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English Premier League

One winner and loser from Newcastle’s pre-season campaign

A stern challenge awaits the Magpies again this season.

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Photo: Getty Images

Another Premier League campaign is on the horizon for Newcastle, as they seek to retain their spot in the top-flight and fight for a top-half position.

The issue is that funds under Mike Ashley have been severely restricted once again, leaving Rafael Benitez searching for bargains while the likes of Everton, West Ham, Wolves and Fulham spend heavily to improve their side.

It is certainly set to be another tough season ahead on Tyneside and we have identified one winner and loser from the club’s pre-season campaign.

Winner: Martin Dubravka

The 29-year-old caught the eye for Newcastle in the second half of last season after arriving in January on loan in Sparta Prague, impressing Benitez so much that the Spaniard quickly moved to land a permanent deal early in the summer.

(Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

Dubravka is the top-class goalkeeper that Newcastle need at the back and showed this during a goalless draw with Portuguese giants Porto, where he made a number of quality saves to keep the Champions League side at bay.

Overall, Newcastle’s pre-season raised plenty of concerns about the defence but Dubravka has shown he will be crucial for the season ahead.

“I always hoped it would happen because after half a season I wanted to stay, I didn’t want to have to look for another solution, another direction. I feel really pleased and I enjoyed it when they made my move permanent because the half year was special for me.”

– Dubravka revealed he was always hoping for a return to Tyneside.

Loser: Rafael Benitez

Spare a thought for Rafael Benitez, the beloved manager of Newcastle who cannot get the support from Mike Ashley that he needs and must have spent the summer wondering what might have been if the club was sold last term.

Restricted funds led to frustration in the market once again, with Benitez regularly speaking out to the press about his concerns that his squad was not as strong as it needed to be – which isn’t harsh, it’s a true assessment.

Still, Ashley didn’t listen and Newcastle will now be fighting against the odds this term. Benitez pulled a rabbit out of the hat last term but it remains to be seen whether he has any more tricks up his sleeve.

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English Premier League

West Ham must bring an end to lengthy Reece Oxford saga

The Hammers must bite the bullet and seel the teenage ace.

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Photo: Getty Images

After months and months of speculation, it is remarkable that West Ham have reached mid-August with Reece Oxford still in their squad.

The 19-year-old has endured a rollercoaster few years in east London, catching the eye as a 16-year-old Premier League debutant in the opening week of the 2015-16 season with a thrilling performance in a 3-0 win over Arsenal but seeing opportunities severely limited since.

Three years later, Oxford has made just eight league appearances and has spent time on loan with Reading and Borussia Monchengladbach, the latter of whom were keen on a permanent deal for the highly-rated defender.

(Photo by Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach via Getty Images)

However, it appears that West Ham have missed their chance to cash in on a sale to Gladbach for a player Sky Sports states the Hammers are seeking £10m for, with the Bundesliga side appearing to have cooled their interest.

That leaves West Ham in a difficult position as it is clear Oxford has no future at the club in the eyes of Manuel Pellegrini, who has signed Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop this summer to push the teenager further down the pecking order.

Contracted until 2021, there is little change of Oxford leaving in a bargain deal like fellow youngster Domingos Quina did recently, joining Watford, but the circumstances can be compared to a ticking time bomb as the defender will surely be furious if he is not given a chance to leave this summer.

“I was desperate to come back to Borussia. Things went well for me at the end of the Hinrunde, which is why I wanted to return and complete the loan until the end of the season.”

– Oxford made it clear in February he didn’t want to stay in east London.

Fortunately, German outlet Kicker states Hannover have expressed an interest in signing Oxford and West Ham should waste no time in entering negotiations for a permanent sale, which would suit all parties involved.

It is a shame that a player with Oxford’s potential has fallen so much in recent years and it should serve as a warning to West Ham in their treatment towards other promising youngsters – namely Declan Rice, who is yet to sign a new deal at the club.

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Liverpool

Liverpool round-up: Champions League blow; Mignolet departure nears; Fabinho discusses challenge

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Liverpool are left waiting to see which seed they will be in the Champions League draw

Liverpool will be hoping that PAOK will beat Portuguese side Benfica in their Champions League qualifying play-off as victory for the Greek side will see the Reds through to Pot 2 in the Champions League draw ahead of the Iberian outfit.

The draw will take place in Monaco on August 30, with Liverpool currently the highest ranked team in Pot 3 but behind Benfica, the only remaining Pot 2 team in qualification. It comes after Swiss side FC Basel were shockingly knocked out, allowing Liverpool to take up the spot of first in line to join Pot 2.

Simon Mignolet’s agent has spoken about his future

Simon Mignolet has been strongly linked with a move away from Anfield as he has fallen even further down the pecking order following the arrival of Alisson Becker, and it now seems that he may be third choice on Merseyside. Napoli are the latest club to be linked with a move before the transfer window shuts in Italy on Friday.

“We are in discussions with Napoli, but there is no agreement yet. In the end it is in their interest to find a solution. Liverpool want to keep Simon, but he wants to play in matches – and he should. He deserves to play for a big club. Simon is the best option for Napoli in terms of quality, even though there is a financial aspect to it.”

Mignolet’s agent, Nico Vaessen, discussed the possibility of a deal.

With time running out, all parties will have to get to work if they are to come to an agreement to allow the Belgian to leave. Much could depend on the future of second choice shotstopper Loris Karius, who has also been linked with an exit.

Fabinho has discussed the challenge of adapting to the Premier League

Summer signing Fabinho was only on the bench for the Reds on Sunday as they overcame West Ham United with a 4-0 win and the Brazilian has discussed the challenge that he faces having joined from Monaco.

“I think my performances have been good. It’s a different playing style than at Monaco; there were two of us in midfield there and here at Liverpool there’s three… I knew [my role] would change and I feel I’ve adapted well. When I came to Liverpool I knew this competition would exist in midfield and I think it’s really good for the team.”

The Brazilian hasn’t hidden his struggles.

Some fans were not convinced by his pre-season form but it remains early days in his Anfield career with plenty of opportunities ahead to prove himself in a holding midfield role.

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Watford

What next for Watford outcast Obbi Oulare?

The Belgian striker has struggled to fit in since his move to Watford.

Mathew Nash

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Watford confirmed their Premier League squad numbers for the new season yesterday and for one young striker, it confirmed he has no future at the club. The player in question is 22-year-old Belgian striker Obbi Oulare.

Watford snapped up the 6ft 4 ins striker from Club Brugge in 2015 for a reported £6 million fee. He was being compared to fellow Belgian striker Christian Benteke, but swiftly became a forgotten man at Vicarage Road.

Loan spells at Zulte Waregem, Willem II, and Royal Antwerp had their ups and downs but Oulare clearly has no future at Watford.

(Photo by Laurens Lindhout/Soccrates/Getty Images)

In his three seasons as a Hornet, he has played just three times and failed to score.

It is a shame for a player with obvious talent to have fallen away so dramatically at Watford.

So what next for the player?

Whilst the transfer window in the Premier League may be shut, Oulare has plenty of time to find a permanent exit to somewhere else in Europe or indeed out on loan to the Football League.

Sport Witness reported earlier this month that former loan side Antwerp were keen on a permanent deal, so perhaps that is an option for the Watford outcast.

Wherever he does end up next, it will hopefully be a more fruitful experience than the one he has had with Watford.

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