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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.

River Plate to sponsor car in Indy 500

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There will be a soccer presence at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.

On Thursday, Club Atletico River Plate announced, along with car owner Juncos Racing that Kyle Kaiser’s No. 32 car will feature a River Plate logo on the front of the vehicle. Juncos Racing is named after founder Ricardo Juncos, an Argentine native and clearly a big River fan.

Per a press release from River Plate, it’s the first time a soccer team is sponsoring a car in the Indy 500, which takes place this Sunday, May 26.

[READ: Pochettino hopeful Kane will be ready to make an impact in UCL final]

“As a River fan, I always wanted to have the logo of the Club in the car,” Juncos said in a press release.
“This race is very important for me. I am very happy and I believe that in the goal of River to expand into the Indy 500. From here to there will come positive things for both.”

Kaiser, just 23, is one of the new guys on the main IndyCar scene, especially after winning the IndyCar Lights title in 2017. It’s the racing equivalent of winning the Europa League. Unlike River’s reputation as one of the biggest clubs in South America, Kaiser just barely made it into the field all together, bumping former Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso out of the field by about one hundredth of a second.

While it’s cool to see a soccer team get involved in the Indy 500, a worldwide viewing event that’s also akin to a religious holiday throughout the state of Indiana, it’s another Buenos Aires club that really should have been the first to sponsor a car.

Racing Club, defending Argentine league champs, would have been terrific, Racing in Uruguay, or Racing de Santander in Spain. Perhaps one day in the future the three clubs can combine forces to sponsor an IndyCar event or a car competing in a race.

USSF, Relevant Sports clash in court over international matches

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NEW YORK (AP) A lawyer for a promoter asked a judge to order the U.S. Soccer Federation to sanction international league matches in the United States.

The USSF last month denied an application by Relevent Sports, a company partly owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

During a half-hour hearing Thursday before New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration.

Blair G. Connelly, the lawyer representing the USSF, said because Relevent’s application included its executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, as the FIFA-licensed match agent requesting approval to stage the game, Relevent was bound by a provision in FIFA’s match agent regulations requiring any dispute with a national association be submitted to arbitration. FIFA’s rules specify such a case be heard by its player status committee, whose decision could be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

“What they’re trying to do is outsource the court’s authority … to two bodies in Switzerland that don’t follow New York law and have nothing to do with it,” said Marc Litt, a lawyer for Relevent.

Connelly said the USSF’s decision could be overruled only if the court found it to be irrational. He also cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Illinois, who ordered a suit against the USSF by ChampionsWorld, a previous Stillitano-affiliated company, be stayed pending FIFA’s arbitration procedure.

“They are bound by the contracts their agent enters into on their behalf,” Connelly said.

Litt said FIFA never issued a formal regulation against international club matches in different countries and the USSF cited only a news release.

“Was U.S. Soccer irrational when it concluded that something that FIFA itself called a decision by its decision-making body was in fact a decision? We’re we crazy to think that? Was U.S. Soccer just in outer space?” Connelly said.

Litt claimed the USSF made its decision to protect Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of the USSF and Major League Soccer.

“We believe that the only reason that they don’t want professional league matches that count in the United States is because that would damage Major League Soccer,” Litt said.

Relevent also attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona, at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

Perry did not announce any decision.

Wenger hints he may be retired from management

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It’s been a year since Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal departure was announced, and the legendary manager remains on the sidelines.

Whether by his choice or not, Wenger has spent the year away from soccer, instead vacationing and being a studio TV pundit in France. In his latest public comments, Wenger hinted that while he still plans to return to a role in soccer, he likely won’t be a club manager anymore.

“I thought I will come back into management very quickly, but I enjoyed taking a little distance,” Wenger told the BBC. Now I’m at a crossroads.”

Per the BBC, Wenger later added: “You will see me again in football. As a manager… I don’t know.”

In the weeks and months after Wenger was effectively forced out of Arsenal after 22 seasons, Wenger repeatedly said that he had many offers to return to management, and it was only a matter of time before he’d accept one of these offers. And yet, it’s been a year and Wenger remains on the outside, perhaps a clear sign that today’s soccer has passed him by, and unless he wants to move to the Middle East or another soccer outpost, he won’t be able to get a top job in Western Europe.

Despite his acrimonious exit, Wenger still supports the Gunners and had some thoughts on the team’s season, as well as the club’s run to the Europa League final.

“I miss competition and I miss Arsenal because I left my heart in there,” Wenger said. “I gave my life to this club for 22 years. Every minute of my life was dedicated to this club and I miss the values we developed inside the club.

“I support Arsenal. It will be forever my club.”

Pochettino hopeful Kane can “give us a hand” in UCL final

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Harry Kane returned to training this week as Tottenham continues preparations for the UEFA Champions League final.

The England and Tottenham captain has been out with yet another ankle injury since April 9. Initially feared he would be out for the rest of the season, Kane now looks set to play in the final match of the season, and his manager Mauricio Pochettino is hopeful he can make an impact.

“He’s training and has entered the final stage of his recovery, Pochettino told a conference in Bilbao, via video link, per AS. “We’re hoping he’ll be able to give us a hand – either from the start, from the bench or if not, then by giving us moral support in the dressing room. But we are optimistic that he’ll be able to help us on the pitch.”

Pochettino completed a magnificent feat guiding Tottenham to the Champions League final, but he may have one of the most difficult decisions he has to make in his managerial career ahead.

Should Kane be available to start, Pochettino has to decide whether he should break from the lineup that came back from a 3-0 deficit to Ajax, and potentially put Lucas Moura on the bench. If Tottenham loses, Pochettino is probably darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t with Kane.

Either Kane wasn’t fit enough to play and make a big impact, or he clearly was and he didn’t have enough time in the match.

Regardless, Pochettino will hope to have a full squad available, with Kane able to make a difference should be needed.