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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: West Bromwich Albion

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The Baggies have forced themselves into the yearly top flight conversation, as they make their way towards their seventh consecutive season in England’s top flight, but could this be the year things go sour?

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Since promotion in 2008, West Brom have gone from perennial relegation candidates to mid-table contenders. However, yet still to take that next step towards a top-half finish, a poor finish to last campaign and a quiet transfer window has supporters worried headed into the 2016/17 season.

West Brom failed to record a single win in their final nine league games of the season headed into this summer, and the stretch run is often a relatively solid litmus test of what is to come.

[ MORE: Every PL season preview ]

The club has added Matt Phillips from QPR in the summer to replace the departed Stephane Sessegnon, but still have yet to find a reinforcement for Nigerian striker Victor Anichebe, and with Saido Berahino coming off a very poor season, the attacking ranks are quite thin. The club was ready to break its transfer record for Diafra Sakho, but the player had some fitness concerns and the deal was scrapped.

Chris Brunt, a Baggie since 2007, is coming off an ACL tear that left his chances of playing in Euro 2016 in tatters, and could be replaced by one of a host of different West Brom defenders in the squad.

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The Baggies will make a move up the table if…they grasp Pulis-ball to the fullest, play for their manager, and get a few attacking reinforcements. The squad as it stands is not relegation quality, but without another attacker and a focused Berahino, the strike unit is very underwhelming. If this team can figure out how to score goals to go along with the defensive work rate, the club will end up with more than a few impressive results.

More likely, however, they’ll be near the bottom again…Berahino still could be off. While the club usually leaves things to the end of the transfer window, the way things stand is somewhat worrisome. Nobody outside of Rondon hit double-digit goal tally last season across all competitions, and a right-back was their second-leading scorer. Goals are the key to success this season.


Best Possible XI

—– Myhill —–

— Dawson — McAuley — Evans — Chester —

—– Yacob —–

 —-Phillips —- Gardner —- Fletcher —- McLean —-

—— Rondon ——


Transfers In: Matt Phillips ($7m, Queens Park Rangers).

Transfers Out: Victor Anichebe (Free, Unattached), Anders Lindegaard (Free, Preston North End), Stephane Sessegnon (Free, Unattached).

Last Season: The Baggies did just enough last season to remain relatively obscure for most of the year. They hovered around the 12-15 position for almost the entire year, Tony Pulis‘s first full campaign with the club after saving them from relegation the last. Unfortunately, the nine-match winless run to end the year is most fresh on the supporters’ minds, and Pulis will need to put that to bed with a solid start to this new season to keep in the good graces of his bosses.

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND - JULY 30:  Saido Berahino of West Bromwich Albion in action during the pre-season friendly between Plymouth and West Bromwich Albion at Home Park on July 30, 2016 in Plymouth, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Star Player: Saido Berahino – Salomon Rondon was last year’s top goalscorer, but the brightest talent on the squad is the 21-year-old…or so we thought. After the club fought tooth and nail to keep him at the Hawthornes, fending off interest from plenty top-tier English clubs, Berahino rewarded them with a paltry four league goals last season, including just one after November. It was looking like he could be headed elsewhere should the club sign Sakho, but with that transfer off, they may not be able to afford selling Berahino, meaning they’ll need him to produce. He seemed disinterested for much of last season, and was a fringe player as a result. If he wants to return to the starting lineup, he’ll need to prove his intentions are pure, and the best way to do that is by putting the ball in the back of the net.

Coach’s Corner: Tony Pulis is known for his direct style of play, and it fits perfectly with the squad available to him at the Hawthornes. Pulis-ball will be back and bigger than ever this year, and they’ll need to deliver for their experienced boss if they have any hopes of staying in the league. Pulis is an expert in avoiding the drop, but not much else, having personally finished between 11th and 14th for eight consecutive seasons.

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND - JULY 30:  Tony Pulis, manager of West Bromwich Albion gestures during the pre-season friendly between Plymouth and West Bromwich Albion at Home Park on July 30, 2016 in Plymouth, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

PST Predicts: West Brom will find them outside the relegation zone, but only because there are even thinner squads out there. It’s going to be a struggle this year, with few attacking options outside the unsettled Berahino, but the squad has enough defensive experience and depth to make it through unscathed. Pulis just flat out doesn’t get relegated.

Court date for USWNT’s law suit versus U.S. Soccer delayed

USWNT equal pay
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A court case that has dragged U.S. Soccer’s administration through the mud and led to a change of leadership may drag into the summer.

