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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.

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

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Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

[READ: Pep: Domestic Treble harder than UCL]

Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

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Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.