Premier League 2014-15 preview: Manchester United

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Where to begin? Manchester United looks to rebound off its most disappointing season in decades with a new manager in Dutch genius Louis van Gaal. The man who watched over a third place Netherlands finish at the World Cup has quite the resume and reputation, having led Ajax, Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich.

How much difference can one man make? We may find out, as van Gaal will be cooking with a lot of the same ingredients as his predecessor David Moyes. The Red Devils continue to be linked with a bevy of big names, but so far the major acquisitions have been Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera. That means LVG will be focusing on Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie… just like the sacked Moyes.

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

Transfers In: Luke Shaw (Southampton), Ander Herrera (Bilbao)

Transfers Out: Ryan Giggs, Alexander Buttner (Dynamo Moscow), Patrice Evra (Juventus), Federico Macheda (Cardiff City), Nemanja Vidic (Inter Milan), Rio Ferdinand (Queens Park Rangers), Bebe (Benfica)

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Last season: United’s disappointment was a relative one, as the Red Devils finished just five points out of Europe, scored the fifth-most goals in the Premier League and allowed the fifth-fewest. Where the club really failed was allowing Old Trafford to be far less than a fortress, as West Brom, Everton and Newcastle were teams to snap historic winless skids in the building. In fact, United posted seven of its 12 losses at home. That’s no good.

But remember, the team also advanced deep into the UEFA Champions League without a cup-tied Mata. Bayern Munich needed the second leg at home to pick up a win. Could LVG have made a difference simply in selection in preparation? Absolutely.

source: Getty ImagesStar player: Wayne Rooney

Hard to choose between Rooney and van Persie, but England’s bulldog led the Red Devils with 17 goals last season. RVP’s strike rate was slightly better, but Rooney makes more of a difference at both ends of the park (something that infuriates some fans). Rooney also requires the freedom to freelance, and that could become a problem with van Gaal if the wins aren’t coming and the freelancing has left gaps in the formation.

Coaches’ Corner: Louis van Gaal

As mentioned earlier, we’ll learn a lot about how much of a difference a manager can make from van Gaal’s first year in charge. The fact remains that players are far more important than a boss, but LVG won all five of his friendlies on U.S. soil and will have the full backing of van Persie as he looks to rebuild the United brand.

PST predicts: Manchester United returns to battle for a Top Four spot and needs January additions to push itself into the championship discussion. The late moves don’t come in time to push them above Chelsea or Manchester City, leaving the club to duke it out with Arsenal and Liverpool for 3rd and 4th place. Do they make it? Not as currently constructed. United finish fifth and LVG uses the summer of 2015 to build his title contender.

Conte admits nerves through narrow win over Southampton

AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
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Antonio Conte had bad vibes about Chelsea’s visit from wounded Southampton, and his Blues didn’t make the morning at Stamford Bridge any easier on the Italian boss.

Marcos Alonso scored a free kick goal but the Blues could not find a second in a 1-0 win that had Conte proverbially watching through his fingers.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 1-0 Saints ]

Chelsea moves into a tie for second with Manchester United before the Red Devils play Sunday, and Conte is exhaling after the victory. From the BBC:

“When you do not score the second goal, you have to suffer. You are afraid at every corner and free-kick and the opponent has the chance to draw. We dominated the game, shooting 24 times, hitting the post and we needed to score the second goal to be relaxed.

The Blues outshot Saints 24-6, and Southampton only managed to put two shots on target. Chelsea hosts Bournemouth in a League Cup quarterfinal on Wednesday before returning to Premier League action at Everton on Saturday.

Stoke City 0-3 West Ham United: Arnautovic embraces villain role

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  • Controversial PK helps WHU in front
  • Arnautovic booed all day, makes it 2-0
  • Irons out of the drop zone

Marko Arnautovic got the last laugh on a subplot heavy day at the bet365 Stadium, scoring a goal and constantly threatening his old club as West Ham United beat Stoke City 3-0 on Saturday.

The match was delayed an hour thanks to a power outage, but Arnautovic had the electricity ramped up early and he certainly celebrated his second half goal against his former club with vigor.

Mark Noble converted a controversial Manuel Lanzini-won penalty to make it 1-0, and Diafra Sakho completed the scoring off a Lanzini feed in the win.

