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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?

Egypt high court upholds death sentences of 10 soccer rioters

CAIRO, EGYPT - JANUARY 26:  Egyptian 'Ahly Ultra' soccer fans gather at the Al Ahly home stadium during celebrations after the announcement that 21 fans of the Al Masry football club involved in a football stadium massacre last year were sentence to death on January 26, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. A verdict was announced Saturday in a case over the deaths of more than seventy fans of Egypt's Al-Ahly football club in a stadium massacre on February 1, 2012, in the northern city of Port Said, during a riot that began minutes after the final whistle of a match between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry. 21 fans of the Al Masry football club were given the death penalty in the court case, a verdict that must now be approved by Egypt's Grand Mufti. The verdict was handed down during a period of high tension across Egypt, one day after the second anniversary of the beginning of Egypt's 2011 revolution that overthrew the regime of former President, Hosni Mubarak.  (Photo by Ed Giles/Getty Images)
Photo by Ed Giles/Getty Images
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CAIRO (AP) Egypt’s highest appeals court on Monday upheld the death sentences against 10 people convicted over a soccer riot that killed over 70 fans in 2012, becoming one of the world’s deadliest soccer disasters.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The verdict by the Court of Cassation is final. The defendants were charged with murder, along with other charges. The court also upheld convictions of 22 suspects who received up to 10 years imprisonment over the rioting. A total of 11 defendants were sentenced to death but one remains at large and was tried in absentia.

The rioting erupted on February 2012, at the end of a league match in the Mediterranean city of Port Said between Cairo’s Al-Ahly, Egypt’s most successful club, and home side Al-Masry.

In a socking and unexpected turn, Al-Masry fans rushed to attack Al-Ahly supporters with knives, clubs and rocks. Witnesses and survivors described victims falling from the bleachers as they tried to escape. Hundreds of others fled into an exit passage, only to be crushed against a locked gate with their rivals attacking from behind.

[ MORE: Brazilian player in tears after 90 mins. of racist chants in Serbia ]

The riot led to the suspension of Egypt’s top soccer league for over a year. The league later resumed, but with matches played in empty stadiums.

The first Egyptian Premier League game in which fans were allowed back into the stadiums was played in February 2015, but that occasion was also marred by the death of 22 fans in a stampede outside the grounds. The stampede followed the use of tear gas by police to stop what authorities at the time said was an attempt by fans to storm the military-owned stadium in a suburb east of Cairo.

In the Port Said disaster, most of the victims belonged to Al-Ahly’s “Ultras Ahlawy,” an association of hard-core fans now banned by authorities. In 2015, an Egyptian court ruled that the “Ultras” were a terrorist organization.

[ MORE: Wenger “didn’t really enjoy” Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Sutton ]

Members of the “Ultras” have long been at odds with the nation’s highly militarized police, taunting them with offensive slogans during matches and fighting them in street battles. Hard-core fans of other clubs also identify themselves by going under variations of the Ultras’ name. During the 2011 uprising that toppled autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, the Ultras often provided muscle at street rallies, directing protesters, leading chants and standing first in the line of fire as riot police unleashed tear gas.

Earlier this month, Egyptian police detained more than 100 Al-Ahly fans over a period of two days on suspicion they had planned to stage a protest on the anniversary of the Port Said rioting. The Ultras subsequently cancelled a planned commemoration. Five of those detained were charged with inciting protests and belonging to an outlawed group.

Public gatherings without a permit are banned under Egypt’s draconian anti-terrorism laws.

Kane: Wembley needs to be “our home” long before next season

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Monaco FC at Wembley Stadium on September 14, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Tottenham Hotspur have been — how should I say this? — less than stellar at Wembley Stadium this season.

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In their three UEFA Champions League group-stage games played inside England’s national stadium, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side was thrashed by a vibrant Monaco side; blunted into apathy by Bayer Leverkusen; and victorious against last-place CSKA Moscow, but only after having already been knocked out of the competition.

Ahead of Thursday’s Europa League round-of-32 second leg against Belgian side Gent — which will be played at Wembley, as they will do for every European fixture this season — Spurs’ captain of the future, Harry Kane, has called upon the north London side to make themselves at home inside the 90,000-seat arena on the following counts: 1) they’ll be playing the entirety of the 2017-18 season there; 2) they’re a victory over League One side Millwall away from an FA Cup semifinal, at Wembley, this season — quotes from the Independent:

“If we get through the next round of the FA Cup it’s to Wembley, and we play at Wembley on Thursday. Hopefully we get through. We’ve got to try to make Wembley our home. We could be there next season, so we want to make it as good for us as possible, try to win as many games there as we can and get that confidence going. We could be playing there a few times yet this season.”

[ FA CUP QF: Chelsea-Man United; Spurs-Millwall; Arsenal-Lincoln ]

As for Spurs’ recent form, perhaps best described as indifference, Kane says that’s an issue which was raised during a series of meetings in which Pochettino and a handful of the young side’s more senior figures called for more “hunger” and “sharpness” from the opening kickoff — quotes from the Independent:

“We’ve been starting quite slow in games and it was just about bringing the desire and hunger back to the team, chasing balls down, running in behind. We did that great on Sunday. Sometimes we need that — we need a reminder of who we are and what we’re about. We had a couple of meetings between us and we were glad to go out and put that right.”

