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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?

How Sevilla hope to destroy the Madrid-Barca duopoly in Spain

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 15: Samir Nasri  (2ndR) of Sevilla FC celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates during the La Liga match between CD Leganes and Sevilla FC at Estadio Municipal de Butarque on October 15, 2016 in Leganes, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Sevilla’s ambitious hopes of becoming a La Liga contender are beginning to materialize.

With an inspired team not afraid of confronting the powerhouses, Sevilla has shown it’s ready to take the next step and seriously challenge Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

One game before the halfway mark in the Spanish league, the squad revitalized by coach Jorge Sampaoli is only a point behind leader Madrid, a team it defeated in impressive fashion on Sunday.

The come-from-behind 2-1 win came thanks to another gritty performance by Sampaoli’s team, which has mixed high-intensity defense and a fast-paced attack to impose its style against opponents, no matter how strong they are.

“A victory in a game like this allows us to remain optimistic and believe that this team can continue this run if we maintain this same determination,” Sampaoli said. “Time will tell if we can succeed.”

Sevilla’s win halted Madrid’s 40-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. Sevilla had already come close to a victory midweek in the Copa del Rey, but it conceded two late goals in a 3-3 draw that led to its elimination. It lost the first leg the week before in Madrid 3-0.

“We had three difficult matches against Real Madrid and we were superior in two of them,” Sampaoli said. “We were able to beat a team that was unbeaten.”

[ MORE: PHOTO — Juventus unveil new logo, identity rebrand ]

Sevilla this season also defeated Atletico 1-0, drew at fifth-place Villarreal 0-0, and routed sixth-place Real Sociedad 4-0. It lost 2-1 to Barcelona in an encouraging display.

It has won six of its last seven league games, including four in a row. In front of its diehard fans at Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, Sevilla has won eight of its nine games.

It lost the European Super Cup title to Madrid in extra time last year, and this season advanced to the knockout stages of the Champions League, where it will face Leicester City in the Round of 16.

Sevilla has thrived in the lower-tiered Europa League, winning three straight titles, but its last Spanish league trophy was in 1946. The last time it finished second was in 1957.

It hasn’t had this much success in the league since 2007, when a squad that included Dani Alves and Frederic Kanoute fought for the title and eventually finished third behind Barcelona and champion Real Madrid. Sevilla led the competition after 18 matches that season, but with 37 points, two less than it has now.

Sevilla, the Copa del Rey winner in 2007 and 2010, also finished third in the league in 2009.

While Atletico Madrid made its way to the top thanks to the stout defense of coach Diego Simeone, Sampaoli’s Sevilla has been balancing a competitive defense with an effective offense led by players such as Samir Nasri, Victor “Vitolo” Machin, Wissam Ben Yedder, and Luciano Vietto.

[ MORE: PL Playback — One from six; who are the title favorites now? ]

It’s the first time since the winning campaign of 1956-57 that Sevilla has scored 38 goals in its first 18 league matches. Only Barcelona (47) and Madrid (46) have scored more this season.

“This team likes to play, it likes to attack,” said Stevan Jovetic, who scored the injury-time winner against Madrid on Sunday. “There is still a long way to go and we will be fighting against some top teams, but we will keep doing our thing and see where we can end up.”

Sampaoli, the Argentine coach who arrived with high expectations this season, has made a mark by successfully rotating players. Despite not having the same budget as Madrid or Barcelona, he has been able to make the most out of the squad put together by renowned sports director Ramon “Monchi” Rodriguez.

But despite the recent success and all the hype surrounding Sevilla, president Jose Castro is trying to keep the club grounded.

“We are excited, we are one point behind Madrid, and one ahead of Barcelona,” Castro said. “We will try to win it all, but the goal is to secure a spot in the Champions (League). The Spanish league is for other teams with a bigger budget.”

Sevilla’s next game is at last-place Osasuna on Sunday.

Courtois: Chelsea can still win title without Costa

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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A week from now, Diego Costa may still be a Chelsea player; he may also very well be off to the Chinese Super League by then.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The beauty insanity of the transfer market — and a volatile figure like Costa, in particular — is that no one knows which path he’ll take. After being made to train on his own on Monday, the best anyone can tell you is, “It’s 50-50.”

There aren’t many sides in the world that could stand to lose the league’s top goal-scorer (14 goals in 19 appearances this season; Chelsea have played 21 games) and still win the league title, but Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes that the current Blues squad is one that could hold onto its seven-point lead with 17 games remaining — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“Of course we have enough quality to replace Diego. Diego is important for us, but if he’s not there for one game, we know we can handle it as well.

“Was this a message to our rivals? Yes, just to see Chelsea won 3-0 and that loss at Spurs didn’t affect us and we can play without Diego if need be. I think everybody hoped for us to drop points and we didn’t so that was very good.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Eden Hazard has chipped in with nine goals of his own this season — his performances have been bordering on brilliance at points — while Pedro and Willian each have five league goals to their name. 19 goals from three secondary-type scorers is what champions are made of, until you consider the only other true striker currently in the squad, 23-year-old Premier League newcomer Michy Batshuayi, has 1) made just 13 PL appearances (all as a substitute); 2) scored just once, all the way back in August.

