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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Leicester City

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The dust has settled. Last season’s fairytale is now for the history books. It’s time to move on.

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Leicester City now faces a battle on multiple fronts, one that won’t be easy. With Champions League play to contend with, plus higher expectations for the Cup competitions, there will be many new challenges to face.

In addition, the Foxes will be without their most important player from last year, N'Golo Kante, who made the choice to move to Stamford Bridge. Jamie Vardy, however, decided not to leave, a major boost to the squad. It remains to be seen what Riyad Mahrez chooses, caught between Leicester and the pull of Arsenal.

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They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but this year, it’s Claudio Raneiri’s job to make sure it does. Chances are they won’t win the title again, but supporters are moreso looking for steady growth and a strengthening of the club’s position in the long term. That’s most certainly in play for the Foxes.

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Leicester City can remain among the Premier League powers if…the new signings prove to be adequate fill-ins. Nampalys Mendy will have the world’s weight on his shoulders looking to replace N’Golo Kante, and without him, the system will fall apart. Ahmed Musa will be vital, as failure to produce will put more shoulders on an otherwise thin and aging strike group split across four competitions. If the two – plus any additional talent brought in before the window closes – can produce, they can help turn this squad from Cinderella to perennial Premier League power, the next step in this club’s meteoric growth.

However, more likely Foxes will return to Earth. It’s pretty clear that Kante is somewhat irreplaceable to this squad, and his loss will show. In addition, Leicester probably could use a few more players to come in. Ranieri is big on squad cohesion, and will likely wish not to disrupt the chemistry too much with additional bodies, but another midfielder would be vital to stretch the club across all the fronts they’ll do battle. It might be too much to handle, especially at how they were hammered by PSG in preseason, although it’s hard to see them falling too drastically flat.


Best Possible XI

—– Schmeichel —–

— Simpson — Morgan — Huth — Fuchs —

Mahrez — Mendy — Drinkwater — Albrighton

— Vardy — Musa —

Transfers In: Ahmed Musa ($22m, CSKA Moscow), Nampalys Mendy ($17.5m, Nice), Ron-Robert Zieler ($4m, Hannover), Luis Hernandez (Free, Sporting Gijon).

Transfers Out: N’Golo Kante ($40m, Chelsea), Andrej Kramaric ($11m, Hoffenheim), Paul Konchesky (Free, Gillingham).

Last Season: You know all about last season. Leicester City was nearly relegated two seasons ago, some time passed, yada yada yada, they won the title. Yawn. Ok fine, it was awesome. A club that had fallen to League One not five years prior lifted the Premier League trophy. A fairytale story like none other, Leicester City will be remembered for a long time as soccer’s Little Engine That Could.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City poses with the Premier League Trophy as players and staffs celebrate the season champion after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Star Player: Riyad Mahrez – The Algerian is still being wooed by Arsenal, but with every passing day it seems more and more likely he will stay. Should he remain at King Power Stadium, the Foxes will have much of the same firepower they did last year. Jamie Vardy is right there with him, but Mahrez is the magic man. The 25-year-old was an absolute workhorse, one of just 15 midfielders to top 3,000 minutes last season, and he missed just a single league match all year. To show for it, he pumped out 17 goals and 10 assists, a number which seems likely to be repeated.

Coach’s Corner: Claudio Ranieri was considered one of the better coaches in Europe never to win a trophy, and that came crashing down last season. He consistently kept his players grounded and focused during the midst of an improbable run, an incredibly difficult task with so much attention on the club. There’s no question that once Ranieri feels his work at Leicester City is complete, he will have plenty of offers coming his way. However, that does not seem to be anytime soon, and he will keep dreaming with the city of Leicester.

OXFORD, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Leicester City's manager Claudio Ranieri looks on prior to the pre-season friendly between Oxford City and Leicester City at Kassam Stadium on July 19, 2016 in Oxford, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

PST Predicts: People have been doubting this team for long enough that the noise about a one-hit-wonder won’t bother them. Unfortunately, that’s the realistic scenario here. European fixture congestion has taken down too many middle-tier teams to ignore. Last season, an unusually impeccable bill of health kept a thin squad from showing weaknesses in the depth department. This season, that won’t be the case. This club is too talented to be in the relegation picture, but a bottom half finish is likely, somewhere in the 10th-12th range.

Sessegnon beats Neuer to score first Spurs, Champions League goal

Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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Ryan Sessegnon has his first Spurs goal, which also happens to be his first UEFA Champions League goal, and he’ll love telling the tale of it.

The 19-year-old Englishman ripped a rocket past Manuel Neuer of all people, collecting a deflection to equalize early in Tottenham’s match against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

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Sessegnon entered the day with an assist in 30 minutes spread across three appearances for Spurs, and needed just 20 more minutes to find a goal.

He made a big money move from Fulham this summer, having made a remarkable 120 senior appearances. Almost all of those came before he turned 19, and he’s scored 25 times with 18 assists.

Kingsley Coman has Bayern’s goal as the teams remain locked at 1 after Bayern hung 7 on Spurs in England earlier in the group stage.

