Premier League 2014-15 preview: Newcastle United

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Magpies fans must simply be baffled in a good way after this summer. Owner Mike Ashley spent a pair of years doing very little besides selling off key assets — Andy Carroll, Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba were all sold for big money — and then used this summer to smartly and quietly build up a team that could again challenge for Europe.

Beleaguered boss Alan Pardew had a European contender last year before the club’s sale of Cabaye and his head butting of a Hull City player sent Newcastle into a tailspin that dropped them into tenth place. Now, he’s picked up incredible depth in the attack and offset to sale of Mathieu Debuchy with younger, cheaper Dutch star Daryl Janmaat. Life could be good on Tyneside.

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

Transfers In: Remy Cabella (Montpellier), Emmanuel Riviere (Monaco), Siem de Jong (Ajax), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord), Ayoze Perez (Tenerife), Jack Colback (Sunderland), Facundo Ferreyra (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Transfers Out: Mathieu Debuchy (Arsenal), Dan Gosling (Bournemouth), Sylvain Marveaux (Guingamp), Shola Ameobi, Romain Amalfitano (Dijon)

Full PL schedule | Watch Newcastle United live via Live Extra | BPL on NBC schedule |

Last season: As stated, the Magpies were cruising through December, even picking up their first Old Trafford win in decades when Cabaye keyed the team past Manchester United. But Pardew’s head butt of David Meyler kicked a massive losing streak into gear, and many fans were started-at-best and crushed-at-worst when the manager kept his job in the summer.

source: Getty ImagesStar player: Tim Krul

Yes, the same nutcase who famously became Holland’s hero with his penalty kick antics to best Costa Rica. If you have been paying attention to Newcastle, you’ll know that Krul is among the most under appreciated goalkeepers in the Premier League. His million-save performance against Tottenham last year keyed his run to PL goalkeeper of the month, and his injury late in the year is one of the things that crippled the season. If Newcastle keeps Krul through the transfer window, the sky will be the limit.

Coaches’ Corner: Alan Pardew

The second-longest tenured manager in the Premier League is a tempestuous boss capable of sublime tactics but also questionable substitution patterns and an over-reliance on in-game tricks that worked once “so why wouldn’t they work 100 times?” Pardew knows how to set up his team for a game, but the rest almost seems up to chance. Get in his doghouse — cough, Hatem ben Arfa, Sylvain Marveaux — and no amount of fan posturing will get you out. Will be on a short leash after all the money Ashley spent this summer.

PST predicts: A top-half finish at a minimum, with the possibility for more. Newcastle’s attack will be as strong as its been in a long time, and if they could challenge for Europe if they get the defensive performances of last season from Cheick Tiote and Mike Williamson to go with a healthy Fabricio Coloccini. Still, it may not be enough this year, as the Magpies finish a strong 8th.

AT HALF: Pogba switches off, Chelsea pounces (video)

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Antonio Rudiger‘s perfectly-timed run and matching header left Paul Pogba looking the fool as Chelsea claim a 1-0 halftime lead over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

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Manchester United was extremely lively, rewarding Mourinho for going attack-first with his lineup, but it was Paul Pogba who let the team down.

The superstar midfielder let Antonio Rudiger use a pick to create some space on a corner kick, and couldn’t catch up to the German. Rudiger powered Willian‘s offering across goal and David De Gea couldn’t get a hand on the header. 1-0.

It’s a big second half for United, who has Alexis Sanchez on the bench.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Man United

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A huge clash kicks the Premier League action back off after the international break, as Chelsea host Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET.

[ STREAM: Watch live online ]

Chelsea have lost just one of their last 16 PL home games against United and the Red Devils have lost more times against the Blues than any other PL club.

Throw in the fact that Chelsea are on fire under new manager Maurizio Sarri and Eden Hazard is ripping apart the league, while Jose Mourinho and Man United are struggling after their worst-ever start to a PL season, and this will be an intriguing battle.

In team news Sarri starts Alvaro Morata up top instead of Olivier Giroud, while Ross Barkley is only fit enough to make the bench.

Mourinho has a slightly more attacking lineup than expected as Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial all start.


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The Canadian Premier League is building buzz

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Maybe he’s just new on the job, but a conversation with Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan is like an imperial stout from one of Ontario’s many breweries: It gets you buzzing really quickly.

[ MORE: MLS State of Play ]

Sure, the man who knows how to politick, crediting NBC and EA Sports for the uptick in soccer popularity in North America, but it’s more than salesmanship for the former Tim Horton’s chief operating officer (Tim’s is an inescapable Canadian coffee chain).

But in discussing the construction of Canada’s new league, there’s an unavoidable energy that tracks from the ground up (and there’s little doubt their publicity and communications crew has won its mission). From the league’s very open trials in seven cities — announcing cut lists after Day One of each — to several other notable announcements, there’s an optimism in a new North American soccer league that hasn’t been felt in some time.