Louis van Gone: Ex-Man United, Barca boss LvG retires from coaching

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United celebrates after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Louis Van Gaal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

In his mind, he probably imagine himself manager Manchester United for the duration of his three-year contract before riding off into the sunset after restoring the Red Devils as Premier League champions four months from now. At the very least, he’d agree to stay on one more season to complete a bit of unfinished business after narrowly missing out on the title in his third season in charge at Old Trafford.

Instead, he was fired last May, two days after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, and has been out of a job ever since. Van Gaal’s unemployment will now continue for the rest of his days, as the 65-year-old announced on Monday that he has retired from coaching after 26 years at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands (twice), Bayern Munich and Manchester United — quote from the BBC:

“I thought maybe I would stop, then I thought it would be a sabbatical, but now I do not think I will return to coaching.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

After the stress put upon his shoulders while at Man United, the last eight months must have felt like heaven to Van Gaal. Why on earth would anyone ever go back?

AFCON: DR Congo go top of Group C with win; Ivory Coast, Togo draw

Congo's Lomalisa Mutambala, right, with Morocco's Faycal Fajr, left, during their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Morocco at the Stade de Oyem in Oyem, Gabon, Monday Jan. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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A roundup of all of Monday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ivory Coast 0-0 Togo

OYEM, Gabon (AP) Ivory Coast’s Europe-based stars stumbled in the heat of northern Gabon in their African Cup of Nations opener, with the defending champion held by Togo to 0-0 on Monday in another twist to start the tournament.

Ivory Coast’s title-winning coach fared worse as Congo beat Herve Renard’s Morocco 1-0 in the day’s second game.

Congo, a team that was on strike and refusing to train two days ago, finished with nine men on the field and on top of Group D.

Ivory Coast created few clear chances against Togo, with Wilfried Zaha‘s blocked shot in the second half after a clever run probably its best. Zaha was substituted two minutes later and, although Ivory Coast pressed hard in stages, it never broke open Togo’s well-drilled defense in the first game in Group C in the northern jungle town of Oyem.

Togo was competitive in the first half and had two good openings with around 10 minutes to go, when Kodjo Laba missed with a header from in front of goal and Mathieu Dossevi’s deflected shot dropped onto the roof of the net.

Four of the first six games at the African Cup have been draws, with Ivory Coast’s fellow title challenger, Algeria, held to 2-2 by Zimbabwe, a team that hasn’t qualified for the African Cup in over a decade. Also, host Gabon couldn’t beat outsider and tournament debutant Guinea-Bissau in the opening game.

“After Algeria-Zimbabwe and Gabon-Guinea-Bissau, we were very careful,” Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer said. “But we still have two (group) matches so we are still confident.”

Togo even started better, and Dossevi was clear on goal in the 29th minute only for Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo to smother the chance.

Zaha was at the heart of Ivory Coast’s two best attacks, first in the first half when he sped down the right wing and sent across a dangerous low cross that was scrambled away. Then, in the 68th minute, he tricked his marker with a clever turn, cut inside, and hit a low shot that was headed to goal before two Togo defenders managed to get in the way.

Senegal and Congo are the only teams to win at the tournament.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

DR Congo 1-0 Morocco

Junior Kabananga got the winner for Congo in the 55th minute after a mistake from Morocco `keeper Monir el-Kajoui. Congo’s Lomalisa Mutambala was sent off for a wild tackle in the 81st and played the last six minutes of normal time plus six minutes of injury time with nine men when captain Gabriel Zakuani went off injured with all their substitutes used up.

Still, victory was a major mood-changer for Congo, whose players refused to train on Friday and Saturday, claiming they hadn’t been paid tournament bonuses. They also posted a video on social media during their strike, where they complained about their treatment.

On Monday, Morocco was the one frustrated: Midfielder M’Bark Boussoufa hit the crossbar in the second minute. Goalkeeper El-Kajoui tried to block a cross with his feet and managed only to divert the ball to Kabananga to score the winning goal. Then, substitutes Youssef En Nesyri and Youssef el-Arabi missed late chances.

Although Ivory Coast and later Renard failed their first tests at the tournament, the Stade d’Oyem held up despite a desperate race to be ready in time, which saw workers scrambling around the venue finishing all sorts of jobs on the day of the game. Television viewers won’t have seen the construction debris that surrounds the outside of the stadium, which juts out of dense jungle canopy around 15 kilometers outside of Oyem.

Even organizers couldn’t do anything about the heat during the opening match, though, with Togo coach Claude le Roy’s shirt covered in dark sweat patches after urging his team on to a promising draw against the defending champion Ivorians.

“It was very hot. We were sweating so much,” Le Roy said. “We did what it takes. We are satisfied with the draw.”

Tuesday’s AFCON schedule

Ghana vs. Uganda — 11 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Egypt — 2 p.m. ET