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Mega 2014-15 Premier League preview: Ready, set, let’s go…

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With just 24 hours to go until the 2014-15 Premier League season kicks off, it is time to get ready for the greatest show on earth to return.

From title success to relegation distress, the next 38 weekends will send us all on the ride of our lives. Buckle up.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

At PST we have spent the past two weeks building up to the first day of the season. Previewing every team, the top players, the managers and everything else in between.

The storylines brewing before the season has even begun are riveting and as the madness of the PL ensues, more drama, intrigue and scandal will unfold.

Without further adieu, it’s time for the monster preview.

The battle begins

20 teams. 38 games per team. 10 months. 380 games total. One champion. Four Champions League spots. Three teams to be relegated. From August 16 to May 24 the Premier League is set to take over your life. Good news, you can watch every single game on NBC Sports. Hurrah! Lets go!

The big spenders

This summer Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea have splashed the cash on several key players as they go in search of the title. All three teams finished in the top four last season but want the PL crown bad. Spending big is perhaps the only way they can wrestle it from Man City. Arsenal have spent $95 million so far, Liverpool have spent $148 million and Chelsea $125 million. Money talks… but will it win any of these teams the title? PST’s writers have one clear favorite in their preseason predictions

| BPLonNBC TV schedule | Watch every game via Live Extra | Full PL schedule

The managers

Manuel Pellegrini is looking for a repeat of his debut season in England after he led the Citizens to the PL title. But with UEFA sanctioning City for breaking Financial Fair Play rules, it’s been hard for them to spend big this summer. Signing influential stars like Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero to new deals has been their mantra.

Arsene Wenger has spent plenty of cash at Arsenal and the longest serving manager in the PL is coming off FA Cup success last season, plus hammering Man City to lift the Community Shield last weekend. He has the Gunners fired up. Can they succeed?

PST predicts the Premier League standings | VIDEO: PST Extra previews the season |

Jose Mourinho’s rebuild at Chelsea has seen him wheel and deal to great success over the summer. Can he bring silverware back to the bridge this season? The special one certainly hopes so. Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool don’t have Luis Suarez anymore but they do have Champions League soccer to look forward to as last seasons’ runners up have a whole host of new players.

source: AP
Van Gaal’s arrival could spark a return to the top for Manchester United.

Mauricio Pochettino has swapped Southampton for Tottenham and will try to get Spurs into the top four. Dutch legend Ronald Koeman has arrived at St. Mary’s after Saints’ incredible exodus (selling six of their best players for $175 million over the summer) and is tasked with rebuilding them. Alan Irvine, David Moyes’ former assistant, has arrived at West Brom, while the likes of Roberto Martinez at Everton, Alan Pardew at Newcastle and Gus Poyet at Sunderland have been keeping things ticking over nicely this summer. On the eve of the season Crystal Palace are managerless, as Tony Pulis walked out on the South London club over reportedly being unhappy with the clubs lack of spending this summer. Ouch.

Oh yeah, there’s also the small matter of Louis van Gaal arriving to lead Manchester United’s charge back up the Premier League. The Dutchman is the new manager everyone is looking forward to seeing this season, as he’s set to revolutionize the Red Devils’ approach.

The new guys

Speaking of new managers, what about these new guys. The three promoted teams from the Championship are Leicester City, Burnley and Queens Park Rangers. All three have previous PL experience with QPR being promoted back to the top flight at the first time of asking, Burnley back after a one-year stay in 2009 and Leicester returning after a 10-year absence. These new clubs will all add an extra dimension to the league in their own way but as we know with any of the promoted teams, it’s so difficult to survive during your first season in the PL.

| Fans guide to picking a PL side | PL team picker | Get to know: QPR | Get to know: Burnley |

Those are the new clubs, what about the other new guys: the players. The likes of Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Diego Costa (Chelsea) and Ander Herrera (Manchester United) will all add extra class, style and star power to the league. With new players arriving all the time, the quality of players in the Premier League is perhaps at an all-time high. the transfer window slams shut at midnight on Sept. 1, so expect to see plenty of late deals across the league. Couple that with the numerous talented young English players switching clubs over the summer and there’s plenty of new faces in new places this season.

The title chasers

As we already mentioned the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea will be looking to wrestle the title from Manchester City, but if Van Gaal’s revolution gathers momentum at Old Trafford early, expect the Red Devils to be in with a shout. Outsiders for the top four include Everton and Tottenham, but with stability and a talented squad, they will be hoping to push for the Champions League. Arsenal have spent big this summer and have emerged as genuine title contenders with Sanchez on board to compliment Mesut Ozil and co. Liverpool have added Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Lazar Markovic, plus more, as they prepare for life after Suarez and being back in the UCL, while Chelsea’s rebuild has been impressive as they’e managed to churn out a profit after selling on Romelu Lukaku and David Luiz, then brought in Costa, Fabregas and Filipe Luis. In many people’s eye it is Chelsea’s title to lose but Man City and Arsenal seem to round out the top three. Then again, anything can happen. It’s the PL!

source: AP
Arsenal’s new Chilean forward could become a hero at the Emirates.

The battlers

At the other end of the table we are set for a desperate scrap to stay in the PL. New boys QPR, Burnley and Leicester will all find it tough going but the likes of West Brom, Aston Villa, West Ham, Sunderland and even Southampton have all had transitional summers. This will be a dogfight. As we all know, this battle to stay out of the bottom three will go down to the wire and the narrative will heat up late in the season. Squeaky bum time hasn’t started yet… give it a few weeks and a few losses will get chairman twitchy and supporters nervous. The dreaded ‘R’ word will soon be used rapidly in your vocabulary. Here’s how PST’s writers predicted the final PL standings will look next May, as some of the newly promoted teams are set for a season of struggle.

The stars are out to play

We mentioned some of the new guys in the league who will be stars, but the truth is there are plenty of superstars who are established in England. A ton, in fact. From Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge at Liverpool, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney at Manchester United, Aaron Ramsey and Ozil at Arsenal, Eden Hazard and Oscar at Chelsea, plus Kompany and Yaya Toure at Man City. All of those stars are out to play this season and with many coming off the back of the World Cup this summer, expect them to dazzle brighter than ever before.

| Top 5 GKs | Top 5 Defenders | Top 5 Midfielders | Top 5 Forwards

The fans

You. The fans. You guys make this league what it is. Whether you have a season ticket in the Clock End at the Emirates or you are watching the games on a Saturday morning in your underpants in New Jersey, you are a huge part of what makes this league so special. Here at ProSoccerTalk, we salute you. At NBC Sports we also developed a cool place for you to go and hear your teams chants, visit it here, and get yourself pumped up for the season. Plus, Coach Ted Lasso is now a fan after his short stint in charge of Tottenham Hotspur last season (relive that, here) and an even shorter spell as an NBC analyst this summer. Watch the video below to see what Lasso has been up to. Hilarious with a capital H.

The drama, the excitement, the passion… this is the Premier League

The pride, passion, excitement and glamour of the PL is coming your way. For the next 38 weekends of your life, the Premier League will take over. Goals, gaffs, spills, chills, screams of delight and pain, laughter, tears, savvy chants, deep breaths, joy and despair. All of that will be present… and that’s just in Week One!

Watch all 380 Premier League games live online via NBC Sports Live Extra and don’t miss a kick this season. Are you ready?

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)