Top 10 Premier League storylines

1 Comment

Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for since Manchester City hoisted the Premier League trophy nearly three months ago.

With the Citizens projected favorites to top England again in 2018-19, 19 other clubs will be gunning for Pep Guardiola‘s side.

Will the Manchester giants be able to sustain their brilliance from a season ago? How will some of the other big clubs’ spending cut into the Citizens’ success?

It’s time at Pro Soccer Talk to take a look at 10 of the most pressing storylines heading into the new season, which kicks off on Friday.

WATCH LIVE: Transfer Deadline Day show, August 9 at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com 


1. Is Man City possibly better than last season?

Guardiola and Co. set so many records in 2017-18 it’s honestly hard to keep track of their brilliance. With a squad that already features world-class talents in Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero, what did the Spanish manager decide to do this year? The club added another one of the PL’s top attackers in Riyad Mahrez, which provides the team with a further embarrassment of riches up front.

It’s a tremendous dilemma to have, but how Guardiola manages to fit Aguero, Mahrez, Sane, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and others into regular lineups will likely determine how the club does not just in the PL but in Europe as well.


2. Who challenges the Citizens?

It’s easier said than done to dethrone a champion, and even some of the other big six clubs in England did well to bolster their rosters, it remains to be seen whether or not it will be enough to topple Man City.

Of Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal (last season’s second through sixth-place finishers), the Reds are certainly the biggest winners this offseason with the signings of Fabinho and Naby Keita to upgrade the team’s midfield.

Meanwhile, Spurs has yet to make a signing. Man United is in turmoil between a number of strains with manager Jose Mourinho and several of his players. See, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. Also, Chelsea and Arsenal each have new managers (which we’ll discuss later).

It’s not impossible for one of these teams, or perhaps a team like Everton, who has gone transfer-happy again this summer, to contend for the title, but for right now, it looks like a two team race at the top with City and Liverpool.


3. Which newcomer(s) shakes up the PL?

Cardiff City, Fulham and Wolves each earned promotion to the top flight earlier this year, and now it is up to them to stay in the PL with the likes of England’s elite.

Both Fulham and Wolves have spent heavily this summer, particularly the latter, who have signed an entire Portuguese contingent led by goalkeeper Rui Patricio, Benfica’s Raul Jimenez (Mexico) and Atletico Madrid attacker Diogo Jota.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

While spending doesn’t always lead to success, it certainly shows initiative from these clubs that they are in it for the long haul, it could very well end up with sustained time in the top division.


4. How does Spurs do with its current squad?

Nobody can question Mauricio Pochettino‘s brilliance as a manager, but at a certain point he and his staff might have to accept the fact that they’ve gone as far as possible with their current squad.

With just a day left in the transfer window, Tottenham has yet to sign a single new player, although Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish remains a coveted asset by the team.

Finishing runners up a season ago probably isn’t a failure when you consider just how good Man City is/was, but Tottenham’s shortcomings in the UEFA Champions League and other club competitions has to make many wonder if they’ve peaked with this roster.

Harry Kane will always score his goals. Heung Min Son, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are tremendously gifted players in the attacking third. The team boasts a strong back line, led by Toby Alderweireld and Jan Verntonghen.

However, the rest of the PL is only getting stronger, and if Spurs couldn’t get over the hump before, it looks like the team’s ascent towards the top will only get more challenging.


5. Who adjusts better with a new manager; Arsenal or Chelsea?

Last season did not go according to plan for either club, and subsequently changes were made in the managerial department.

For Arsenal, the departure of Arsene Wenger may have been a bit overdue, but the club’s lack of success in 2017-18 cannot be solely attributed to the Frenchman.

Chelsea’s issues with Antonio Conte boiled up rather quickly, despite having won the PL two seasons ago. That led to his sacking this summer, and the arrival of Maurizio Sarri, who has already seemingly won over the players enough to keep the majority of those linked with moves away from Stamford Bridge.

The Blues arguably have more talent, and the squad seems to have bought into Sarri’s approach, which is more “football first” than Conte. The Italian doesn’t focus on the transfer market or any other phases outside of what goes on within the confines of the pitch.

Meanwhile, Unai Emery has inherited a Gunners team that has bulked up in the offseason, particularly on the defensive side of things. Stephan LichtsteinerSokratis Papastathopoulos and goalkeeper Bernd Leno could aid Arsenal massively on the back end, while the club also managed to pick up one of the biggest risers of the summer in Lucas Torreira after a stellar World Cup for Uruguay.


6. Which club steps into the top-6 race?

Everyone knows who the perennial powers are in England, and in most of the five major leagues across Europe, for that matter.

If you’re not named Arsenal, Chelsea, City, Liverpool, Man United or Spurs, your chances of winning the PL are usually quite slim.