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A judge in California has delayed the May 5 trial of gender discrimination against the USSF until June 16 due in part to the coronavirus pandemic. A pretrial conference was also moved to June 1.

The federation is being sued by members of the two-time reigning World Cup champion USWNT under the Equal Pay Act.

The women are requesting more than $66 million in damages.

The extra month gives both parties more time to reach a settlement which could keep this ugly case away from trial. Given the uncertainty in our world, it could of course be delayed again.

The USSF has a new CEO in Will Wilson, who can make a major statement of change by stopping the trial from reaching court.

Handicapping the Final Four of Premier League March Madness

Premier League March Madness
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Our Premier League March Madness results have been as topsy-turvy as the 2019/20 on-field campaign before coronavirus halted it last month.

Yes, the runaway No. 1 seed is alive, but the second, third, fourth, and fifth seeds have been expelled from the tournament within the first two rounds.

Voting in the semifinal round begins Thursday.

[ RESULTS: March Madness Round of 16 ]

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we handicap the semifinal matches, let’s take a look at where the field sits after your Wednesday voting.

No. 1 Liverpool v. No. 12 Everton
No. 6 Wolves v. No. 7 Sheffield United

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Look, all bets are off for the derby. The Everton faithful has shown up in a big way during voting, dispatching Manchester United and Chelsea.

That’s big time stuff, though Liverpool ended the dreams of our presumptive sleeping giant favorite Arsenal after beating West Ham in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Reds are going to have to not just been upstart Everton but overcome the legions of rival supporters who would happily click the Toffees’ box rather than see Liverpool gain the crown.

The other side of the bracket sees No. 7 Sheffield United looking to continue its surprising run in both the PL season and our voting.

The Blades knocked off Man City, potentially aided by the same phenomenon Everton hopes to see on Thursday.

Now they meet Wolves, who may be riding a crest of North American momentum in the form of affinity for El Tri hero Raul Jimenez.

Our prediction: Everton and Wolves in the Final.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Elite Eight

Premier League March Madness
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Everton continued its upset path toward in our Premier League March Madness voting, showing its sensational support and setting up a fantastic eMerseyside Derby in the Final Four.

Thousands of votes were cast Wednesday, and the Toffees upset isn’t even the top underdog story.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Chris Wilder’s Blades of Sheffield United won a back-and-forth affair with No. 2 seed Manchester City to move into the semifinals.

That’s where they’ll meet No. 6 seed Wolves, who powered past Leicester City as if it wasn’t a challenge.

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results in full
Wednesday: Elite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

IFAB: New handball rule can be adopted when games resume

Handball rule
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The International Football Association Board (IFAB) issued a letter from secretary Lukas Brud on Wednesday, outlining several changes to the game.

The “tee shirt line” handball rule may be coming to club football quicker than expected due to the coronavirus suspension of the 2019/20 season.

IFAB will allow leagues the choice to use the new handball rule when matches resume this season, also making changes to VAR protocol and vowing to review the offside rule.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The new handball rule states that the shoulder goes to the end of the shirt sleeve or the bottom of the armpit (though obviously not in the case of a long-sleeve jersey).

For the purposes of determining handball offences, the ‘arm’ stops at the bottom of the armpit

So… get ready for baggy, longer jersey sleeves, or the increased recruitment of players with the longest armpits.

Kidding aside, the handball rule desperately needed clarification and we’ll see if this gives enough to fans and players alike.

Referees will now be “expected” to go to the screen on the field when a call is subjective, forcing the official to either uphold or overrule his initial call.

This same post says IFAB will now allow accidental handballs in the run-up to a goal in certain situations.

“Accidental handball by an attacking player should only be penalized if it ‘immediately’ results in a goal or an obvious opportunity for the player and/or their team to score a goal (i.e. following the handball, the ball travels only a short distance and/or there are very few passes).”

Well, that needs some clarification.

Back to the timing issue for the new handball rule, it seems logical that leagues would want to introduce new laws with a new season but stand-by for the decision of your favorite league.

As for the offside rule, “The members agreed that the fundamental philosophy of offside is underpinned by a desire to encourage attacking football and the scoring of goals. It was further agreed, therefore, that Law 11 – Offside should be analyzed and reviewed with a view to potentially proposing changes reflecting this philosophy.”

It’s a lot to unpack, and we’ll surely here from proponents and opponents of the changes soon. As always, implementation will make the biggest difference in how these changes are received.