Filip Benkovic

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7 days to go until new PL season: The battle for UEL spots

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All summer down, just one week to go. It’s almost here.

With seven days remaining until the start of the new Premier League season, we take a look at the likely candidates for the Europa League spots. Finishing seventh in the table often earns a club a spot in the Europa League, as it did for Wolverhampton Wanderers last campaign in the club’s return to Premier League action.

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Thanks to an impressive – and surprising – seventh place result last season, Wolves are currently involved in Europa League qualifying, blitzing past Northern Irish side Crusaders 5-1 on aggregate. That has set them up with a two-legged matchup against Armenian club Pyunik Erevan, with potential victory putting them into the playoff round.

So, who could challenge for seventh place next season? Will it be Wolves again, building themselves as perennial contenders? Will it be someone who just missed out last season? Or will it be someone new who makes a significant jump from last season? Here are the likely candidates.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Obviously, having secured seventh last year, Wolves are a strong candidate to find themselves back in the Europa League. They appear better equipped than many of the mid-table sides of the last few years to wind up in European play, as last year’s qualifiers Burnley appeared overmatched by the additional fixtures and heavy travel.

This Wolves team is deep and dangerous, and Raul Jimenez has carried his spectacular form with him through the summer and straight through to this season. The Mexican international already has a pair of goals, scoring a brace in the 4-1 clincher over Crusaders on the road.

While the club didn’t add much new other than 21-year-old striker Patrick Cutrone from AC Milan, they spent big to keep Jimenez and Leander Dendonker around permanently, securing long-term squad squad strength. Wolves challenged every Premier League side last season and could win on any given day, meaning they should be right in the thick of things again this coming season.

Everton

The Toffees finished eighth last season, missing out on European play by a measly three points. While they still have holes to fill, Everton has done well to secure Andre Gomes permanently, and they picked up a quality addition in Fabian Delph, a player transformed by Pep Guardiola. If they can get Moise Kean over the line, the Toffees would have to be considered one of the more improved Premier League sides at great transfer value.

The Toffees can only make the jump, however, if they improve against the top sides. Whereas Wolves felt threatening on any given day, Everton was poor against the Premier League’s best teams. They made a charge down the stretch by beating Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal all in a row through March and April, but otherwise found little success against those finishing in the top six.

Leicester City

Jamie Vardy‘s 18-goal haul last season was good enough for fifth in the league, helping Leicester City to a ninth place finish (Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images).

The Foxes have been a firm mid-table side ever since shocking the world by winning the Premier League title, and it speaks to the club’s front office that they have not faded after that fateful season. Selling Harry Maguire will provide the club with a massive windfall despite the departure of a spectacular player and rock-solid base, and should they figure how to reinvest soon, Leicester City could see a return to European play.

The loss of Maguire will be softened by smart additions in Caglar Soyuncu and Filip Benkovic, both of whom could make a legitimate run at a consistent place in the starting lineup despite their young age. Benkovic especially is a bright prospect and could help the Foxes hit the ground running.

The permanent acquisition of James Maddison will help maintain their 51-goal haul from last season, and if Kelechi Iheanacho can finally make the leap to a dangerous, everyday Premier League striker, this could be a dual-threat club.

West Ham United

A 10th place finish last season was somewhat disappointing for a Hammers squad that bursted with talent but struggled mightily with consistency. The club suffered through four separate winless runs of three matches or greater, with a four-match losing streak to start the season and a three-match losing streak in early April giving their final table position a somewhat false negative. Still, there is no doubt that Manuel Pellegrini must keep the ship steadied this season if West Ham wishes to challenge for a spot in Europe.

West Ham secured one of the glitzier signings of the summer by swooping in for striker Sebastian Haller whose 20-goal haul for Eintracht Frankfurt last season catapulted him towards the top of the striker wish lists for many clubs. With a pair of goalkeepers brought in on free transfers to give Lukasz Fabianski and Adrien something to think about, the club did well to target needs.

