Rafa Benitez

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10 players set for breakout seasons in 2019-20 PL

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Every season, a handful of previously unknown — or even unexpected — players turn in performances of the highest quality and find themselves being talked about as the Premier League’s latest “breakout player.”

This will undoubtedly be the case again in 2019-20, but will it be? Here are 10 players primed to reach new heights over the next 10 months…

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

Miguel Almiron, Newcastle United — Here’s the thing about the former Atlanta United star: he can really play. It didn’t take long for the Paraguayan to flash his skill and promise after moving to Newcastle last January. Now, try to imagine what he can do with a full offseason and preseason under his belt… if only the departure of Rafa Benitez doesn’t derail this freight train.

(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Mason Mount, Chelsea — With the Blues suffering through a two-window transfer ban, new manager Frank Lampard will have no choice but to rely upon a handful of academy players, beginning with the 20-year-old midfielder with whom he worked at Derby County last season. Eight goals and five assists in a solid haul for a teenager, and Mount has made the most of his every chance this preseason.

Reiss Nelson, Arsenal — After a season on loan at Hoffenheim (seven goals), Nelson faces an uphill battle for playing time in a thoroughly stacked Arsenal attack, but he’s got the complete package, plus the versatility, required to force his way into regular minutes.

Lloyd Kelly, Bournemouth — Smart clubs in the PL’s bottom half will have done extensive scouting on EFL Championship players ready to make the jump to England’s top flight, only to be held back by employment at a smaller club. Lloyd Kelly can play left back and center back, and he was outstanding for Bristol City last season. He’s one of a few potential answers to the question “who’ll be the next $60-million British defender?”

(Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/WBA FC via Getty Images)

Max Aarons, Norwich City — How does a PFA Championship Team of the Year, EFL Team of the Season and EFL Player of the Year campaign sound for a potential breakout star? Norwich City’s Max Aarons achieved all of the above last season, at the age of 18 and 19, in his first season as a professional.

Morgan Gibbs-White, Wolverhampton Wanderers — The same age as Aarons, Gibbs-White is already a seasoned professional with three seasons under his belt. Now that Wolves are on the path to the Europa League group stage, Nuno Espirito Santo will be forced to rotate his team far more than last season, and he undoubtedly find that Gibbs-White is a handy option in midfield.

Moise Kean, Everton — Kean is fairly well known among those who follow the rest of Europe somewhat closely, but PL-only fans are in for a real treat when the 19-year-old Italian attacker gets his feet under him at Goodison Park.

Youri Tielemans, Leicester City — How Tielemans tumbled this far down the transfer pyramid (all due respect to Leicester, of course) is truly a mystery. It’s not as though he was unknown in any way, or that he’s untested in the PL (he spent the second half of last season on loan to the Foxes), or that any number of PL club could have used a midfielder of his caliber.

(Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City via Getty Images)

Declan Rice, West Ham United — Sure, Rice announced himself onto the PL stage last season, but 2019-20 feels like the time when he’ll go from “good young player” to “how much will Man City or Liverpool or Man United have to pay for him next summer?” West Ham being more consistent as a team and pushing for top-seven wouldn’t hurt Rice’s stock one bit.

Phil Foden, Manchester City — Is this the year Foden finally pushes his way into Pep Guardiola‘s regular rotation? We’ve been waiting for him to do so for two seasons now, yet he won’t turn 20 years old until after the 2019-20 season ends. Central midfield is still relatively thin at Man City, though that hasn’t stopped Guardiola from refusing to rotate and give Foden chances in the past.

Newcastle owner blasts Rafa Benitez for ‘money first’ attitude

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Newcastle owner Mike Ashley ripped former manager Rafa Benitez for an apparent “money first” attitude that he believes doomed any chance of a contract extension this summer.

Benitez, a fan favorite thanks to his sparkling resume and excellent results with very little to work with, departed the club this summer for Chinese side Dalian Yifang after lengthy negotiations for an extensions with Newcastle came to an end with no agreement. The Spaniard had stuck with the club through a season in the Championship and guided the Magpies back to the Premier League, helping finish safely in 13th last season.