David Moyes and West Ham move out of the drop zone with the win, moving 15th with 17 points. Stoke is now just a point ahead of 18th place Newcastle United.

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The home crowd was all over Marko Arnautovic, who left Stoke for West Ham this summer, and the early tackles for both teams showed an ornery nature.

Yet it was Stoke who saw an effort bound off the post in the 17th minute, though the optimism was short-lived as a counter attack saw Manuel Lanzini dive into Erik Pieters to earn a penalty.

Noble converted the penalty, and West Ham was up 1-0 in the 19th.

Butland got the crowd in full throat when he saved villain Arnautovic’s breakaway shot. Then Lanzini knuckled a shot at Butland which the English goalkeeper turned away.

Arnautovic had another chance to burn his old team, but Kevin Wimmer got a slight deflection on his countryman’s 59th minute attempt.

He’d continue to do everything but score, cranking a left-footed shot off the crossbar in the 68th.

Charlie Adams crossed for Ryan Shawcross in the 72nd minute, but the big man couldn’t head the ball down on goal.

Arnautovic finally got his goal on a cute 1-2 with Lanzini, and he certainly celebrated against his old side.

It should’ve been 3-0 thanks to deft work from Chicharito, but Diafra Sakho needed too many touches before back heeling a shot wide of the far post.

Sakho would get his goal off a neat feed from

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Brighton 0-0 Burnley: Seagulls continue barren spell

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  • Seagulls without a win in seven
  • Murray misses first half PK
  • Wood denied twice in second half

Brighton and Hove Albion drew 0-0 with Burnley at the Amex Stadium on Saturday with Chris Hughton‘s side now without a win in seven games and they’ve scored just once in their last six Premier League encounters.

Glenn Murray blazed over a first half penalty kick to add to Brighton’s woes, while Burnley were denied by Mat Ryan in the second half as the spoils were shared.

With the point Burnley move on to 32 points, while Brighton have 18 and are just three points above the drop zone.

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Brighton did most of the pressing early on with Murray causing plenty of problems and Burnley could hardly get out of their own half.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson had a shot which flew just wide but that was as close as the Clarets came.

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Before the break Anthony Knockaert‘s shot hit the post and then Lewis Dunk‘s header was cleared off the line by Phil Bardsley, before a massive moment arrived.

James Tarkowski bundled over Murray in the box but the Brighton forward blasted the penalty kick over the bar as the Seagulls wasted a glorious opportunity.

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Chris Wood forced Mat Ryan into a save early in the second half but the chances kept coming for Brighton.

Knockaert squirmed an effort just wide of the far post for Brighton and then Wood had the ball in the net after Scott Arfield was twice denied but he was in an offside position.

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Ryan denied Wood again late on as he closed down the onrushing Burnley forward brilliantly, and both teams had to settle for a point on the South Coast.

Watford 1-4 Huddersfield Town: Mooy at the double for Town

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  • Town build 3-0 lead
  • Mooy scores, converts PK
  • Deeney, Hogg sent off

Aaron Mooy scored a pair of goals and both teams finished with 10 men as Huddersfield Town battered Watford 4-1 on Saturday at Vicarage Road.

Elias Kachunga and Laurent Depoitre also scored for Town, which moves 11th with 21 points.

Abdoulaye Doucoure scored Watford’s goal, as the Hornets stay ninth with just one more point than Town.

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Kachunga caused some early problems for Watford, winning a fifth minute corner kick.

That corner bred another one, and Kachunga deposited it behind Heurelho Gomes after a series of sloppy, cagey touches from both sides.

Kachunga then needed to be removed from the match after just 16 minutes following a left knee injury.

Richarlison had a chance to level the score in the 21st minute, but the tricky shot arrowed over the frame.

Mooy made it 2-0 when Watford missed a pair of chances to deal with a cross and the Australian was in the catbird seat to tap home.

And it went from bad to worse for the Hornets when Troy Deeney picked up a straight red card for a two-footed scissor tackle in the 33rd minute.

Depoitre scored shortly after halftime to pile woe on Marco Silva‘s men. It just wasn’t their day, though a second yellow card to Jonathan Hogg did put both teams on 10 men with 28 minutes to play.

Doucoure put a little drama in the match with a terrific goal from 20 yards, besting Town goalkeeper Jonas Lossl.

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