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Ranieri won’t sign superstars to strengthen Leicester squad

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LEICESTER, England (AP) Claudio Ranieri is sticking with Leicester’s title-winning blueprint and said the club won’t be in the market for established, expensive talent to strengthen the Premier League champions.

“We don’t need the superstars,” Ranieri said Tuesday, a day after the trophy was clinched with two games to spare. “I want to improve the squad without big stars, but the right players.”

With a squad that cost less than $80 million to assemble, Leicester completed one of the greatest transformations in sporting history. From being relegation candidates and 5,000-1 outsiders for the title, Leicester won the biggest prize in its 132-year history.

[ MORE: Game-by-game breakdown of title run ]

But it was achieved without the midweek demands of European soccer, which Leicester will have next season after qualifying for the Champions League for the first time.

No wonder, Ranieri is significantly lowering expectations for next season.

“For us it is important to stay in the 10th position around there and try to fight to go into Europe,” Ranieri said at Leicester’s modest training ground.

Leicester’s eye for bargains has won admirers throughout the game.

Top-scorer Jamie Vardy was talent spotted while playing outside England’s four professional leagues four years ago. The striker’s 22 goals this season saw him voted player of the year by the Football Writers’ Association this week.

Riyad Mahrez, who has scored 17 goals and provided 11 assists in the title charge, won the same accolade in a vote by his fellow professionals. The Algeria winger was an unknown when he joined Leicester two years ago from second-tier French side Le Havre for less than 500,000 pounds (then about $820,000).

Ranieri’s biggest task in the summer transfer window could be keeping hold of his players while trying to avoid upsetting the balance of his squad with new recruits.

“It is too early to say we need five, six, seven or eight players,” Ranieri said. “If one of my players says to me I want to go … I try to keep him. I suggest to everybody this is a fantastic club.

“We won the title. We can do something good in our few years. If you go away, you don’t know what happens, here you are the king … it is much better to stay here one year more and look what happens. Then maybe you can go anywhere.”

Although wealthier rivals could offer Leicester’s stars bigger salaries, the central England club appears to offer more stability for now at a time when Chelsea – and potentially Manchester United – will be out of the Champions League next season.

[ VIDEO: Leicester players celebrate

“The Champions League is another important league to compare yourself to the other champions,” Ranieri said in a public message to his players. “Maybe you change team and go in the big teams, maybe you don’t start very well and stay outside the first eleven, you slow down.

“It is important to choose very well for the lads because now, for me as well, the lads are my sons. If they come to me I say this, `Be careful.’ Leicester in the long-term will go in a very high position.”

USMNT learns Nations League dates, says no October friendlies

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CONCACAF’s summer is going to be red-hot as its top sides will scrap multiple times on the road to World Cup qualifying.

In other words, we might see the USMNT meet Mexico twice in a month.

The USMNT, Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica are among the group of sides waiting to see who advances from the postponed first stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The final round of World Cup qualifying had already been postponed.

It was revealed Tuesday that the quartet will now play the first ever CONCACAF Nations League Finals in June, three months behind schedule and just before the 2021 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: How 7 Americans fared in Bundesliga Wk 1 ]

The Gold Cup was previously postponed to June 10 – July 1 and the draw is set for Monday.

The Nations League semifinals see No. 1 seed Mexico against No. 4 Costa Rica and the No. 2 Catrachos of Honduras meeting the third-seeded USMNT.

A U.S. Soccer Federation release said the move is to put the focus on first stage of qualifying (It also gives all of the participants more time to figure out the pandemic atmosphere if it, as anticipated, reaches into a second year dramatically affecting sporting competitions):

This official competition Finals event will take place in a centralized location in the United States in June 2021. Concacaf will now work with our stakeholders to finalize the location and specific dates for this competition.

Playing this competition in June 2021 will enable the First Round of the Concacaf Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup, which involve 30 Concacaf Member Associations, to take center stage in March 2021.

Concacaf remains in discussions with FIFA to agree a new schedule for the Concacaf Qualifiers which retains the current format.

[ WATCH: Gooch’s solo goal for Sunderland ]

U.S. Soccer also announced that it will not play any matches or train in the October international break, aiming for a November return. That means Christian Pulisic will have even more time to find top form for Chelsea.

General manager Brian McBride says Gregg Berhalter’s group may have an additional December camp with its January camp, which is great news for MLS players hoping to cement their statuses in Berhalter’s mind while the European talent continues to play overseas.

“After extensive conversations about holding a men’s national team camp in October, we ultimately determined the unique challenges created by COVID-19 as it relates to hosting international opponents and getting our players together wouldn’t allow us to move forward,” men’s team general manager Brian McBride said, via the Associated Press. “While we won’t have the team together in this upcoming window, we are making considerable progress for November.”

West Ham manager Moyes, two players test positive for COVID-19

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West Ham United’s preparations for Tuesday’s League Cup match against Hull City were rocked by positive COVID-19 tests for three members of the first team.

Irons boss David Moyes, center back Issa Diop and midfielder Josh Cullen all were informed of positive coronavirus tests before the match. All were sent home and said to be asymptomatic.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

The match went on with assistant manager Alan Irvine taking the reigns.

