4 days to go until new PL season: Predicting this year’s Top 4?

Leave a comment

Perhaps the most coveted spots in all of English soccer, a top four finish in the Premier League ensures a berth into the richest club competition in Europe: the UEFA Champions League.

Each year, teams spend millions in the hopes of keeping a place in the top four, or breaking into the fraternity at the top of the Premier League, in order to see some of the revenues that come with playing on those mid-week European nights.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

With four days to go before the start of the Premier League season, we thought we’d take a chance to predict how the top four might look come mid-May, 2020.


Manchester City

The Back-to-Back Premier League champions are in pole position to win the league once more, with a battle-tested strong squad that’s been reinforced in a couple of key areas.

As Fernandinho gets older, Man City has brought in his successor in Rodri, which will allow the Brazilian to either play fewer matches or get to deputize as a centerback, where he’ll do a bit less running. The impending arrival of Joao Cancelo and the return of Angelino also helps out on the flanks for Man City as defensive options, while the team is still as strong as ever in the attack. Sergio Aguero is back for a ninth season in the Sky Blue uniforms and Raheem Sterling looks as dazzling as ever.

Man City may even get to see the best of Kevin De Bruyne once again, who admitted he needed a summer break after going almost non-stop between the start of the 2017 season and this summer, thanks to the 2018 World Cup. All in all, Man City is a team primed for success, and they’re the team to beat in both the Premier League and Champions League.

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp‘s side hasn’t made any major signings this summer, but like Tottenham last year, it may turn out that Liverpool didn’t need any new players.

Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane are as fearsome a front-three as their is in Europe, and this team took Man City to the brink in the Premier League as well as lifted the Champions League title. With everybody back, as well as some youth and young signings, there’s no doubt Liverpool can challenge again not only for the top four and Premier League, but the Champions League too.

Plus, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back from a torn ACL that cut out most of his 2018-2019 season, which adds another diverse player to Klopp’s deck of cards to choose from.

Tottenham

After going an entire calendar year without making any signings, Tottenham has finally made a signing, breaking the club’s transfer record in the process.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino has finally received some reinforcements after an incredibly run last season, taking Spurs all the way to the Champions League final. In comes central midfielder Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon, who is expected to step right into a starting role for Spurs as it looks to remain in the top four hunt.

Things will still be tough for Pochettino and Spurs though, especially if there is an injury crisis. With the departure of Fernando Llorente, there’s only Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son as forward options, while Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose could still leave this summer. Kieran Trippier was allowed to leave earlier along with Vincent Janssen, and neither player has been replaced yet. Could Pochettino have a late signing or two up his sleeve?

It will be a tough road, but we’ve seen Pochettino overcome the odds before.

Arsenal

If Liverpool’s 2017-2018 Premier League showed us anything, it’s that a team with talented attackers can make some serious noise and rise up the Premier League table.

That’s exactly what Arsenal is hoping for this coming season. After smashing the club’s transfer record to sign Nicolas Pepe for almost $90 million, manager Unai Emery will have Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Pepe together in the attack, giving Arsenal some incredible options up front. All three were raised in France and have pace to burn in the counter-attack, something Emery will certainly look to use against other Big Six opponents.

Of course, Arsenal hasn’t done much to improve it’s already shaky defense, so it will likely be a roller coaster season of emotions, with Arsenal winning games with scorelines of 3-2 or 4-3. But if Liverpool showed us anything, it’s that an amazing attack can be just enough. Liverpool finished fourth that season, though it took the signing of Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker to fortify the defense that took Man City to the last day for the Premier League title.

Other Contenders

Chelsea

Frank Lampard has arrived with much fanfare, but not a ton of pressure as Chelsea appears set to sit out this transfer window without any “new” signings – since both Christian Pulisic and Mateo Kovacic were already on the books before the summer.

The Blues won the Europa League title and can certainly grow from that experience, but it’s a big blow to lose a star in Eden Hazard, and Pulisic, among others, will have to find ways to pick up the slack. That, and long-term injuries to Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek hit Chelsea as well.

But that being said, Chelsea could surprise a few teams this season, and if Pulisic excels in the Premier League and Giroud gets some good service into the box, there’s a decent chance the Blues can grab a top-four spot.

Manchester United

Man United feels like it can end up on two ends of the spectrum this season.