Still, the loss of Marko Arnautovic will be felt, and if Pablo Fornals can’t adequately replace the Austrian, there will be something missing from West Ham’s attack that could threaten any attempt at improved consistency.

On the outside looking in:

Watford – a dangerous squad at times but has been absent in the transfer market this summer

Bournemouth – didn’t do enough this offseason to fix massive defensive issues.

Crystal Palace – another team capable of pulling out a result on any day, but they have done next to nothing this summer except extend the Zaha saga, leaving them extremely vulnerable

Southampton – A much-improved side that was brought down last season by a brutal start to the campaign, but even if they avoid the early slump the leaky defense was not addressed this summer.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Haller nearing West Ham move, Lovren to AC Milan

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According to multiple reports across England, West Ham is close to its marquee Marko Arnautovic replacement as Sebastian Haller is nearly a Hammer.

Haller’s club Eintracht Frankfurt confirmed that the 25-year-old is on his way to London for a medical and will be a Hammer before long. His signature would represent a club-record fee of $55.9 million according to both the BBC and Sky Sports, far surpassing the $44.7 million paid for Felipe Anderson.

Haller is a goalscorer as well as a contributor, bagging 24 goals in 60 Bundesliga appearances for Eintracht Frankfurt in his two years with the club and also assisting 13 more. The analytics folks love the move.

With Lucas Perez, Arnautovic and Andy Carroll all having departed the club this summer, the addition of Haller is a much-needed boost to the West Ham attack that includes Felipe, Robert Snodgrass, and Javier Hernandez.


Divisive Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, who infamously declared not so long ago that he is the best defender in the world, is rumored to be considering a move away from Anfield after last season’s Champions League winning campaign.

According to Nicolo Schira of Gazzetta dello Sport, Lovren is a target for AC Milan, although he would likely be asked to take a serious pay cut from his current Anfield salary. The report says that Liverpool wants at least $22 million for Lovren’s services, and that AC Milan would offer him a contract of $13.6 million over four years. That’s a significant drop from the $5.6 million a year he makes currently.

Still, if a deal can be struck, it may be enticing for Lovren considering his playing time at Liverpool has dipped in the past year. Now 30 years old, Lovren appeared in just 13 games for Liverpool last season, partially due to a pair of injuries but also having lost his place to Joel Matip. He was on the bench behind Matip for the final three matches of the Champions League run after starting the final next to Virgil Van Dijk the year before.


According to French publication L’Equipe, Southampton is in talks with OGC Nice to offload winger Sofiane Boufal. The Moroccan international joined Saints in 2016 from Lille but spent last season on loan with Spanish club Celta Vigo where hee scored just three goals in 35 league appearances.

With those struggles, his value has reportedly dropped to just $11.2 million, having been purchased for $21 million three years ago. L’Equipe says that while fellow French clubs Marseille and Bordeaux were interested, neither wanted to commit to a permanent transfer, with both wishing for a loan with an option to buy, whereas Nice has gone the extra mile.

Boufal was with the Moroccan squad in the Africa Cup of Nations this summer, appearing in three of their four matches, with all three appearances off the bench. He did not score or assist a goal.


Over the past few days there have been reports that should Leicester City cash in on Harry Maguire to Manchester United, they could pounce for Brighton defender Lewis Dunk as his replacement for about half the reported fee they would receive from the Red Devils. Now, with more time to think, that price may have spooked the Foxes.

According to Rob Dorsett of Sky Sports, Leicester City may decide to stick with internal replacements instead of spend big on a defender they don’t believe to be of accurate value in the market. Dorsett mentions 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu and 22-year-old Filip Benkovic as possible options to receive more playing time.

Benkovic, a Dinamo Zagreb youth product who arrived at Leicester City last summer, received his Croatian international debut this summer as a reward for a solid loan spell at Celtic last season. Aside from an ankle injury that sidelined him for all of February, Benkovic was a regular in the Celtic lineup and helped them post a glittering defensive record en route to the Scottish Premiership title, conceding just 20 goals in 38 matches. Celtic also lost every Europa League match that Benkovic missed, while they won three and lost one of the four he played.

