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Premier League 2017-18 preview – West Bromwich Albion

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West Brom is an interesting case. With Tony Pulis leading the way, the Baggies have not truly flirted with relegation since their 17th-place finish in 2014 that saw them finish just three points above the drop. But with finishes of 13th, 14th, and 10th since then, what exactly defines a successful season for the Baggies?

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Premier League obscurity is not a bad thing anymore. With the massive amounts of cash that come with a spot in the English top flight, a long stretch of bottom-half finishes could see the club amass money to eventually become a major player in the market. Clearly, West Brom is biding its time until the club can make a serious move, although the risky acquisition of Jay Rodriguez proves ambition. However, with teams constantly improving around them, the Baggies did little business this summer, which is worrying.

Best, worst case scenarios – The most Baggies fans can usually hope for is Premier League safety, but did last season’s 10th-placed finish change the expectations? Growth is always what any club hopes to achieve, whether it be short-term or long-term, and now fans will be looking for a top-half spot. The Baggies have just one other Premier League top-half finish ever, coming in 2012/13 just before the relegation scare. It would seem the best-case scenario would be for West Brom to match that achievement with hopes of long-term growth from there.

Worst-case would see this club relegated. There is no true star-power on the squad, and while Tony Pulis has a steady ship currently, it’s not hard to envision a few poor results spiraling things out of control.


Best possible XI is…

Foster

Dawson — Evans — McAuley — Nyom

Livermore — Yacob

Phillips — Morrison — Chadli

Rondon


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Jay Rodriguez (Southampton, $16 million), Ahmed Hegazy (Al Alhy, Loan).

Transfers Out: Craig Gardner (Birmingham, $2 million), Sebastian Pocognoli (Standard Liege, Free), Darren Fletcher (Stoke City, Free).

Last season: 

— 10th place in Premier League
— FA Cup 3rd Round (lost to Derby County)
— League Cup 2nd Round (lost to Northampton Town)

Star Player: Matt Phillips — With Nacer Chadli struggling for consistency on a team that utilizes the flanks, Matt Phillips is the engine to the machine. With nine assists last season to lead the team in his first season with the Baggies, Phillips is a critical part of a team that doesn’t attack a whole lot.

Unfortunatley, Phillips tweaked his hamstring in preseason, and according to manager Tony Pulis, it could be related to repeated back problems the 26-year-old struggles with. If those two problems keep him out for any significant amount of time, West Brom will have to lean on Chadli, who flashes brilliance at times but also tends to disappear quite often. That was evident last season when he made 31 Premier League appearances, but only completed the full 90 minutes 10 times. This team needs Phillips.

Coach’s Corner: Tony Pulis — Pulis has provided a steady presence wherever he goes. He locks teams down, turns them into a disciplined machine, and grinds out results. West Brom sorely needed his presence when he arrived, and now growth seems attainable. The 59-year-old doesn’t bring an exciting style of play, but occasionally the excitement arrives in the surprising results. Last season, the Baggies took care of business against teams below them and upset Arsenal down the stretch.

PST Predicts: The key this season is to stay healthy and avoiding long stretches of failure. If Phillips is indeed injured for a while, there’s not much depth for the Baggies to fall back on. Most worrying is the nine-match winless run to finish the season last year, which featured seven losses. Often, that can be a harbinger of how things will go the following campaign, especially considering the squad hardly turned over this summer. It would be great to see Tony Pulis take this team into the top half two years in a row, but more likely they will end up looking over their shoulders in 14th.

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.