Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Epic title race set to take center stage

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Are Manchester United’s new boys up to the challenge?

Louis van Gaal has spent another $120 million on new signings this summer, as his total expenditure on transfer fees alone since taking charge at Old Trafford 12 months ago has risen to $320 million. With those huge amounts of cash comes a huge amount of expectation.

[ MORE: PST’s writers predict the final PL standings ]

With five new signings arriving this summer, this side is now a true reflection of van Gaal and his philosophy. The Dutchman delivered a top four finish last season, exactly what he promised, but if he doesn’t at least finish in the top two this season, serious questions will be asked. 

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL season previews

Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger have arrived to bolster the holding midfield positions, while Matteo Darmian will start at right back and the eccentric, but hugely talented, Dutch youngster Memphis Depay will support Wayne Rooney in attack. Following the departure of Falcao and Angel di Maria this summer after an unsuccessful year at United, van Gaal will be hoping his new signings have a significantly bigger impact.

On paper, United’s midfield is the strongest in the PL but if Rooney goes down following the departure of Robin van Persie, they only have Depay who can play centrally in a pinch, and young striker James Wilson. At the back, question marks remain in central defense, but if Chris Smalling and Phil Jones stay injury free they can provide the solidity needed to mount a serious title charge, providing Rooney and Co. take care of business at the other end of the pitch.

[ MORE: Can United mount a serious title challenge? ]

The big question mark heading into this season for United remains whether or not goalkeeper David de Gea will remain at Old Trafford. The 24-year-old Spanish international has yet to commit his future to United and with just one-year left on his current deal and the links with Real Madrid persisting, LVG could start with new ‘keeper Sergio Romero on the opening day of the season against Tottenham Hotspur. De Gea was the star of the show for United last season and was the reason they finished in the top four. If he leaves or this situation continues to drag on, the Red Devils’ chances of challenging for the title will be a lot slimmer.

Can Chelsea hold off the big spenders?

Reigning PL champs Chelsea have had a frugal summer, and Jose Mourinho is fine with it. The Blues have added Asmir Begovic in goal and Radamel Falcao on loan to boost their already strong squad. But have they strengthened sufficiently to deal with the challenge of United, Arsenal and Manchester City?

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The main area of concern is up front. Diego Costa’s hamstring issues have continued throughout the summer and with Didier Drogba gone, Mourinho only has Loic Remy and Falcao in attack to replace Costa. Mourinho has admitted he cannot reassure Chelsea as to the future health of Costa and although Eden Hazard has been pulling off Lionel Messi-esque moments during preseason, he can’t do it all on his own. Losing the focal point of their attack for most of the second half of last season severely hampered Chelsea’s attacking prowess and if Costa is missing for large chunks of this season, relying on Remy and Falcao may not cut it. Defensively the Blues look as sound as ever, but as we saw during their Community Shield defeat to Arsenal, the competition is catching up fast which should make this a much tighter title race than last season.

Is Cech the final piece in Arsenal jigsaw?

Petr Cech’s arrival seems to have already given the fans, players and coaches at Arsenal a big lift, with the veteran goalkeeper finally adding what the Gunners have lacked for nearly a decade: a world class stopper. Cech, 33, finally got fed up of sitting on the bench behind Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea and after plenty of negotiations between Mourinho and Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich, Cech was allowed to leave for the club of his choice. That turned out to be Chelsea’s London rivals Arsenal, who are now serious rivals to Chelsea’s title.

[ MORE: Can Arsenal win the title with Cech on board? ]

For years Arsene Wenger’s side have played the most attractive soccer in the PL but have failed to win the league since 2004. The main reason for that has been defensive solidity and organization. However when  you sign Cech, a goalkeeper who has won 13 major titles during his 11-year stint at Chelsea, you don’t just get a great stopper. You get a guy who can organize the back line and with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny solidifying their central defensive partnership, the Gunners looked an incredibly strong defensive unit against Chelsea in the Community Shield. Now, if Wenger can add a true 25 goal-plus striker (Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain continue to be linked) before the end of the transfer window, the Gunners will be legit title contenders.

Pellegrini under pressure, as City look for Sterling to deliver

Talking of title contenders, Manuel Pellegrini has been bullish about Manchester City’s title hopes this season but many, including most of our writers in their preseason predictions, have City slumping. Despite signing Raheem Sterling for an eye-watering $75 million, the only other additions this summer have been Fabian Delph and young striker Patrick Roberts. With Pellegrini signing a new contract extension on the eve of the new season, there is some stability but it is still a huge season for the Chilean manager.

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City finished second last season but you feel that anything other than a title winning campaign will spark the end for Pellegrini, even with his new deal. The erratic form of Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure was crucial in City’s demise last season, but with Sergio Aguero as sharp as ever, plus Sterling and David Silva linking up well in preseason, that trio could dazzle this season. There will be plenty of pressure on Sterling but like his manager, there is faith in their abilities from City’s owner. Now, they must deliver.

Liverpool’s rebuild; can Spurs and Saints challenge top four?

For the second summer in a row, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has undertaken a huge revamp of his squad after key departures. Last summer Luis Suarez left, this summer it was Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling departing as over $115 million has been spent on the likes of Christian Benteke ($50 million) and Roberto Firmino ($40 million) to significantly boost their chances of returning to the top four after a disappointing sixth-place finish last season. Add in the Nathaniel Clyne, James Milner and Danny Ings singings and Rodgers has added players with plenty of PL experience to guide his side back to the top four, plus Daniel Sturridge will return from injury in September.

[ MORE: Second rebuild in a row for Liverpool ]

With the Europa League a distraction for Liverpool, their main aim will be to finish above Chelsea, Arsenal, and the two Manchester clubs. Whether or not that’s attainable will become quickly apparent and the pressure will pile on Rodgers if another new-look side struggles in the early part of the season.

Tottenham and Southampton finished either side of Liverpool last season in fifth and seventh respectively, and both harbor hopes of once again flirting with a top four position. Spurs have strengthened their sieve-like defense consisderably (Toby Alderwiereld is the key addition) but with Mauricio Pochettino in his second season in charge at White Hart Lane, his players know his philosophy and his young squad must finally fulfill its potential and achieve a top four finish. As for Pochettino’s old club Southampton, they will have a struggle on their hands to replicate their best-ever PL finish of seventh from last season. Ronald Koeman has once again wheeled and dealed admirably in the transfer market but after losing Schneierdlin to Manchester United and Clyne to Liverpool, plus having a potential Europa League group stage to deal with, the Saints may not go marching on much further this season. Another intriguing storyline to look out for is the emergence of Swansea, Crystal Palace and Stoke City as established PL clubs. All three finished in the top 10 last season and have made shrewd signings this summer. They may not challenge for a top four berth yet, but these clubs will be vying for the top eight.

New boys on the block

Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich City join the part this season as the trio were promoted from the English Champions (second-tier) last season. For Bournemouth, their tiny Vitality Stadium holds under 12,000 fans but under a wealthy Russian owner and a progressive, young head coach in Eddie Howe, the Cherries should cause plenty of upsets along the way and have a good chance of staying up in their first-ever season in the PL.

As for Watford, they have a host of new signings (12 in total) and new manager Quique Flores will have his work cut out to gel everything together. The Hornets have been relegated straight away in their previous two seasons in the PL, but they can expect a little better this time around with Troy Deeney up front.

Finally there’s Norwich; Make sure you sit down and read Joe Posnanski’s brilliant longform article on the Canaries, as young manager Alex Neil took charge midway through last season and guided them straight back to the PL. Norwich have bags of PL experience but not strengthening this summer could haunt them.

Foreign imports: top five to look out for

With over $750 million spent on new signings by Premier League clubs already this summer, there are plenty of new players to look out for.

In the video above I select my top five new guys who will grace the PL for the first-time in their careers this campaign.

New managers have tough task to turn things around

Steve McClaren and Slaven Bilic have tough jobs on their hands to steady the ship and progress Newcastle United and West Ham United respectively. Both have been given plenty of money to spend this summer, but McClaren will be feeling plenty of pressure to deliver a top 10 finish for a club whose fans and owner always demand more. As for West Ham, they have turned to their former defender Bilic to lead them in their final season at their famous Upton Park stadium and although they have brought in plenty of players with experience of European soccer, the Hammers already crashed out of the Europa League in the qualifying rounds to start the season off on a bad note.

Although these two new managers have the talent in their squad to be in the top 10, they could well see their teams embroiled in a relegation battle this season. Elsewhere, Claudio Ranieri has a big job on his hands at Leicester City. The veteran Italian manger — infamously known as “The Tinkerman” during his time at Chelsea — has inherited a squad of players signed by Nigel Pearson and following his firing this summer, despite keeping the Foxes up against all the odds last year, Ranieiri will have to hit the ground running. Other managerial storylines to keep on eye on include Roberto Martinez at Everton and Dick Advocaat. Both will be on a short leash if they have a poor start to the season.

Don’t miss a second, all season long

For the third season in a row we will bring unprecedented coverage of the Barclays Premier League. From video highlights, injury and team news, analysis, recaps and more, here at PST we will give you all the important information you need from the PL.

