Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Bournemouth

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AFC Bournemouth were arguably the best story in world football last season, as the tiny south coast club earned their second promotion in three seasons (this time from the Championship, England’s second division) and third in six.

[ MORE: All of PST’s season previews ]

As Bournemouth prepare for their first-ever season in the Premier League they do so on a budget a fraction of the size of the rest of the team’s expected to finish in the bottom third of the league — let alone that of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United et al. While reinforcements have been added this summer, the Cherries’ grander plan seems to be to continue operating within their current financial structure, in the event relegation back to the Championship is their inevitable fate.

While Bournemouth don’t have a clear-cut rival in the Premier League (how could they when they’ve been above England’s third tier for just two seasons all time?), fellow south coast side Southampton are just 31 miles away by car. It’s been more than a decade since two south coast clubs have competed in the Premier League in the same season.

Best possible XI:

— Boruc —

— Francis — Elphick — Cook — Daniels —

— Ritchie — Surman — Arter — Atsu —

— Kermorgant —- Wilson —

Transfers In: Tyrone Mings ($12.5 million, Ipswich Town), Christian Atsu (Loan, Chelsea), Filippo Costa (Loan, Chievo Verona), Sylvain Distin (Free, Everton), Adam Federici (Free, Reading), Artur Boruc (Free, Southampton), Joshua King (Free, Blackburn Rovers)

Transfers Out: Brett Pitman (Undisclosed, Ipswich Town), Ryan Fraser (Loan, Ipswich Town), Miles Addison (Free), Benjamin Buchel (Free), Ian Harte (Free), Darryl Flahavan (Free)

Last season: Winners of the Championship, Fourth Round in the FA Cup, Fifth Round in the League Cup — On a budget often times half the size of their Championship competitors, Bournemouth rode the biggest feel-good story in all of England to Premier League promotion. Following a rocky start to the season (15th place after 10 games), Bournemouth finished the season on a run that few would have ever imagined possible — 23 wins from their last 36 games. They reached the top-four on October 25, and from that point forward never fell back below fourth. Forwards Callum Wilson (20 league goals), Matt Ritchie (15), Yann Kermorgant (15) and Brett Pitmann (13) led the way for the Cherries, while midfielders Harry Arter and Marc Pugh (9) both came close to double digits themselves.

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Callum Wilson & Matt Ritchie, AFC Bournemouth

Star player: Matt Ritchie (in photo, on right) — After racking up 15 goals and 17 assists in the Championship last season, Ritchie, who was born in England and lived in the country his entire life, became a Scottish international through his Scottish father. After coming through the Portsmouth youth academy, one of Bournemouth’s local rivals, Ritchie made more than 120 appearances in four seasons with Swindon Town in League One and League Two before moving to Bournemouth for less than $1 million in January 2013. Since then, the 25-year-old has scored 27 goals (all in league play) in 100 games while playing on the right wing.

Coach’s corner: Eddie Howe is not only the now-legendary manager that got the Bournemouth promoted to the Premier League, he’s also a legendary player for the club as well. So much of this fairytale story is to do with the fact that Howe, one of their own youth academy products, is the man leading the club to the promised land after making more than 250 appearances for the club as a player. Still just 37 years old, Howe is in his second stint as Bournemouth manager after leaving for then-Championship side Burnley (Bournemouth were in League One at the time).

source: Getty Images
AFC Bournemouth fans celebrate Premier League promotion

PST predicts: It’s always hard for newly promoted teams to survive in the Premier League — the 2014-15 season taught us that, when Burnley and Queens Park Rangers both went back down immediately. It’ll be doubly or triply hard for Bournemouth, a club club so small they play in a 12,000-seat stadium, to do so when competing against the likes of Aston Villa, Sunderland, Newcastle United and Leicester City. If you’re the eternal lover of underdogs punching way above their weigh, Bournemouth might just be the team for you this season.

It’s another Zlatan day, as Galaxy star rips Vela, talks Area 51

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic took a shot at his rivals and his league in one fell swoop.

Perhaps Major League Soccer’s hit is down to proximity and not intent, but the LA Galaxy star certainly didn’t disguise his feelings when asked whether LAFC star Carlos Vela is the best player in the league.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Vela, 30, has lit MLS on fire to the tune of 19 goals and eight assists in 19 matches, driving the second-year squad to the top of the Western Conference.

Zlatan and the Galaxy’s seasons have trailed behind, relatively speaking. The third-place Galaxy are 12 points behind LAFC, with Ibrahimovic contributing 13 goals and three assists in three fewer games.

“29, he’s playing in MLS and he’s in his prime. When I was 29, where was I?”

Herculez Gomez replies that Ibrahimovic was in Europe (Vela turned 30 in March. At 29, Ibrahimovic scored 21 goals in 41 appearances for AC Milan, on loan from Barcelona. At 30, he scored 35 in 44 for Milan).

