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Season Preview: Liverpool loaded, ready to take the next step

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Liverpool at a glance

Premier League titles: 0 (English First Division titles – 18)

FA Cups: 7 (1965, 1974, 1986, 1989, 1992, 2001, 2006)

League Cups: 8 (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1995, 2001, 2003, 2012)

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Seemingly out of nowhere, Liverpool advanced all the way to the Champions League final in May, so how do Jurgen Klopp and the Reds improve upon that feat in 2018-19?

One could say that the only way to do so would be to unseat Manchester City as Premier League champions, but given the state of the club — the entire institutions wayward trajectory — when Klopp took over in October 2015, additional signs of progress in re-establishing and further solidifying Liverpool as one of England’s — and Europe’s — best will more than suffice.

Sure, they’ve spent nearly a half-billion dollars during Klopp’s 34-month tenure, but they’ve spent it wisely, which is more than can be said for other mega-rich clubs around the world. The entire process from identifying weaknesses/needs, to identifying targets, to assessing targets, to signing incoming players, to integrating them into the first team, to enjoying nearly immediate return on investment, has been nothing short of inspiring to witness over the last two seasons. As we’ll discuss momentarily, they did it again this summer.


Liverpool will win the title because… they were really good — while extremely young — last season, and they only got better this summer. Klopp fashioned a midfield out of shoestring and bubble gum for much of last season, whereas now he has a pair of rising stars to deploy central this time around. Goalkeepers was a problem position for the entirety of his tenure, but now he’s got a 25-year-old who’ll be Brazil’s no. 1 for the next decade. They were a bit thin for depth behind the superstar attacking trio, so they added a 26-year-old with World Cup experience and nearly 100 PL appearances to the ranks.

Liverpool will fall out of the top-four because… they deal with a ton of injuries all season long? Outside of losing Salah and/or Firmino and/or Mane for three or four months at a time, it’s really tough to see how Liverpool finish worse than last year’s fourth-place finish (to which they essentially resigned themselves as the progressed further and further in Europe). Everyone who’s likely to play 30-plus games should be expected to be better this season than last, given their age, ambition and overall individual/club trajectory. If you’re a Liverpool fan, you should be very excited.

Best possible XI:

Alisson

Alexander-Arnold — Van Dijk — Lovren — Robertson

Keita — Henderson — Fabinho

Salah — Firmino — Mane

Transfers In: Naby Keita ($68 million, RB Leipzig), Alisson ($73 million, Roma), Fabinho ($51 million, Monaco), Xherdan Shaqiri ($17 million, Stoke City)

Transfers Out: Emre Can (free, Juventus), Danny Ward ($16 million, Leicester City)

Ranking their offseason: A

Losing Can for absolutely nothing was a tough pill to swallow, but it was hardly a back-breaking departure for a club that could throw down $119 million for not one, but two replacements in central midfield. Keita’s transfer was announced last summer, only to be executed this time around, and Fabinho was announced before June began. There’s something to be said for doing most of your transfer business so early in the window, even if Shaqiri and Alisson weren’t signed until mid-July (still ahead of a number of other clubs’ key business, if any was done at all). A young, energetic squad got even younger and more vibrant this summer. Klopp soared past cloud nine long ago.

Star player: Salah was the star last season, but this year it could just as easily be Firmino who pushes the 30-goal mark (15 last season), or Mane who goes for 20 goals and 15 assists (10 and 7 last season). While Salah was irresistible and captured the world’s collective heart, it’s tough to see him putting up anything close to 32 goals and 10 assists for a second straight season. As opponents become fixated on stopping him, it’ll open up more time, space and chances for his front-line mates, and they’re more than good enough to make the most of it.

Coach’s Corner: Everything outlined above fits Klopp’s personality — and ideal personnel — to a T. His initial partial season in England was something of a slog, and the second season had more downs than ups, but it all came together last fall and resulted in a renewed excitement and raised expectations for everyone at the club.

PST Predicts: If anyone poses a genuine title challenge to Manchester City — as in, they’re within five points on May 1 — it’ll be Liverpool. They looked the second-best side in the PL last season, but their attention was clearly divided. They’re better — maybe a lot better — now than they were then.

Season Preview: Another star departs; can Leicester cope?

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Leicester City at a glance

Premier League titles: 1 (2016)

FA Cups: 0 (best finish: runners-up – 1949, 1961, 1963, 1969)

League Cups: 3 (1964, 1997, 2000)

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]


It’s been two years since Leicester City won the Premier League after starting the season as 5,000-1 long shots, and the Foxes only managed to narrowly eclipse their 2015-16 season points total (81) in the last two seasons gone by, combined (91). Leicester were headed for a serious relegation battle when Claudio Ranieri was dismissed nine months after lifting the PL trophy, but managed to finish 12th (44 points) on the back of a seven wins in their final 13 games. Last season followed quite the opposite path, as Craig Shakespeare was fired in October and Claude Puel arrived with a massive boost still quite early in the season. They finished ninth, but still won just 47 points in the process.

N'Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were pretty unquestionably — and probably in that order — the three most important players during the title-winning season. Kante left for Chelsea mere weeks after celebrating at the King Power Stadium, while Mahrez finally got his long-sought-after move to — and corresponding payday from — a European giant, Manchester City. Even while missing a handful of league games due to transfer-related issues last season, Mahrez still bagged a dozen goals to come second, behind Vardy (20), for his now-former club.

The top-end talent is nowhere near the level it has been in the recent past, but there’s a solid case to be made that the middle of the squad is massively improved and that that could result in a steadier ride in 2018-19, with higher lows and lower highs.


Leicester will further solidify a top-half place because… manager Claude Puel builds and drills extremely competent and organized — but limited, albeit — teams. They’ll have one of the most robust, hardest-working midfield units in the entire league. They will be no fun to play against, and they’ll be even more difficult to score again. They have a great chance to finish with the best defensive record of clubs outside the top-six.

Leicester will end up in the relegation scrap because… scoring goals will be a challenge, unless Kelechi Iheanacho has a breakout season. While contributions will come from more places this season, there isn’t really any way to replace a player of Mahrez’s caliber if you’re a club of Leicester’s stature. Mid-table PL sides don’t sell a player for $80 million, then turn around and replace him with a $50- or 60-million player, the way an Arsenal or Chelsea can do. Also, Vardy is will turn 32 years old in January, and at some point he’s no longer going to be lightning quick, at which point he becomes far less effective — and feared.

Best possible XI:

Schmeichel

Pereira — Maguire — Evans — Chilwell

Ghezzal — Iborra — Ndidi — Gray

Maddison

Vardy

Transfers In: James Maddison ($32 million, Norwich City), Ricardo Pereira ($29 million, Porto), Danny Ward ($16 million, Liverpool), Jonny Evans ($5 million, West Brom), Rachid Ghezzal (undisclosed, Monaco)

Transfers Out: Riyad Mahrez ($80 million, Man City), Robert Huth (free), Ahmed Musa (undisclosed, Al-Nassr)

Ranking their offseason: B-

As discussed already, it’s impossible to replace Mahrez directly or with one player, so it was wise to not even try. Maddison has quickly progressed through the Football League and is full of potential, but he’s 21 years old and has played zero PL minutes in his career. Pereira, 24, is good enough to lock down the right back spot for nearly a decade, if he’s not poached by a bigger club in two years’ time; Evans arrives with the perfect blend of experience and a cheap price tag to replace Huth. Ghezzal is the wild card of the bunch.

Star player: In a perfect world, Iheanacho will have asserted himself as the Foxes’ undisputed star by the time May — November, preferably — rolls around. He’ll have to overcome a lot to do so, though, as Puel used him sparingly last season and pretty clearly doesn’t see him as a fit alongside Vardy, meaning he’ll likely have to unseat the man 10 years his senior in order to deliver on the potential he showed during brief flashes during his time at Man City.