Best case: With a full preseason under his belt, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shows he is a quality manager after all, and can both tactically set up his team to succeed and motivate them to play for one another, bringing Man United back into the Champions League. Paul Pogba stays in Manchester and becomes the midfield leader the team has been missing for years, while Marcus Rashford scores 20 goals.

Worst case: Even with the signings of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan Bissaka, Man United continues to ship goals and move down the table. Rashford struggles against double and triple-teams in the middle of the field and Pogba nor Alexis Sanchez can take the step up necessary. Man United finishes out of the top six.

It just feels like this season can go in so many directions. Let’s see where it ends up!

Fan banned from all NWSL games after investigation

Getty Images
2 Comments

A person who directed racist taunts at Portland Thorns’ goalkeeper Adrianna Franch has been banned from attending National Women’s Soccer League games.

A fan at the Sept. 6 game between the Thorns and Utah Royals in Salt Lake City first called attention to the unidentified person on Twitter. The tweet was later deleted, but both the Thorns and Royals, as well as the league, investigated the incident.

The NWSL issued a statement Saturday saying the person was identified. In addition to being banned from NWSL matches, the person – who was not identified publicly by the league – was also banned from attending events at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“NWSL will not tolerate inappropriate fan behavior,” the league’s statement said. “Racism has no place in our sport.”

The Royals also offered “thanks in no small part to assistance from fans seated in the vicinity,” for identifying the offending party.

A few days after the incident, Franch posted a statement to Twitter: “The situation surrounding our game Friday night is not a NEW issue, nor is it a first for me. RACISM is NOT okay in any form!! We as a HUMAN RACE can be better and should be better. We as a SPORT can help show the way.”

Franch was on the roster of the U.S. national team that won the Women’s World Cup this summer in France.

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

MLS Wrap: What we learned

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here’s what we learned from MLS’ jam-packed action on Saturday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

NYCFC rally to edge San Jose, remain first in Eastern Conference 

Dominating possession and taking a healthy amount of shots, it seemed like the San Jose Earthquakes were going to pull off a Matias Almeyda-era victory in New York City on Saturday.

But in just the span of three minutes, NYCFC changed the landscape of the game completely, scoring twice right before halftime. Keaton Parks recorded his first league goal in the 40th minute. In the 43rd, the Eastern Conference leaders put together this (yes, the covered half the field just like that):

Like in the sequences that led to the home side’s goals, the Quakes’ confidence to overtake the scoreline took a hit, failing to finish a number of chances following attack-heavy substitutions in the second half. As a result, San Jose, who are fighting for a playoff spot, dropped their fourth straight game on the road.

Speaking with media after their 2-1 loss, Almeyda – despite praising NYCFC as being one of the league’s best – took shots at Yankee Stadium’s field size. Should the league care? Absolutely. NYCFC? Not at all, just look at their record.


FC Cincinnati win first game under Ron Jans

FC Cincy supporters can finally rejoice, even their 1-0 win in Montreal wasn’t ideal.

The league’s youngest team ended up with 10-men late in the game. Kendall Watson was shown a straight red card, but Ron Jans earned his first three points at the helm. Early in the game, Allan Cruz’s goal foreshadowed what was to come for the Ohioan side following the final whistle: a celebration.

 

The Impact (37 points) remain three points behind New England, while Cincinnati (21 points) look to finish strong in order to avoid the ugly side of the history books. 

Carlos Vela rejoins LAFC, scores

There’s no way around it: LAFC is a completely different team with (or without) Carlos Vela, who can’t stop scoring.

The Mexican recorded his 28th goal of the season (six behind Jose Martinez’s single-season record) in the Supporter Shield favorite’s 1-1 draw in Philadelphia. It wasn’t a Vela-esque sequence at all, but it was enough to change the score.

The Union, who played without Marco Fabian because of his absence in the team’s meeting on Friday, opened the scoring. Three minutes in, Kacper Przybyłko’s floating header surprised Tyler Miller, giving the home side a perfect start in front of a noisy Talen Energy Stadium.

Just a couple of months ago, these were the two best teams in the league. LAFC remain atop of the Western Conference. The Union, however, are now five points behind NYCFC.


Crew trounce Atlanta United 3-1 despite Josef Martinez’ goal

Caleb Porter’s Columbus Crew, arguably, play the most effective soccer out of all the teams that are on the outside looking in when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs this season.

