PST’s Premier League 2018-19 preseason roundtable

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It’s the start of a major tournament, the Premier League’s 2018/19 season, and that means it’s time to rally the ProSoccerTalk staff to answer the key questions ahead of Friday’s opener between Leicester City and Manchester United.

[ MORE: 2018-19 PL season preview hub ]  

1) The PL season is upon us. What’s the first storyline that pops into your head?

Joe Prince-Wright: How crazy the battle against relegation will be this season. 10-12 teams very similar and likely to be in the battle.

Nick Mendola: Liverpool. There are no more reasons to believe this team shouldn’t contend for the Premier League title, outside of Manchester City’s brilliance. Finishing anywhere short of second is an outright failure, and it’s sad that at times Jurgen Klopp has stopped short of declaring his squad a favorite.

Kyle Bonn: Can Manchester City dominate like they did last year? Has to be the surrounding aura for the entire season, at least at this point.

Andy Edwards: The battle for second place should be very fun and extremely fluid this season — any one of Man United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal could realistically finish one spot (and 15 points) behind Man City.

Matt Reed: Honestly it should be the race between Liverpool and City at the top, but I’m more interested in the newcomers this season. We’ve never seen promotion sides this active in the transfer market, and both Wolves and Fulham are spending at record rates to bolster their squads.Meanwhile, Cardiff has completed some underrated moves as well, so I want to see what sort of product the three newcomers put out on opening weekend.

Dan Karell: Can Manchester City defend its title after a record-setting season? A close second is the same for Mo Salah…can he repeat?

2) Man City’s chances to repeat, 1 being no chance and 10 being a virtual certainty.

JPW: 9. They’re so much stronger than anyone else in terms of their squad and Pep’s methods are now embedded into these players.

NM: 8. One more year in the system for most of the key pieces, Riyad Mahrez is an upgrade, and Ederson, Laporte, Stones, Mendy, Sane, Sterling, Bernardo Silva, and Gabriel Jesus are all 24 or younger.

KB: 6. They’re absolutely the favorites, but Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal all got better.

AE: 9/10. There are two scenarios in which it doesn’t happen: 1) injuries decimate the squad; 2) Guardiola goes all-in on winning the Champions League and rests the entire starting 11 for PL games. Even then, they’ll likely win it.

MR: 8. I’m still very high on this team, but Liverpool is no joke and this season will be a lot different from how City breezed through matches a season ago. The depth is there. Guardiola is there. However, teams will show more of a willingness to pack numbers in defensively and go for a point against the Citizens. That opens the door for a team like Liverpool to not only close the gap but contend for the Premier League.

DK: 8. I’m preeeettttty positive Man City will be champions again, they’re just so good and they play at a level most teams cannot even get close to. But, their backline is aging, with Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi both 30 and over as well as Fernandinho. If they show their age, it could be a different Man City this season.

3) Liverpool has spent big and kept almost everyone who contributed to their CL run. What’s the bare minimum success needed from Jurgen Klopp this season?

JPW: Finish second and win some silverware, even if it’s the League Cup.

NM: Second in the Premier League and a trophy somewhere. Champions League is a bit more dicey, as the Reds really bucked their performances in going as far as they did, so I’d say winning a knockout round would be enough there.

KB: For Liverpool, anything below finishing second in the table and reaching the Champions League quarterfinals would be a disappointment given the money spent and the positive chatter around the club this summer.

AE:  It’s still about continued progression. As long as there are signs of moving forward — closing the gap between themselves and the Manchester clubs, or maybe even passing United, while integrating the new pieces and setting themselves up for a legitimate title challenge next season — Klopp will be happy. They’re still a season away, probably.

MR: This squad is too talented to not win anything. I think the move for Alisson, in particular, changes a lot of things for the club because Loris Karius was a massive scapegoat after the UCL final. Obviously losing Mohamed Salah in that match was massive, but Liverpool had every chance to beat Real Madrid, and now I think they should be firmly in the mix again both domestically and in Europe.

