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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: West Ham United

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West Ham are on a slow build, and things seem to be progressing as planned.

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With Slaven Bilic at the helm, the Hammers secured European play last season, and despite a relative lack of flashiness behind superstar Dimitri Payet, a deep squad should help push them towards a repeat of that this campaign. It won’t be easy, with struggling historical powers like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United improving behind them, but the Hammers have a solid squad with which to compete.

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Unfortunately, with the Europa League having already begun, the Hammers have been big players in the transfer market, but have had little success. Injuries to key players like Aaron Cresswell and Manuel Lanzini have caused them problems early on, with the former out for months and nobody in to replace him. Sam Byram has deputized in the early going, but the Hammers have had multiple bids for multiple left-backs rejected or otherwise failed. Just Friday, a deal for Davide Santon looked complete until he failed his medical. They need a right-back as well, with Carl Jenkinson back at Arsenal and a winger in Michail Antonio currently filling in.

Lanzini has been easier to replace, with Enner Valencia stepping into the squad opposite Sofian Feghouli, who’s had a fantastic preseason and Europa League showing. Still, outside of Feghouli’s free transfer and the purchase of Lanzini on a permanent basis after last year’s loan, there has been less activity than expected at the Olympic Stadium, given the amount of rumors West Ham has been mentioned alongside.

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West Ham could slip if…they fail to find a steady replacement for both wing-back positions, fixture congestion in the Europa League strikes, and Payet regresses. Last season, Southampton found themselves out of the Europa League in the playoff stage, with the Premier League season barely having begun. If West Ham should do the same, it might help them more than it hurts them, as with the Saints last year. Making the Europa League group stage could prove a bigger distraction than it’s worth.

More than likely, they’ll repeat last year’s performance…Dimitri Payet is a wonderful player, and they may only have him one more season. Around him, the Hammers have a very deep, if not flashy, squad, and should be able to handle the Europa League’s additional fixtures. They can produce a result on any given day in league play, and that should carry them far.


Best Possible XI

—– Adrian —–

— Antonio — Nordtveit — Reid — Cresswell —

—– Kouyate —– Noble —–

 —-Feghouli —- Lanzini —- Payet —-

—— Carroll ——


Transfers In: Manuel Lanzini ($13m, Al-Jazira), Sofiane Feghouli (Free, Valencia), Gokhan Tore (Loan, Besiktas), Ashley Fletcher (Free, Manchester United),  Havard Nordtveit (Free, Borussia Monchengladbach).

Transfers Out:  James Tomkins ($12.5m, Crystal Palace), Joey O'Brien (Free, Unattached), Elliott Lee (Free, Barnsley),

Last Season: West Ham rode Bilic and Payet to a seventh place finish. They could have made the Champions League had things gone their way in the FA Cup final, but without the stroke of luck they needed, the Hammers still reached the Europa League for the second straight time. They were steady as a rock all year long, not once losing two matches in a row until the final two games of the campaign, which themselves halted an 11-match unbeaten run.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 02:  Dimitri Payet of West Ham United celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at the Boleyn Ground on April 2, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Star Player: Dimitri Payet – The Frenchman used an explosive season to vault himself towards the Euro 2016 finals, and didn’t disappoint in his home country. Back from his post-Euro rest, Payet is ready to repeat the glitz and glamour he displayed in his first campaign in Claret and Blue. Where Payet goes, West Ham goes too; should he suffer a Premier League sophomore slump, there is no chance West Ham can achieve a finish similar to last season.

Coach’s Corner: Slaven Bilic burst onto the scene last season with the Hammers, and solidified himself as a neutral fan’s favorite character with gleaming reviews of his on-camera time during Euro 2016. Bilic pushed all the right buttons off the field last year, but more importantly, he moved the chess pieces to perfection on the pitch. Last year, Bilic boasted wins over Arsenal, Liverpool twice, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Manchester United. He deployed a 4-2-3-1 attacking system that still maintains defensive solidity, a type of double-edged sword even the best managers would salivate over. Look for more of the same.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 10:  Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United points during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground on May 10, 2016 in London, England. West Ham United are playing their last ever home match at the Boleyn Ground after their 112 year stay at the stadium. The Hammers will move to the Olympic Stadium for the 2016-17 season.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

PST Predicts: Speaking of more of the same, West Ham should pull another top tier finish, likely in the seventh position again. Unfortunately, while the Hammers have a solid squad and top manager, teams around them got significantly better this summer while the Hammers treaded water. Due to this, it’s possible that they fall out of a Europa League position next season, but don’t expect too hard a fall. 7-10 should be the expectation, while anything more would be a bonus.

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

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

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).