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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Watford

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Yet another new man is in charge at Watford as Italian tactician Walter Mazzarri looks to take the Hornets to the next level.

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Watford survived comfortably last season after promotion and 2016-17 marks their first-ever back-to-back campaigns in the Premier League.

Former manager Quique Sanchez Flores had great success early in the season but that form petered out and led to his departure for Espanyol in the summer. With Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo up front, Watford have plenty of attacking threat as their pace and power dovetail lethally.

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The Pozzo family (they also own Udinese in Italy and Granada in Spain) have been criticized for appointing eight managers in the last five seasons at Watford but the club continues on an upwards curve and after spending over $35 million on new players this summer, the hope is to push into the top 10 of the PL. Mazzarri will have his work cut out to do that but the Hornets should be tough to break down, especially at home.

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Watford will get off to a flier and push for a top 10 finish because… They have invested heavily over the summer and are a bit of an unknown quantity with a new manager at the helm. Any teams who underestimates them will find Deeney and Ighalo breathing down their necks.

Most likely second-season syndrome will strike and it’ll be a relegation battle: Look at Watford’s first five games and it is brutal. They face Southampton, Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham and Manchester United. Ouch. If Mazzarri’s boys are struggling for points going into October, expect the Pozzo family to make a managerial move. History says that aren’t afraid to wield the axe.


Best Possible XI

—– Gomes —–

—- Kabasele —- Cathcart —- Britos —-

— Anya — Suarez — Watson — Capoue — Holebas —

—- Deeney —- Ighalo —-


Transfers in: Jerome Sinclair ($5.2 million, Liverpool), Issac Success ($16.3 million, Granada), Christian Kabasele ($7.5 million, Genk), Brice Dje Djede ($5.2 million, Marseille), Juan Camilo Zuniga (Loan, Napoli)

Transfers out: Jose Manuel Jurado (Undisclosed, Espanyol), Gabriele Angella (Undisclosed, Udinese), Daniel Pudil (Undisclosed, Sheffield Wednesday), Almen Abdi (Undisclosed, Sheffield Wednesday), George Byers (Free, Swansea City), Josh Doherty (Free, Leyton Orient), Jorell Johnson (Free, Hemel Hempstead Town), Bernand Mensah (Free, Aldershot Town), Luke Simpon (Free, York City), Alfie Young, Mahlondo Martin, Uche Ikpeazu, Joel Ekstrand (All released), Adalberto Penaranda (Loan, Udinese), Obbi Oulare (Loan, Zulte Waregem), Dennon Lewis (Loan, Woking), Steven Berghuis (Loan, Feyenoord)

Last season: The Hornets started off superbly and were in the top half of the table up until January time. Then the slide happened and former boss Flores had to battle to keep them away from the relegation zone in the closing weeks of the season after just four wins in 2016. Still, Watford were never really in danger of going down and they also reached the semifinal of the FA Cup where they narrowly lost to Crystal Palace. They were one of the real success stories of last season.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Troy Deeney of Watford during the pre season friendly match between Queens Park Rangers and Watford at Loftus Road on July 30, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
(Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Star player: Troy Deeney – He scored 13 goals in his first-ever season in the Premier League and Deeney is the heart and soul of this club. The captain has been with Watford for six seasons and alongside Ighalo they are a real handful for PL defenses. He can drop deep to hold up the ball and bring others into the game, plus he always seems to be at the right place at the right time in the box. A warrior.

Coach’s Corner: Mazzarri has been working his squad hard on the training ground and his lack of English could be hurtful but there’s no doubting his resume. The former Napoli and Inter Milan manager has experience in the UEFA Champions League and led Sampdoria to success in a two-year spell. Expect Watford to line up in a 3-5-2 formation  and like most Italian coaches, Mazzarri is known to be a stickler for defensive organization. With the players at his disposal, that philosophy will slot in nicely. Still, a tough task to push Watford into the top 10 but their fans would take another season of midtable.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Watford manager Walter Mazarri during the Pre-Season friendly match between Queens Park Rangers and Watford at Loftus Road on July 30, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
(Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

PST predicts: Watford have plenty of goals in them with Deeney and Ighalo and the rest of their squad should benefit from a years experience in the PL. The aim is to mirror the achievements of a Stoke City, Swansea or Southampton. First Watford must solidify their status as a PL club and then they can kick on. This season is hugely important but you get the sense that they could be struggling after being handed such a difficult start. Expect the Hornets to be hovering just about the relegation scrap and to potentially get dragged into it.

MLS Saturday wrap: Quakes keep firing; Toronto, SKC falter

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MLS doesn’t have too many days like Saturday, with four away teams collecting wins on a seven-match docket.

The surprise is lessened a bit by the identity of the losing hosts: struggling Vancouver, Colorado, and Sporting KC: Wow, that last one is taking some getting used to, isn’t it?).

[ MORE: Where will Bale go? ]

In a league where only two of 24 teams are above .500 on the road (DC United and LAFC), it’s still saying something about a hot weekend in these United States of America (and Canada).

Columbus Crew 2-1 Montreal Impact

The Crew’s early advantage looked like business as usual by halftime, as Caleb Porter’s struggling men conceded in stoppage time, but David Accam netted right after the break to give Columbus a much-needed three points.

Toronto FC 1-3 Houston Dynamo

TFC opened the door for New England or Orlando City to climb into the top seven by going into an early hole and failing to rally. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore came off the bench, the latter scoring, but the Reds did little on Alejandro Pozuelo’s day off and the Dynamo get a big road win to move without touching distance of a playoff position.