DK: Second place and a trophy, whether it’s League Cup or FA Cup. I think Liverpool is a legit contender for the Champions League again too. You never know what luck has in store for them, such as drawing Roma after Roma beat Barcelona.

4) Spurs haven’t spent like the other title contenders. You worried for them?

JPW: A little, but they always prove us wrong. Moving into a new stadium, no new signings and a bit of a World Cup hangover for a lot of their stars could be detrimental to their progression once again. Pochettino is pound-for-pound the best manager around, so I’m sure he will figure out a way to get the best out of what he has until January.

NM: Yeah, but Harry Kane. The question not being asked enough is whether Dele Alli is the superstar of 2016-17, or simply the pretty good talent of the surrounding campaigns.

KB: I am not. Spurs’ depth is already quite strong, and they have some young players that will contribute as well.

AE: Yes and no. There’s something to be said for continuity and the momentum generated by three straight seasons finishing in the top-three. It’s still an incredibly young squad, and theoretically, there’s another level (or two or three) that a number of established stars can still reach. That said, further development isn’t a guarantee, and it was a thin squad last season. To not address any of the above concerns feels like criminal negligence.

MR: I actually am. It’s not even the fact that they didn’t spend, but more the fact that some of their best players didn’t look themselves in Russia and I’m concerned that so many matches over the course of the last 12 months catches up to them.

DK: Not really. They will likely have a slow start, with so many stars just coming back from their post-World Cup break. But with continuity, I expect they’ll be just fine come the end of the season.

5) Better bet to land in the Top Four: Chelsea or Arsenal?

JPW: Probably Arsenal. I expect Aubameyang to have a wonderful season and if Emery’s side can shore things up at the back they have a decent chance. Who knows how quickly Chelsea will gel under Sarri. Whenever they do it will be great to watch, but it could take a long time.

NM: Chelsea, if only because many of their players have largely done this turnaround thing once during their time at Stamford Bridge. Jorginho and N'Golo Kante should be a no-pass zone in the midfield. Arsenal will also be prolific, but it could take time for its back line to gel. The Gunners need bounce back seasons from Hector Bellerin and Laurent Koscielny.

KB: Good question. Very good question. I think Chelsea has the better squad and the manager with the higher floor, so I give them the edge at this point. Arsenal could absolutely surprise under Emery and I like where they’re headed, but Chelsea looks much more improved this summer.

AE: Arsenal, ever so slightly.

MR: The turmoil surrounding Chelsea has been an obvious distraction, but for whatever reason they seem to thrive under new managers. It happened with Mourinho. It happened Conte. This team is still very, very talented and the additions of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic makes this one of the top midfields in the PL when considering N’Golo Kante’s presence. It’s easy to forget this team is just one season removed from winning the title.

DK: Arsenal. By appointing Unai Emery and bringing in new signings early, Arsenal has a leg up over Chelsea, which is now replacing its starting goalkeeper days before the start of the season. That type of chemistry will take months to form between Kepa and the backline, and aside from Jorginho, Chelsea didn’t do much of note.

[ MORE: Full list of Thursday’s deals ]

6) More goals in league play: Kane, Salah, Lukaku, Aubameyang, other?

JPW: Kane

NM: Aubameyang is going to be the best in terms of goals-per-minute, but will be spelled more often by Lacazette. Same could happen for Salah. It’s between Lukaku and Kane, and Lukaku’s success depends on too many variables from his playmaking corps, though his and Alexis Sanchez’s combined goals and assists total could be higher than any other club tandem. Kane, but only just.

KB: Kane based on prior performance, but I really like Aubameyang this year. Salah will inevitably regress but that doesn’t mean he will be bad, Liverpool will be right there in the mix.

AE: Kane

MR: Simply considering his value to the team, Harry Kane has to be at the top of this list.

