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Premier League 2017-18 preview – Leicester City

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This is a bold statement given the potential league-shaking moves made by the Premier League’s biggest clubs, but there may be no more intriguing story to follow in the league this season than Leicester City.

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A club that won the title two years ago struggled with relegation fears during its reign, but also went deep into the UEFA Champions League and genuinely did look like a Top Six team by the time it found an appropriate replacement for N'Golo Kante in the form of Wilfried Ndidi.

Could they rival the top teams for another surprise — granted not as dramatic and high-end — season close to the top of England’s top flight?

Best, worst case scenarios – The worst case scenario sees Riyad Mahrez, Demarai Gray, and Danny Drinkwater leave and a brutal early slate sending them well behind the pack. Then, it sees Shakespeare over his skis the first time he has to clean up a mess under his watch, leaving Leicester with another midseason adjustment en route to a relegation battle and, subsequently, relegation.

That’s highly unlikely, though, and provided the Foxes keep Drinkwater and Ndidi continues his form, Leicester should be comfortably midtable. In terms of best case, Harry Maguire is the antidote to the aging back line, Iheanacho combines with Vardy to be a lethal force, and the Foxes either claims the League or FA Cup, or edge an overwhelmed bigger name for a Top Seven spot and the Europa League.


Best possible XI is… 

Schmeichel

Simpson — Morgan — Maguire — Fuchs

Iborra — Drinkwater — Ndidi 

Mahrez

Vardy — Iheanacho


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Vicente Iborra (Sevilla, $22 million), Harry Maguire (Hull City, $20 million), Eldin Jakupovic (Hull City), Sam Hughes (Chester City), Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City)

Transfers Out: Ron-Robert Zieler (Stuttgart), Marcin Wasilewski (released), Bartosz Kapustka (Freiburg, loan)

Last season:

UEFA Champions League quarterfinalists
— 12th in Premier League
— FA Cup fifth round loss to Millwall
League Cup third round loss to Chelsea

Star player: Wilfried Ndidi — Transitioning to the Premier League from the Jupiler Pro League took about a month for the Nigerian, who saw Leicester go 0-5 with no goals scored to start life in England, but the Foxes promptly won five-straight and Ndidi was no small part of it. He won 3.5 aerial duels per match, while averaging four tackles, 2.1 interceptions, and 3.2 clearances in front of a surprisingly suspect back line while leading the team in dribbles per match with 1.8.

Coaches’ Corner:  Craig Shakespeare — Taking over for Claudio Ranieri was surprisingly simple for the Birmingham-born 53-year-old, who took his 1-0 record as West Brom caretaker boss from 2006 and improved it to 9W-3L-5D all-time. It took until well after the season for Shakespeare to be crowned Ranieri’s permanent replacement, and he has a three-year deal to show his stuff at the King Power Stadium. We’ve seen he can clean up a messy side. Now we’ll see if he can set up a side to thrive in the top flight.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

PST predicts:  A fair share of bumps in the road, but the Maguire and Iborra buys show that the Leicester eyes for talent remain pretty sharp. A comfortable-enough midtable finish in the end, though don’t be surprised if alarm bells ring early: Four of Leicester’s first six matches are against Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea, and the first two are away. Getting six points from the other two, versus new boys Brighton and Huddersfield, will be key to avoiding an early season rut.

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

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Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.

Whitecaps defender Tim Parker being tracked by several teams from East

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Tim Parker’s next destination could very well be closer to his hometown, however, other MLS sides are in hot pursuit of the U.S. Men’s National Team defender.

[ MORE: CCL recap — FC Dallas falls, Club America struts its stuff ]

The Vancouver Whitecaps center back has been the subject of trade speculation recently, and Pro Soccer Talk has learned that Parker has turned down a new contract with the Cascadia side that would have kept the 24-year-old in Canada for at least three more seasons.

Multiple sources have told PST that the deal Parker rejected was worth over $1.4 million in totality. Metro New York’s Kristian Dyer was the first to report the story.

Parker was subject to make roughly $99,000 in 2017, according to the MLS Players Union, although he’s expected to receive a significant increase with any new deal that he signs. On an average basis, Parker would have made over $400,000 annually had he signed a new contract with the Whitecaps.

A New York-native, Parker has been looking to return to the East Coast after spending three seasons with the Whitecaps. The former Saint John’s University standout was selected in the first round by the Whitecaps in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, after spending all four years with the Red Storm on the collegiate level.

Sources can also confirm that D.C. United and the Montreal Impact have emerged as the leaders to obtain Parker’s services if a deal is struck with the defender, although a move to the New York Red Bulls hasn’t been ruled out.

The Red Bulls have shown interest in the young defender for some time — and would be the preferred destination for the player — given Parker’s New York roots. A combination of allocation money and a player would likely be needed from the Red Bulls if the Eastern Conference side proved to be serious about pursuing Parker.

