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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Middlesbrough


Middlesbrough are back in the Premier League for the first time since the 2008-09 season, hoping to become “the next Southampton” — going from newly promoted side, to three-time top-eight finisher all in the span of four seasons.

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Boro have certainly splashed the cash like a club with big-time intentions, having already acquired nine new first-team players who are all likely to be counted on for key contributions this season. While only three of the seven required transfer fees (two of the three are 25 years old or younger), the four freebies and two loanees will have on their own added close to $200,000 to the club’s weekly wage bill. If they’re going to give you all that money for playing in the Premier League, you might as well spend it and go all out for survival.

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Boro will finish mid-table and establish themselves as a PL side, because… They’ve got a clear identity under manager Aitor Karanka — defensive discipline, which has translated to the best defensive record in the Championship for two years running.

Boro will spend all season fighting relegation, all for naught, because… They have very little PL experience in a squad made up of mostly career-long Championship players. The summer signings are nice, but not enough.

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Best Possible XI

—– Valdes —–

— Barragan — Espinosa — Ayala — Friend —

—– Leadbitter — De Roon ——

— Stuani — Ramirez — Fischer —

—– Negredo —–

Transfers in: Victor Valdes (free, Manchester United), Brad Guzan (free, Aston Villa), Marten De Roon ($16 million, Atalanta), Gaston Ramirez (free, Hull City), Viktor Fisher ($5 million, Ajax), Antonio Barragan ($4 million, Valencia), Bernardo Espinosa (free, Sporting Gijon)

Transfers out: Rhys Williams (free, Perth Glory), Jonathan Woodgate (released),

Last season: Clinched automatic promotion through a second-place finish in the Championship (89 points, four back of winners Burnley); finished the season on a 10-game unbeaten run (six wins, followed by four draws, which saw them fall off the top spot on the final day of the season).

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Middesbrough forward Alvaro Negredo celebrates his goal during the pre- season friendly between Aston Villa and Middlesbrough at Villa Park on July 30, 2016 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Star player: Alvaro Negredo — Boro have a handful of capable strikers within their squad (Jordan Rhodes, Christhian Stuani and David Nugent), but none will be relied upon as heavily as Negredo, who arrived on loan from Valencia just 12 months after securing his exit from Manchester City. The 30-year-old Spaniard is only 24 months removed from a 2013-14 campaign that saw him score 23 goals in 48 appearances (all competitions) in his lone season with the Citizens.

Coach’s corner: Karanka is set to embark on his third full season in charge at Boro (hired in November of 2013), a tenure that’s seen steady improvement year after year at the Riverside Stadium (12th in the Championship in 2013-14; 4th in 14-15; 2nd in 2015-16). Just 42 years old, Boro is Karanka’s first head job after three seasons spent as an assistant under Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid.

YORK, ENGLAND - JULY 09: Aitor Karanka, the Middlesbrough manager looks on during the pre season friendly match between York City and Middlesbrough at Bootham Crescent on July 9, 2016 in York, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

PST predicts: It’s tough to find three sides, at least on paper, that are “worse” than Boro. The massive hike in television money aids newly promoted sides as they attempt to build a squad to fight against relegation. Here’s the problem: every other club in the PL gets the same money, and has been spending comparable cash for years. If they manage to avoid relegation, it’ll be ever so slightly.

Delph completes transfer to Everton

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Everton has added an England international in a move to bolster its midfield.

The club announced that it had signed Fabian Delph to a three-year contract, after an undisclosed permanent transfer from Manchester City. Delph comes to the blue half of Liverpool after spending the last four seasons at Manchester City, where he began as a central midfielder but was quickly pushed out wide as a left back, and only featured 20 times in all competitions for the Sky Blues last season.

“Every time I have played against Everton, whether it was home or away, straight away the first thing that comes to mind when you see the fans is passion,” Delph said on Everton’s website. “The Everton fans seem to know football, seem to understand it, it seems to be in their blood and they really back the team. You are always going to hear Evertonians and I’m excited to play at home and hear them when I am playing. I’m really happy to be here, I’m going to give absolutely everything – nothing less than 100 per cent.

Although it feels like he’s been around forever, Delph is actually still only 29-years-old, and should still have a few years left in the tank to help propel Everton to the next level. At the least, Delph adds steel and technical ability in the middle of the park, where he could likely partner with Andre Gomes, who made his move to Everton permanent this summer from Barcelona.

Delph also adds versatility, and that should help him stay in the Everton lineup, should it need him out wide or to play in the center of the park.

However, the most important aspect Delph brings is the winning mentality. Even though he didn’t play a massive role, Delph has had the opportunity to train and play alongside the likes of Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, all winners in their careers who do whatever it takes to get three points and win a title.

Bringing that attitude and mentality to Everton is huge for the club, which needs a lift after the departure of Wayne Rooney and other big names who have departed since the end of the David Moyes era.