DK: Aubameyang. He’s fresh off a World Cup-free summer and should be raring to go for Arsenal, especially on the counter attack.

7)  Everton, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace have reasons to hope to build on 2017-18. Who will finish higher?

JPW: Everton. So many good additions over the summer and Silva’s tactics will excite the fans.

NM: Everton for sure, though Palace will tempt the Top Seven. The Toffees have a chance to slide in front one of the Top Six times still adjusting to a new boss (though Everton is, too!).

KB: Everton did some very solid business this summer and I like them to have a finish somewhere between 8-10 with a good view towards the future as well.

AE: Everton might finish 7th, they might also finish 15th. The former is probably the more likely scenario, so I’ll go with them, but it’ll be truly fascinating to watch how that squad comes together — or doesn’t — over the first couple months of the season.

MR: Late moves for Yerry Mina and Bernard only complete the strong transfer window that Everton had. I expect them to be firmly the seventh-best team once again in the PL, and potentially have the opportunity to contend for top 6.

DK: Everton. After deadline-day signings of Mina, Bernard and Andre Gomes, the club is poised for another jump back into the top 10. Crystal Palace should struggle again, while Leicester City has a Riyad Mahrez-sized hole to fill.

8) Burnley is contending with Europa League in addition to the PL. More likely: A repeat top half performance, or relegation?

JPW: More likely a relegation battle. Burnley haven’t strengthened that much this summer and it would be a miracle to replicate last season.

NM: Relegation. I promised not to bet against Sean Dyche after last season saw my relegation prediction with a laughably low total proven very, very wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on them to be top half.

KB: Relegation, unquestionably. This squad needed help this summer and got nothing. Burnley is incredibly well-coached, but they will be run to the ground. Losing Nick Pope is a huge blow, and one or two more poorly placed injuries will destroy that squad given how paper thin it is.

AE: Relegation, but only because finishing in the UEL places last season was totally absurd (in a good way).

MR: I just don’t see where the goals come from within this team. Everyone knows that Sean Dyche has instilled a tremendously effective defensive style that stifles opponents, but when it comes to playing the big clubs in a European competition I’m not sure they’ll have enough attacking firepower.

DK: Relegation. It’s always tough for a team the first time (or first time in a while) in the Europa League, and it’s difficult to expend so much energy early in the season. Look at Everton, crashing out of the Europa League last year and slumping basically into the relegation zone.

9) Which promoted team will finish highest, and how high?

JPW: Wolves. 8th or 9th. Tremendous squad assembled and plenty of momentum.

NM: After today, I find it hard not to say Fulham. If Aleksandar Mitrovic stays in his shoes and Jean Michael Seri quickly adjusts to England, they may finish 9th. If Andre Schurrle is Andre Schurrle, they may be in the Top Six discussion.

KB: Fulham will finish 10-12, and Wolves may be right there with them. Those two teams have done some fabulous business this summer, more than their fanbases could have possibly dreamed. They’re here for the long haul.

AE: Wolves will finish in the top-12; Fulham a place or two behind them; Cardiff will likely be in the Championship this time next year.

MR: I like Wolves and Fulham to both finish top 10 this season, and I think it’s very doable when you consider what other mid-table clubs did (or didn’t do) this summer. Both teams were ambitious, and I think that pays off in a big way with Wolves finishing ninth and Fulham rounding out the top 10.

DK: Wolves. They’ve basically signed current and former members of the Portuguese National Team this summer, which adds to Ruben Neves and the core of the squad that was promoted. I could easily see a mid-table finish.

10) How many managers will be fired this season, and which manager will be fired first?

JPW: Eight. And I’m going with Javi Gracia.

NM: Less than we think. The ones who have the least hold on their gigs entering the year are Cardiff’s Neil Warnock, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, Leicester’s Claude Puel, Watford’s Javi Gracia, Saints’ Mark Hughes, and Man Utd’s Jose Mourinho. Rafa Benitez of Newcastle could also resign, but I’ll go with five.

