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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Stoke City

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The Potters just keep plugging away.

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Steady progress has been the name of the game for Mark Hughes‘ side over the past nine years since they were promoted to the Premier League and this season will be no different. Having flirted with the top six for most of last season, they fell away at a pivotal stage of the campaign.

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Scoring goals has been a slight problem for Stoke but when everything clicks into place, they ooze class at the Bet365 Stadium. That venue is one of the most intimidating (and coldest) places to play in the PL and Stoke’s home record will once again be key if they’re going to finish in the top 10.

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Stoke will finally kick on and finish in the top six because… They have a strong defensive unit, plus new signing Allen will slot seamlessly into midfield to link up with the likes of Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.

Most likely they’ll finish ninth, again: After finishing in ninth in each of the last three PL campaigns, Stoke’s fans will want more but are unlucky to get it. With teams like Liverpool and Chelsea strengthening, plus Everton set for a new era under Ronald Koeman, they could struggle to finish in the top 10. The one area Hughes must strengthen up top with Diouf, Crouch and Joselu all hard workers but hardly prolific.


Best possible XI

—– Butland —–

— Cameron — Shawcross — Wollscheid — Pieters —

—– Allen —– Imbula —–

—- Arnautovic —- Bojan —- Shaqiri —-

—– Diouf —–


Transfers in: Joe Allen ($17 million, Liverpool), Ramadan Sobhi ($6.5 million, Al Ahly)

Transfers out: Ben Barber (Free, York City), Steve Sidwell (Free, Bright & Hove Albion), Yusuf Coban (Free, TGG 1899 Hoffenheim), Dominic Kurasik (Free, Brentford), Peter Odemwingie, Ed Dryden, Bobby Moseley, Ryan O’Reilly, Peter Skapetis, Maston Watkins-Clark (All released)

Last season: Stoke started the season superbly and in the first half of the campaign they’d racked up wins against Chelsea and Manchester City at home. They then faded towards the end of the season but still finished ninth for a third season running. Their aim was to better their record PL points tally of 54 from the previous campaign but they just came up short of that with 51 points on the board. All in all, another steady season for Stoke.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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Star player: Marko Arnautovic – Austrian forward signed a new contract over the summer which was a huge boost for the Potters. “Arnie” was their top scorer in the PL last season with 11 goals and he may be given more opportunity to play in his preferred role out wide if the club are successful in recruiting a new striker. When he’s on his game there are few who can stop him. Pace, power and trickery, Arnautovic is a mercurial talent.

Coach’s Corner: Hugheshy has done incredibly well in his three season at Stoke so far. He’s spent wisely and built solidly on what Tony Pulis left behind. The way he has changed Stoke into an attractive team to watch has been subtle but focused and bringing in players like Bojan and Shaqiri has had its ups and downs but has certainly taken Stoke to the next level as they’ve established themselves as a solid top 10 club in the PL. Hughes will now look to push for the top six but he may need a lot more cash to spend on one or two key new players to do it.

Mark Hughes, Stoke City FC

PST predicts: Another season of solidity for Stoke as they’ll be in and around 10th place and if everything clicks and their star man stay clear of injury, they could flirt with a top six finish. Like last season, expect a good cup run from them.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

 

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.

MNUFC’s Opara wins MLS Defender of the Year

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For the second time in three seasons, Ike Opara has been named MLS Defender of the Year, this time as the foundational piece of Minnesota United’s much-improved defense.

[ Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise ]

Opara becomes just the fourth player to win multiple Defender of the Year awards, joining Carlos Bocanegra (2002, 2003), Robin Fraser (1999, 2004) and Chad Marshall, the only three-time winner (2008, 2009, 2014) in MLS history. Opara won the award going away, nearly doubling the percentage of votes received by second-place Walker Zimmerman.

Defender of the Year Player % Club % Media % Final %
Ike Opara  25.75% 27.27% 44.88% 32.64%
Walker Zimmerman 20.40% 17.17% 12.20% 16.59%
Miles Robinson 19.40% 13.13% 15.75% 16.09%
Maxime Chanot 1.67% 16.16% 4.33% 7.39%
Eddie Segura 4.35% 9.09% 5.91% 6.45%
Aaron Long 2.34% 5.05% 1.97% 3.12%

[ MORE: Berhalter slams USMNT after Canada defeat — what now? ]

This time last year, the 30-year-old was a member of one of the league’s stingiest defensive units as a member of Sporting Kansas City. Following a contract dispute with Sporting, Opara was traded to Minnesota in exchange for $900,000 of targeted allocation money, plus an additional $100,000 after Minnesota qualified for the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS.