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Paco Alcacer making most of 2nd chance with Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Close to seeing his career stagnate, Paco Alcacer is making the most of a second chance to become Spain’s top striker.

Alcacer scored twice in his first appearance for Spain in two-and-a-half years to lead a 4-1 away win at Wales in a friendly last week.

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On Monday, the former Barcelona player will likely feature again when Spain hosts England in Seville seeking a second win over Gareth Southgate‘s team in the incipient Nations League.

“I’m happy that I was able to help the team by doing what we strikers are supposed to, which is provide goals,” Alcacer said after Thursday’s match in Cardiff. “I just have to keep this good dynamic going.”

The 25-year-old Alcacer has been rejuvenated since leaving Barcelona on loan for Borussia Dortmund in August, a turnaround that has ended a hiatus from Spain’s national team that was in danger of becoming a permanent adios.

Previous to his two goals for Spain against Wales, Alcacer had scored seven times in a four-match scoring run for Dortmund. That streak included netting a spectacular hat trick that he completed on the last kick of the game for a 4-3 win over Augsburg.

Ironically, Alcacer’s slide toward oblivion at Barcelona began under current Spain coach Luis Enrique when he was condemned to a reserve role behind the superstar trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez in 2016-17.

Not even Neymar’s departure at the start of last season changed the situation at Camp Nou for Alcacer. Favoring other players, new coach Ernesto Valverde gave him fewer appearances than Luis Enrique.

So Alcacer decided that his best option was to leave Spain and try his luck in Germany.

And it turned out that Alcacer just needed a chance to play.

With his brace against Wales, Alcacer showed his leading quality as a striker. He is not the fastest, the strongest, nor the slickest passer; he is a pure goal scorer who excels at putting one-touch shots in-between the posts.

Against Wales, Alcacer fired a rising right-footed shot into the near corner for the lead- and his first goal with Spain since Oct. 2015. He then put the win beyond doubt by poaching a clearance in the area to make it 3-0.

“Alcacer is playing superbly because he is on a scoring streak, but overall his attitude has been marvelous,” said Luis Enrique, who called Alcacer up to fill the void left by the injured Diego Costa.

Alcacer was not supposed to need a comeback story.

Four years ago, former Spain manager Vicente del Bosque considered Alcacer, along with Alvaro Morata, as his strikers of the future. The then Valencia player led Spain in qualifying for the 2016 European championship with five goals, but when he struggled to score for his club in the run-up to the tournament Del Bosque dropped him from his squad.

Banished to the bench following his move to Barcelona from Valencia, Alcacer was also ignored by Julen Lopetegui in his two-year tenure that took Spain to last summer’s World Cup.

Circumstances, however, have put Alcacer in good position to now succeed for “La Roja.”

While competition remains fierce in the positions of midfielder and playmaker for Spain, the striker job is up for grabs.

Long gone are the days when David Villa and Fernando Torres flourished up front for the 2010 world champions, as both Costa and Morata have failed to show they can be counted on for goals.

Alcacer said that he had been preparing for this return to his best form.

“It’s about several things,” he said, “about getting on a hot streak, about self-confidence, about having playing time, and, above all, about working each day when you are not playing so you can be ready.”

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

Report: Alexis Sanchez wants to leave Man United

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This isn’t surprising given recent events, but Alexis Sanchez is apparently ready to quit Manchester United just 10 months after arriving from Arsenal.

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The highest-paid player in United’s history, Sanchez signed a four-and-a-half year deal worth over $650,000 per week in January after arriving in a swap deal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Sanchez, 29, was left out of United’s squad for the defeat at West Ham last weekend (despite traveling with the team to London) and per several reports in the UK he has called his agent Fernando Felicevich and is “weighing up his options” ahead of the January transfer window.

Per the Sun, Sanchez is frustrated with the role he has in the team under Jose Mourinho and is said to want to play in his preferred role on the left wing, rather than being on the right. He has yet to score in six outings this season for United and after a full preseason and a rest with no World Cup duty, this was supposed to be the season Sanchez took United’s offense by the scruff of the neck.

Yeah, that hasn’t happened.

Sanchez has scored just three goals in 24 appearances for United in all competitions since he arrived in January, and was hooked off in the second half of their dull 0-0 draw at home against Valencia in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

If United did decide to sell Sanchez in January, how much would he be worth? No club would pay more than $50 million for him right now, and considering his wages of over $650,000 per week, who on earth is going to pay him anywhere near that amount? Nobody. That is the answer.

United are stuck with Sanchez and Sanchez is stuck with United. The best case scenario for the Chilean star is that Mourinho is fired in the coming months and he gets a fresh start at Old Trafford. With Paul Pogba and others said to be against Mourinho’s tactics and general man-management, hearing that Sanchez is ready to look elsewhere is not surprising.