Coach’s Corner: Again, Leicester won’t play the most beautiful, free-flowing soccer you’ve ever seen — far from it, actually — and it’ll be downright frustrating at times, and it’ll be by Puel’s design.

PST Predicts: Alongside Everton, Leicester should occupy no man’s land dead center between the top-six and the other dozen teams in the PL, all of whom are similarly competent and ambitious, but lacking the kind of depth possessed by the Toffees and Foxes. Leicester appear set to be a PL club for quite a long time into the future.

Premier League transfer needs: All 20 clubs

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With the transfer window shutting in just 17 days time for Premier League clubs, we can expect transfer activity to crank up a few notches in the coming days.

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Bearing that in mind, let’s focus on the business each PL club has done so far and look at their biggest transfer need which remains.


Arsenal

Biggest need: They have strengthened in central defense and in central midfield and added competition at right back for Hector Bellerin. Honestly, a decent window for Arsenal so far. Torriera will add competition for Elneny and Xhaka in the holding role but the Gunners probably need one more truly defensive midfielder

In already: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Dortmund), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria), Matteo Guendouzi (Lorient)


Bournemouth

Biggest need: Um, yeah, I think we can call this a quiet window for Eddie Howe‘s side. In the end Bournemouth stayed up very comfortably in their third-straight season in the PL, back in their fourth campaign in the top-flight they may need to add at least one more center back and another central midfielder. We all know Howe loves to promote youngsters through the ranks and some of his long-time favorites may be just over the hill.

In alreadyDavid Brooks (Sheffield Utd)


Brighton & Hove Albion

Biggest need: Another striker is needed as Florin Andone scored six times in La Liga last season but Glenn Murray may not be able to replicate his fine 2018-19. Apart from that, pretty set after a plethora of additions to strengthen the depth of their squad.

Already inLeon Balogun (Mainz), Joseph Tomlinson (Yeovil), Florin Andone (Deportivo), Jason Steele (Sunderland), Bernardo Fernandes da Silva Junior (RB Leipzig), Hugo Keto (Arsenal), David Button (Fulham), Yves Bissouma (Lille), Percy Tau (Mamelodi Sundowns)


Burnley

Biggest need: When you look at this Burnley team, you wonder if Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood and Sam Vokes will be able to deliver the goals they need for another top 10 finish. Sean Dyche may well be waiting to see if Burnley reach the Europa League group stage before he adds to his squad. The main thing for Burnley is to keep hold of their stars, which they’re likely to do.

Already in: Nobody


Cardiff City

Biggest need: Neil Warnock has picked up plenty of gems from the Championship but you’d think Cardiff need at least two or three need additions, especially in the creative department, if they’re going to secure their PL status. The Bluebirds don’t seem to want to splash the cash.

Already inJosh Murphy (Norwich), Greg Cunningham (Preston), Alex Smithies (QPR), Bobby Reid (Bristol City)


Chelsea

Biggest need: A new goalkeeper is their main aim as Thibaut Courtois edges towards the exit door. Eden Hazard‘s potential departure will change plenty too, while a new striker to replace Alvaro Morata could be needed and Gonzalo Higuain has been linked. Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi will likely move on. Everywhere else they are set as plenty of youngsters will be given a chance by Maurizio Sarri.

Already in: Jorginho (Napoli)


Crystal Palace

Biggest need: Full backs or wing backs are needed for Palace to strengthen Roy Hodgson‘s defensive unit if they’re going to kick on and make the top 10. Keeping hold of Wilfried Zaha is their biggest need but if he doesn’t deliver goals, who will? Moving on Christian Benteke and bringing in a replacement in the final weeks of the window would be a smart move.

