Premier League 2014-15 preview: Chelsea

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Chelsea have wheeled and dealed over the summer as Jose Mourinho prepares for the second season of his second stint in charge at Stamford Bridge. Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Filipe Luis and former legend Didier Drogba have arrived, while Romelu Lukaku and David Luiz were sold on for huge profits. All of a sudden the West Londoners look to have the strongest squad in the Premier League. The old guard have departed with Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Samuel Eto’o moving on. Mourinho’s “kids” will be looking to wrestle the title away from Manchester City this season and go one step further to make the UEFA Champions League final. High hopes for the Blues.

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

Transfers In: Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid, $55 million), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona, $47 million), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid, $27 million) Didier Drogba (Galatasaray Free)

Transfers Out: David Luiz (Paris Saint-Germain, $85 million), Ashley Cole (Roma, Free), Frank Lampard (New York City FC, Free), Samuel Eto’o (Released), Demba Ba (Besiktas, $7.2 million), Romelu Lukaku (Everton, $47 million)

Full PL schedule | Watch Chelsea live via Live Extra | BPL on NBC schedule |

Last season: It was very much a work in progress during Mourinho’s first campaign back in charge of Chelsea last term. They finished third in the PL, but had title aspirations (even if Jose didn’t admit it) right up until the end of the season. Sloppy defeats to the likes of Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa saw them slip up unexpectedly as youngsters began to replace the old guard. Goals were an issue as Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Ba combined for 19 PL goals between them. The form of Eden Hazard was sublime throughout and the Blues came so close to reaching the Champions League final, but succumbed to Atletico Madrid in the semis. Here is a recap of their 2013-14 season.

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Will Costa become Chelsea’s main man this season?

Star player: Diego Costa

This man is a beast. After scoring 36 goals for Atletico last season Costa was a man in demand but he always seemed likely to end up at Stamford Bridge. The Spanish international led Atletico to the La Liga title with his power and poise up top and bullied Chelsea’s defense in the UCL semis. Chelsea are hoping Costa can truly become the predatory striker they’ve longed for. If he scores over 20 goals in his debut PL season, that could hand the Blues the title. The 25-year-old will be the main man for Mourinho and the fulcrum of Chelsea’s attacks.

Coaches’ Corner: Jose Mourinho

Speaking of the legendary Portuguese boss, you have to admire the deals he’s been able to pull off this summer. Selling the likes of Luiz and Lukaku for big money, then bringing in Costa, Fabregas and Luis to still make a profit takes some doing. You get the sense that Mourinho’s overhaul this summer could be the start of a dynasty at Chelsea. The ‘Special One’ didn’t win any silverware last season and he’s desperate to put that right. You either love him or hate him. Jose divides opinion, but he’s one of the best managers the world has ever seen.

PST predicts: This Chelsea side has a much different feel to it than years gone by. Players like Hazard, Costa, Oscar, Willian and Fabregas are all in, or entering, their prime but you still have a few old heads like John Terry and Didier Drogba around. At times Mourinho seemed a little too relaxed last season but expect him to be fired up for success domestically and in Europe this term. He is sculpting something for the future with a young core ready to take charge. The Blues will be title contenders this season.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

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Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.

Real Salt Lake introduces Mike Petke as new head coach

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Mike Petke is getting a deserved next kick as an MLS coach.

The New York Red Bulls icon, 41, is taking over at Real Salt Lake, where he had been leading USL side Real Monarchs since December.

“They’re an animal waiting to be released from a cage,” Petke called RSL’s roster.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

Petke won better than 41 percent of his matches as RBNY boss, leading the club to the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. This came after 351 matches between Colorado, the Red Bulls/MetroStars, and DC United.

He leaves Real Monarchs with a perfect 1-0 record. Unbeaten!

“The vision that he laid out, along with Craig and Rob, was music to my ears,” Petek said. “They really showed me what was ahead for the RSL organization, and it was an easy thing to be a part of.”

Petke thanked the Monarchs for restoring some of his love for managing, something he said was “kicked out of me”. The Red Bulls shockingly parted ways with Petke in January 2015, moving onto Jesse Marsch.

This is a low risk hire for Real, who gains a respected coach and soccer mind. The optics aren’t great coming so early into the season and so soon after his hiring at Monarchs raised eyebrows.

The hiring comes four days after RSL drew the Red Bulls 0-0 at Red Bull Arena, which is the only disappointment of this whole ordeal: Not getting to see the response at his old home.