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Can Leicester City repeat as Premier League champs? Why they will, and why they won’t

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Leicester City shocked the world by winning they Premier League title.

Now, with Claudio Ranieri back on a new contract, Jamie Vardy committing himself to another campaign, and Riyad Mahrez sticking around for now as well, the Foxes for the most part are back for another swing at history.

[ RELATED: Claudio Ranieri signs new four-year contract at Leicester ]

This time around,unlike last season when the Foxes climbed previously unattainable heights, the world will be watching and waiting to see if they will build on their historic campaign, or if they will slip back into the depths from whence they came.

It’s an impossible one to call. On the one hand, lightning never strikes twice. On the other hand, we’ve seen the chaos caused by doubting this squad. So let’s look at both sides of the coin.

Why Leicester City will return to the top of the table

Let’s be honest, repeating as champions for anybody is nearly impossible. With that in mind, here’s why they not only could qualify for the Champions League once again, but maybe even defend their title.

1) The squad is nearly identical: The loss of N'Golo Kante (arguably the side’s MVP) aside, Leicester City kept all its important components. Striker Jamie Vardy and winger Riyad Mahrez are back and ready to go, barring a last-minute Arsenal approach for Mahrez. Danny Drinkwater remains in midfield. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel‘s return was never in doubt, and the club even got him some competition. Defender Wes Morgan signed a new deal, Robert Huth soldiers on, and the quartet of wing-backs are all in place. Consistency is key, and the Foxes managed that this summer.

2) Every hole was filled in the transfer market: With Kante’s departure and the addition of another competition to face, Leicester City had plenty of work to do this summer, and they did it. They filled Kante’s place with Nice midfielder Nampalys Mendy. It remains to be seen if he can fill Kante’s enormous shoes, but the box is checked for now. Ahmed Musa will partner with Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa to navigate multiple competitions. Luis Hernandez will help with an aging defense. Ron-Robert Zieler gives Schmeichel some legitimate competition for his starting place. Finally, young Bartosz Kapustka will add a jolt to the attacking force. Ranieri did wonderfully to capture a variety of additions, now they need to repay his trust with production.

3) Doubting this team has proven futile: Nobody believed they were for real during much of last season, and here we are, asking if they’ll defend as champions. Why would that be any different this time around? It’s hard to win the title and remain underdogs, but that’s what Leicester City is up against. Continue to doubt this team at your own peril.

Why Leicester City will falter

This team has done it all, yet people still question their abilities. With an even bigger challenge than last year set before them, it’s possible this team was a one-hit wonder. A number of obstacles lie in front of them, pushing them down the Premier League table.

1) Fixture congestion will exhaust this squad: With each transfer brought in, the squad has been bolstered, and yet it remains thin for the coming storm. Last season, with a third round FA Cup and a fourth round League Cup exit, that left the Foxes with just a single competition to focus on from January on. This year, those results won’t be acceptable, and with the addition of Champions League play, this squad will be stretched to the brink. Huth, Morgan, Fuchs, and many of the strikers are on the wrong side of 30, and the weight is all on Ranieri’s shoulders to rotate smartly but not excessively.

2) There is precedent: The only time in recent memory a “smaller” club won the English top flight was Blackburn in 1995, and they shot straight down the table, finding themselves in turmoil for the next three years until relegation in 1999. Capturing lightning in a bottle is one thing, but putting that lightning to long-term use is a whole other animal, and Blackburn is a prime example of the difference between the two.

3) Their preseason has been rocky: The brightest spot of Leicester’s preseason warmup was the Community Shield against Manchester United this past Sunday, where they hung with this year’s title favorites most of the way but fell at the buzzer. Other results haven’t been so pretty. They drew with Celtic 1-1, were trounced by Paris Saint-Germain 4-0, and fell to Barcelona 4-2. The defense, their strength last season and a unit Ranieri relied on when things weren’t clicking up top, has looked shaky. If that continues to be the case, things could potentially go downhill fast.

Burning Question: Who is the best player in North America right now?

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It’s a question many have tried to answer recently, and now it’s ProSoccerTalk’s chance to give the verdict of their own: Who is the best player in North America at the moment.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Knowing the loyalty of the devout Liga MX fan, the following statement may make a few onlookers cringe, or become enraged: Carlos Vela is currently the best player in North America. Period.

Truthfully, it shouldn’t take more than 15 seconds to generate such an answer. The question should instead be: What player comes at a touching distance from 31-year-old Vela?

Carlos Vela has been on a legendary streak since arriving in Los Angeles from San Sebastian, scoring for fun. Literally, scoring for fun – when he wants, how he wants: long or short range chips, stunning volleys, headers, from the spot, 30-yard runs leading to gentle tap-ins, free kicks, you name it. In numbers, it reads more like a humble 57 goals in 71 appearances.

That’s a healthy goal-per-game-ratio.

And to be clear, goalscorers aren’t the only type of players that qualify for the sweepstakes – supreme talent doesn’t discriminate. But in this case it just happens to be that an inverted winger, with a penchant for goal, happens to outdo not only every player in MLS, but in every other North American top-flight contest, including Liga MX.

