Premier League Preview: Newcastle United

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

An inspired run to fifth place in 2011-12 sparked hope that Newcastle, the North East’s sleeping giant, could finally fulfill latent hopes the Toon would become a consistent competitor. Instead, 2012-13 served as a reminder of the harsh realities of the Premier League, with a down season from a talented squad fomenting relegation doubts. As Newcastle continues to mine talent from France’s Ligue 1, making St. James Park a refuge for those who can’t attract Paris Saint-Germain or Monaco’s attention, questions linger as to whether their approach can do more than keep them up.

Transfers In: F Loic Remy (loan, Queens Park Rangers)

Transfer Out:  D Danny Simpson (Queens Park Rangers); D/M James Perch (Wigan Athletic)source: Getty Images

Key Player: Midfielder Yoann Cabaye (pictured) arrived from Lille in the summer of 2011, going on to become one of the Premier League’s biggest surprises. For anybody who’d watched Ligue 1 the previous season, Cabaye’s assimilation into the Magpies’ scheme was no surprise. He was one of the best players in France, a player who’d forged his way into the French national team, so it made sense that he’d have an impact in England.

Though his goal totals went up in his second Premier League campaign, Cabaye’s influence waned, if only slightly, Yes, Yoann scored once every 4.5 games in 2012-13 (compared to once every 8.5 games in 2011-12), but his assists dropped dramatically, from nine to two. If that didn’t reflect a drop in influence, those numbers wouldn’t mean anything, but between fitness and an overall dip in form, Cabaye was less effective last season than he was in his Magpies’ debut.

If Cabaye proves the player he was between from summer 2010 to fall 2012 — when he led surges from Lille and Newcastle — the Toon’s all good. If not? Place your bets on Alan Pardew in the Premier League sack race.

Manager:  How he’s still here, I don’t know. Alan Pardew survived last year’s improbable relegation battle to maintain his spot on the Newcastle sidelines, yet with a roster that’s seen relatively little change since May, there’s reason to ask why fans should expect anything different from a 16th place finish.

The personnel says Newcastle should do more, but can Pardew steer them there? Can he put together the defensive Newcastle lacked last season?

Outlook:  Uncertain. There is a huge range of possibilities for United. I don’t know how, but last year they managed to finish in 16th place with the league’s 17th-best goal difference. The year before? Fifth!

If the talent performs up to their capabilities, the Magpies will be in the league’s top half. Else, they”ll be competing in the Premier League’s lower third.

MORE: Read all the Premier League previews for each team here

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

Yaya Toure talks future, wants to play with Paul Pogba

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There is very little debate: Yaya Toure is his own special case.

The longtime Manchester City midfielder does what he wants, flies his own flag, has the worst agent in the game, and is pleased or dismayed in unusual ways.

[ UCL: What would Real 3-peat mean? ]

Toure, 35, has been linked with a move to NYCFC now that he’s leaving Man City, but the Ivorian still wants to play two more seasons for a Champions League or Europa League club.

And he wants to get together with Paul Pogba. You can see where this is going… (from The Manchester Evening News):

“Pogba is the same size, power – but different in the way he wants to go. Technically as well, the ability to score goals as well. It is a player I want to play with, to be honest, just to teach him some things.”

That must mean both are going to Paris Saint-Germain because… Yaya at Manchester United? No way, right? Right? Even with last year’s reports from his — again — terrible agent that it was an option, that still seems too villainous.

“I don’t rule big teams out. The big teams are very important for me. What they want to achieve, the way they want to go, for me is very important. … I want to go somewhere I can win and achieve. It’s going to be hard one day to play against City, but I have to do that. It is part of my job.”

Toure later said he was “no good in an office,” which had us thinking, well, what if they properly celebrated your birthday, Yaya?

WATCH: Miami United midfielder unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.

Rondon wanted by Atleti, Inter Milan, and West Ham

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The big boys are looking to Salomon Rondon as a bargain striker.

Yes, $22 million is a bargain in the striker market these days.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

West Brom’s Venezuelan international, 28, stands 6’2″ and has a relegation release clause that is reportedly interesting Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, and West Ham United.

Atleti and Inter are in the Champions League next season, but Rondon played for new West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga, posting 25 league goals in two seasons.

He’s scored 24 goals in three Premier League seasons at West Brom, almost a quarter of the 104 produced by the Baggies.

He also picked up three assists this season as the target man for Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, and Darren Moore (and was fouled more often than any other Baggie (Baggy?)).

Rondon and Marko Arnautovic next to each other would be a real handful for PL defenses. Then again, maybe he’ll stay loyal to West Brom and set the Championship scoring record next season.