“You’d think in sports mad North American it should be easy to do, and many have tried but it hasn’t worked in Canada,” Clanachan says of trying to build a new league. “The bottom line is we took a very different approach. We’re building from the community level in everything we’ve done. You surround yourself with a group of storytellers who really know the game and how it shows that great passion. That’s driven by the movement and passion of the spectators. Soccer supporters are there whether their team is in third-last or first. They are all in.”

And so when the CPL started with teams in Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Halifax, Langford, Winnipeg, and York, it made sure those fan bases got a different taste of pro sports.

Who had the hardest shot or best agility at the Winnipeg trials? It’s all right there. Who made it to the second day of trials in Quebec? Just look at the list. Why did the league choose one uniform designer for all the teams? They’ll tell you, plainly.

Transparency is a big claim, but one the CPL has so far embraced in a big way.

“I talk about that incessantly with our people,” Clanachan said. “From everything when we announced the league and the league identity, people were blown away with us being very transparent. We believe that to really build it is to take people with you on the journey. It helps people understand who we are and what we want to do. Then it just became about continuing the momentum.”

Clanachan has said he dreams of a 2-3 division league with promotion and relegation one day, but is focused very much on keeping his seven teams strong at the start.

Clanachan (canpl.ca)

He credits club owners’ ownership of the league with helping idea sharing, saying the NBA is a good model for intra-league support.

And he thinks the relative lack of jobs for Canadians, especially in MLS, is only going to help his league start stronger.

“When you look at the entire MLS, there are only four Canadians that are playing meaningful minutes and only 28 total, and that’s the largest pro league close to this country,” Clanachan said.

Four, really?!?

“That’s what our guys are telling me.”

I expected him to be wrong, but there are only four Canadians in the Top 200 for minutes in MLS despite three teams playing North of the U.S. border. The number expands to eight over 300, but point well-taken.

And the open trials reflect that. NCAA college stars, MLS draft picks, and players from smaller European clubs dot the open tryout list, and these are just the names hungry to get on the radar of coaches who clearly have their own lists of players.

“Players from Singapore, Japan, South Korea are all getting attention, and they’ve paid their own way,” Clanachan raves. “Two nights ago Canada played Dominica. Our whole staff went. One of the starting forwards for Dominica was at our York trials last week. Dominica’s a very small country, let’s be honest, but a lot of people want to live in these countries, Canada and the U.S.”

And so, it follows that Canada is going to have fan enthusiasm and a decent level when it begins its way into the North American soccer landscape.

“What I took from Tim Horton’s is we built it community by community,” he said. “When you do it that way, you make a lot of deposits, and they’re with you when the withdrawal comes when you want support. And they are there in spades. Because they see you with them every day.
“When these owners came looking for me, I heard two words ‘legacy’ and ‘Canadians.’ And that to me was not the typical, ‘Well we gotta make money at this.’ Because people who go into sport to make money are going into it for the wrong reasons. They’ve gotta be into it for development of the sport. It rang a true bell. You look at why we’re having success: We’ve haven’t kicked a ball yet and people are over the moon. We’ve sold thousands of season tickets without announcing a roster. And it’s all calculated.”
The league kicks off in April. The league web site is canpl.ca.

Jurgen Klopp has some hot takes on the UEFA Nations League

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Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Jurgen Klopp loves tepid friendlies.

Of course, we’re kidding, but the Liverpool manager is not happy with the new UEFA Nations League, which has amped up matches during international breaks previously reserved for experimental XIs and low-key affairs.

[ MORE: MLS State of Play ]

With Liverpool losing several players to injury — albeit two during Africa Cup of Nations qualifying — Klopp was asked for his opinion on Friday.

The vociferous German did not disappoint. From The Liverpool Echo:

“They say ‘now we have proper games, real opponents and it’s better than having friendlies’, stuff like that. … Maybe people want to see (boxer Anthony) Joshua fighting every second night but it’s not possible. Nobody asks for it in other sports.

“Do we really want opera every night or every two months? That’s the question. We have to be careful. That’s all I said. I like competition of course but at one point someone has to step back and say ‘wait, they are players, I want to watch it, but if they don’t perform then I am angry’. How can we make sure they perform? That’s all I wanted to say.”

Now I’m all for more personalities like Klopp in sports, but I have to say this is about as poor a take as it gets. Do I want any event I watch, let alone pay to see, to be less intense? Nope. Not at all.

Do I like preseason matches, or dead rubber games late in the season? Only in-as-much as they are examples of sports I like. Sorry that your guys are hurt, Jurgen, but no one short of Liverpool fans and other club managers are giving thumbs up to your talk.

I mean, seriously, have you ever watched a game and thought, “I’m glad these guys or girls aren’t trying as hard as they can!” Doesn’t being less tuned into a game provide more chances for someone to get hurt.

I don’t buy it one bit. Anyone in Jurgen’s camp? I’m happy to argue in the comments section.