And perhaps scoring goals isn’t his ultimate quality – Vela’s dynamism, agility and tenacity are at the core of his magic. There’s a reason why he’s considered the most talented Mexican player of his generation.

Still tough to accept? Ask yourself this: Who was the last player in North America that Josep Maria Bartomeu and Barcelona went after?

You guessed right – Vela. The Spanish giants know a thing or two about scouting elite talent, don’t they?

Transfer news: Kane to Real Madrid, Alexis Sanchez to West Ham

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The latest transfer news continues across the Premier League and here’s a look at some of the juiciest rumors.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

According to Sport, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has his sights set on signing Tottenham striker Harry Kane this summer.

With Luka Jovic failing to impress at the Santiago Bernabeu, Los Blancos are set to make some moves to consolidate the presence up top. Kane, 26, and Wolves striker Raul Jimenez are some of the few names to have been mentioned thus far.

Kane, who has a running contract with Spurs until 2024, recently mentioned that he wouldn’t rule out a move out of north London, if Tottenham were unable to capitalize on winning silverware.

“I’m an ambitious player, I want to improve, I want to get better, I want to become one of the top, top players,” Kane said earlier this month. “It all depends on what happens as a team and how we progress as a team. So it’s not a definite I’m going to stay there forever – but it’s not a no either.”

As far as transfers go, nothing gets bigger and more “ambitious” than a summer blockbuster move to Real Madrid. Kane has a promising project spearheaded by Jose Mourinho himself at his boyhood club, but the opportunity to represent Real Madrid – at such a prime age, with an astronomical amount of hype – may only come around once.

Alexis Sanchez’s time at Inter Milan is coming to a close, and his next destination may be a Premier League team not named Manchester United, according to FC Inter News.

The 31-year-old Chilean’s agent, Fernando Felicevich, has reportedly been inquired by West Ham, who are considering placing a bid to lure the winger out of Old Trafford.

Sanchez arrived at Inter last summer on loan but has failed to impress when healthy, recording a mere goal and three assist in 15 appearances this season. With the possibilities of Sanchez remaining at Manchester United past the summer getting slimmer by the day, the Hammers are hoping to land the South American at a reduced price.

Sanchez, one of United’s highest earners, is reportedly also gathering interest from other unnamed Premier League and Bundesliga sides.

Belarusian Premier League roundup: FC Energetik-BGU edge FC Minsk, moves to top of league

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

FC Energetik-BGU 2-0 FC Minsk 

FC Energetik-BGU are the new leaders of the Belarusian Premier League, following a 2-0 victory over FC Minsk, who were atop of the table prior to Sunday’s bout.

Aleksey Nosko broke the deadlock in the 21st minute, while winger Jasurbek Yakhshiboev sealed the victory for the hosts in stoppage time.

With the victory, Energetik-BGU are the only unbeaten team in the league after three matchweeks, winning all three matches. The positive spell began with a 3-1 against Belarus giants BATE Boristov. Since, Energetik-BGU have scored three goals, while managing to concede none.

Slutsk, who also featured on Sunday, moved up to second on the table following a hard-earned 3-2 victory over Isloch, which saw them play the final minutes of the match with 10 players.

Elsewhere in Belarusian Premier League 

Smolevichi-STI 0-0 Vitebsk

Isloch 2-3 Slutsk

Spanish players criticize league’s call for furloughs

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MADRID (AP) Soccer players in Spain on Sunday criticized the Spanish league’s decision to ask clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs during the coronavirus crisis.

The league on Friday said the furloughs were needed because there was no agreement on the size of the salary cuts players must take to reduce the financial impact of the pandemic.

“It is strange that the Liga supports (the furloughs),” Spain’s players’ association said in a statement.

It said the league should have created a financial cushion for this period considering it always boasted about its “economic control measures” and the “well-balanced economy” of the Spanish clubs. The association said it also should be taken into account that the league has been temporarily suspended and not yet canceled.

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 said they agree with a salary reduction to help the clubs during the crisis, but not to the extent the league wants, which could amount to nearly half of the total losses if the competition is not resumed.

Players said they want to keep negotiating directly with the clubs instead of being forced into furloughs.

“The clubs and the players have been reaching agreements regarding the salaries,” the players’ association said. “What footballers are not going to do is relinquish labor rights.”

Barcelona and Atlético Madrid are among the Spanish clubs requesting furloughs, but both directly negotiated the amount of the salary reduction with players — 70% in both cases. Both clubs and their players are contributing to guarantee the wages of non-playing employees being furloughed.

The government furloughs help reduce the clubs’ labor costs while also guaranteeing players their jobs once the crisis is over.

Spain has more than 130,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nearly 12,500 deaths. The nation is expected to remain in a lockdown until April 26.

There is no timetable for the return of the Spanish league.

Players maintained their position to only resume competing when health authorities deem it safe for everyone’s heath, a view also shared by the Spanish league.

The league has suggested it will recommend teams start mini-camp while the lockdown is still in place, if it’s possible to do so within the restrictions imposed by authorities.

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