Premiership Preview

If you already miss the international action of the World Cup, turn your attention to the English Premier League, which promises cosmopolitan action. The Premiership kicks off this Saturday, August 18th. To get ready, take a look at the BBC’s quick team by team preview, and the Guardian’s guide to off-season roster changes. Sky Sports also has a more in-depth breakdown of the 20 clubs. Here as well is a full schedule and a guide to soccer on TV in North America.

This year the team to beat is the two-time defending champion, Chelsea. Since Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich took over the London club three years ago, they have gone from mediocre to magnificent, largely through the power of the ruble. They were loaded with talent last year, including Dutch winger Arjen Robben, Ivorian striker Didier Drogba, English defender John Terry, Ghanaian midfielder Michael Essien… the list goes on and on. They’ve added more. They bought one of the best strikers in the world, Andriy Shevchenko, for 30 million pounds and acquired all-round German midfielder Michael Ballack. Chelsea’s biggest problem may be fitting Ballack, Essien, Frank Lampard, and Claude Mekelele into the midfield together.

The man in charge of the tactics will be the suave and quotable Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho With his brisk words and psychological tactics, he collects enemies as he collects trophies. He rarely admits weakness, but he has claimed that Chelsea, who are sometimes lambasted for boring (if effective) play, will be more exciting this year.

The challengers are the usual suspects: Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal. Manchester United, last year’s runner-up, will challenge for the title only if the team does not implode. Leading the incendiary group is Wayne Rooney, wunderkind and pugilist. Rooney, of course, was angry at teammate Cristiano Ronaldo for complaining to the referee during the England – Portugal World Cup match. Rooney was sent off for a kick in the balls, and England lost. The youngsters say they’ve patched things up, but Ronaldo now needs beefed-up security. In his pre-season debut against Oxford, he was heavily booed, but he still scored two goals (including this one). Rooney meanwhile used his preseason to earn a three-match ban. United needs less red cards and more goals from the duo.

Last year’s third-place team and 2004 European Champions Liverpool are led by Stephen Gerrard and Xabi Alonso in the midfield. They will depend on new-signings Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt to score goals. They’ll partner up front with robot-man Peter Crouch and Robbie Fowler.

London club Arsenal open up the season in their monstrous new stadium They may lose Reyes and Ashley Cole, but they maintain their core of young talented players including Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Arsenal, under boss Arsene Wenger, has been one of the most fluid passing teams in the world, but they need someone to complement Thierry Henry in attack. Could it be Theo Walcott?

On the bottom end of things, three new clubs were promoted into the league: Reading, Sheffield United, and Watford. In May, three last place teams will be sent done to the lower depths. The Guardian speculates whether on who will stay afloat The performance of Reading may be of interest to American fans because the newbies feature Philadelphian Bobby Convey.

Here are ten new players to watch
including young Ivorian Salomon Kalou, who may become the surprise star for Chelsea. And here is a depressing piece about the rise of defensive formations in world soccer. This year every team may play at some point with only one striker up front.

Off the field, robber barons pull the strings. First there was Chelsea’s stealth oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is listed by Forbes as the world’s 21st richest person. Then Tampa tycoon Malcolm Glazer took over Man United Now Portsmouth has a colorful new Israeli shareholder and Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner runs things at Aston Villa.

Lastly, a word about Newcastle United They stink.

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