English Premier League

Premier League Preview: Manchester 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.

Manchester United has never finished lower than third place in the English Premier League, and it has won the league 13 times in its 21 seasons. But this year could prove to be the Red Devils’ toughest test to date in that respect.

Despite returning nearly every player in a world-class squad — although Wayne Rooney’s situation still seems to be up in the air — the one change that makes this season tougher than any in recent memory is David Moyes taking over from Sir Alex Ferguson as manager.

Transfers In: D Guillermo Varela (Peñarol, Uruguay)

Transfers Out: M Paul Scholes (retired), F John Cofie (Barnsley, Championship), D Luke McCullough (Doncaster Rovers, Championship), D Sean McGinty (Sheffield United, League One), D Reece Brown (Watford, Championship)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: Teams at the top that are decked out with more stars than many small galaxies need leadership. Nemanja Vidićs (pictured) role as captain of United just got bigger with Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. Not only is he one of the best center backs in the world, he now has to lead a group of players through what will surely be a highly scrutinized campaign.

Vidić’s relationship with Moyes will set an example for the rest of the team to follow. If it’s a good one, the club should easily be comfortable with a new man in charge. A proven leader at every level he’s played so far, Vidić just became perhaps the most vital player on the team.

Manager: David Moyes has Premier League coaching experience, and he was personally tapped by Ferguson as the legendary Scotsman’s successor. However, managing players and egos at a team such as Everton, which is on a lower tier in the highest English league, is much different from doing the same at Manchester United.

Lesser men have cracked under that kind of pressure, but Moyes is an exceptional character. He’s been in the English game long enough to know how every facet of it works, and his new club is one of the few that pour unending resources into building a winning team — and it’s also shown patience in trying times.

Outlook: Teams with the talent and resources of Manchester United don’t fold or fail because of a managerial change. What the team might do, though, is have a little trouble against teams of equal status. Expect United to challenge for the trophy again but fall just short, still comfortably qualifying for the Champions League next season.

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

Premier League Preview: Top 5 goalkeepers to watch

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In addition to previewing two teams from the Premier League each day until the beginning of season, we will name five players to watch at each position, goalkeeper through forward. The 2013-14 season begins Aug. 17, and for the first time, every game will be broadcast live in the United States on NBC Sports.

So often, goalkeeping is an all-or-nothing position. The men between the sticks are either the heroes after making a save to preserve a lead, or they are the goats after giving up a soft goal (even if they’ve made 10 world-class saves before their one mistake).

In a league where most teams predicate their game on direct play such as the Premier League, goalkeepers are expected to do a lot. Those who wear the gloves in the English top flight are often some of the most physically imposing and athletically gifted in the world, because if they’re not, they will not survive.

Here are, in no particular order, five goalkeepers to watch this season in the Premier League:

Simon Mignolet, Liverpool

source: Getty ImagesAfter an impressive campaign with Sunderland last year, Simon Mignolet moved to Liverpool this summer to replace Pepe Reina, who is on loan at Napoli. He produced multiple stunning displays for the Black Cats as they just survived the drop.

It was his impressive form at Sunderland the last two years that saw Mignolet earn his first caps with the Belgian national team. Now, he competes for playing time at the national level with Atlético Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois.

The challenge now for Mignolet will be keeping his superior form at a club where he likely won’t be called into action as often. The mental side of goalkeeping comes into play when players are under more pressure to perform but have fewer opportunities to do prove they can.

Brad Guzan, Aston Villa

The 2012-13 season was a breakout year for Brad Guzan (top image). After bidding his time behind Brad Friedel and Shay Given in previous seasons, Guzan’s performance last year was good enough for his teammates to vote him as the club’s Player of the Year. He also found playing time for the United States when Tim Howard was injured.

This summer was calmer than the previous few for Guzan. After being released and re-signed by Aston Villa after the 2011-12 season, he comes into this season as the undisputed No. 1 for his club.

The former Major League Soccer Goalkeeper of the Year seems to have earned some respect from both his teammates and the rest of the league. Now, when everybody expects him to play well, what will Guzan’s reaction be?

Joe Hart, Manchester City

source: Getty ImagesThree years in a row, Joe Hart has won the Barclays Golden Glove for keeping the most shutouts in league play. His 53 over the last three seasons are second only to Pepe Reina’s 57 from 2005 to 2008, when he also won the award three years in a row for Liverpool.

The award has only been given out since the 2004-05 season, but Hart can become the first player to win it four times in 2012-13. Although a star-studded squad at Manchester City helps him along, and every goalkeeper will be quick to point out that clean sheets are a team effort, Hart is worthy of all his praise.

Hart is the first goalkeeper since David Seaman to grab the reins for the English national team and hold on tightly. It speaks to not only his quality, but also the consistency of his high level of play. On the rare occasions City needs salvation, not many are better equipped to provide it.

source: Getty ImagesTim Howard, Everton

Tim Howard found a home at Everton after a shaky tenure with Manchester United. The Toffees’ No. 1 for six years, the American has played in all but four league matches since the 2007-08 season.

More than his superb shot stopping and command of the penalty area on crosses, Howard provides a vocal and demanding form of leadership that has steered Everton to top-10 finishes in every season since he joined the team.

That leadership will be necessary this season more than in the recent past, as manager David Moyes left to take over at Manchester United. Still, under Roberto Martínez, the Toffees have a chance to make more waves in 2012-13, and they will likely lean on their 34-year-old veteran goalkeeper for direction.

David de Gea, Manchester United

source: Getty ImagesSince joining Manchester United two summers ago, the club paying Atlético Madrid a record transfer fee for a goalkeeper, it has been anything but smooth sailing for the young Spaniard. At just 22 years of age, de Gea is still a project for the future.

He was voted by the Professional Footballers’ Association into its Team of the Year last season, perhaps indicating that he is finally getting the hang of playing under the intense scrutiny of the English press and fans.

Certainly, de Gea has shown improvement in each of his seasons in the Premier League so far. However, this will be a crucial season for de Gea’s development. His age and experience are about when goalkeepers turn into world-class players and never look back — or go the other way entirely.

(MORE: Read all the Premier League previews here)

Premier League Preview: West Ham 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.

Back in the Premier League for a second season after falling to the Championship for one, West Ham United is a perennial contender for mid-table obscurity. London’s East Enders didn’t make many changes from last season, aside from signing Andy Carroll from Liverpool, but he was already at West Ham on loan.

After an up-and-down 2012-13 season, West Ham finished dead center in the standings. Short-lived cup runs allowed the Hammers to focus on league play, where they tied Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool and beat Chelsea, but also lost to Sunderland and Wigan.

Transfers In: GK Adrián (Réal Betis, Spain), F Andy Carroll (Liverpool), F Danny Whitehead (Stockport County, Conference North), D Răzvan Raț (Shakhtar Donetsk, Ukraine)

Transfers Out: M/F Robert Hall (Bolton Wanderers, Championship), F Carlton Cole (released), M Gary O’Neil (released)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: Captain Kevin Nolan has proven to be a steady goalscorer, but if West Ham is going to contend for anything serious this year, Andy Carroll will have to step up for his new (permanent) club. When he played for another mid-level team, Newcastle United, Carroll had no trouble bagging goals, but his form waned after a move to Liverpool.

For strikers, playing well is about confidence and comfort, both of which should be easier to find at Upton Park. His seven goals for the Hammers while on loan last year were one more than he managed to score in nearly twice as many appearances for Liverpool.

Manager: Sam Allardyce enters his third season as West Ham manager. He had a relatively quiet summer after leading the Hammers to promotion from the Championship two years ago and then revamping the roster to finish in 10th place.

Much as the man himself, Allardyce’s teams have a reputation for playing hard-nosed soccer. Though it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing game, it seems to get results in the English game.

Outlook: West Ham’s silence in the summer transfer window could be seen as either a sign of contentment or lack of ambition. However, if the squad it has right now can find some form, a top-10 finish is not out of the question. It’s hard to see any sustained assault on the league — it will probably be another erratic season of results that ends at mid-table — but a long cup run seems more likely for teams that give spotty performances.