 

Jesus hat-trick downs Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta qualifies for knockouts

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Manchester City looked sluggish again, but Gabriel Jesus made sure it didn’t matter.

The Brazilian cropped up at a critical juncture for Pep Guardiola, sending Manchester City through into the knockout stage on a winning note as his hat-trick sealed a 4-1 come-from-behind victory that knocked Dinamo Zagreb from European competition altogether.

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The first half was especially lackluster for the English visitors to Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, with lots of possession but little to show for it. The hosts went in front early on, punishing Man City on the counter on a fabulous volleyed finish from former Barcelona youth product Dani Olmo.

That was the best goal of the day, but Man City picked itself up and pulled back level before the break, with Jesus grabbing his first via a header as Dinamo Zagreb shut off, screaming for Man City to put the ball out with a Zagreb player down. The visitors rightly did not, and Dinamo was punished by the equalizer.

After halftime, Man City was much better, hammering the left flank to take a commanding lead. The second came on excellent work by Jesus in the box to shake a defender and finish with his right, while the third flew in minutes later on a pinpoint Benjamin Mendy cross that Jesus met with a flying karate kick. Pep Guardiola had one eye on the festive fixtures, withdrawing Jesus soon after the hour mark, replaced by Oleksandr Zinchenko who curiously took Jesus’s place at the striker position.

Phil Foden was the best Manchester City player throughout, and finished off the scoreline with seven minutes to go. An excellent buildup down the right saw Bernardo Silva sprung through, and he cut back to Foden at the top of the six-yard box who slid to meet the ball with pace and poke home the cherry on top.

Elsewhere, Atalanta topped Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in the Ukraine on goals by Timothy Castagne, Mario Pasalic, and Robin Gosens, meaning the Italians secured the second spot in Group A, qualifying for the knockout stage. The Ukranians were left dead in the water after right-back Dodo was sent off 13 minutes from time, leading to the second goal to seal things up. Atalanta’s advancement marks a stunning comeback given the Italian side failed to secure points in any of their first three group stage matches.

That left Shakhtar in third, dropping to the Europa League, while Dinamo Zagreb was left at the bottom of the group, on the outside looking in.

Charlotte MLS club files trademarks for eight potential names

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It is being heavily reported that Charlotte is the next city to earn a club in the rapidly expanding Major League Soccer landscape, and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has taken the next step towards that possibility.

The new club needs a name, and they appear to be nearing a selection. Tepper filed for eight different name trademarks, according to multiple reports, including The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue who confirmed the filings were made under Tepper’s Panthers address.

Here is the list of names he filed copyright requests for:

“Charlotte FC” would be a bare-bones and generic name that follows in the footsteps of recent MLS expansion clubs such as Orlando City SC, NYCFC or LAFC. Others are a little more colorful, including “Carolina Gliders FC” or “Charlotte Monarchs FC,” while a few others like “Charlotte Town FC” or “Charlotte Athletic FC” clearly call forth thoughts of smaller English clubs.

Rodrigue speculated that the relative lack of “Carolina” encompassing names is potentially due to the possibility of an expansion bid from Raleigh down the road, and a Carolina team would potentially provide an unnecessary roadblock to that future prospect. There is a clear lack of region-encompassing names in Major League Soccer, with “New England Revolution” the only example, and there’s no real reason to break that mold with another potential bid city down the road.

Which name is your favorite? What would you have gone with if you could name the club?

LIVE, UCL: Two knockout spots remain; Man City, Tottenham in play

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Two more spots in the knockout round remain unclaimed as the final day of group stage play begins on Wednesday.

Groups C and D both require a second team to progress through to the Round of 16, with five teams still in the mix.

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Manchester City has already won Group D, but the remaining three teams Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, and Atalanta all remain in contention for the second spot. Shakhtar currently sits second and has a home match with Atalanta, while Dinamo Zagreb host Man City in Croatia. Both those games feature in the early 12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Group D, meanwhile, has a pair of sides vying for the last spot. Atletico Madrid has a point advantage, currently sitting in second with a home match against already eliminated Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, hosts group winners Juventus in Germany.

Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur has already locked up a spot in the knockout stage, locked into the second spot in Group A, and they finish out the group stage with a visit to confirmed group winners Bayern Munich. Jose Mourinho told the press he forbid his players from watching any footage of the 7-2 defeat to Bayern to begin group stage play, and is resting “a few players” ahead of the festive Premier League fixtures.

Finally, Group A has already been decided with Real Madrid confirmed to finish second behind winners Paris Saint-Germain, but the two still have to complete the fixture list. Madrid heads to Belgium to take on Club Brugge, while PSG hosts Galatasaray. The Spanish side is most likely to rest players, with a weekend visit to Valencia coming up on Sunday followed by a midweek El Clasico that was rescheduled from earlier in the season.

Below is the full schedule for the last UCL games on Wednesday, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted, and you can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.


Wednesday Champions League action

Group A

Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray

Group B

Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiakos v. Red Star Belgrade

Group C

Dinamo Zagreb v. Manchester City (12:55 p.m. ET)
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta (12:55 p.m. ET)

Group D

Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus