AP Photo/Rui Vieira

2 days to go until new PL season: Is it a 2-horse race again?

Leave a comment

On the evidence of the 2018-19 season, Manchester City and Liverpool appear set to dominate the Premier League for many years to come.

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Manchester City ]

Both squads are full of brilliant, ambitious players on the younger side of their respective careers, and between them they have two of the best managers in the world. That’s a surefire recipe for success, and just some of the reasons so many fans and pundits alike are predicting another neck-and-neck title race between Man City and Liverpool.

But — and stick with us here — what if there were other sides in the PL who could mount a title challenge of their own? Does such a thing exist as we count down to two days until the start of the 2019-20 PL season? If so, what would such a club’s path be to doing the near-unthinkable and close the 25-point gap between second and third?

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Liverpool ]

Chelsea finished third last season which would make them the logical place to begin such a discussion, but they have since seen Eden Hazard depart for Real Madrid and begun a two-window transfer ban. Christian Pulisic arrived after signing last January and Mateo Kovacic made his loan deal a permanent one. Other than that, a handful of previously loaned players, most notably center forward Tammy Abraham, have returned and will fill out the holes in the squad. Frank Lampard, who has one season of managerial experience, replaced Maurizio Sarri. All of that adds up to far too much instability and uncertainty. Verdict: not a threat.

Tottenham Hotspur finished fourth and reached the Champions League final last season, and they have neither a transfer ban (self-imposed or otherwise) nor a new manager this season. It’s a promising start, at least. Tanguy Ndombele should be the answer to many of Tottenham’s problems in midfield, though it remains to be seen how quickly he’ll take to the PL and Mauricio Pochettino‘s system. For Spurs to make a real challenge, Harry Kane would have to avoid ankle ligament injuries for the first time in his career, Dele Alli would have to return to his very best of two and three seasons ago, Daniel Levy would have to pull off another one or two signings in the next 24 hours, one of Juan Foyth or Kyle Walker-Peters would have to become a lockdown defender at right back, and Spurs would likely have to bow out of the Champions League early to focus on the PL. That’s a lot of ifs. Verdict: probably not, but maybe, but probably not.

[ MORE: Is Man City’s defense strong enough, or deep enough? ]

Arsenal finished fifth last season, and the Gunners have spent aggressively this summer. Unfortunately for their title dreams, they’ve done nothing (again) to address their perennial achilles heel: the defense. Nicolas Pepe might very well be brilliant from day one, but Arsenal were hardly short on dynamic attackers when the summer began. William Saliba might be a long-term stalwart at center back, but he won’t move to London until next summer. There should be every hope alive inside Arsenal fans’ hearts that they’re the third-best side in the PL this season, but a title challenge? Verdict: also not a threat.

Manchester United finished sixth last season, and they might be lucky to avoid a more embarrassing outcome this time around. The signings of Harry Maguire ($97 million) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka ($57 million) addressed two positions of need in the most expensive ways possible, but each is far from a sure thing to be great. As of this moment, the only transfer activity in the midfield — another major area of weakness — was the departure of Ander Herrera. There’s also the ongoing, and seemingly never-ending, Romelu Lukaku saga, which will either see the Red Devils lose a starter or retain a thoroughly unhappy player. Verdict: no chance.

So, who you got: Man City or Liverpool?

World record-holding manager Gutendorf dies at 93

Photo by Rzepka/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The world record holder for most teams managed has died at the age of 93.

Rudi Gutendorf, who managed in the United States with the NASL’s St. Louis Stars (1968), last managed in 2003 when he led the Samoa national team.

[ MORE: Maguire shining for Man Utd ]

Those are two of 55 teams he led onto the pitch, 22 of which were national teams. He led teams from CONCACAF (Trinidad and Tobago), CAF (Ghana), CONMEBOL (Chile), OFC (Fiji), and AFC (Australia).

The German-born Gutendorf did a lot of his club work in Europe, leading clubs as big as Hamburg, Schalke, Real Valladolid, and Hertha Berlin.