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

Premier League Preview: Norwich City

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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.

Two points from a top-10 finish last season, Norwich City reloaded in the off-season. The Canaries offloaded 13 players and picked up eight, giving the squad a whole new look heading into the 2013-14 season. Particularly of interest is the team’s new desire for foreign talent, having signed a player from Spain, two from the Netherlands and a Swede.

Transfers In: GK Carlo Nash (Stoke City), F Gary Hooper (Celtic, Scotland), D Javier Garrido (Lazio, Italy), M Leroy Fer (FC Twente, Netherlands), D/M Martin Olsson (Blackburn Rovers, Championship), M Nathan Redmond (Birmingham City, Championship), F Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon, Portugal), D Semi Ajayi (Charlton Athletic, Championship)

Transfers Out: M George Francomb (Wimbledon, League Two), GK Jed Steer (Aston Villa), M Tom Adeyemi (Birmingham City, Championship), D Marc Tierney (Bolton Wanderers, Championship), D Elliott Ward (Bournemouth, Championship), F Chris Martin (Derby County, Championship), F Simeon Jackson (Eintracht Braunschweig, Germany), F James Vaughan (Huddersfield Town, Championship), M Korey Smith (Oldham Athletic, League One), F Grant Holt (Wigan Athletic, Championship), D Leon Barnett (Wigan Athletic, Championship), GK Lee Camp (released), M Andrew Surman (loan, Bournemouth, Championship)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: With Grant Holt, the top scorer in Norwich’s last four seasons, gone, young Dutchman Ricky van Wolfswinkel will be squarely in the public eye this season. Van Wolfswinkel signed for a club record £8.5 million from Sporting Lisbon, where he scored 28 goals in 55 appearances over two seasons.

The burden on his shoulders: continue scoring boatloads of goals after moving to another foreign country at age 24. Sounds simple enough.

Manager: Chris Hughton has been manager of Norwich since Paul Lambert left for Aston Villa after leading the Canaries to two successive promotions. Hughton led the team to its 11th-place finish last season, one spot above Lambert’s final season at Norwich.

Hughton has a reputation as a player’s manager, and he has found success at every club he’s coached. He has a habit of taking small clubs to higher places, such as when his team beat Arsenal and Manchester United last year, and when he led Birmingham City to the UEFA Europa League group stage while in the Championship.

Outlook: Whenever clubs reload as quickly as Norwich has this summer, the risk is a lack of cohesion. However, the team is legitimately better now than it was before, so even if it takes a month or two, Norwich has the potential to be one of the major risers this season. A top-10 finish is not out of the question, and neither is a European place with a deep run in the FA Cup.

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

Cesc Fàbregas speaks out on transfer rumors, commits to FC Barcelona

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After swirling speculation all summer that Cesc Fàbregas would leave FC Barcelona, or at least use other clubs’ interest to get a raise, he finally spoke on Thursday. Fàbregas said the rumors of his departure were “invented.”

“I’ve always been very relaxed,” he said, according to Mundo Deportivo. “I didn’t need to clear anything up because in my mind, I was only going to continue with Barça.”

Fàbregas played for Barcelona’s La Masia academy before leaving for Arsenal in 2003, where he spent eight years. He returned to Barcelona in 2011, and not even multiple bids from Manchester United could entice him to leave Camp Nou.

“I am very, very, very happy at Barcelona,” Fàbregas said. “I have not spoken with any clubs in the last two summers.”

On top of his commitment to the club, Fàbregas admitted that he hasn’t played up to his standard in the past two years and promised to improve his performance.

On Thursday, Manchester United responded through a spokesman, who said: “We appreciate Cesc is a contracted player at Barcelona and completely respect everything Cesc has said today.”

That makes a potential five bids that United have seen rejected this summer, including those for Cristiano Ronaldo, Thiago Alcantara, Kevin Strootman and Robert Lewandowski.