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?

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

Nigel French/PA via AP
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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.

 

Serie A: Napoli’s perfect season ends after draw with Inter

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MILAN (AP) Napoli’s perfect start to Serie A finally came to an end on Saturday in an enthralling 0-0 home draw with Inter Milan, the only other unbeaten side in the Italian top flight.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

There were plenty of chances at the San Paolo, and Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was kept busier than his Napoli counterpart Pepe Reina.

It was the first time since April and a 2-2 draw at Sassuolo that Napoli has failed to win in Serie A.

Napoli remained top of the standings, two points above Inter and six above Juventus and Lazio, which face Udinese and Cagliari respectively on Sunday.

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

Napoli was looking for a ninth successive league win. It was boosted by Lorenzo Insigne passing fit to start after injuring a thigh on Tuesday in the Champions League defeat at Manchester City.

Inter was full of confidence after Mauro Icardi’s hat trick helped it win last week’s derby against AC Milan, but it hadn’t won in Naples in 20 years.

Napoli almost went in front but Handanovic pulled off a stunning double save to deny first Jose Callejon and then keep out Dries Mertens’ rebound attempt from point-blank range.

Handanovic then kept out an effort from Insigne following a great ball over the top from Marek Hamsik.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

Inter went close shortly before halftime but Reina did well to fingertip Borja Valero’s close-range attempt over the bar.

Insigne had more chances after the break, going closest with a curling effort just past the right post.

Hamsik also fired narrowly wide, and Handanovic parried a powerful shot from substitute Piotr Zielinski.

Mertens should have won the match for Napoli in the final minute but Handanovic was again on hand to keep out his close-range volley.

Tactics Session: Inside the mind of Kevin De Bruyne

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If not for Harry Kane‘s prolific scoring of goals during the early days of this season, Kevin De Bruyne would almost certainly be the early runaway favorite for 2017-18 Premier League Player of the Season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

Alas, Kane, the one-season wonder that he is, seems hellbent on cracking the century mark in the PL this season, rather than waiting until 2018-19. This sets up what should be a thoroughly exhilarating seven-month battle between two polar opposite players — Kane, the goalscorer; and De Bruyne, the assist machine.

On Saturday, NBC Sports’ Robbie Earle delved into the mind of De Bruyne (above video) in light of last weekend’s 7-2 thrashing of Stoke City, during which De Bruyne notched another pair of assists to take season tally to five through eight games. Later on Saturday, De Bruyne added another in Man City’s 3-0 victory over Burnley.

[ MORE: Matchday experience — behind the scenes at Southampton ]

The first thing pointed out by Earle is the recovery — though deployed as more of a central midfielder on the day, De Bruyne sits wide with City in possession high up the field, just waiting for the opportune moment to surge forward and join the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero (now that he’s back from injury). When Jesus’ ball is too lightly weighted, De Bruyne reacts quickest to make the recovery.

From there, his head is up and scanning the entire field. One touch forward, and he’s already accounted for the positioning of each of his teammates, as well as the Stoke defenders, and every pocket of space into which he’ll either carry or play the ball. He knows the precise spot on the field he must get to in order to pull the defense to him, thus opening the necessary space (and time) for the final man — Sane, in this instance — to make his run in behind.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

This is the part of De Bruyne’s game which he does better than anyone else in the world right now; no one can hold a candle KDB’s timing and vision — not Henrikh Mkhitaryan, not Isco, not Mesut Ozil, not even his brilliant teammate (and fellow six-assist man) David Silva. He’s almost operating at peak-Andres Iniesta level right now, which makes KDB and Co. appointment viewing every weekend.

Even now, after creating the passing lane and providing Sane the extra half-second to get level with his man before accelerating past in the blink of an eye. Even then, having seen the pass he has to play, there’s still the (major) matter of threading the needle through and around four defenders. On this occasion, the perfect pass is nearly 15 yards in front of Sane, and far less than that distance in front of the goalkeeper. An inch or two too short, it’s cleared by the right back; and inch or two too long, and the goalkeeper collects it easily.

As usual, no player in the world comes close to matching De Bruyne’s genius.