However, Ashley says that Benitez did not, in fact, care about the club but instead cared only about money. According to the Newcastle owner, Benitez knew he had leverage in negotiations and hoped to use that to his advantage. “Every time with Rafa it was impossible,” Ashley said in a lengthy interview with the Daily Mail. “There was always another thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. He asked for a 50 per cent pay increase and I think he did that because he knew it couldn’t work. And if we had agreed to that, I think it would have been something else. And everyone thinks we lost him because we wouldn’t pay a couple of quid more. He had the microphone and we didn’t.”

Ashley even goes as far as to say he brought up the idea of an eight-year contract with Benitez, comparing the club to his other financial investments. “At one stage they were talking about a one-year extension and I said my preference would be for an eight-year contract,” Ashley said. “That’s what I have to do in business when I invest. I have to take a medium to long-term view. I don’t worry about my takings on a Saturday. And we are now talking planning and strategy.”

The Sport Direct CEO went on to say that he believes the deal with the Chinese club was already finalized and that Benitez simply stayed in negotiations with Newcastle for appearance. “Looking back, though, it doesn’t really matter what Rafa asked for because I think the Chinese thing was done. He had talked about what he could earn in China previously. We were not even slightly surprised by that move.”

Finally, Ashley rambles about the possibility of a deal for Hoffenheim striker Joelinton, saying that the 22-year-old was Benitez’s number one target, but when it came time for the Spaniard to sign off on the deal, he balked and wanted his own situation sorted before securing the player.

The Magpies owner is a disliked figure among Newcastle fans, and it’s likely that very little from Ashley can be taken at face value. Ultimately, whether what Ashley is saying is true or not, Benitez knew he had leverage based on positive results and wished to be compensated fairly for not just his results at Newcastle, but also for the pedigree of a Champions League winning manager to stay at a mid-table Premier League side. Benitez often talked in the media about having a long-term vision for the club, and ultimately Ashley proved at the negotiating table he was not willing to pay the price for that long-term plan, even if it meant spending more than the club had previously planned to maintain Benitez’s services.

Ashley: ‘Impossible’ to keep Benitez

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To hear Mike Ashley say it, Newcastle never had a chance.

In a long interview with the Daily Mail, Ashley stated multiple times that it was his intention to sign Rafa Benitez to a new contract, but Ashley contended that Benitez never wanted to stay. The Spanish manager announced in mid-June that he was leaving the Premier League club, and soon signed a lucrative deal with Chinese club Dalian Yifang.

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“My view always was we had to keep Rafa,” Ashley told the Daily Mail. “For my own personal safety we had to keep Rafa. I thought he had us offside, he had us cornered, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, I’ve been totally out-maneuvered, I probably shouldn’t own a football club, it’s ridiculous, but I’m a big boy.

“Yet every time with Rafa it was impossible – there was always another thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. He asked for a 50 percent pay increase and I think he did that because he knew it couldn’t work. And if we had agreed to that, I think it would have been something else. And everyone thinks we lost him because we wouldn’t pay a couple of quid more. He had the microphone and we didn’t.”

Ashley stated that in May, he had even tossed out the idea to his front office of signing Benitez to an eight-year contract, a move that’s practically unheard of in global soccer.

“At one stage they were talking about a one-year extension and I said my preference would be for an eight-year contract,” Ashley said. “That’s what I have to do in business when I invest. I have to take a medium to long-term view. I don’t worry about my takings on a Saturday. And we are now talking planning and strategy. So if you really want me involved, I need time from you, too. And that was the idea. I did it before with Alan Pardew.

“Looking back, though, it doesn’t really matter what Rafa asked for because I think the Chinese thing was done. He had talked about what he could earn in China previously. We were not even slightly surprised by that move.”

Ashley also provided some interesting insights into Newcastle’s signing of Brazilian striker Joelington. Ashley stated that Newcastle had been close to signing both Miguel Almiron and Joelington in January, only for Hoffenheim to say he wasn’t for sale. A month later, Hoffenheim offered Joelington to Newcastle but only for around $50 million. Ashley said he was prepared to pay that, but Benitez didn’t want to sign off on a signing if he didn’t know he would still be around.

On a bright note, Ashley did have kind words to say about Benitez’s time in charge.

“I’m not disappointed in him as a manager – he did an excellent job,” Ashley said. “It puzzles me why any fan thinks I wouldn’t want him. I’m not the thickest person on the planet. Why wouldn’t I want excellence? Why wouldn’t I want this manager? Accuse me of many things, but not that. We couldn’t have done any more.”