Gutendorf managed Rwanda in the wake of the country’s dark civil war. From DW.com:

“Such hate, you cannot believe. I was able to unite these two tribes to play football, and good football,” he said in a 2013 interview of the mixed Rwandan team of Hutu and Tutsi players.

What a fascinating career Gutendorf had, and the stories he’s told.

Man Utd’s Maguire “showed what a man he is” versus Leicester

Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United is still working to find its form as a team, but center back Harry Maguire continued his run of fine performances when the Red Devils beat his former team on Saturday.

United beat Leicester City 1-0 on the day, a Marcus Rashford penalty the difference, but Maguire and fellow new back Aaron Wan-Bissaka were again exceptional.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Leicester City ]

Ashley Young has been through a few iterations of Manchester United, and the long-time club offered up lofty words to credit Maguire’s contributions to the team.

“Again he showed today what a man he is,” Young said. “You know, I think the manager’s said about him, he talks non-stop, he’s a real leader and he can play as well.”

Maguire won five aerial battles and two tackles while completing 83 percent of his passes and managing two shots against his former side (WhoScored). On the season, only Anthony Martial has consistently been more important to the team.

He also did not record a loss of possession, and seemingly was unbothered by plenty of criticism from the traveling fans. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I don’t think it bothers (Maguire) whatsoever,” said Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “You’ve got to be that way and when you play, when you coach, when you manage, we don’t get carried away when we win a game that we maybe didn’t deserve to win, but we don’t get in the dumps when we don’t win.”

Solskjaer also loved Maguire and Victor Lindelof for their performance against pesky Leicester star Jamie Vardy.

“I’ve got loads of admiration for Vardy,” Solskjaer said. “I think he’s my type of centre forward, runs in in behind, harasses and you’ve got to be spot on with the decision-making, when to stay up, when to drop off, and both of them proved their worth today. There were a couple of races and Harry did well.”

Maguire didn’t love being on the other side of Vardy, either.

“It was tough playing against Jamie,” he said. “I’ve played with him for two years and he is a top player who can terrorize defenses when he is on his game. … We knew it was important to get the win, especially after the international break. We have to build on a solid base and we want to keep clean sheets, especially at Old Trafford. We are always going to score goals with the attacking talent we have.”

United hosts Kazakhstan’s Astana on Thursday in the Europa League before visiting West Ham United on Sept. 22.

Watch Live: Bournemouth v. Everton

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dominic Calvert-Lewin gets the start up top as Everton looks to take down hosts Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Alex Iwobi, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Richarlison join Calvert-Lewin in attack for the Toffees, who can go fourth with a win.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Bournemouth enters the day in 16th, a point ahead of the bottom three, but can rise into the top half with a win. Early season vibes.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Rico, Ake, Cook, Stacey, Solanke, Billing, L. S. Cook, Wilson, King, Wilson. Subs: Boruc, Surman, Lerma, Ibe, Fraser, Simpson, Mepham.

Everton: Pickford, Digne, Mina, Keane, Coleman, Delph, Schneiderlin, Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin. Subs: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Walcott, Sidibe, Bernard, Davies, Kean.

USWNT legend O’Reilly scores stunner on night to honor her career

Photo by Mike Stobe/International Champions Cup/Getty Images
Leave a comment

USWNT hero and North Carolina Courage playmaker Heather O’Reilly gave her special day its just desserts.

The 34-year-old New Jersey native scored a sweet goal late in North Carolina’s 6-1 demolition of Orlando Pride on Saturday night, which just so happened to be the evening chosen to celebrate her 17-year career.

[ MORE: Fan banned from all NWSL games ]

O’Reilly dribbled down the left before cutting to the middle and slashing a shot across the goal and inside the far post.

She has 231 USWNT caps with 47 goals, a Women’s World Cup crown, three Olympic gold medals, three top-flight domestic titles, two Women’s College Cups, and an FA Cup with Arsenal Ladies.

The Courage have four matches left in the regular season and look set to again be the No. 1 seed, so O’Reilly may yet have more memorable moments left in her playing career.