Already in: Vicente Guaita (Getafe)


Everton

Biggest need: In all honesty, the bloated squad Ronald Koeman put together needed to be cut down and Marco Silva has done that very well indeed. Richarlison‘s impending arrival from Watford takes care of one of their big needs, a new creative winger, while a new center back must be at the top of their list in the final weeks of the window.

Already in: Nobody


Fulham

Biggest need: You have to say that the Cottagers are looking a little light in defense, especially after losing Ryan Fredericks to West Ham over the summer. A new right back, left back and a back-up center back is needed.

Already in: Jean Michael Seri (Nice), Maxime Le Marchand (Nice)


Huddersfield Town

Biggest need: The Terriers have once again done their business early and after signing Kongolo and Lossl after their impressive loan spells, David Wagner is sticking with who he knows best. Durm will be a great signing but you struggle to see which of their current strikers will score over 10 goals this season. A poacher is badly needed.

Already inBen Hamer (Leicester), Terence Kongolo (Monaco), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke), Juninho Bacuna (Groningen), Jonas Lossl (Mainz), Erik Durm (Borussia Dortmund), Adama Diakhaby (Monaco)


Leicester City

Biggest need: A very solid window for the Foxes as they’ve added a new right back, center back and talented winger as well as a back-up goalkeeper. Riyad Mahrez‘s replacement is Maddison but they may need to look at bringing in a more experienced winger.

Already inRicardo Pereira (Porto), Jonny Evans (West Brom), James Maddison (Norwich), Danny Ward (Liverpool)


Liverpool

Biggest need: Jurgen Klopp has spent plenty of cash and has strengthened his defense with Alisson coming in as a new goalkeeper, while Keita and Fabinho will beef up the midfield and Shaqiri is a great secondary option to Salah, Mane and Firmino. They could really do with a new center back though as Klavan, Matip and Co. just aren’t cutting it alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

Already in: Fabinho (Monaco), Naby Keita (RB Leipzig), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City), Alisson Becker (AS Roma)


Manchester City

Biggest need: What do you get the kid who has everything? Seriously, though, Pep Guardiola could maybe do with an extra center back to challenge Stones, Kompany, Laporte and Otamendi but that’s not a big need. Arguably a long-term replacement for Fernandinho is their biggest need but after Jorginho chose to join Chelsea, they’re still on the hunt.

Already in: Riyad Mahrez (Man City)


Manchester United

Biggest need: Not the most inspiring transfer window so far but with Alexis Sanchez arriving in January, Jose Mourinho is largely happy with his squad. If the likes of Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba or Luke Shaw move on then we can expect movement, but Fred‘s arrival in the heart of their midfield was their biggest need. Job done, pretty much, although a new center back could be a game-changer.

Already in: Diogo Dalot (Porto), Fred (Shakhtar), Lee Grant (Stoke)


Newcastle United

Biggest need: Rafael Benitez continues to play a game of cat and mouse with owner Mike Ashley and once again Newcastle aren’t really spending anything. Bringing in Dubravka and Kenedy (on loan) was great business after they starred in the second half of last season and Ki will be a solid squad player. With a solid defensive unit intact, the big question is whether or not Rafa will be given the cash to spend on a clinical finisher in attack.

Already inMartin Dubravka (Sparta Prague), Ki Sung-Yueng (Swansea), Kenedy (Chelsea)


Southampton

Biggest need: After losing Dusan Tadic over the summer, Saints need Armstrong and Elyounoussi to deliver goals and assists right away. Even their forwards, Charlie Austin, Manolo Gabbiadini and Shane Long, look particularly lean in the goals department so Mark Hughes may have to work some magic to bring in a new strikers in the coming weeks. Danny Ings a good option? In midfield they look solid, but another new center back may be necessary.

Already inStuart Armstrong (Celtic), Mohamed Elyounoussi (Basel), Angus Gunn (Man City), Jannik Vestergaard (Borussia Monchengladbach)


Tottenham Hotspur

Biggest need: The squad is now deep and Mauricio Pochettino will be hoping Fernando Llorente and Lucas Moura step up as back ups to Harry Kane and Dele Alli respectively this season. Getting in a new center back is their biggest need, especially if Toby Alderweireld leaves

Already in: Nobody


Watford

Biggest need: In central defense. Watford let in 64 goals last season, the second most in the entire Premier League, and they have to start getting things right defensively. Ben Foster should help out with that.

Already inBen Wilmot (Stevenage), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona), Marc Navarro (Espanyol), Adam Masina (Bologna), Ken Sema (Ostersunds), Ben Foster (West Brom)


West Ham United

Biggest need: With Winston Reid to miss the opening months of the season with injury, Manuel Pellegrini may have to bring in another center back to help shore things up for the Hammers. Elsewhere they’ve added plenty of quality in Wilshere, Fredericks, Yarmolenko, Fabianski and Anderson. A very good window for West Ham, at least on paper.

Already in: Ryan Fredericks (Fulham), Issa Diop (Toulouse), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Andriy Yarmolenko (Dortmund), Fabian Balbuena (Corinthians), Felipe Anderson (Lazio)


Wolverhampton Wanderers

Biggest need: Plenty of wheeling and dealing at Wolves over the summer, especially from Portugal, due to their close connections with super agent Jorge Mendes. The newly-promoted club have made some big statements of intent with Jimenez and Patricio arriving, with Joao Moutinho set to join them. Biggest need is probably another center back.

Already in: Benik Afobe (AFC Bournemouth), Willy Boly (Porto), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon), Leo Bonatini (Al-Hilal), Ruben Vinagre (Monaco), Paulo Alves (Liverpool)


Leicester sign Ward from Liverpool; Boufal out on loan

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LONDON (AP) — Leicester signed Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward from Liverpool on a four-year contract on Friday.

Ward dropped in the pecking order at Anfield following the arrival of Brazil goalie Alisson.

Leicester’s fourth signing of the offseason will offer competition to Kasper Schmeichel and Eldin Jakupovic.

Ward will join the team on Monday for a training camp in Austria.

“I’ve come here to develop my allround game and hopefully help deliver some more success,” he said.


Southampton winger Sofiane Boufal was sent to Spanish club Celta Vigo on a season-long loan.

Boufal came to Southampton in 2016 from Lille, and made 59 appearances, scoring four times.

The Moroccan fell out of favor with manager Mark Hughes at the end of last season.

Report: Leicester to pluck Danny Ward from Liverpool

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With the announcement of Alisson’s signing on Thursday, Liverpool has spent over $200 million this summer, but it seems they’ve already begun to trim the squad and even out the net spend by a bit.

According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds have agreed to sell 25-year-old goalkeeper Danny Ward to Leicester City, with the clubs agreeing to a $16.2 million fee. The report also states the deal includes a 20% sell-on fee, meaning Liverpool will receive 20% of any transfer fee Leicester City receives for Ward during the life of his next contract.

[ MORE: Alisson signs for Liverpool ]

Ward has spent the last six seasons with Liverpool after signing from small non-league club Wrexham in 2012 as a 19-year-old. However, he has played more games for the Welsh international team (4) than he has for Liverpool (3). Previously stuck behind Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, the arrival of Alisson meant the club needed to make room.

Leicester City already has Kasper Schmeichel firmly entrenched between the sticks. However, especially after a stellar 2018 World Cup with Denmark where he was considered among the top choices for the Golden Glove award, Schmeichel is a wanted man and 31 years old and a contract with three more years remaining, Schmeichel’s time at King Power Stadium could be limited.

The addition of Ward at the very least would allow Schmeichel some time off. The Dane was stretched thin last season as not just the Premier League starter but also used in a few cup games with only Eldin Jakupovic behind him. Now, it’s realistic that Ward could receive time in Cup competitions, leaving Schmeichel to rest up for league games.

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