This is not adequate defense.

Philadelphia Union 2-0 Chicago Fire

Marco Fabian scored a beauty and Anthony Fontana also netted as the Union assured themselves another week atop the Eastern Conference. Chicago remains winless away from home.

Sporting KC 0-2 FC Dallas

What in the world is going on? SKC could not find the net with more than one of their 17 shot attempts, and fell five points back of a playoff spot. Worse, the hosts allowed sixth-place Dallas to move five points clear of them.

Colorado Rapids 1-2 New York City FC

It didn’t take long for youngster Sebastian Anderson to go from hero to goat, as the soon-to-be 17-year-old gave the Rapids a sixth minute lead before taking a red card 27 minutes later. Heber and Alexandru Mitrita scored late in each half to drive NYCFC’s dreams of the top spot in the East. The visitors are now seven points back of first, but have four matches-in-hand on Philadelphia.

Real Salt Lake 1-1 Minnesota United

Darwin Quintero and Marcelo Silva traded goals in a fair result.

Vancouver Whitecaps 1-3 San Jose Earthquakes

Make it three-straight wins for the Quakes, who rode Cali Clasico momentum and overcame an early Doneil Henry goal through Vako, Chris Wondolowski, and the in-form Magnus Eriksson.

Spurs’ Kane scores from midfield to beat Juve

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Harry Kane lobbed Wojciech Szczesny from nearly 50 yards to send Tottenham Hotspur past Juventus early Sunday morning.

Maybe he wanted to embarrass a former North London Derby rival, or perhaps he just wanted to avoid penalties.

The goal was made more remarkable by Kane’s blast radius including two men marking him near the Juve part of the center circle.

[ MORE: Where will Bale go? ]

It was an entertaining International Champions Cup match on Sunday morning, with goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Gianluigi Buffon plenty busy.

Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench to assist and impress for Spurs and Matthijs de Ligt making his Juve debut as a sub.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain scored for Juve, and the latter probably should’ve won it with a dragged shot in the 83rd minute.

Spurs goals came courtesy of Erik Lamela, who tapped in a rebound of a bullet shot from 17-year-old Ryan Parrott, and Moura.

The Brazilian was fed into the box by a sweet Ndombele pass moments after the new Spurs midfielder subbed into the match.

Here is Ronaldo’s goal.

Bale leaving Real Madrid; Where to?

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Gareth Bale is not going to play for Real Madrid this season. The jersey he will pull onto his body remains a mystery.

Real manager Zinedine Zidane said that “it’d be better” for the club and player if he was sold tomorrow, claiming it’s nothing personal but that Bale is simply not in his plans.

[ MORE: Watford chasing Sarr ]

Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett poured gasoline on those comments by blasting the French legend as “a disgrace,” saying the player and agent are “working on” an exit.

From Marca.com:

“Zidane is a disgrace,” Barnett told AFP. “He shows no respect for a player that has done so much for Real Madrid.”

Obviously it’s far from disgraceful for Zidane to publicly admit that a massive player and personality may no longer fit the bill, and Barnett’s harsh words are more than agent talk: He wants a higher fee than will come from Real saying, “He’s 10000000000% available.”

Barnett does represent Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw, and there are so many reasons to think the Welshman could move to Manchester United. A return to Spurs is obviously romantic, but the club’s wage structure would be a concern to deeming this a fit.

Bale wasn’t fantastic last season, posting eight goals and three assists in under 1800 La Liga minutes and adding three goals and two assists in under 500 Champions League minutes (In fact, he was the 14th ranked player in UCL advanced stats according to Who Scored).

He is not far removed from monster campaigns with Real, and it’s no surprise that his production would drop off in a world without Cristiano Ronaldo around him (and vice versa, to a lesser degree).

There are a lot of reasons to wonder whether Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy would consider what it takes to bring Bale to town. It would instantly and realistically elevate the discussion about whether Spurs could seriously rival Liverpool and Man City for a Premier League title while adding Champions League mettle as well.

The idea of Bale playing with Harry Kane the way he worked with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema is electric, though the prospective move took a hit by Zidane’s lack of love for Christian Eriksen.

Bayern Munich is another potential avenue for Bale, as is the Chinese Super League.

But we wonder if the 30-year-old would sign up for massive David Beckham wages at Inter Miami with a loan to a Champions League side for a season ahead of the Super Becks’ opening campaign in MLS. What better way to engender some fan interest amongst Floridians and Manchester United fans than a nice loan? We’re sure Zlatan brought some Red Devils’ eyes to LA, for what it’s worth. Spurs would work here, too, as would any side hopeful of expanding their American imprint.

Maybe Bale isn’t ready for that step. He’d surely prefer adding to his four Champions League titles and probably likes the idea of doing some bigger things for Wales, but there’s a lot of dough in America and really it’s not going to cost him his place with the Welsh side (though concerns about competition would be legit).

Russian fans clash with baton-wielding police at stadium

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian soccer fans have criticized what they consider heavy-handed policing after clashes at a league game.

Video footage posted online shows police in riot gear beating Spartak Moscow fans on the stadium concourse after a game Saturday with FC Rostov, including two who have fallen to the ground. Fans have alleged they were kept tightly packed in the corridor after the game and then attacked by police with batons.

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The Russian Football Union has told the Sport-Express newspaper that it is calling for an investigation and that “this kind of situation should not be repeated at stadiums.”

The Russian Premier League says in a statement that it is satisfied police acted correctly and accused Spartak fans of trying to free fellow supporters arrested earlier over allegations of throwing pyrotechnics.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports