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Premier League 2017-18 preview – Newcastle United

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Newcastle’s not your typical newly promoted side.

After bouncing straight back from relegation and returning to the Premier League, where they spent have spent every season except two since the league’s inauguration in 1992. Both times Newcastle were relegated, they won the Championship and came straight back up.

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This time, they have as experienced a manager as a newly promoted side can have along for the ride. Newcastle proved strong in their bid to keep Rafa Benitez after relegation, and he delivered on his promise to get them back to the top flight. Now, staying there will be another battle altogether.

Best, worst case scenarios – Best-case scenario is that Newcastle returns to its former pedigree as a perennial top-half finisher. That’s not out of the question at all, considering they have a strong side that pulverized the Championship at times. Newcastle can break down any defense, with attacking talent that could surprise the Premier League with its quality.

Worst-case, this team flops hard and battles relegation again. The Magpies’ biggest weakness is facing a team like them, that possesses the ball and storms forward. They lost twice to Fulham last season in Championship play, a team most comparable to Newcastle’s style at that level. Should teams look to replicate this strategy, Benitez would be powerless as he watches his team pinned back and unable to push forward. This team isn’t vastly changed from when they were relegated, and that could prove a major downfall.


Best possible XI is…

Elliott

Yedlin — Lascelles — Lejeune — Dummett

Shelvey — Diame

Ritchie — Perez — Murphy

Gayle


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Jacob Murphy (Norwich City, $13.3 million), Florian Lejeune (Eibar, $11.7 million), Christian Atsu ($9 million), Javier Manquillo (Atletico Madrid, $5.9 million), Mikel Merino (Borussia Dortmund, Loan).

Transfers Out: Florian Thauvin (Marseille, $12.9 million), Daryl Murphy (Nottingham Forest, $2.7 million), Sammy Ameobi (Bolton, Free), Vurnon Anita (Leeds United, Free), Haris Vuckic (FC Twente, Free), Yoan Gouffran (Goztepe, Free).

Last season:

— 1st Place finish in Championship (Automatic promotion)
— FA Cup 4th Round (Lost to Oxford United)
— League Cup quarterfinals (Lost to Hull City)

Star player: Ayoze Perez — If asked for most important player, I probably would have gone with one of the two central defenders, who anchor this club. Florian Lejeune is a quality addition and will strengthen this defense considerably. However, it’s “star” player and that is without a doubt playmaker Ayoze Perez. The 22-year-old Spaniard can both create and score, and he racked up 12 goals and 7 assists last season in the Championship despite playing 1,400 less minutes than leading creators Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey. Perez will be a critical part of this Newcastle squad, and he’ll need to blossom this time around after misfiring in his first go at the Premier League campaign the Magpies’ relegation season.

Coaches’ Corner: Rafa Benitez is as experienced as they come for newly promoted sides. He is the only manager in history to have won the Champions League, Europa League, Club World Cup, and Super Cup titles, and he has Newcastle in good hands. While he fell from grace at Napoli and Real Madrid, taking charge of Newcastle is a completely different animal, and he passed the Championship meat grinder with flying colors. Back in the Premier League for a full season for the first time since 2010, Benitez has a quality squad to work with as Newcastle looks to continue its slow build back up.

PST predicts: This is a very deep team, which will be of utmost importance when the injuries inevitably hit. The attacking trio of Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Perez, and new signing Jacob Murphy have plenty of support in Christian Atsu, Siem De Jong, Henri Saivet (should he stay). In addition, the midfield is strengthened by Borussia Dortmund loanee Mikel Marino and Jack Colback. The quality in depth coupled with Rafa Benitez’s guiding means this squad should be comfortably in the Premier League, with a safe bottom-half finish. The only slip could be if the players who failed to keep the club afloat last time perform below standards a second time.

Minnesota United host special guests for Aston Villa friendly

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Thousands of Minnesotans and others from the Midwest will flock to St. Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday to see Minnesota United take on Aston Villa. But one group of soccer players and staff in attendance will have traveled from thousands of miles away to enjoy the match.

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Minnesota United is hosting the Girls Under-15 team from the LEAD Monrovia Football Academy in Monrovia, Liberia while the team plays in the USA Cup. While the team of 14 players and three staff members are hosted in Minnesota, they’ll also be watching the Aston Villa game from Allianz Field.

“As a club, we’re always looking for ways to connect with our diverse community through the world’s game,” Minnesota United CEO Chris Wright said in a statement. “Our ownership group has worked tirelessly with LEAD Africa to make this trip possible for these girls and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome them to Minnesota. We know it will mean a lot to the more than 35,000 Liberians living here in the Twin Cities and to Liberia’s president, soccer legend George Weah.”

This week, the U-15 team got to attend Minnesota United training and had some fun with Designated Player Darwin Quintero.

The USA Cup is taking place this week in the Twin Cities, with other clubs from all over the world jetting in to play in the tournament. In addition, the organization LEAD Africa, of which the Monrovia Academy is under the umbrella of, is a group that works to empower the future of Africa through sports and education.

For Aston Villa, Wednesday’s match represents the beginning of a season back in the Premier League, and the chance to test themselves against decent opposition. It’s a quick trip to the U.S. for Aston Villa, which finishes up preseason back in England before one last game in Germany at RB Leipzig.

Premier League Friendly Roundup: Leicester, Norwich in action

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Ayoze Perez got off to a great start for his new club on Tuesday, as Leicester topped Scunthorpe United, 1-0.

Perez, who arrived earlier this month from Newcastle in a $38 million transfer, scored on a first-time strike in the box that proved to be the difference in the game.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brendan Rodgers side got a chance to get minutes for plenty of first-team regulars. Johnny Evans, Jamie Vardy, Perez and Youri Tielemans all started. Wes Morgan, new signing James Justin, Rachid Ghezzal all came off the bench.

An interesting note was that Harry Maguire, the target of serious transfer interest from Manchester United, came off the bench at halftime and played the second half of the game. According to the latest reports, Man United and Leicester City are still very far apart regarding a transfer fee, so Maguire looks set to remain for the time being.

Elsewhere, Norwich City continued its preseason tour of Germany with a friendly match held behind closed doors. Norwich beat Bonner SC, 4-1, with goals from Adam Idah, Onel Hernandez and Teemu Pukki.

UCL Roundup: Red Star, The New Saints (Wales) advance to second round

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Second legs are underway in the UEFA Champions League first qualification round, and both Red Star Belgrade and The New Saints from Wales are through to the second round.

Here’s a short roundup of UCL action on Tuesday:


Red Star Belgrade 2-1 Sudova (2-1 on Aggregate)

The Serbian giants advance to the next round with a big 2-1 win over Lithuanian Champions Sudova. Richmond Boakye and former Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin both scored in the first half. Red Star Belgrade was set to keep a clean sheet but Sudova scored late.

With the win, Red Star Belgrade moves on to face HJK Helsinki in Finland in the second round.


The New Saints 1-0 Feronikeli (3-2 on aggregate)

Welsh Premier League side The New Saints defeated Kosovan club Feronikeli, 1-0, thanks to a goal from Irish forward Dean Ebbe. Ebbe came off the bench and headed home a lofted ball into the box.

Feronikeli had chances to take the lead early, including twice in the first ten minutes, but blasted shots in the box well over the wall.

UEFA Champions League Second Leg Results

Shkendija 1 – 2 Nõmme Kalju 
Saburtalo 1 – 3 FC Sheriff
Valletta 1 – 1 F91 Dudelange
HB 2 – 2 HJK 

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

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In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.