On Saturday, despite being statistically outdone by Atlanta United, the Crew managed to execute their chances, scoring three goals on only four shots on target. Gyasi Zardes, a pivotal piece of their attack, scored his 12th goal of the season. Costa Rican Luis Diaz added one of his own in the second half, before Miles Robinson’s own-goal 25 minutes later sealed three points for Columbus.

No goal, however, had as much significance as Josef Martinez’s.

The Venezuelan scored for a 14th consecutive game, making it the third longest streak in the history of the sport. The 26-year-old is now seven games away from Lionel Messi’s world record set in 2014.

Third in the Eastern Conference, nine points away from NYCFC with six games to go, don’t count the single-season scoring king to hold back from wanting to break the record.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 4-0 FC Dallas 

Orlando City 3-3 New England Revolution

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Houston Dynamo

Serie A roundup: Inter edge 10-man Udinese

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Napoli and Inter Milan walked away winners in Saturday’s Serie A action.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

After three games, Antonio Conte‘s spell at Inter Milan remains in immaculate shape.

According to the table, there is no better team than I Nerazzurri, who have won their first three league matches – notching seven goals and conceding only one along the way. In other words, the Italian’s astute coaching style remains effective.

Despite, Inter’s convincing play throughout the 90 minutes, only a goal would separate them from visiting Udinese, who played a with 10 players from the 35th minute on, following Rodrigo De Pual’s slap to the back of Antonio Candreva’s head.

In the 44th minute, Stefano Sensi – one of the smallest players on the field – headed the ball into the back of the net. Late in the game, Alexis Sanchez nearly scored in his Inter debut.

In the end, Udinese were no match for Antonio Conte and Co., who find themselves in prime form heading into their Champions League return midweek.

Up next for Inter in league play: Derby della Madonnina. Udinese, on the hand, host Brescia.

Napoli 2-0 Sampdoria

Dries Mertens is the gift that keeps on giving for Napoli.

To be exact, the Belgian gifted his team two goals on Saturday. 13 minutes in, following a perfectly-placed cross from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Mertens’ first-time strike was unstoppable for Emil Audero.
Emiliano Rigoni had Sampdoria’s best chance of the night in a one-on-one opportunity with Alex Meret. The Argentine, however, wasted one of the visiting side’s two chances all night.
Then in the 67th minute – with some luck on his corner -Mertens completed his brace off a deflected shot, giving his team their second win of the season.

Quick turnaround for Napoli as they host Liverpool midweek before traveling to take on Lecce in league play, while Sampdoria take on Torino next.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus

La Liga roundup: Real Sociedad spoil Atletico Madrid’s perfect start

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Atletico Madrid’s first hiccup of the season headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Sociedad 2-0 Atletico Madrid

La Liga had an upset of their own.

Atletico Madrid remain league leaders, but their undefeated record is no more after a 2-0 loss to Real Sociedad in San Sebastian.

Both sides played to a quiet first half, but in the 58th minute Martin Odegaard opened the score in front of a packed Anoeta, as his left-footed shot was deflected by Stefan Savic.

Just two minutes later, in his Real Sociedad debut, longtime Arsenal fullback Nacho Monreal tapped in a second chance inside the box, following an initial stretching save from Jan Oblak.

Diego Simeone’s side pushed desperately in the latter stages of the game; not enough to get passed Miguel Moya, though.

La Reala sets their sights on Espanyol, while Los Colchoneros, with Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid at their heels, look to bounce back against Celta Vigo.

Real Madrid 3-2 Levante

Real Madrid conceded two goals in the second half in Saturday’s game, but their formidable first 45 minutes was enough to help them walk away a wet Santiago Bernabeu with three, precious points.

Coming on in the 60th minutes, Eden Hazard and Militao made their La Liga debuts with Zinedine Zidane’s side.

With two goals in six minutes, Karim Benzema gave the home side an early comfortable lead. Shortly before the halftime whistle, Casameiro added his own, following an assist from Vinicius Junior.

Despite falling short, Levante quickly got after evaporating Real Madrid’s first-half dominance. In the 49th minute, Borja Mayoral, cutting through Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, put one past Thibaut Courtois.

Following Benzema’s post-rattling shot and disallowed Real Madrid goal by VAR, Gonzalo Melero’s header gave the visiting side their final goal of the bout.

One point behind rivals Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid look for another victory against Sevilla. Elsewhere, Levante, who are in decent shape, host Eibar next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Barcelona 5-2 Valencia

RCD Mallorca 0-0 Athletic Bilbao

Leganes 0-3 Villareal