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.

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

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Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

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Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).