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Premier League 2017-18 preview – Stoke City

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Next weekend’s 2017-18 season opener will mark the beginning of Stoke City’s 10th season in the Premier League, a stretch of top-division football bested by just seven sides in England (the “big six,” plus Everton).

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No club in the PL better knows what it means to be mid-table, always and forever, for better or for worse — average finish in nine seasons: 11th; never higher than 9th, never lower than 14th.

[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub

Best-, worst-case scenario: There’s a version of the universe in which Everton’s big-money signings require an entire season to take to the PL, Southampton lose their best player before the season is two weeks old and are slow to take to new manger Mauricio Pellegrino‘s ideas. All of which would open the door for Stoke to challenge last season’s seventh- and eighth place finishers for those very spots. There’s also a universe in which Saido Berahino is less interested this year than last, Stoke’s oft-injured defensive stars are injured again, and they finish 15th, avoiding relegation by two or three points.

Best possible XI is…


—– Butland —–

—– Zouma —– Cameron —– Indi —–

—- Diouf —- Imbula —- Fletcher —- Pieters —

—- Shaqiri —- Allen —-

—– Berahino —–


Transfers In: Kurt Zouma (loan, Chelsea), Darren Fletcher (free, West Bromwich Albion), Josh Tymon (compensation, Hull City)

Transfers Out: Marko Arnautovic ($26.3 million, West Ham United), Jonathan Walters ($4 million, Burnley), Phil Bardsley ($2.6 million, Burnley)

Last season

13th in Premier League
3rd round in EFL Cup
3rd round in FA Cup

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Star player: Xherdan Shaqiri — When speaking about “star players” for mid-table sides like Stoke, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “Which player will one of the big clubs impulse-buy for $30 million if he has a great season?” Last year, it was Marko Arnautovic (though, West Ham United aren’t quite the “big club” that immediately comes to mind). Shaqiri is merely an 18-goal/assist season away from a $40-million move to, say, Liverpool, and with a solid midfield base behind him and a handful of capable(-ish) striking options ahead of him, 2017-18 could be that season.

Coach’s corner: Here’s what you’re almost guaranteed to get with Mark Hughes as your manager, assuming he’s been afforded a balanced squad (translation: any season outside his Queens Park Rangers stint): they’re going to be extremely disciplined, organized and committed to the cause… for roughly half, maybe even two-thirds, of the season. The curse of a mid-table inertia is as follows: even when you’re punching well above your weight, you’re still miles off the promised land. Once you’ve secured your status in the league for another season, the drop-off is easy to forecast weeks in advance. You can fire the overseer — say, Tony Pulis — but you’re only ever going to end up in the exact same place.

PST predicts: Adding the experience of Fletcher and the otherworldly upside of Zouma, for a grand total of $0, is fantastic business and will do wonders to improve the spine. That said, the Potters were in the bottom third of the goal-scoring charts last season, and that was before Arnautovic left (and is yet to be replaced). Anything higher than 9th would be massively overachieving; if nothing else, the goal differential should be closer to zero this season (-15 in 2016-17).

Jurgen Klopp hails “perfect day” for Liverpool

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Jurgen Klopp has had far from an ideal week but his Liverpool side ruthlessly dispatched Southampton at Anfield to end it on a high note.

[ MORE: Liverpool batter Saints ]

Klopp was sent to hospital earlier this week when he felt unwell but the German coach was given a big boost as Mohamed Salah scored twice in the first half, which included a stunning opener, and Philippe Coutinho finished Saints off in the second half as the Reds eased to victory and stayed in touch with the chasing pack behind runaway leaders Manchester City.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Klopp was happy with what he saw from his side after he was fit enough to be on the bench on Saturday.

“Difficult game, Southampton are a really good football side. It was an open game, we had more chances before we scored. We need to be patient in a lively way,” Klopp said. “The first goal, wow, I have nothing to do with the goal and the second was a fantastic pass and Mo Salah makes great runs. We could have scored more often but it was a perfect day for us.”

Klopp, 50, sees his side just three points off second place after 12 games of the Premier League season, while his side remain firm favorites to qualify for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

So far, so good.

Yes, Man City will take some catching (and a collapse of their own) but Liverpool’s aim should be to secure a second-straight top four finish and go from there.