Taking Leicester out of the equation during their magical run in 2015-16, only one club has won a PL title in the Premier League era that wasn’t one of those six previously-mentioned teams (Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95).

Clubs have Everton and Leicester have shown a willingness to spend, just as newcomers Fulham and Wolverhampton have done this summer, but long-term success in England is often hard to come by.

The Toffees are probably the safest bet to have a shot at cracking the top six, but then again, that’s a task that’s easier said than done.


7. Is Jose Mourinho on thin ice at Old Trafford?

For as brilliant of a manager as Jose Mourinho is, he certainly has a way of wearing out his welcome.

And in a very quick manner, too.

Instead of giving the requisite praise to Paul Pogba following the player’s World Cup title with France, Mourinho went after his midfielder, calling for him to replicate those performances during the PL season.

While much of what Mourinho said was tame, it makes one wonder why he would go after one of his biggest stars, especially because it has set up a 24-hour period that could see Pogba exiting United for the second time in six years.

The results have been a struggle for Mourinho in PL play since taking over in Manchester, and if he manages to continue to alienate his players it might not be long before he’s looking for another job.


8. Will West Ham take the next step?

Since the conclusion of last season, only Liverpool has spent more money on new players than the Hammers — who have shelled out an astonishing $117 million this window.

It’s easy to forget that this team was seventh just two seasons ago during the club’s final season at Upton Park, however, last season was a bit more of a struggle despite a hefty spending spree that brought in players like Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic.

This summer, the Hammers are at it again, and with bigger names incoming. Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson could be game-changing additions to the Hammers attack, while Łukasz Fabiański and Jack Wilshere are steady pieces in their own right.


9. Younger faces make push for bigger roles

We’ve seen clubs thrive when using their younger talents. Just take Spurs as an example, with a squad mostly made up of talents under the age of 25.

Now, we’re seeing a bit more of a trend and willingness from managers to give their youngsters a run out in order to prove themselves.

At Man City, it’s Phil Foden. At Chelsea, new manager Maurizio Sarri sees something special in Callum Hudson-Odoi.

In a league where stars are so prevalent, it’s easy to get caught up in the Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Eden Hazard hype train, but it’s the next generation of stars that ultimately carries the league going forward, so it’s nice to see these types of players making their way up the pecking order.


10. Tracking the Golden Boot race

We’re at a stage now where there are so many quality goalscorers in the PL that it’s honestly hard to keep track of them all.

And even though Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Sergio Aguero are the traditional goalscorers in that category, there are many others, including Mohamed Salah from last season, that are more than capable of winning the Golden Boot.

If Kane can do it again in 2018-19, he’d become the third player in the PL era to win the Golden Boot on three separate occasions, a truly remarkable feat.

PSG signs defender Thilo Kehrer from Schalke

@PSG_English
1 Comment

PARIS (AP) French champion Paris Saint-Germain has signed defender Thilo Kehrer from German club Schalke on a five-year contract.

PSG gave no financial details but Kehrer reportedly cost 37 million euros ($42 million).

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

The 21-year-old German helped Schalke finish second in the Bundesliga last season. He also helped Germany’s under-21 team win last year’s European Championship.

Kehrer is seen as an eventual replacement for 33-year-old central defender Thiago Silva, who has been with PSG since 2012.

He will be working under German coach Thomas Tuchel, who is bringing more young players into the team.

Kehrer says “I am going to meet some extraordinary teammates and work with a coach that has done a great job in Germany in recent years.”

NDOYE RETURNS

Cheikh Ndoye has returned to his former club Angers on loan from second-tier English side Birmingham.

The 32-year-old midfielder, who has made 27 international appearances for Senegal, joined Birmingham last year on a three-year deal.

He played 40 games last season, but with Birmingham reportedly under pressure to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations, he was loaned out and thus reduced the club’s wage bill.

Ndoye captained Angers from 2015-2017.

Last weekend, Angers opened its first-division campaign with a 4-3 home loss to Nimes.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Dyche: “Strength of character” got Burnley past Istanbul Basaksehir

Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Burnley manager Sean Dyche has his team one round from the Europa League group stage after another clutch goal from Jack Cork.

And the intense Clarets boss knows its down to their dogged work.

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

“The strength of character of the players is so important and before extra time I was talking to my group and they were all focused on me,” Dyche said. “I looked at theirs and there were bodies everywhere and two players catching eyes with their manager.”

“We have to do what we have to do to win games and we’ve never hidden from that. But in extra time I thought we were running all over them fitness-wise and therefore our play improved.”

Burnley moves onto play Olympiacos in the playoff round, and advancing past the Greek side would give them six more matches including three home dates at Turf Moor.

The Clarets bought Matej Vydra, Joe Hart, and Ben Gibson this summer. Ex-Middlesbrough defender Gibson made his Burnley debut on Thursday and  Hart has been sensational in posting three clean sheets in as many matches. Vydra is yet to debut.