Diop is by far the most significant name on that list when it comes to West Ham’s competitive fortunes (Yes, we know Moyes in the manager).

West Ham stressed that it’s been vigilant when it comes to COVID-19:

The Club’s measures and protocols around COVID-19 remain stringent. This included offering to test the Hull City team ahead of tonight’s fixture – an offer which they opted not to accept.

Diop went the distance in both of West Ham’s PL matches this season, while Cullen has not featured for Moyes. The Irons lost 2-0 to Newcastle and 2-1 to Arsenal.

Champions League qualifying: How to watch, start times, odds

UEFA Champions League qualifying
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The 12 clubs remaining in the race for the final UEFA Champions League group stage slots will be pared down to six in the next eight days.

There are American connections to two of the six ties.

Former USMNT midfielder Jesse Marsch manages Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg toward the next round, while Molde right back Henry Wingo came up with the Seattle Sounders.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Salzburg are significant favorites to advance over two legs, odds accentuated by Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s seven players absent due to positive COVID-19 tests.

Marsch had previously said he did not want to go to Israel due to COVID-19 concerns, calling it “dangerous,” but has accepted the task at hand.

From Austrian publication Kronen Zeitung:

“The moment UEFA said we were going to play in Tel Aviv, it wasn’t a problem for me. Maccabi has a great team. We are not naive. We understand that we have to fight tomorrow.”

At 3:10 in some sportsbooks, Marsch’s men are the only club favored to win the first leg away. Salzburg is led by Dominik Szoboszlai and Patson Daka, who’ve helped the team thrive despite the sales of several stars including Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino.

Molde has a much tougher test with Hungarian side Ferencvaros, who knocked off Celtic. That tie could go either way, while Slavia Prague and Olympiakos are respectively noticeable favorites to beat Midtjylland and Omonia Nicosia.

Dynamo Kiev will be expected to outlast Gent over two legs, while it would be a minor upset if PAOK takes down Krasnodar.


How to watch the UEFA Champions League qualifying playoff round

Kickoff: 3 pm ET Tuesday and Wednesday
Stream: CBS All-Access (subscription required)


UEFA Champions League playoff round matches

All 12 legs will kickoff at 3 pm ET between Tuesday and Sept. 30.

Tuesday

Maccabi Tel-Aviv v. Red Bull Salzburg
Slavia Prague v Midtjylland
Krasnodar v PAOK

Wednesday

Gent v Dynamo Kiev
Molde v Ferencvaros
Olympiakos v Omonia

Sept. 29

Ferencvaros v Molde
Dynamo Kiev v Gent
Omonia v Olympiakos

Sept. 30

Midtjylland v Slavia Prague
PAOK v Krasnodar
Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Tel-Aviv

Edouard Mendy to Chelsea: What does it mean for Kepa, Blues’ defense?

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Edouard Mendy to Chelsea: What does it mean for Kepa Arrizabalaga and how much does it improve the Chelsea defense?

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Frank Lampard has confirmed that goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, 28, has arrived from Rennes in a $28 million deal and the Senegalese international will provide ‘competition’ to Kepa.

“Competition is a regular thing. We have brought Mendy in for that competition. It’s in everyone’s hands to get into the squad,” Lampard said. “I think it is the hardest position, because of the individual nature of it. I have to be sympathetic to that point. Last year I changed a few times, it’s a different thought process. We are always striving for the best performance.”

Is anyone buying that?

A couple of high-profile mistakes in Chelsea’s opening two games of the Premier League season has highlighted Kepa’s poor form and Chelsea have moved fast to bring in Mendy.

What does this mean for Kepa Arrizabalaga?

As the ProSoccerTalk lads discuss in the video above, this is probably the end, or at the very least the beginning of the end, for Kepa at Chelsea. Kepa has never really settled at Chelsea and over the last two seasons he hasn’t backed up being the most expensive goalkeeper in the world.

That transfer fee was a little false, as Chelsea were backed into a corner after losing Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid and paid Kepa’s release clause of $91.1 million to Athletic Bilbao. But they still paid it and even if the fee was half of that, eyebrows would have been raised. Kepa, 25, has failed to command his box, looked nervous with the ball at his feet and shots from outside the box have also given him plenty of problems. Not a great combo for a goalkeeper.

Chelsea may look to loan him out but there’s no doubt that after being dropped for veteran Willy Caballero at the end of last season, the writing was on the wall and Kepa is on borrowed time at Stamford Bridge.

Does Edouard Mendy to Chelsea improve their defense right away?

Not right away, but it will help. His impressive ability to come for crosses and his towering six-foot six-inch frame should provide some stability and confidence from the defenders around him but the way Chelsea play suggests their defensive issues will remain.

Frank Lampard loves to attack and it’s fun to watch. Well, unless you’re a goalkeeper or defender for the Blues. Mendy is one part of the jigsaw and so too is Thiago Silva who will add a calm head and his experience to a youthful defense, and Ben Chilwell at left back will also improve their defensive outlook.

Lampard loves to attack, though, and we must admit that without N’Golo Kante in front of a oft-changed back four, things will be tough. Mendy’s arrival should help settle things down and help Chelsea improve at the back but Lampard needs his center backs to stand tall in the coming weeks and months.