D.C. has managed to acquire significant allocation money over recent years, particularly GAM, which would prove to be essential in signing Parker. Ben Olsen’s defense has been built around USMNT center back Steve Birnbaum — who arrived in 2014 — but an addition of Parker would surely benefit a D.C. back line that conceded 60 goals in 34 regular season matches a season ago.

Meanwhile, a move for the Impact would be logical given the fact that the Canadian side lost center back Laurent Ciman this offseason when the Belgian international was traded to expansion side Los Angeles FC.

Police officer dies after fan violence before Bilbao-Spartak Moscow

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BILBAO, Spain (AP) A Spanish riot police officer died of cardiac arrest after clashes involving Russian soccer fans before a Europa League match on Thursday between hosts Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow, raising concerns less than four months before the World Cup in Russia.

Basque Country authorities in northern Spain said the officer died in hospital after the confrontations outside San Mames Stadium in the city of Bilbao, which will host matches in the 2020 European Championship.

Police also said a Russian man was injured but the extent of his injuries was not immediately disclosed. Five people were arrested – three Russian nationals and two Spaniards.

The identity of the dead officer was not immediately disclosed.

Spartak won the match 2-1 but Athletic advanced 4-3 on aggregate.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of seriously injuring a British soccer fan during the European Championship in France two years ago.

The trouble in Spain erupted ahead of the round-of-32 match in the second-tiered European club competition.

Police were escorting some Spartak fans into the stadium but a stray group allegedly started igniting fireworks and throwing flares and objects toward Athletic supporters and police officers.

The fighting spread onto the streets near the stadium and police struggled to restore order. Many fans were seen trying to run away from the trouble as fireworks exploded all around.

There was concern ahead of the match because of the reported presence of `Ultra’ Russian fans in Bilbao, and a large police force was deployed to try to prevent fan trouble.

Six year ago a fan died in Bilbao in clashes after a match between Athletic and German club Schalke.

Europa League: Arsenal, Dortmund, Leipzig survive 2nd-leg charges

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A roundup of all of Thursday’s action in the Europa League…

[ MORE: Premier League TV schedule | Man United vs. Chelsea ]

Arsenal 1-2 (4-2) Ostersunds FK

Ostersunds so nearly pulled off the most shocking upset of the 2017-18 season, as the Swedish side scored twice in 70 first-half seconds (WATCH HERE) to pull itself to within a goal of the Premier League giant.

Alas, the Gunners were awakened at halftime, and Sead Kolasinac restored a bit of order less than 90 seconds into the second half, putting Arsenal 4-2 ahead on aggregate and effectively ending the tie after one horrifically botched Ostersunds clearance.

The draw for the round of 16 will be held on Friday, at which point Arsenal and 15 other sides will learn their opponent for the next round.

RB Leipzig 0-2 (*3-3) Napoli

After a disastrous first leg at home, Napoli needed at least three goals to overcome the three away goals scored by RB Leipzig last week in Naples. The Serie A leaders controlled the game in every facet and created more than enough chances over the course of 90 minutes, but came up just short at the final whistle.

Piotr Zielinski bagged the opener after 32 minutes, but the following 50 would prove a frustrating exercise in futility for Napoli, as Lorenzo Insigne’s 86th-minute tally proved to be too little, too late. Now out of both domestic and European cup competitions, Maurizio Sarri’s side can turn its full focus to dethroning Juventus, the six-time defending Serie A champions.

Atalanta 1-1 (3-4) Borussia Dortmund

For the majority of Thursday’s second leg, Dortmund had one step out the door as they trailed Serie A side Atalanta 1-0 on the night, making the aggregate score 3-3 with no away goals of their own (two in the first leg for Atalanta).

Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha will have nightmares about his 83rd-minute howler, which turned a totally innocuous, speculative ball into a golden opportunity for Marcel Schmelzer to make it 4-3 on aggregate and bail Peter Stoger’s side out of embarrassment.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 (5-1) Copenhagen

Thanks to a 4-1 away victory in Copenhagen last week, Atletico Madrid had very little to play for on Thursday. That didn’t stop Diego Simeone from selecting a largely first-team lineup, a decision which was vindicated when Kevin Gameiro dashed any Danish dreams very early on, as the Frenchman bagged the game’s only goal after seven minutes.

Elsewhere in Europa League

Villarreal 0-1 (1-4) Lyon
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 (4-3) Spartak Moscow
Red Bull Salzburg 2-1 (4-3) Real Sociedad
AC Milan 1-0 (4-0) Ludogorets Razgrad
Lazio 5-1 (5-2) Steaua Bucharest
Zenit St. Petersburg 3-0 (3-1) Celtic
Braga 1-0 (1-3) Marseille
Lokomotiv Moscow 1-0 (4-2) Nice
Sporting CP 3-3 (6-4) FC Astana
Viktoria Plzen 2-0 (3-1) Partizan Belgrade
Dynamo Kyiv 0-0 (*1-1) AEK Athens
CSKA Moscow 1-0 (1-0) Red Star Belgrade