Mark Hughes begins the rebranding of Stoke – releases 7 players and 4 coaches

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Upon being hired to manage Stoke City, Mark Hughes promised to impose measures to oust the primitive, route-one style of football instilled by predecessor Tony Pulis.

On Wednesday, the man they call ‘Sparky’ made good on that promise by releasing seven players – winger Jermaine Pennant, midfielder Dean Whitehead, striker Mamady Sidibe, defender Matthew Upson, midfielder Rory Delap, goalkeeper Carlo Nash and midfielder Matthew Lund.

The biggest of those cuts were Pennant, Whitehead, Delap and Upson.

Cutting Pennant was a no-brainer. The 30 year old, well-known for having bags of talent and truck loads of problems, never panned out at The Britannia and spent the last three months of the season on loan with Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was the seventh loan spell of his career.

Releasing Whitehead is a good example of Hughes’ intent to rid the club of its reputation as a bruiser. The 31 year old did, however, make 30 appearances this season under Pulis although only 12 of those were league starts.

If Whitehead is a good example of Hughes’ intent to polish the Potters’ brand, Delap is the crown jewell. Without going so far as to say he had no foot skills whatsoever, Delap was best known for shimmying the ball in his shirt before unleashing monstrous throw-ins that gave opposing defenses nightmares.

Let’s be clear here – it was effective, but very much defined the old English style of football that has been discarded by nearly every top flight team.

Upson’s release is of little surprise as the aging center-back could still do the job for a number of English clubs, just not one in the top flight. The 34 year old spent the past season on loan at Brighton & Hove Albion where he made 20 appearances and scored 1 goal.

For Stoke fans looking for a change, the moves by Hughes have to be a welcomed sight. And to make sure he left no route-one stone unturned, he also cleaned out Pulis’ coaching team, which included Dave Kemp, Mark O’Connor, Adrian Pennock and Gerry Francis.

Love him or hate him, you’ve got to give Hughes credit for coming in and shaking things up at The Britannia. It certainly won’t be an easy task to change Stoke’s culture and style of play while keeping the club in the Premier League but given how close the Potters came to relegation this past spring – is there any other option?

 

VIDEO: Portugal lead Iran at HT; Spain 1-1 Morocco

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We’re through the first 45 minutes of Monday’s Group B finales at the 2018 World Cup, and things are happening. A quick rundown…

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos combined to commit a disastrous gaffe at midfield, resulting in a goal for Khalid Boutaib in the 14th minute. At this point, Spain would have finished second, behind Portugal, and headed to the far more difficult side of the knockout bracket.

Five minutes later, it was Iniesta who, with a little help from some slightly lesser geniuses, unlocked the Moroccan defense to set up Isco for an emphatic finish. La Furia Roja moved back to the top of the group, on goals scored.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

In the afternoon’s other game, Portugal and Iran appeared destined for a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, until Ricardo Quaresma unleashed a stunning, outside-of-the-foot curler from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and put Portugal ahead — both on the day, and in the table. As things currently stand, Portugal would win the group and Spain would finish second.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 4

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In the fourth episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England players have been preparing for their next match in an unusual way, Argentina has a huge meltdown, and more.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Click play on the video above to watch the fourth episode in full.

Atlanta leads way with six All-Star Fan XI selections

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It may be hard to believe with all the World Cup festivities going on, but the Major League Soccer season is nearly halfway over.

[ MORE: Toronto FC’s 2018 has been far from their cup-winning 2017 ]

And that means it’s almost All-Star time.

The MLS All-Stars will continue their recent tradition of facing a European superpower in August, with Juventus being welcomed to the United States in early August.

But, which players from MLS will we see in action?

Last season’s expansion sweetheart Atlanta United leads the way in the fan voting with six players from the Eastern Conference side voted into the Fan XI, including attackers Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender/captain Michael Parkhurst also made the team from Atlanta.

In all, only five clubs were represented based on the Fan XI, with the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Portland Timbers star Diego Valeri each rounding out the squad.


Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)

Defenders: Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles Football Club), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Miguel Almirón (Atlanta United), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club – EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge)

Saudi Arabia steals late win over Egypt in Group A finale

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Saudi Arabia pulled off a late 2-1 win against Egypt on Monday in their Group A finale, as the two nations ended their 2018 World Cup run in the group stage.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Salem Al Sawsari scored in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time to give the Saudis a late winner in the match, as the attacker struck the post in the dying moments before the ball crossed the line.

The Pharaohs took the lead in the 22nd minute, after a tremendous run from Mohamed Salah and lob over the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper.

Salah has two goals at the World Cup for Egypt, who were already eliminated heading into Monday’s match.

Saudi Arabia was granted a chance to equalize prior to halftime, however, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary brilliantly stopped Hattan Bahebri’s penalty kick in the 41st minute to preserve the Egypt advantage.

El Hadary became the oldest player in World Cup history to appear in a match at the age of 45.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

The Egypt keeper wasn’t as lucky the second time around though, with Salmon Al Faraj converting a penalty kick in the 51st minute.

Saudi Arabia finishes group play in third place on three points, while Egypt goes winless in its three matches.