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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.

Gold Cup: Mexico, Canada win to finish 1st, 2nd in Group A (video)

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A roundup of Sunday’s action from the final round of Group A play at the 2019 Gold Cup…

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: France gets by Brazil in ET | England bests Cameroon ]

Martinique 2-3 Mexico

Mexico fought off a valiant effort from a Martinique side which was more than up for the task of taking down CONCACAF’s premier giant before falling just short of securing their first Gold Cup point since 2002 (appeared in four of six tournaments since then). Mexico secured a first-place finish in Group A with a perfect record of nine points from three games and will face the runner-up from Group B, either Costa Rica or Haiti.

Uriel Antuna opened the scoring with a slow-rolling finish in the 29th minute, but Les Matinino drew level through Kevin Parsemain’s stunning, inch-perfect free kick in the 56th.

Raul Jimenez tapped Rodolfo Pizarro’s cross into a wide open goal to put Mexico back in front in the 61st, followed by a third from Fernando Navarro 11 minutes later.

Martinique refused to go away, though, as Seattle Sounders defender Jordy Delem headed home while left criminally unmarked inside the box to cut the lead back to one.

[ COPA AMERICA: Argentina dispatches Qatar to advance (video) ]

Canada 7-0 Cuba

For the second time in three games this tournament, Cuba suffered a 7-0 drubbing — this time at the hands of Canada, who finished second and will face the winner of Group B, either Costa Rica or Haiti.

19-year-old forward Jonathan David, who plays for Belgian side Gent, bagged a hat trick (3rd, 71st and 77th minutes), as did fellow forward Lucas Cavallini (21st, 43rd and 45th), to go with a measly singular goal from Junior Hoilett in the 50th.

Monday’s Gold Cup schedule

Bermuda v. Nicaragua — 6:30 p.m. ET
Costa Rica v. Haiti — 8:30 p.m. ET

Copa America: Argentina dispatches Qatar to advance (video)

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A roundup of Sunday’s action from the final round of Group B play at the 2019 Copa America in Brazil…

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: France gets by Brazil in ET | England bests Cameroon ]

Qatar 0-2 Argentina

Argentina bounced back from a defeat and a draw in their first two games to avoid what would have been an indefensible disaster — failing to advance from the group — by beating Qatar 2-0 in the two sides’ Group B finale.

Lautaro Martinez scored what turned out to be the game-winner after just four minutes. Qatar attempted to play the ball out of the back, but a pass from a Qatari defender was badly mishit and went straight to Martinez, who was quick to corral the ball and run it down for a one-time finish from just inside the box.

Sergio Aguero put the game to bed with a brilliant individual goal in the 82nd minute. After receiving the ball 40 yards from goal, Aguero bust forward and went past two defenders in a flash before picking out a small window to hit with his left-footed finish from 12 yards out.

Up next for Lionel Messi and Co., is a quarterfinal tangle with Venezuela.

Colombia 1-0 Paraguay

Having already secured a place in the quarters, Colombia finished group play with a perfect nine-point record and locked up first place in the group edging past Paraguay.

Gustavo Cuellar bagged the game’s only goal in the 31st minute, when he snuck the ball between the goalkeeper’s legs from an impossibly tight angle.

Colombia finished Group B with three victories, by way of four goals scored and zero goals conceded.

Monday’s Copa America schedule

Chile v. Ecuador — 7 p.m. ET
Ecuador v. Japan — 7 p.m. ET

AFCON: Senegal start with win despite missing Mane

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Senegal reinforced its status as one of the favorites to win the Africa Cup of Nations by starting its campaign in Egypt with a 2-0 win over Tanzania on Sunday.

Senegal didn’t miss forward Sadio Mane, who was suspended for the game, as it opened with a solid display in Cairo.

Playing just his second competitive game for his country, Krepin Diatta powered in a shot from outside the penalty area to make it 2-0 midway through the second half. Senegal would have won the Group C game by much more if it had been just a little sharper in front of goal.

Tanzania goalkeeper Aishi Manula also helped keep the score down.

Keita Balde got the first goal in the 28th minute after finishing off an intricate attack – which swept from one side of the field to the other – by driving his shot into the bottom corner.

Mane missed the game with a suspension for two yellow cards he received in qualifying.

Senegal, host Egypt and Nigeria are seen as the strongest contenders for the title, although Senegal has played more African Cups (15) than any other team without winning the championship.