Burnley’s status as a Europa League qualifier through Premier League play is about as impressive as anything this side of Leicester City’s miracle title run. The longer this goes on, the more strain it puts on their season, but it’s improbable to root against them.

Burnley drew Saints in its Premier League opener, and hosts Watford on Sunday.

Americans Abroad in 2.Bundesliga: Parker joins Green on Furth

@kleeblattfuerth
Leave a comment

When it comes to Americans Abroad, few leagues have as many active USMNT-eligible players than Germany’s second tier.

Maybe it’s a knock-on effect of Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT tenure, but seven players with American blood have taken part in matches over the first two weekends in 2.Bundesliga (four with U.S. connections have not).

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

Julian Green has yet to find the goal for Greuther Fuerth, but not for lack of trying. Only one player in the league is averaging more than his four shots per game.

U.S. eligible forward Shawn Parker signed with Greuther Fuerth on Wednesday.

Like Green, American-born goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm has collected four points with club Holstein Keil this season, keeping a clean sheet.

U.S. U-19 midfielder Kevin Lankford is in his third season with Heidenheim, and has made a start and a sub appearance in his two appearances.

2.Bundesliga

Julian Green, Greuther Fuerth — 2 matches, 153 minutes, eight shots
Next: Saturday vs. Paderborn

Joe Gyau, Duisburg — 1 appearance, 10 minutes
Next: Friday at Darmstadt

Terrence Boyd, Darmstadt — 2 appearances, 10 minutes
Next: Friday vs. Duisburg

Ken Gipson, Sandhausen — 1 appearance, 26 minutes
Next: Friday at Bochum

Kenneth Kronholm, Holstein Keil — 2 appearances, 180 minutes, clean sheet
Next: Sunday at Jahn Regensburg

Kevin Lankford, Heidenheim — 2 appearances, 1 start, 83 minutes
Next: Sunday at Dresden Dynamo

Jann George, Jahn Regensburg — 2 starts, 175 minutes
Next: Sunday vs. Holstein Keil

Yet to appear: McKinze Gaines, Darmstadt; Lennard Maloney, Union Berlin; Mario Rodriguez, Dynamo Dresden; Andrew Wooten, Sandhausen; Shawn Parker, Greuther Fuerth.

Top Premier League storylines for Week 2

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Week 2 of the Premier League season brings another gigantic match-up, with Arsenal following up its visit from Manchester City by traveling across London to face lively foe Chelsea.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

All that and four more things to watch closely this weekend in England and Wales.

New managers Emery, Sarri helm big London rivalry
Chelsea vs. Arsenal — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC [ STREAM ]

Antonio Conte‘s probable hopes that Chelsea would be a shambles without him didn’t look true when the Blues bashed Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium on opening weekend, while some extreme Arsenal fan hopes that their stumbles were simply down to Arsene Wenger were washed away in a haze of Man City ball possession.

Now Chelsea has a chance to soak the Gunners’ early season in misery, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal will know they can make opening weekend a thing of the past by joining the Blues on three points with a big away win.

London Derby tests Kane’s August record
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN
[ STREAM ]

Harry Kane still hasn’t scored in August, and Fulham allowed a pair of goals in their return to the Premier League last weekend against Palace. The Cottagers have enjoyed Wembley recently in earning promotion through the playoffs, and new player Jean Michael Seri — a reported Spurs target before joining Fulham — looked exceptional in the loss to Palace.

Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham battles with Kieran Trippier of Tottenham Hotspur during an FA Cup fifth round match in 2017 (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Will Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds keep roaring at Selhurst Park?
Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Liverpool has won four-straight matches at Selhurst Park, but its record against Palace overall isn’t phenomenal over the last half-decade. That said, Jurgen Klopp’s men are clearly favorite to catch Manchester City if anyone can, and getting wins from matches like this is what contenders do along the way to Titletown.

Take two for Leicester and Wolves
Leicester City vs. Wolves — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold
 [ STREAM ]

Ruben Neves of Wolves announced his entry into the Premier League with a super performance in Wolves’ 2-2 home draw with 10-man Everton at the Molineux, but the one point gained somehow feel less than expected from the newly-promoted side. Leicester was outplayed by Manchester United in its opener, and will hope the King Power Stadium is what will kickstart their season… and maybe help save Claude Puel‘s job as Foxes’ manager.

The Premier League returns to Cardiff with a perceived six-pointer
Cardiff City vs. Newcastle United — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN
[ STREAM ]

Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds couldn’t get the job done at Bournemouth in Week One and their “doable” three-match stretch to restart life in the Premier League will feel really rough if they cannot land a point or better against Rafa Benitez‘s Newcastle.

This is Newcastle’s best chance at three points over the first month, and the Magpies could be staring at zero points through four matches if they fail to get the job done in Wales (which is a long way from St. James’ Park).