And of course, you can stream every single game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra and the NBC Sports Live Extra App. Plus there will be at least four feature games on NBCSN, NBC and USA every weekend. If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. Looking for game highlights? Try this.

Right, are you ready? Let’s do this.

Mexicans abroad: Weekend roundup

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made sure to let Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini know that he made no mistake in handing him the No. 9, opening his account in the new season.

Over in Portugal, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona continues to gain minutes and impress, while Hector Moreno scores in a friendly with his new Qatari club.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico and the United States this weekend.

Premier League

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, West Ham — Rolling back the years, Chicharito… The 31-year-old started, played 83 minutes, and made scored his first goal of the season for West Ham in their 1-1 draw away to Brighton.

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers — Wolves and Jimenez take on Manchester United on Monday.

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera featured on Atletico’s bench, but was not called on by Diego Simeone in Los Colchonero’s 1-0 win over Getafe. His La Liga remains on standby.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis — The fulcrum of Betis’ midfield last season, Guardado didn’t suit up for the Sevilla-based side’s opening 2-1 loss to Real Valladolid.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old, who many are hoping will have a breakout season, was left on the bench by first-year coach Rubi.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — The soon-to-be 28-year-old was a fixture for Celta last year. It looks like that trend will repeat itself this time around with Araujo starting and playing 90 minutes against Real Madrid in the 3-1 loss.

Eredivisie

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, PSV Eindhoven — Chucky might have already played his last game for PSV. Multiple reports indicate the 24-year-old winger is set to become the most expensive Mexican player ever in a $46 million move to Napoli.

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Unlike last year, it seems PSV will lean on “Guti” a lot more this season. On Sunday, the midfielder started and played all 90 minutes in PSV’s 2-0 victory over Heracles.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez made his Eredivisie debut in Ajax’s 4-1 thumping of VVV-Venlo, playing the final 27 minutes as a center back.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona — Corona, for a second consecutive week, started and registered 90 minutes in a Porto victory. He is the lone Mexican in the Portuguese first division following Herrera’s and Antonio Briseño’s respective departures this summer.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea and Zulte Waregem take on Charleroi on Monday.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Hector Moreno, Al Gharafa   In a friendly against Al Khor, the 31-year-old defender scored his first goal for the Qatari club. In two seasons with Real Sociedad, Moreno scored two goals.

Diego Reyes, Fenerbahçe  The center back is reportedly not in the Turkish giants’ plans, and Tigres sounds like his next destination.

Juan Gerardo Ramirez Alosno, Roda JC — Not a household name, the fullback continues to add minutes with Roda, which he joined this summer. On Friday, he played 90 minutes in Roda’s 4-0 loss to Volendam.

Americans Abroad: Weekend roundup

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Christian Pulisic made his much-anticipated home debut as Chelsea secured their first point of the season. Starting and playing 71 minutes, the Pennsylvania native struggled to make a difference for the Blues, though, failing to record a shot.

Meanwhile in Sweden, a familiar face proved to be the X factor for his team. Romain Gall, 24, scored and recorded two assists in Malmo’s 5-0 win on Sunday. The midfielder joins Julian Green and Joel Sonora as the only Americans to score abroad this weekend in top-tier leagues.

Between the sticks, Zack Steffen opened his Bundesliga account with an impressive nine saves in Dusseldorf’s victory.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — The 20-year-old made his home debut in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City, but failed to record a shot in 71 minutes of play.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback remains sidelined as he continues to recover from a groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson started and went all 90 minutes for the Latics in their 2-0 loss to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — 90 minutes and a clean sheet for the 24-year-old in Reading’s 3-0 win over Cardiff City.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain recorded another 90 minutes in Hull City’s draw against Brentford this weekend. Surely, Lichaj will continue to feature game in and game out.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — After two positive matches to start the season, Cameron and QPR fell 2-0 to Bristol City. The Massachusetts native played all 90 minutes.