Senegal is the No. 1 team in Africa while Tanzania is the second-lowest ranked team at the tournament. It’s making just its second appearance at the African Cup and first since 1981.

Also in Group C, Riyad Mahrez scored the second goal as Algeria began its campaign with a 2-0 win over Kenya, which qualified for the first time since 2004.

Baghdad Bounedjah slotted a penalty for Algeria after Aissa Mandi cut into the area from the right flank and was sliced down. Mahrez added the second before halftime. His first-time shot from a cross was heading for the bottom right corner of the Kenyan net, deflected off a defender, and ended up in the bottom left.

Content with 2-0, Algeria shut the game down in the second half and had little trouble in holding off the Kenyans.

But meetings with minnows have provided early headaches for some of the other top teams in the first three days of action in Egypt. The home team struggled to break down Zimbabwe, Uganda surprised Congo 2-0 and Nigeria needed a late goal to finally beat tournament debutant Burundi, the lowest-ranked team to make it to Egypt. Guinea was held 2-2 by Madagascar, another team making its first appearance.

The trend continued in Sunday’s first game. Morocco got lucky and escaped with a 1-0 victory over Namibia in Group D when Itamunua Keimune scored an own goal in the 89th minute.

“The first game is always difficult,” Morocco’s M’barak Boussoufa said. “We are happy to win, even by a slim margin.”

Striker Keimune was at the wrong end of the field and trying to clear a free kick from Hakim Ziyech. Apparently uncertain whether to kick or head the ball, all he did was divert it into his own net with a minute to go. Bitterly disappointed, Namibia’s players slumped to the ground at the final whistle and were consoled by members of their coaching staff.

“We deserved a draw,” Namibia coach Ricardo Manetti said.

The Morocco-Namibia group is arguably the toughest at the African Cup, with 2015 champion Ivory Coast and South Africa the other two teams. They meet on Monday.

Morocco plays Ivory Coast in its next game, when Morocco coach Herve Renard comes up against the country he coached to the title in 2015.

“We have to get ready for that,” Renard said.

Abraham, Chelsea youngsters ‘buzzing’ for chance amid transfer ban

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Chelsea has never been a club known for building a first-team squad full of young players from the club’s youth academy — at least not in the Roman Abramovich era — but the Blues will have no choice other than to rely upon a handful of youngsters amid the club’s season-long transfer ban.

[ MORE: Pulisic admits hint of satisfying revenge in win over T&T ]

The prospect of regular playing time — even under such circumstances — has the likes of 21-year-old forward Tammy Abraham, among others, “buzzing” at the chance to make their mark and secure an important place at the club for the foreseeable future. There’s also the matter of hiring a new manager ahead of the 2019-20 season, which will afford every player, young or old, a clean slate — quotes from the Guardian:

“This year is the most important year for us. It is now or never. There will never be a better time to play the youngsters. Of course the transfer ban is probably not what the club wanted, but for us it is exciting. I am excited and I am sure the rest of the players are.

“There is a great chance for us young players, so we must get our heads down in training and go for it at Chelsea. I have already been talking to the club about preseason. I’m going to have a couple of weeks and then come back hitting the ground running. There is no better time for a young player to be at Chelsea. I am going to give it my all. With a new manager coming in, there is no better time to show what I am made of in preseason. I am just buzzing at the thought of the new season.”

It’s obviously a bit odd to hear a player speak so positively, and freely, about something as bleak as a transfer ban – especially when you consider the decaying state of Chelsea’s current squad — but perhaps more so is the disconnect which appears to exist between the club’s academy setup and the folks who sanction expensive transfer after expensive transfer rather than giving those young players a chance.

Abraham, who spent last season on loan at Aston Villa and scored 25 goals in the EFL Championship, sees himself, and anyone else who gets a chance due to the transfer ban, as potential agents of change for future classes of academy kids.

“Maybe it will change. Hopefully. Chelsea has always had a great academy. They have lacked playing them and taking them to the next level. You see the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who on the borderline have done that. We have excellent players still there and coming through who are still Chelsea players so fingers crossed if it all goes well it changes the mindset. I got thousands of messages from Chelsea fans on Instagram saying play him, play him. It is nice to have that behind you, knowing the supporters have your back. They believe in you as well. Clearly I was doing something right. Fingers crossed it all happens.”