Thursday, Sep 18, 2014

A league minus favourites

Associated Press | London | Posted: August 16, 2014 1:50 am

The return of the Premier League this weekend cannot come quickly enough for English fans still lamenting their national team’s worst World Cup showing. With the league’s riches and global reach, it remains England’s projection of soccer power.

But as the waning impact of English sides in Europe last season demonstrated, the Premier League’s allure remains under threat from Spain. Gareth Bale left Tottenham for Real Madrid last year, and the new season begins with Luis Suarez at Barcelona rather than Liverpool.

Liverpool cashed in around $130 million for the Uruguay striker, who is banned until the end of October. But Liverpool is now without the player who led the club to a rapid return to the elite, and the Premier League marketing machine is without one of its most recognizable names.

Replenishing the Liverpool squad with a trio of players from eighth-place Southampton at a cost of $80 million doesn’t seem the obvious way of turning last season’s second-place finish behind Manchester City into a first championship since 1990. The 27-year-old Suarez, whose 31 goals earned him the player of the year title, has been replaced by 32-year-old Southampton striker Rickie Lambert, who played just three minutes for England at the World Cup. “(Suarez) left Liverpool after his time as a world-class talent,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. “But we will move forward.”

Manchester United seem more likely to make a big jump forward than Liverpool. Louis van Gaal has replaced David Moyes, who took over from Alex Ferguson as manager last season but wilted in the Old Trafford spotlight as the team fell from champions to seventh place. Moyes arrived a year ago without a trophy to his name, but Van Gaal already has an aura of authority gained from years at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He also led the Netherlands to a third-place finish at the World Cup last month. With United out of the Champions League for the first time since 1995, and out of Europe completely, the 63-year-old Dutchman can focus on returning United to the top four. “He’ll find the competition in this league will be different to any other league that he’s worked in,” Rodgers said. “This is a league where the top team plays the bottom team, and on any given day you can lose.”

Repair work
Van Gaal has set about repairing a squad he described as imbalanced and “broken” in a summer that has seen veteran defenders Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic leave, and Ryan Giggs retire. United spent about $90 million on signing Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao and Luke Shaw from Southampton, which has seen an exodus of players to rival clubs. Manager Mauricio Pochettino left to take over at Tottenham.

Dithering in last summer’s transfer window contributed to United’s unexpected fall. The unwillingness of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to spend early in previous offseasons has contributed to title challenges collapsing since 2004. Jolted by the failure to claim the trophy last season, finishing fourth after spending more time at continued…

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