Wednesday.

Groups C and D both require a second team to progress through to the Round of 16, with five teams still in the mix.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Manchester City has already won Group D, but the remaining three teams Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, and Atalanta all remain in contention for the second spot. Shakhtar currently sits second and has a home match with Atalanta, while Dinamo Zagreb host Man City in Croatia. Both those games feature in the early 12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Group D, meanwhile, has a pair of sides vying for the last spot. Atletico Madrid has a point advantage, currently sitting in second with a home match against already eliminated Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, hosts group winners Juventus in Germany.

Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur has already locked up a spot in the knockout stage, locked into the second spot in Group A, and they finish out the group stage with a visit to confirmed group winners Bayern Munich. Jose Mourinho told the press he forbid his players from watching any footage of the 7-2 defeat to Bayern to begin group stage play, and is resting “a few players” ahead of the festive Premier League fixtures.

Finally, Group A has already been decided with Real Madrid confirmed to finish second behind winners Paris Saint-Germain, but the two still have to complete the fixture list. Madrid heads to Belgium to take on Club Brugge, while PSG hosts Galatasaray. The Spanish side is most likely to rest players, with a weekend visit to Valencia coming up on Sunday followed by a midweek El Clasico that was rescheduled from earlier in the season.

Below is the full schedule for the last UCL games on Wednesday, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted, and you can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.


Wednesday Champions League action

Group A

Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray

Group B

Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiakos v. Red Star Belgrade

Group C

Dinamo Zagreb v. Manchester City (12:55 p.m. ET)
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta (12:55 p.m. ET)

Group D

Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus