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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.

Red-hot Rebić scores again as AC Milan tops Torino

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MILAN (AP) Ante Rebić kept up his scoring form to lead AC Milan to a 1-0 win over struggling Torino in Serie A on Monday.

The Croatia international beat his marker to redirect a cross from the center of the area midway through the first half at the San Siro.

The score raised Rebić’s tally to six goals and an assist in eight matches since he earned his starting spot – a move that coincided with Zlatan Ibrahimović’s return to the Rossoneri.

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Bouncing back from a derby loss, Milan moved up to eighth and just beyond the Europa League places. The seven-time European champion is hoping to return to continental competition after voluntary withdrawing from this season’s Europa League to pay for UEFA financial fair play breaches.

Torino, meanwhile, lost its fifth straight, with new coach Moreno Longo still unable to turn things around in his second match in charge.

Ibrahimović narrowly missed a curling shot shortly after the break.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Simeone: Liverpool intensity “makes me admire it as a rival”

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The UEFA Champions League returns at long last on Tuesday, and two of the greatest managers in the game will match wits for the first time.

No we’re not talking about Lucien Favre and Thomas Tuchel, the meeting of the minds in Tuesday’s other kickoff between Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain in Germany.

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Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp will go head-to-head with Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone in Spain, and the fiery German thinks it will be “absolutely interesting.”

From The Liverpool Echo:

“People say I emotional on the sideline,” Klopp said. “I am only on level 4, Diego is level 12. Really I am the kindergarten cop against him. He is so impressive after all these years, after so many years at the club – eight years. That is really long and having still this emotional level, still, wow. So impressive. I say, his teams are always organized world class.”

The admiration is mutual.

Simeone expects a huge challenge from a Liverpool team he regards on a historic plane.

“We are facing a magnificent team, really well-trained by a coach who is different and has different alternatives in his team,” he said, via The Independent. “We have always spoken about great teams throughout time and I have no doubt this Liverpool is going to go down in history as a great team because it is different to teams that we have admired. This team is much more intense, more adaptable, and it makes me admire it as a rival.”

The bettors say Liverpool is the heavy favorite in the first leg despite the match’s location at the Wanda Metropolitano. With football geniuses like Klopp and Simeone, however, either could have a plan to throw the other for a loop.

CONCACAF Champions League preview: Five MLS sides eye history

CONCACAF Champions League preview
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Once the Premier League and La Liga had taken their final bows of the day on Saturday, there felt was a particular absence, one soon-to-be filled by domestic soccer.

Yes, MLS is coming soon, and the CONCACAF Champions League is even closer.

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Five MLS sides begin their Round of 16 ties over the next three evenings, some with easier paths than others to elusive CCL glory.

The competition may not have burned itself onto the mainstream, lagging behind continental competitions in Europe and South America, but those who’ve embraced it (hint: this guy) love the thing.

For all the progress Major League Soccer has made in its quarter-century, it’s yet to find much success in dealing with Liga MX powers in the fight to qualify for the Club World Cup.

MLS sides have not won the competition since it was rebranded the CCL. Only three MLS sides have made the CCL final this decade, with Real Salt Lake (2011), Montreal Impact (2015), and Toronto FC (2017) all coming up short at the last step.

The CCL provides everything you love and hate about World Cup qualifying, and those dicey pitches with sometimes worse lighting mean the favorites aren’t guaranteed much.

The top half of the bracket sees three MLS teams — Montreal, Seattle, and NYCFC — and just one Liga MX side, while the bottom half gives us a Liga MX v. MLS match-up straight away.

That’s Leon v. LAFC, and it begins Tuesday night in Mexico. That tie carries the added intrigue of MLS superstar Carlos Vela bringing his act back to his home country for the first time… ever.

Bracket

Saprissa (Costa Rica) v. Montreal — 8 p.m. ET Weds.
Olimpia (Honduras) v. Seattle — 10 p.m. ET Thurs.

San Carlos (Costa Rica) v. NYCFC — 8 p.m. ET Thurs.
Alianza (El Salvador) v. UANL Tigres — 8 p.m. ET Weds.

Leon v. LAFC — 10 p.m. ET Tues.
Portmore United (Jamaica) v. Cruz Azul — 8 p.m. ET Tues.

Comunicaciones (Guatemala) v. Club America — 10 p.m. ET Weds.
Montagua (Honduras) v. Atlanta United — 10 p.m. ET Tues.

The 2 Robbies podcast: VAR carnage at Stamford Bridge

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle dissect a crazy game at Stamford Bridge that saw Chelsea on the wrong side of several VAR decisions (00:45).

The gents also recap the big moments from the weekend; Liverpool beat Norwich (18:30), Son’s late winner against Aston Villa (24:45) and Arteta‘s attackers thrash Newcastle United (30:15).

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To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

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