Tim Ream, Fulham — 90 minutes and a start for Ream in Fulham’s 2-1 loss to Huddersfield Town on Friday. From the looks of it, the American center back will be staple defender for the recently-relegated club.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — After starting for consecutive weeks, Haji came off the bench and only featured for 19 minutes against Ajax.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — The young defender played and contributed well for 90 minutes in Ajax’s 4-1 victory over VVV Venlo. Dest continues to impress Ajax’s coaching staff, apparently.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback played 47 minutes against Heerenveen. FC Emmen won 2-0 on Saturday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — No start for Weah this time. In Lille’s 1-0 loss to Amiens, the 19-year-old came off the bench and played six minutes.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordan-Siebatcheu, like Weah, had a very similar weekend: coming on as a substitute and playing 17 minutes. Rennes, however, won 2-1 over PSG.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke — In Schalke’s first game of the season, the midfielder started and played 85 minutes in the 0-0 draw against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Zack Steffen, Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf Steffen and Morales started and went all 90 minutes in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s praiseworthy win against Werder Bremen. Steffen, in particular, put his unquestioned shot-stopping abilities to use. The Bundesliga debutant finished with nine saves.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old saw some minutes on the field, coming off the bench in the 83rd minute.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson is not slated to be a constant starter for Mönchengladbach this season, at least that’s what Saturday showed us. The 31-year-old only played 27 minutes.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt Chandler made the 18 but did not play for Eintracht Frankfurt in their 1-0 win over Hoffenheim.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams was a no-go for RB Leipzig in their 4-0 win over Union Berlin.

Honorable Mentions:

Romain Gall, Malmo  After seeing a few minutes here and there, the USMNT capped midfielder scored and assisted twice in Malmo’s 5-0 victory Falkenbergs. If Gall wants to be a part of Greg Berhalter’s plans, however, more of this will be needed.

Julian Green, Greuther Furth The 24-year-old scored the lone goal in Greuther Furth’s victory.

Joel Sonora, Arsenal de Sarandi — Sonora played 82 minutes opened his account with Arsenal de Sarandi in their 3-0 over Defense y Justicia.

Reports: Napoli agree record fee for Hirving Lozano

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Mexico’s most expensive player ever will soon be Hirving “Chucky” Lozano.

According to multiple reports, PSV Eindhoven and Napoli have agreed to a $46 million transfer fee for the Mexican international. According to Sky Sport 24‘s Francesco Modugno, the 24-year-old will travel to Rome on Tuesday and complete his medical on Wednesday morning, ending the Serie A club’s summer-long pursuit.

Lozano will reportedly sign a five-year deal with Gli Azzurri worth $4 million per year plus bonuses.

Over the course of the past few months, Napoli were also linked with Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez. In the end, Carlo Ancelotti, who is planning to give Juventus a run for their money this season, is adding the speedy winger to his attacking corps that features the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Arkadiusz Milik.

Despite coming off injured in the 50th minute against ADO Den Haagg in his last PSV appearance, it is believed it won’t influence Lozano’s medical. He will break the transfer record for a Mexican player set by Raul Jimenez in his summer move to Wolverhampton Wanderers from Benfica worth $43 million.

Having sold Memphis Depay for nearly $39 million in 2015 to Manchester United, Lozano’s departure would set a new record for the Dutch giants as well.

La Liga roundup: Atletico Madrid win first opener in four years

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Spain’s top flight is two days into a new season, and here’s a roundup of all of Sunday’s action.

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Atletico Madrid 1-0 Getafe

It wasn’t done in aesthetically pleasing fashion, but Atletico Madrid won their first opening season game in four years.

In fact, the first half was rough with both Atletico and Getafe loosing players to straight red cards. Getafe’s Jorge Molina saw red for a studs-up challenge in the 38th minute, while Renan Lodi was asked to leave the field in his debut for Los Colchoneros. 

Summer signing Alvaro Morata proved to be the difference for Atletico, however. Assisted by former Tottenham fullback Kieran Trippier, the team’s academy product scored early on in the 23rd minute – the goal made Atletico one of eight clubs to start the season with three points.

$140 million signing Joao Felix also made his La Liga debut, and impressed the home crowd with a dazzling run in the second half that ended drawing a penalty for Atletico. Morata missed.

Not the smoothest of games for Diego Simeone’s side, but like Real Madrid, they already have an edge on Barcelona.

Espanyol 0-2 Sevilla 

Julen Lopetegui can finally breathe (and coach) in peace.

Following a series of unfortunate events with the Spanish national team and Real Madrid, Lopetegui and Sevilla started their new era in a winning way.

Sergio Reguilon got things started for the visiting side with a tap in inside the six-yard box. And in the final minutes, no stranger to stepping up for Sevilla, Nolito slotted one past Diego Lopez.

With only two shots on frame to speak for them, Espanyol was one, two steps behind Los Hispalenses, who look for another top-six finish in Spain’s top-flight league.

Sevilla’s young quest for that continues as they travel to Granada. Meanwhile, Espanyol have no time to waist with a Europa League play-off bout against Ukrainian side Zorya lined up midweek.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 1-2 Real Valladolid

Alaves 1-0 Levante