Wolves rock Newcastle in Premier League Asia Trophy

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A rough summer continued for Newcastle as the Magpies were hammered in Nanjing by a first-choice Wolves lineup 4-0 in Premier League Asia Trophy action.

Diogo Jota scored a pair, and England youth international Morgan Gibbs-White added a third as Wolves took a commanding 3-0 lead into the break. As both sides rung changes in the second half, an Allan Thomas own-goal with five minutes remaining finished the scoreline and doomed Newcastle to yet another summer misstep.

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For Wolves, it was a promising start to preseason play as the lineup featured a host of regulars, with only Mexican international Raul Jimenez, still resting after a successful Gold Cup campaign, missing from the starting eleven. Jota was particularly spectacular, with a brilliant touch in the buildup to his first goal rewarded with the finish, plus his second – Wolves third – where he snatched the ball straight off the feet of Newcastle defender Isaac Hayden in the penalty area.

Gibbs-White also scored off a Newcastle turnover in its own defensive third, with Jonny picking the pocket of Jamie Sterry on the left flank and finding the 19-year-old alone in the middle for a powerful finish from outside the top of the box.

Newcastle has had a rough summer, with the club losing manager Rafa Benitez, selling leading scorer Ayoze Perez, and failing to secure second-leading scorer Salomon Rondon on a permanent basis. The club has yet to sign a single player and was forced to overpay for Steve Bruce, who was in charge for the match against Wolves.

USMNT notes: Robinson moves to Wigan, and more

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It’s been a busy day of U.S. Men’s National Team related news, from Tyler Boyd signing with Besiktas to U.S. Soccer announcing a friendly match with Mexico in September at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Here’s everything else you may have missed today relating to the USMNT and Americans Abroad.


Robinson joins Wigan in permanent transfer

Antonee Robinson is heading back to the Championship, but this time, he won’t be heading back to Everton at the end of the season.

Robinson on Monday completed a permanent transfer to Wigan. where he spent last season and helped the club avoid relegation. Robinson has signed a three-year contract and he joined for a reported $2.5 million transfer fee, per Wigan Today. He battled injuries to make 26 appearances in all competitions.

Robinson, born in England to an American father and British mother, came up in Everton’s Finch Farm academy but never broke through to make a first team appearance. Instead, he spent time in the lower levels on loan to Bolton and then Wigan. With Everton’s signing last year of Lucas Digne, the left back spot is locked up for quite a while, leaving Robinson second-choice and in search of first team minutes again.

For the USMNT, Robinson made his debut in the 3-0 win over Bolivia in late May, 2018, and has gone on to make seven appearances for the senior team, including a start against Jamaica, though it didn’t go well in a 1-0 defeat at home. Robinson was on the 40-man provisional Gold Cup roster for coach Gregg Berhalter and he also took part in a European-based training camp for the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team as the team starts preparing for Olympic qualifying, which will likely take place later this year.

Robinson will likely play a key role in helping the U.S. make it to their first Olympics since 2008 in Beijing.


Reyna heading to USA with Borussia Dortmund

Claudio Reyna’s son Giovanni Reyna is off to a strong start after officially being announced as a signing by Borussia Dortmund. Whether for marketing reasons or sporting reasons, Reyna was one of the 26 players to make the flight to Seattle as Dortmund takes some preseason action in the U.S.

BVB will face the Seattle Sounders in Seattle on Thursday before heading to take on Liverpool in South Bend, Indiana on Saturday.

It’s a quick burst in the U.S., but perhaps Reyna can get a few minutes of action in his home nation before heading back to Germany to try and see if he can break into the squad.


Scott set for Newcastle? 

British-born American midfielder Kyle Scott appears that he will still be on the books at a Premier League club next season.

According to multiple reports, including the Newcastle Chronicle, Newcastle FC is interested in signing Scott, thanks to a reported recommendation from former coach Rafa Benitez. Scott, 21, has spent the past 12 years in Chelsea’s academy and reserves, but he’s hardly sniffed a match, at least for the first team. He spent some time on loan with Dutch second-division side Telstar last year, but it wasn’t declared permanent.

Now, having been let go by Chelsea, Scott is looking for a new club. It’s unclear, however, considering his lack of first team experience, if he’d be able to step into the lineup at Newcastle and really make a difference so soon.

In the past, Scott has appeared for the U.S. Under-18s and U-20s. Perhaps some regular playing time in the Premier League can get him into the senior national team.