Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Manchester United

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Last season, the goal for Manchester United was a top-four finish and berth in the Champions League. Both of those were accomplished as the Red Devils head into the 2015-16 season with their sights set on bringing silverware back to Manchester.

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United have won a record 13 Premier League titles, but after finishing seventh in the league in 2013-14, David Moyes was sacked and Louis van Gaal was brought in to start a new era at the club. Van Gaal has spent massively to bring in top talent for his side, and improvements have been made heading into his second year in charge.

Crosstown rivals Manchester City have finished above United on the table in three of the past four seasons, as the Red Devils will have to overcome Chelsea and Arsenal as well if the PL trophy is to return to Old Trafford.

Best possible XI:

— De Gea —

— Darmian — Jones — Blind — Shaw —

— Schweinsteiger — Schneiderlin —

— Mata — Depay — Young —

— Rooney —

Transfers in: Sergio Romero (Free, Sampdoria), Matteo Darmian ($18 million, Torino), Bastian Schweinsteiger ($22 million, Bayern Munich), Morgan Schneiderlin ($40 million, Southampton), Memphis Depay ($40 million, PSV Eindhoven)

[ MORE: Full schedule for every PL club ]

Transfers out: Robin van Persie ($6 million, Fenerbahce), Radamel Falcao (season-long loan, Chelsea), Tom Cleverley (Free, Everton)

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League
Rooney scored 12 league goals last season, his lowest output since 2011.

Last season: Fourth place in the Premier League — The goal last season was to get back into the Champions League, and that goal was accomplished. It took a bit of time for Louis van Gaal to implement his system, and injuries forced some to play out of position for stretches of the season. At the end of the year, United was back in the Champions League after their worst ever Premier League finish in 2013-14.

Star player: Wayne Rooney — The captain is currently the third all-time leading goal scorer for Manchester United, and at just 19 goals shy of Sir Bobby Charlton for the record, Rooney could end the season as the greatest scorer in club history. Last year, injuries forced Rooney to play in a midfield role for certain parts of the season, but when he was placed back in his preferred spot at striker, his production rate shot up. Now with Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao gone and Chicharito’s status at the club uncertain, Rooney and 19-year-old James Wilson are the only true strikers on the Red Devils’ roster. That means all the pressure is on Rooney to come up with the goals when United need them most.

Only trophies will bring a smile to Louis van Gaal’s face this season.

Coaches’ Corner: Louis van Gaal is entering his second season as a manager in the Premier League, and now Manchester United is officially “his” team. The Dutchman was given a massive budget to bring in the players of his choosing, and has had time to develop his system and tactics with the side. Always an interesting press conference, Van Gaal has a way of dancing around questions with his quick wits and wry humor, which can be both entertaining and frustrating at the same time. Now that he got United back to the Champions League, LVG will have his focus on trophies in the 2015-16 season.

PST predicts: The Red Devils will be looking at a finish towards the top of the table. After finishing fourth last season, the fans at Old Trafford want silverware and will hope to challenge the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City for the Premier League title. There is some debate as to whether or not United is a legitimate contender this season, but there is no doubt that they are still one of the elite clubs in the world.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.