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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Tottenham Hotspur

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Can Tottenham Hotspur go again?

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That’s the big question ahead of this season as Mauricio Pochettino‘s young squad finished third in the Premier League in 2015-16, pushing Leicester City all the way for the title until they fell off late in the campaign.

Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier are the young English heart of this side, while Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld bring the experience and defensive nous. This is a superbly balanced time which is capable of carrying out Pochettino’s high-pressing style expertly.

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Losing out on second spot to Arsenal on the final day of last season was a tough pill to swallow for Spurs fans despite their stunning season. They’ve qualified for the UEFA Champions League and it will be intriguing to see how their young squad handles the pressure of expectancy following their breakout campaign last season. Another top four finish will be on the minds of everyone at White Hart Lane ahead of their new stadium move and an exciting few years ahead for Spurs.

The north London club have another crop of promising youngster coming through and Pochettino is certainly the right man to get the best out of them.

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Poch’s team will win the title because… They are young, hungry and will learn from their sobering experience in the final weeks of last season. Spurs ripped teams apart on their day and now they have some help for Harry Kane up front in the shape of Vincent Janssen, they should have more staying power at the top of the table. Playing UCL games at Wembley Stadium will give them a big boost and if they get off to a good start, who knows?

Most likely they will struggle to hit the heights of last season and battle for fourth because… That’s probably where this team is at. They were sublime last season, don’t get me wrong, but they overachieved and got pretty lucky with injuries for the most part. Vertonghen will be a big miss early in the season and with the perennial giants all spending big and bringing in talented managers, Spurs will find it tough to stay in the top four.

Best Possible XI

—– Lloris —–

— Walker — Alderweireld — Vertonghen — Rose —

—– Dembele —– Dier —–

—- Eriksen —- Alli —- Lamela —-

—— Kane ——

Transfers in: Victor Wanyama ($14.3 million, Southampton), Vincent Janssen ($22 million, AZ Alkmaar)

Transfers out: Alex Pritchard ($10.4 million, Norwich City), Grant Ward (Undisclosed, Ipswich Town), Charlie Hayford (Free, Sheffield Wednesday), Christopher Paul (Free, QPR), Emmanuel Sonupe, Armani Daly (Both released), Federico Fazio (Loan, AS Roma), Filip Lesniak (Loan, Slovan Liberec)

Last season: Their highest-ever finish of third in the PL was a sensational result for this young Spurs side. Up until the final weeks of the season they pushed Leicester City hard for the title but then fell away drastically once their title dreams were over. In the Europa League they lost in the Round of 16 to Borussia Dortmund, plus lost in last 16 of the FA Cup to Crystal Palace. Overall, though, a fine season as they easily sealed UCL qualification which was their aim.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 05: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur scores his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on March 5, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Star player: Harry Kane – He’s the man who puts the ball in the back of the net and the reigning PL golden boot winner will be their main man once again. Kane, 23, has scored 46 goals in his last 72 appearances in the PL for Spurs. He’s a goal-scoring machine who will be eager to make everyone forget about his woeful performances for England at EURO 2016 this summer.

Coach’s Corner: Pochettino has worked wonders to rebuild Spurs. When he arrived from Southampton two summers ago it took time to implement his style but now he’s had the squad he wants together for over 12 months, we are starting to see the benefits. The Argentine manager demands extreme work rate from his players but his methods get results. Leading Spurs into the UCL group stages is a superb achievement but he’ll want to make a splash in Europe and again in the PL this season.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 02: Mauricio Pochettino the manager of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on May 02, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

PST predicts: Spurs will challenge for a top four finish but expectancy plus UCL rigors may way heavy on the shoulders of their young squad. We may not see another title challenge but Pochettino’s side can expect to challenge for at least the top four and go far in the Champions League. It will be interesting to see how Kane, Alli, Dier and Co. cope with the disappointment of failure with England this summer. Will they have a EURO 2016 hangover?

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.

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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%

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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.