With Sadio Mane, Salah, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in the form they showed on Saturday, plus a fifth clean sheet in six PL games this season at Anfield, the defensive woes Klopp’s team have faced away from home this season aren’t troubling them at home.

Next up is Chelsea at home for Liverpool, which will be a supreme test of their newfound defensive solidity at home. Their results against title contenders this season have been up and down with a draw against Manchester United, hammerings at Tottenham and Man City and a thrashing of Arsenal at home.

Liverpool’s clash against top four rivals Chelsea is followed by five winnable games before they travel to Arsenal on Dec. 22.

Between now and then we will see if Liverpool’s season will amount to more than just a top four challenge. Saturday’s shellacking of a lackluster Southampton may have been “perfect” but a much tougher test awaits next week against a rejuvenated Chelsea side who have Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard purring in attack

Can Liverpool’s oft-fragile defense cope? We are about to find out.

Burnley’s Barnes: “Can we finish the season now?”

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Ashley Barnes broke his season duck in classy fashion, scoring and adding an assist as Burnley stayed in the thick of the race for Europe with a 2-0 win over Swansea City at Turf Moor on Saturday.

[ RECAP: Burnley 2-0 Swans ]

The win shouldn’t be a surprise, as Burnley is humming in style. The Clarets entered the day with a win at Chelsea and draws at Liverpool and Spurs, so why would a visit from Swansea lead to anything than three points.

It’s dream world, really.

From the BBC:

“We’re on a fantastic run. We’re working hard every day and today we were different class.

“Can we finish the season now? No, I’m kidding. there’s still a long way to go and we need to pick up as many points as possible.”

Every win makes more and more believers of the Burnley Football Club. Perhaps more important to the Clarets, each win makes it less likely that Sean Dyche will leave the club for a better gig (Everton), at least right now.

Crystal Palace 2-2 Everton: Toffees battle back for point

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  • Eagles took lead through McArthur, Zaha
  • Baines, Niasse equalized
  • Palace remain bottom of PL table

Crystal Palace and Everton played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

The Eagles twice took the lead in a wild first half with James McArthur giving Palace the lead less than a minute in but Leighton Baines soon equalized from the penalty spot. Wilfried Zaha made it 2-1 but Oumar Niasse equalized right on half time and it finished 2-2 after a tense second half.

With the point Palace stay bottom of the table on five points, while Everton are in 16th place on 12 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A rapid start to the game saw Palace take the lead with just 51 seconds on the clock.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek‘s shot was saved by Jordan Pickford but McArthur was on hand to tap home and give the Eagles an early lead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Soon after Everton were level as Oumar Niasse went down under Scott Dann‘s challenge in the box and Baines smashed home the spot kick. 1-1 with less than seven minutes in.

10 minutes before half time Palace retook the lead as Joel Ward’s cross found Zaha and his flick beat Pickford to make it 2-1. Just when it looked like Palace would lead at half time, Everton leveled.

Julian Speroni had a howler as he gave the ball straight to Idrissa Gana Gueye who played it to Gylfi Sigurdsson who put it on a plate for Niasse to make it 2-2. The Senegalese forward came so close to joining Palace on Transfer Deadline Day back in the summer and came back to haunt them.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ] 

A tense second half saw plenty of players booked in the rain in south London as Palace pushed hard for the winner with Loftus-Cheek going close but Everton’s defense held firm.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Late on Christian Benteke, on his long-awaited return from injury, also went close for Palace but the game ended even at Selhurst.

WATCH LIVE: Manchester United vs. Newcastle United

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Paul Pogba returns for Manchester United, who welcomes Newcastle United to Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic makes the bench for the Red Devils, which also has Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard as options.

Rafa Benitez will look to best his old nemesis with Dwight Gayle and Joselu up top.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Lindelof, Smalling, Young, Matic, Pogba, Mata, Rashford, Martial, Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Rojo, Shaw, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Ibrahimovic.

Newcastle United: Elliot; Yedlin, Lejeune, Clark, Manquillo; Ritchie, Hayden, Shelvey, Murphy; Gayle, Joselu. Subs: Darlow, Gamez, Mbemba, Diame, Aarons, Perez, Mitrovic.