Manchester United’s spending spree makes them Premier League title contenders

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Bastian Schweinsteiger. Morgan Schneiderlin. Memphis Depay. Matteo Darmian.

source: Getty Images
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Those four players have all joined Manchester United so far this summer and with their signings come legitimate expectations that the Red Devils can once again challenge for the Premier League title in the upcoming 2015-16 season.

Louis van Gaal has done his business early this summer, compared to last season where he relied on a late barrage on deadline day. All four new guys were on the plane to the United States of America on Monday ahead of the Red Devils’ preseason tour of the U.S. which kicks off this weekend in Seattle before shifting to California and Chicago.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger signs | Schneiderlin arrives ]

Does this latest splurge on transfers mean United are now contenders to win the Premier League?

Let’s break it down.

How big are these signings?

Potentially massive. United’s central midfield has got a huge overhaul with Schweinsteiger’s vast experience and Schneiderlin’s energy set to complement each other perfectly. The Red Devils have also added Depay, a potentially prophetic attacking talent who has plenty of confidence in himself and if he hits the ground running, could become a key component. Italian international Darmian fills a desperate need with Rafael struggling at right back and his versatility gives LVG cover. Overall these four signings not only add depth but should all be starters when the season opener against Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) rolls around on Aug. 8.

[ MORE: Wenger praises United’s transfer deals ]

Manchester United Unveil New Signing Morgan Schneiderlin
United’s signing of four top-class players this summer has increased their chances of success in 2015-16.

What more do United need to turn into genuine title contenders?

Even though they have spent over $115 million on four players so far, they still need more investment. Another commanding central defender is key if success is to arrive in the PL and the UEFA Champions League. Valencia’s Nicolas Otamendi has been mentioned in dispatches but his transfer fee of over $50 million is putting United off.

Sergio Ramos is a long-term target and if any deal is reached with Real Madrid, it is likely to see David de Gea head in the opposite direction. More on that shortly. So, adding to the need for a center back is a center forward. Van Gaal will likely deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation so he may be fine with having Wayne Rooney, young James Wilson and potentially Depay in a central role, but rumors suggest Gonzalo Higuain could be a target to fill the spots left by the outgoing Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao. Higuain’s arrival would cost United another $100 million though. With Luke Shaw, Angel di Maria, Juan Mata, Chris Smalling, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini all finding their feet towards the end of last season, they will also add to the feel-good factor among United’s fans as they believe challenging Chelsea and Manchester City for the title is a legitimate target. Even though Chelsea continue to add thrifty additions like Falcao and Asmir Begovic, while City have spent big on Raheem Sterling.

Will there be outgoings?

So, the outgoings. De Gea is the main man who could leave this summer. Even though the Spanish international goalkeeper has flown to the USA for United’s preseason tour, he only has one-year left on his current contract and Real Madrid are said to be interested after letting Iker Casillas leave. Watch this space. De Gea’s back-up Victor Valdes has been left off the squad for the U.S. tour and could be heading to Turkey, so if De Gea does go then Untied will have a serious problem in goal. Di Maria could be another big name departure, with Paris Saint-Germain boss Laurent Blanc admitting his interest in the Argentine winger. United are stacked with wide players (Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Adnan Januzaj, Depay, Andreas Perreria and Jesse Lingard) so they could let Di Maria go if they get a good bid from PSG. That way they could reinvest in a forward or a center back.

source:
Memphis Depay Welcome Press Conference at Manchester United

Pressure is on for LVG, but what would be a good season?

After spending $115 million so far during this transfer window and over $210 million last summer, van Gaal will be under a lot of pressure to improve on United’s fourth-place finish in the PL last season. Of course, they will have to juggle their league responsibility with extra games in Europe but with a stacked squad full of young talent trying to impress LVG and the experience of Schweinsteiger and Rooney gelling things together, a top-two finish isn’t out of the question. If the Glazer family, United’s American owners, give Chief Executive Ed Woodward more money to spend this summer then he and LVG will be under pressure to advance to the knockout stages of the UCL and at least finish inside the top two of the PL.

If they finish third, that’s fine, especially with Man City and Chelsea continuing to strengthen and Arsenal improving year-on-year. However, another struggle to finish fourth and failure in Europe would heap insurmountable pressure on van Gaal’s sturdy Dutch shoulders. With big money signings comes big responsibility but the fact they will all get the chance to gel into United’s team together during a full preseason in the U.S. will be hugely beneficial.

United’s costly resurgence is in full flow but fans expecting instant success may have to curb their enthusiasm until the strength of their opponents in the upcoming season becomes a lot clearer. That said, these additions vastly enhance their chances of success for next season and beyond.

Cole returns to Chelsea as youth team coach

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One of Chelsea’s best players in club history is back at his old stomping grounds in a new role.

Chelsea finally confirmed over their social media channels that former left back Ashley Cole is back at the club coaching in the academy, helping the next generation of stars grow and learn the games. Specifically, Cole is coaching the U-15 squad.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines]

“I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in,” Cole told Chelsea’s website. “I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.