Soyuncu joined Leicester last summer as well, coming over from German side Freiburg, but only saw the field for six Premier League matches, starting four. Of the four matches he started, the club conceded just one goal in every game, and he also started the EFL Cup loss to Manchester City that saw the league champions score just once in regulation before losing on penalties.


Kieran Trippier is reportedly receiving interest from major European clubs and could be considering an exit from Tottenham this summer, despite the season drawing closer. According to Daily Telegraph reporter Matt Law, Trippier has particularly interested Atletico Madrid, who could be in for a $25 million move.

Given Trippier’s growth at Tottenham and importance to Mauricio Pochettino‘s setup, selling a player of Trippier’s quality for that low a price seems a poor decision for Spurs, but if the player has his head turned after a run to the Champions League final there may not be much the club can do.

A right-back by trade, Trippier was recently deployed by Pochettino as part of a three-center-back system that saw the England international transform into one of the most versatile defenders in the Premier League, maintaining a strong defensive stance but also swinging out wide to perform wing-back duties at times and becoming one of the Premier League’s best free-kick takers.

Trippier’s name has cropped up a few times this summer, but nothing remotely concrete has taken hold and it would at this point be surprising if Daniel Levy allows an England international in his prime with three years left on his contract to depart so cheaply.

European Transfer Deadline Day wrap-up: PSG, Lyon turn to Stoke, Celtic

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While the Premier League wrapped up its business early, the rest of Europe is waiting another year to adjust to the new summer transfer window deadline.

That means there was a flurry of activity this week, perhaps highlighted by a few notable moves involving English teams sending players elsewhere.

[ MORE: Dembele sold to Lyon ]

Chelsea has sent a number of players on loan (Insert joke here).

Forward Tammy Abraham has opted for playing time over staying with Maurizio Sarri, and will go on loan to Aston Villa. Club Brugge is the destination for Eden Hazard‘s younger brother Kylian, while Charly Musonda will head to Vitesse Arnhem.

Lyon signed $23 million Moussa Dembele from Celtic, who will take Filip Benkovic on loan from Leicester City.

Stoke City has sold Maxim Choupo-Moting to Paris Saint-Germain, where the Cameroon attacker signed a two-year deal. PSG also signed Juan Bernat from Bayern Munich.

Arsenal’s Reiss Nelson signed a new deal with the club, then headed on loan to join Hoffenheim. He’ll get the chance to face Man City in the Champions League.

Man City’s Douglas Luiz is again facing work permit issues, and will head back for a second season on loan at Girona.

Celtic sells $23m Dembele to Lyon ahead of Old Firm match

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The Old Firm Derby will have a new feel on Sunday, relatively speaking, after Celtic announced it will not keep hold of Moussa Dembele, the electric attacker who scored seven goals in eight matches against Rangers.

The 22-year-old is off to Lyon, netting Brendan Rodgers‘ side $23 million. Celtic signed Dembele on a free transfer.

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Dembele left Fulham for Celtic in 2016, helping the Bhoys to a pair of Scottish crowns while scoring 46 goals with 18 assists.

Rodgers was not excited to announce the sale. From CelticFC.net:

“It is vital to make clear that we have never promised any player that he can leave the Club at a particular time. It has never happened. In fact, we have said all along that we did not wish to sell Moussa, given the circumstances within the transfer window and that is why we rejected a significant offer yesterday.

“However, this particular decision to accept this offer has been taken in order to serve the best interests of the first-team squad, my coaching team and the culture and environment we have created in these last two seasons.

Celtic will enter the derby one point ahead of Rangers and three behind leaders Aberdeen. They signed former West Brom man Youssouf Mulumbu and Leicester City’s Filip Benkovic on loan.

Rangers have flipped their roster under Steven Gerrard, with Roma’s Umar Sadiq and Liverpool’s Ovie Ejaria and Ryan Kent on loan. Rangers also bought Hearts’ Kyle Lafferty.