Rejuvenated and reinvented, Toure integral to Man City again

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: Yaya Toure of Manchester City speaks to Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City after being subtituted during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) It has been one of the great sights of English soccer in recent years, Yaya Toure picking up possession in central midfield for Manchester City, rampaging upfield and scattering opponents in his path.

Those days appear to have gone.

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Toure is now found sitting in front of City’s defense, reading the game, dictating its tempo, picking off opposition passes, and starting attacks rather than finishing them.

His reinvention over the last three months as a holding midfielder — and one of Pep Guardiola‘s most integral players — is one of the stories of City’s season and has coincided with an upturn in the team’s fortunes. It’s as much a tale of the 33-year-old Toure’s enduring quality and hunger as circumstance and opportunism.

The former Ivory Coast captain started the season ostracized by Guardiola, who was unhappy at both Toure’s fitness levels and the criticism coming from the player’s outspoken agent, Dimitri Seluk.

Toure was even omitted from City’s squad for the Champions League group stage but he knuckled down, lost about 14 pounds, and waited for his chance. That came when one fellow midfielder (Fernandinho) was hit with a four-match ban and another (Ilkay Gundogan) sustained a season-ending knee injury.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Toure, looking lean and fit, started a Premier League game against Watford on Dec. 14 and has played every match since, excelling as the team’s deep-lying midfielder and no longer the box-to-box player that City fans have been used to seeing.

Such is his change in status and importance that he was one of the few players rested by Guardiola for the FA Cup match at Huddersfield on Saturday ahead of City’s match against Monaco in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.

“He has been unbelievable since the game he came back,” City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne said on Monday. “Last year, he wasn’t that sharp. Give him credit for coming back and doing very well.”

Guardiola has settled on a central-midfield trio of Toure, as the protector of the defense, and De Bruyne and David Silva as the playmakers, and it is proving an ideal mix. City has conceded only one goal in its last five games, and its previously shaky defense kept five clean sheets in its last six away games.

Toure has said he feels like a kid again under Guardiola.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

“He is so important for his personality,” Guardiola said on Monday of Toure. “He is part of the history of the club. He helped the club to be where it is. He is back with us and playing at a high level.”

Monaco will be a big test for Toure. The French league leader has scored more goals than any other team in Europe’s top five leagues this season, and is lethal on the counterattack thanks to ultra-fast transition play involving forwards Bernardo Silva, Kylian Mbappe, and Valere Germain.

Toure will be tasked with stopping them from getting at City’s backline, and that’s no easy job. The games in which he struggled since his return have been the losses to Liverpool and Everton, who played a high-energy and up-tempo style.

Monaco will be a level up from that.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

“As a spectator, it is so nice to watch them. I am really impressed how good they are; physically strong, the full backs play like wingers, the wingers play like attacking midfielders … a complete team,” Guardiola said on Monday, describing their attackers as “killers in the box.”

Yet these are exactly the sort of games in which Guardiola will lean on the experienced Toure, a Champions League winner under the Spanish coach at Barcelona in 2009.

In those days, he also played as a holding midfielder and it is in that position that he’s set to end his career.

“I judge players on whether they are able to go to Anfield, Old Trafford, the Nou Camp, or Madrid or Turin and if they are able to react,” Guardiola has said. “There is no doubt about Yaya with that.”

Brazilian footballer in tears after racist chants in Serbia

Partizan Belgrade's Brazilian player Everton Luiz, centre left, leaves the field accompanying by goalkeeper Filip Kljajic, during a Serbian championship match between Rad and Partizan, in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. Luiz was in tears after suffering persistent racist chants during his team's 1-0 victory against Rad in the Serbian premiership. The Brazilian, who joined Partizan from the Swiss league in 2016, received monkey chants and other abuse, including a racist banner on the stands where Rad fans were standing. (AP Photo/Miroslav Todorovic)
AP Photo/Miroslav Todorovic
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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Partizan Belgrade midfielder Everton Luiz was in tears after persistent racist chants during his team’s victory over Rad in the Serbian league.

The Brazilian, who joined Partizan last year, played through monkey chants and other abuse, including a racist banner in the stands where Rad fans were standing.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The banner was removed after intervention from the referee.

There were scuffles between the players after the match on Sunday, when Partizan won 1-0, after Everton Luiz showed the middle finger to the Rad supporters.

Wiping away tears, Luiz said he “faced racist abuse during the entire match.”

[ MORE: Wenger “didn’t really enjoy” Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Sutton ]

Serbian fans are notorious for racist outbursts against black players. Rad supporters are known for their nationalist ultra-right behavior.

On Monday, the Serbian Football Association suspended Rad’s stadium in Belgrade until further notice because of the fans’ behavior.