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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.

Belarusian Premier League roundup: BATE Borisov pick up win, end early-season drought

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The Belarusian Premier League – the only active European top-flight league at the moment – continued on Saturday despite the coronavirus pandemic.

FC Rukh 0-1 BATE Borisov

With an early goal from midfielder Stanislav Dragun, BATE Borisov, Belarus’ most successful team (15 league titles) and a regular face in European competition, earned their first win of the season. Kirill Alshevsky, who took over at the helm prior to the season, had started his spell on a two-game losing streak.

BATE, despite not winning the possession battle decisively, generated twice as many shots on target as the visitors, registering a total of 11 shots throughout 90 minutes at Borisov Arena.

A winner of 13 straight Belarusian Premier League titles – spanning from 2006 to 2018 – pressure began looming over BATE after starting the 2020 campaign with back-to-back lackluster results. BATE, who lost to Arsenal in Europa League’s Round of 32 in April 2019, were outscored 5-2 in the first, two games of the league.

Dinamo Minsk, the second most successful Belarusian side, also picked up their first three points on Friday, following a slower-than-usual start to the season. Meanwhile, defending champion Dinamo Brest fell 2-1 to Slavia-Mozyr, dropping to eighth on the table.

Elsewhere in Belarusian Premier League 

Shakhtyor 0-0 Nerman

Dinamo Brest 1-2 Slavia-Mozyr

NWSL extends league-wide training moratorium through May

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The NWSL is extending its league-wide training moratorium another month amid the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced on Saturday.

All NWSL teams will be unable to partake in team trainings until at least May 5, extending its previous training moratorium that was set to expire on Sunday, April 5. The 2020 season – which was set to start on April 18 – is expected to start by the end of June, according to NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird.

“We’ve been just communicating with our players and we’re targeting for the end of June for our season to start,” Baird told The Equalizer. “I say that with conviction and hope, but … we’re gonna adhere to the public health guidelines that are in place at the time and I don’t think that we can predict what they are. But our strategy is in place.”

Earlier this week, Major League Soccer and United Soccer League extended their training moratorium through April 24 and April 19, respectively.

Report: England manager Gareth Southgate agrees to 30 percent pay cut

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England manager Gareth Southgate has agreed to a 30 percent pay cut amid the coronavirus pandemic, our partners at Sky Sports reported on Saturday.

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Southgate’s move, which is reportedly expected to be confirmed by the Football Association (FA) next week, comes hours after the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) released a statement on behalf of the Premier League players responding to proposed pay cuts.

A FA spokesperson told Sky Sports the following: “The financial implications of the coronavirus are not yet known however, as a not-for-profit organization, we want to ensure that we take the appropriate course of action to support the wider organization and our employees.

“We will make a further announcement on our next steps in due course.”

On Friday, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe – and a handful of technical staff personnel – became the first Premier League manager to take a voluntary pay cut. Howe’s “significant, voluntary” pay cuts were done in light of the club furloughing non-playing employees throughout the organization, joining Tottenham, Norwich, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Spanish league and players still far apart on salary cuts

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish league and players are still far apart on the size of the salary cuts they need to take to help reduce the financial impact caused by the coronavirus outbreak, with the footballers saying the organization wants them to carry nearly half the total losses.

The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.

The players have said they are willing to reduce their salaries, but not as much as the league or the clubs want.

“After analyzing the current circumstances of the sector and given the distance in conversations with the players’ association, it is necessary to adopt measures in view of the serious economic crisis that COVID-19 is causing in the Spanish soccer industry,” the league said in a statement.

It also added that government furloughs are “an exceptional mechanism to avoid and mitigate the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector, and thus guarantee its subsequent recovery.”

According to media reports, the league expects losses of 957 million euros ($1.03 billion) if the season is canceled, with 303 million euros ($327 million) lost if it resumes with games in empty stadiums and 156 million euros ($168 million) of deficits if it continues with fans.

The players said the total cuts in salaries requested by the league would account for 451 million euros ($487 million) if the top flight cannot restart.

The reduction in salaries being discussed reportedly varies depending on the clubs, and also on whether they are playing in the Champions League or the Europa League.

Team captains met with the players’ association late Friday to discuss their options after the league earlier in the day called for all clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs to reduce labor costs while the stoppage of play continued. The furloughs help the clubs and guarantee players their jobs once the crisis is over.

The league said it is responsible for preserving an industry that represents 1.37 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and employs about 185,000 people.

Atlético Madrid and Barcelona were among the clubs to resort to the furloughs in recent days. Both reached an agreement with players to reduce their salaries by 70 percent, and guaranteed the wages of other employees were unaffected.

There are nearly 125,000 cases of the new coronavirus in Spain, which on Saturday surpassed Italy as the country with the second-most infections behind the United States. The death toll in the nation stands at 11,744.

The government is expected to extend lockdown measures until April 26, likely keeping the Spanish league suspended until then.

The league has said the season won’t resume until authorities deem it safe for everyone’s health. It said it will recommend a “minimum of 15 days” of practice before the games can restart, though it suggested recently the training period may begin with restrictions before the lockdown is removed.

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