Report: Ajax in negotiations to sign El Tri’s Alvarez

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One of the Mexico National Team’s brightest stars appears to be heading to Ajax, where he could potentially be the replacement for one Matthijs de Ligt.

According to a report in Voetbol International, a publication in the Netherlands, Ajax technical director Marc Overmars confirmed the club’s interest in signing Club America and El Tri defender Edson Alvarez. Club America are reportedly demanding nothing less than nearly $17 million for Alvarez, who has in just two years become a regular for El Tri.

[READ: USMNT’s Boyd signs with Besiktas]

The report states that Wolverhampton Wanderers – which has Alvarez’s El Tri teammate Raul Jimenez – and PSV Eindhoven were also interesting in signing Alvarez.

The 21-year-old made his debut for Club America as a right back under long-time Liga MX manager Ricardo La Volpe in 2016, and just a few months after his club debut, he was already playing for the national team. He was included and featured at the 2017 Gold Cup, becoming Mexico’s youngest scorer in the competition (at age 19) and he then started all four of Mexico’s games at the 2018 World Cup, including against Neymar and Brazil in the Round of 16.

Alvarez has continued his strong play over the past year and has moved into more of a centerback and holding midfielder role at times. He played as a No. 6 for Mexico in its 1-0 win over the U.S. Men’s National Team at the 2019 Gold Cup final, at times dropping into the back line to defend while providing support in the attack.

As Alvarez is still young but continues to grow, it’s a perfect time for him to join Ajax. There, he’ll face even better attackers than in Liga MX, and he’ll have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders to play for a prestigious club like Ajax. The pressure to perform will only make him better, like it’s helped countryman Hirving “Chucky” Lozano across the Netherlands at PSV Eindhoven.

Interestingly, Alvarez would be the second summer signing for Ajax with a North American connection. Defender Kik Pierie was actually born in Boston, while his father was studying at Harvard Medical School, though he’s been raised almost entirely in the Netherlands and has featured for the Oranje internationally.

USMNT’s Boyd signs with Besiktas

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Add another American to the list of players who will be playing in UEFA competitions this fall.

Turkish giant Besiktas announced on Monday that it had signed winger Tyler Boyd to a four-year contract in a transfer from Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes. Boyd has had a pretty impressive last six months, from scoring six goals in 14 games with Ankaragücü in the Turkish Superlig on loan, to scoring goals and making the Gold Cup roster for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

The New Zealand-born pacey winger completed a one-time switch to play for the USMNT in May, and he went on to score a brace in the USMNT’s Gold Cup opener against Guyana. While Boyd made five appearances for the U.S. this summer, he was left on the bench as the U.S. bowed out to Mexico, suddenly appearing out of Berhalter’s plans as quickly as he entered them.

Regardless, this is a great move for Boyd, assuming he can get some first team minutes. It’s a big step up from Ankaragücü to play for Besiktas, which not only includes the heated Istanbul derbies against Fenerbahce and Galatasaray, but next season will also include at least six matches in the UEFA Europa League. By finishing third in the Turkish league, Besiktas earned a place direct in the Europa League group stage.

Of course, like we saw this summer with the USMNT, Boyd has to break into a more talented group of players and earn minutes, both for league and European matches. If he’s not playing much, it’s possible we won’t see much of him with the national team, as Jordan Morris gets regular playing time as well as others in that position like Timothy Weah, Corey Baird and possibly Kenny Saief, now that he’s back with Anderlecht.

Boyd is undoubtedly a talented player. Hopefully, this move up in stature and pressure can help the 24-year-old take his game to a new level.

Report: Manchester United “miles” apart on Maguire deal

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Yesterday, the English tabloids exploded with reports that Manchester United was nearing a deal with Leicester City to make Harry Maguire the most expensive defender in the world with a $100 million deal nearly completed. Some even went so far as to suggest a medical would take place on Monday – today.

Now, there seems to be an about-face as ESPN senior writer Mark Ogden reports that the two sides are “miles away” on a potential deal, as his source describes it.

According to the report, Manchester United’s last bid of $50 million is much closer to their valuation of the player, and while Leicester City is holding out for a world record bid, the two sides have not made much movement towards an agreement. They are willing to go up to $75 million with another bid, but that is still well off the Leicester City price tag.

Ogden writes that Manchester United’s first choice was Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt, but he is nearing completion on a move to Juventus, and if the reports over the last few weeks are to be believed, Manchester United was never really in play. De Ligt was handed significant wages at Juventus, something Manchester United may not have been willing to do.

They turned their sights towards Maguire, but with three weeks left in the transfer window, there apparently needs to be significant work done on a deal to move it across the finish line. Ogden writes that there is “confidence” within Manchester United that Maguire wants the move, but that’s nothing if the two clubs can’t come to an agreement.