Right now he isn’t firing on all cylinders and seems to be playing with no freedom and poise in the final third. Maybe that is down to what is being asked of him, but maybe his body language of being fed up means he isn’t listening and can’t really be bothered to play for Mourinho at United.

Cristiano Ronaldo left off Portugal squad

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Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo will not be in the lineup when Portugal faces Poland and Scotland during the international break.

Ronaldo, 33, is dealing with rape accusations from Kathryn Mayorga, and has firmly denied her story while calling rape “abominable.”

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Ronaldo was not called up for the last international break in order to give him time to adjust to Juve, and coach Fernando Santos has called up a similar squad and refused to give an explanation for the move, so there’s certainly no guarantee the absence is linked to the rape claims.

Portugal is home to Poland for the UEFA Nations League match — the Scotland game is a friendly — after beating Italy 1-0 in the tournament opener.

Portugal, of course, won the EURO final despite Ronaldo going down with an injury and has plenty of depth in attack to weather his absence against Robert Lewandowski and Poland. Goncalo Guedes, Andre Silva, and Bernardo Silva are among the top attack options.

Season preview: Slow summer to derail Tottenham?

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Tottenham Hotspur at a glance

Premier League titles: 0 (English First Division titles – 2 – 1950/51, 1960/61)
FA Cups: 8
League Cups: 4
Europa League: 2 (1971/72, 1983/84)
UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup: 1 (1962/63)

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They will challenge for the title because… Harry Kane will score 35 goals (none in August because, well, that’s how he rolls), while Eriksen, Alli and Son will all score 10+ goals each as Spurs run riot in their new stadium and their high-pressing style gets back to business on the smaller pitch compared to Wembley. Everyone is talking about Liverpool being Man City’s biggest challengers for the title, but Spurs finished above them last season.

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For the first time in four years they will drop out of the top four… due to the fact that they’ve been so quiet in the transfer market and the others around them have caught up/sorted out their act. Only Arsenal and Liverpool have really done that around them, with both Chelsea and Manchester United going through tumultuous summers. Yet Mauricio Pochettino must be a little concerned that Daniel Levy is instead focused on pouring money into the new stadium and new contracts rather than new signings. Poch and Levy have been overachieving for quite some time and Spurs’ fans will be hoping for a late flurry of signings, especially if Toby Alderweireld and Mousa Dembele are granted transfers.


Transfers in: None

Transfers out: Keanan Bennetts ($2.59 million, Borussia Monchengladbach), Anton Walkes (Portsmouth), Kane Patterson (Burnley)


Best possible XI

—– Lloris —–

—- Alderweireld —- Sanchez —- Vertonghen —- 

—- Trippier —- Dier —- Dembele —- Davies —-

—- Alli —- Eriksen —-

—– Kane —–


Ranking their offseason: 7/10 – Despite having Kane, Alli, Dier, Lloris, Trippier, Vertonghen, Alderweireld and Dembele all out of their U.S. tour, Mauricio Pochettino got to see the likes of Lucas Moura, Fernando Llorente, Luke Amos and Cameron Carter-Vickers play plenty of minutes and Spurs had a some great results. Beating Roma comfortably in San Diego, fighting back to draw with Barcelona in LA and then beating AC Milan in Minneapolis. All things considered, Tottenham had a fine offseason even if talk about them not signing a single player dominated most of the headlines.


AP

Star player: Harry Kane – The Golden Boot winner at the 2018 World Cup has arrived back in training just a few days before the season opener but Spurs will once again be heavily reliant on the goals of Kane. The 25-year-old has scored 140 goals in 213 games in all competitions for Tottenham, including a career-best 41 last season as he was the top scorer in Europe’s top five leagues in the 2017 calendar year. Kane will lead the line and the job of Alli and Eriksen is to get the ball as much as possible in and around the box. It really is that simple for Spurs.


Coaches’ Corner: Mauricio Pochettino signed a new long-term deal at the start of the summer to calm down any talk about him taking over at Real Madrid. That was a shrewd move from Poch. For now. The Argentine boss knows that with most of his squad staying put for at least the first year in the new stadium, he has another 12 months to let his stock continue to rise as Spurs look ready to at least make another push in the UEFA Champions League and also finish in the top four. His high-pressing tactics are revered across the globe and he’s been able to work with his squad players closely in preseason which should have vast rewards when it comes to them stepping in for Kane, Alli and Eriksen.


PST Predicts: A top four finish may not be as easy as previous seasons, especially with Spurs moving to a new stadium. That said, we all said that about them moving to Wembley for a season, didn’t we. Look how that turned out. Spurs’ starting lineup is littered with players who went to the final week of the World Cup and it will be intriguing to see how that impacts them at the start and end of the 2018/19 campaign. Top four and quarterfinals of the UCL would be another hugely successful season. And, oh yeah, a piece of silverware with the FA Cup or League Cup would hush their naysayers too.

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)