KB: We’ll go with 6 managers fired, and the first will be Jose Mourinho.

AE: Given the massive financial investments made in virtually every squad in the PL, owners will expect immediate return on investment. Since there’s only so many points to go around, the number of managers fired will be high. It could be half of the league, based upon the ebbs and flows of a 38-game season. Neil Warnock’s return to the PL (with Cardiff) could be a brief one.

MR: I think as many as five coaches could be sacked midseason because of the fact that so many mid-table clubs were almost stagnant this summer in the transfer market. Southampton manager Mark Hughes immediately comes to mind because of the team’s struggles last season in survival, and I’m not sold that the team improved significantly.

DK: I’ll put the odds at 7.5 and take the over. I think Jose Mourinho is likely to be fired this season but he won’t be the first. That may go to Neil Warnock or Claude Puel.

11) Which team goes deepest in the CL: Man City, Man Utd, Spurs, Liverpool?

JPW: Man City. They’re the real deal this season.

NM: Of course it depends on the draw, but Man City is ready for prime time.

KB: Manchester City is built for a league season as we saw last year, but they’ll do better in the knockout environment this year as well. I like Pep to make the semifinals. If they don’t, it’s a huge disappointment even if they win the Premier League.

AE: Man City are one of two or three sides with a strong chance of winning it.

MR: The Citizens simply have so much depth, and in a competition like UCL you need a full compliment of players to make up for fixture accumulation. Guardiola will learn from his mistakes in last season’s UCL, and be one of the heavy favorites to hoist their first title in the competition.

DK: Manchester City. I think this year they have a legit chance for a title. Real Madrid is weaker, Barcelona didn’t improve in a major way. PSG may be better, but who knows where Neymar’s head is. Bayern appears in flux. Now is Man City’s chance.

12) Which American has a better season: DeAndre Yedlin, Tim Ream, or Danny Williams?

JPW: Probably Yedlin. He will play every single game for Newcastle, while the other two may not be guaranteed starters. Despite Ream’s heroics, Fulham have bought plenty of new center backs and Williams had a lot of competition at Huddersfield.

NM: Yedlin. Believe it or not, I’ve seen buzz in Newcastle fan circles worrying he’ll be sold to a contender.

KB: Tim Ream is suddenly surrounded by competition for minutes with the additions of Alfie Mawson, Calum Chambers, and Maxim Le Marchand. DeAndre Yedlin has no competition and has flourished under Rafa Benitez, and I like him to be one of the few bright spots at Newcastle.

AE: Yedlin.

MR: Ream should be the choice, but with some of the moves that Fulham has made this summer, the American likely won’t see regular minutes for the club as he did a season ago in their promotion run. That said, DeAndre Yedlin had a very strong season for the Magpies in 2017-18, and I think he’s key for them on a defensive unit that conceded the seventh-fewest goals last year.

DK: DeAndre Yedlin. He’s the only of the trio that is a regular

13) Make one outlandish — like crazy — prediction for the season.

JPW: Leicester City will be in the top four for much of the first half of the season.

NM: Here are three: N’Golo Kante wins the Ballon d’Or, Paul Pogba is named Premier League Player of the Year, and Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey misses a game after getting lost in an aquarium.

KB: Jose Mourinho will never get another top job after being fired at Manchester United.

AE: Jose Mourinho doesn’t finish the season at Old Trafford.

MR: The massive spending from Wolves and Fulham pays off… and they both qualify for Europa League, knocking Manchester United and Spurs out of Europe next season.

DK: Everton makes the top 4.

14) Who gets promoted from the Championship for the 2019-20 season?

JPW: Leeds. Swansea. Aston Villa.

NM: Brentford, Nottingham Forest, Hull City (Stoke just misses out).

KB:  Middlesbrough, Derby County, and Brentford

AE: Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Brentford.

MR: Middlesbrough, Leeds and West Brom

DK: Aston Villa

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).