“Big difference, exactly.”

Vela, for what it’s worth, spent 2005-17 in Europe. Anyway, here is the exchange.

But wait, there’s more.

Zlatan was also quizzed on Area 51 while in a scrum. For those who may not know, Area 51 is a classified United States military facility in Nevada which has long been speculated as the home of extraterrestrial testing and scientific experimentation.

He doesn’t need to worry about going there, because he has his own Area 51 and there is only one Zlatan.

Who will make Ballon d’Or final three?

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When Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or last summer, marking the first victor neither named Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo since 2007, it threatened to signal a new era for the trophy in more ways than one.

Ronaldo didn’t win the honors, finishing second, but Messi was inexplicably left off the final ballot altogether.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Could this be the year that neither makes the top three? Probably not, but it could be the first time Ronaldo fails to make the list since Barca swept the honors Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi in 2010.

So while most of us are not thinking of the award right now, Ronaldo has it on his brain. It’s no surprise that Marca, known for its backing of Real Madrid royalty, has thrown his name in the mix as a “favorite” given his scudetto with Juventus. That it mentions his performance in the UEFA Nations League is a little goofy — it was a two-match summer — but such is life.

Ronaldo and Messi are deadlocked on five Ballons d’Or, the most ever, and Messi’s year was superior to his longtime rival. Both won their leagues and Messi did not claim domestic honors at the Copa America — in fact he was not his phenomenal self — but Messi scored 12 goals in 10 Champions League appearances before Liverpool stunned Barcelona prior to the final (Ronaldo’s Juve lost to Ajax).

Marca proffers this “I don’t care but obviously I very much care” from CR7:

“I don’t live with an obsession about awards,” Ronaldo explained. “My numbers don’t lie, this year I’ve won three titles and I’ve been good in the Nations League. What else can I do?”

Ronaldo, it should be noted, was still incredible last season. He scored all three goals as Juventus erased a 2-0 first leg deficit in the UCL Round of 16 versus old rivals Atletico Madrid, then scored in both legs of the side’s exit via Ajax. And he likely would’ve won the top scorer’s prize in Italy had he not missed six matches through injury and rest.

Messi again breached the half-century mark in goals, scoring 51 times in all competitions for Barcelona. He chipped in 22 assists and also missed six matches between the UCL and La Liga.

Are there three players who could surpass both to make a new final three?

It would be stunning if Liverpool and Netherlands center back Virgil Van Dijk was kept off the top three, while Sadio Mane may have a Champions League crown and Africa Cup of Nations victory. And you can follow the Luka Modric logic to a land where treble- and Nations League-winning Bernardo Silva is in the discussion (Raheem Sterling was also great).

Kylian Mbappe had probably the best-looking season on Earth, scoring 39 times with 17 assists in 43 matches and navigating the attention that came with Neymar’s long-term absence by shouldering the burden to great success. We made the argument that his 19 goals and six assists in 23 Neymar-free matches is one of the prime reasons he’s be worth almost any transfer fee.

Also remember that the odds of the captains of international teams having enough ballots without Ronaldo and/or Messi named is very difficult to imagine.

Still, Messi, Mbappe, and Van Dijk seems like the final three to us. What do you think?

LIVE — UEL second legs will determine possible Wolves opponents

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Wolverhampton Wanderers will find out its first Europa League opponent on Friday, and the field will be winnowed with a bevy of second qualifying round second legs on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Malmo, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Rangers, Legia Warsaw, and Hajduk Split are the biggest names in play on Thursday, with only the Polish side failing to hold an advantage after the first leg.

American forward Romain Gall is in the mix for Malmo, though he’s been an unused sub of late for the Swedish powers. That could change today, with Malmo in Northern Ireland with a 7-0 advantage over Ballymena United.

You can follow the dozens of ties by clicking the link above.

Klopp: Liverpool has all answers it needs even without transfers

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Claiming Liverpool has “solutions for all the situations” that could arise over the course of a season, manager Jurgen Klopp insists that the UEFA Champions League winners need not buy anyone this transfer window.

Of course, Klopp could still spend and admits that he has at least one position he’d like to strengthen by the end of the window.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

He also continues to play down the idea that Liverpool will spend big annually, naming Manchester City as one of four sides which can continue down that path on the day Juventus sealed the addition of reported Reds target Matthijs de Ligt.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“People talk about it like, ‘Now another £300m or £200m’. There are maybe only two clubs in the world – it looks in the moment like Barcelona and [Real] Madrid can do the same – City and PSG that can do it every year. I’m happy with the team, we are really happy.”

Klopp has claimed that injuries and youth progression make Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rhian Brewster transfer-like additions to the squad. Perhaps he’s been told that there’s not a lot in the budget this summer.

However, he’s also said that Liverpool has to “splash the cash” to compete with its rivals, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this was all more Cheshire Cat talk ahead of a purchase.