“As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball but now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organization has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.”

While plenty from Cole’s era have moved into the media for lucrative punditry roles, it’s nice to see players like Cole and his former teammate Frank Lampard, now Chelsea coach, go into coaching to help pass on some of the great lessons they’ve learned during their careers. .

Cole said in the interview that he wasn’t sure what was next after playing three seasons for the LA Galaxy and then joining Lampard at Derby County for the second half of last season. He added that he got his first taste of coaching kids while with the Galaxy, helping some of the academy players and taking part in video sessions.

“The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,” Cole said. “They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.”

MLS Playoffs Preview: 1st round kicks off on Saturday

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After a two-week break, MLS is back, and with some outstanding matchups as the first round of the playoffs kicks off on Saturday.

Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s matchups in the Western Conference and Eastern Conference.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]


2. Atlanta United v. 7. New England Revolution — Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

Atlanta United begins its title defense against the most successful coach in MLS history, Bruce Arena.

Atlanta United heads into the match at home a bit shorthanded. Miles Robinson suffered a left hamstring strain while on international duty with the U.S. Men’s National Team, leaving veteran centerback Michael Parkhurst to start alongside Leandro Gonzalez Pires. There’s also some questions over whether Ezequiel Barco and Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will start together in midfield.

All that being said, Atlanta is still one of the best teams in MLS and as long as they have Josef Martinez, they’ll be a threat to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Revs have been a revelation since Bruce Arena took over in May, and no one knows the MLS playoffs more than he. Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou have been terrific this summer for the Revs while the defense, anchored by centerbacks Andrew Farrell and Michael Mancienne and 25-year-old goalkeeper Matt Turner have kept opponents off the board.

Atlanta certainly has the edge here, especially at home, but never count out a Bruce Arena team.

2. Seattle Sounders v. 7. FC Dallas — Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Unlike in previous years, the Seattle Sounders never needed to make a patented late-season push to make it into the playoffs. This time, the Sounders were solid throughout, especially thanks to a start that included five wins in six games. With Jordan Morris in peak form and Roman Torres and Kim Kee-Hee patrolling the middle of the backline, Seattle sure looks like an MLS Cup contender. Of course, they’d have to get past LAFC first, no small task.

For FC Dallas, in a way, they’re just happy to be here. It seems like forever, but was less than a year ago when club legend Oscar Pareja left for the Club Tijuana manager spot. In his place was local soccer legend and former FC Dallas academy director Luchi Gonzalez, and with a mostly young squad of players, Gonzalez has proven he could guide them to the playoffs. It doesn’t hurt though that one of the few veterans, Zdenek “Cobra” Ondrášek, has been on fire the last two months and just scored for the Czech Republic against England. The Sounders should take care of business at home, but Jesus Ferreira and Paxton Pomykal can create something out of nothing and could make Saturday’s match interesting/

4. Toronto FC v. 5. DC United — Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

With the regular season concluded and the start of single-elimination matches, we’re on the verge of saying goodbye to Wayne Rooney at any moment, and it could come as early as Saturday.

Thanks to a win and some other favorable results, Toronto FC jumped up in the standings and earned a home playoff match. It doesn’t hurt that it’s been very solid to close out the season, going unbeaten in its last 10 matches – though to be fair, that span only included four wins. Worryingly for TFC is that striker Jozy Altidore didn’t practice on Thursday after missing the international break with yet another muscle injury. However, his Canadian international teammates Jonathan Osorio, Liam Fraser, and Richie Laryea are returning to the club side on a high after beating the U.S.

For D.C. it’s been an up and down last few weeks. They picked up huge wins over Portland and Seattle in the final two months of the season, only to settle for scoreless draws against the porous New York Red Bulls and abject horror show in FC Cincinnati. As always, there will be plenty of pressure on Rooney to produce some magic, and his side will need it if they want to keep their season alive. Toronto, playing at home, has the edge here.

3. Real Salt Lake v. 6. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Mike Petke was fired by Real Salt Lake in mid-August after serving a two-week suspension for berating the referee – and saying some unacceptable terms – after a Leagues Cup game in July. In his place, interim coach Freddy Juarez has done quite well with the squad, winning seven games in the final three months of the season to cruise into a top-three place and earn a home game in the playoffs.

Former Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers defender Nedum Onuoha has been a rock at the back alongside youngster Justin Glad, and RSL may have the most underrated attack in the league. Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach and Jefferson Savarino have all been brilliant at points this season. If the trio put it together, RSL could be a dark horse for the title.

The Timbers beat expectations a year ago as Giovanni Savarese led his team to another final – his fourth straight final as a coach. It will be an incredible achievement if they make it this time around. Portland has elite offensive capabilities when everyone is firing on all cylanders. Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and even Dairon Asprilla can create moments of magic, while Jeremy Ebobisse has had a breakout season with 11 goals, though he’s missed a few he’ll want back. The issue is the team defensively, and they’ll have to be on their game to slow to RSL’s front three on the road.

Of course, the Timbers did win both matchups against RSL this season, so even on the road, they should be confident they can get it done again.

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.