- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 16, 2008

PREMIER LEAGUE OPENS UP

The English Premier League begins regular-season play Saturday with a full slate of matches. Though there are still two weeks left in the transfer window and clubs could take on decidedly different looks before September, Drew Hansen takes a look at the top questions headed into the season.

Is Manchester United settled? - Midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo, the only other 23-year-old athlete in the world whose name could share a list with Michael Phelps, said he was looking at making a move to Spain’s Real Madrid following this summer’s European championships. Manager Alex Ferguson simply didn’t let that happen. Ronaldo has since pledged allegiance to the Red Devils for at least another year, but emotions show themselves when the Portuguese star, who scored 42 goals in 48 matches last year, returns next month after ankle surgery.

How improved is Chelsea? - The club went out and got itself a top-flight manager in Luiz Felipe Scolari, added a playmaking midfielder in Deco and brought in Jose Bosingwa to help out on the back line. Brazilian forward Robinho could be in the fold before September. With these acquisitions (and the fact that Manchester United failed to make any), last year’s runners-up in three cups are looking like they have enough firepower to surpass their rivals from the north.



Will any transfer be bigger than Robbie Keane to Liverpool? - The Irishman’s big-money move to his childhood favorite gives Liverpool a perfect foil for fellow forward Fernando Torres. It also allows manager Rafael Benitez to drop Steven Gerrard back into a playmaking role, to which he is better suited. While the club failed to bring in Gareth Barry from Aston Villa (a move that could have put the team over the top), Keane’s signing gives Liverpool a frightening look up front. If injuries stay away from the club, Liverpool could be the team to beat.

Can any club challenge the top four? - The answer is no. Aston Villa, Tottenham, Everton and Portsmouth are all good clubs with talented players, but they simply don’t have the depth of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Arsenal has been a popular pick to slip since Thierry Henry left for Barcelona, but it didn’t happen last year. If Villa can hold onto Barry or Tottenham can get something special out of its corps of young players, there’s a chance that someone new could shake things up.

GOAL OF THE WEEK

United States forward Natasha Kai vs. Canada

The U.S. women’s team advanced to the Olympic semifinals in Shanghai on Friday when Kai’s header in the 101st minute broke a 1-1 tie with Canada. The Hawaii native sneaked behind the Canadian defense and connected on a looping cross from Shannon Boxx deep inside the 18-yard box. Kai, who entered Thursday’s game as a substitute, scored a hat trick in a 6-0 win over Canada in May at RFK Stadium.

MATCHES TO WATCH

UNITED STATES at GUATEMALA Wednesday, 10 p.m., ESPN2

The U.S. men head south and into a hostile environment for their toughest of six semifinal-round World Cup qualifiers. Four players from the Olympic team, including former Maryland star Maurice Edu, will be making the trip.

FIRE at GALAXY Thursday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN2

Bruce Arena makes his Los Angeles coaching debut against Brian McBride, one of his favorite U.S. national team players, who could make his debut with Chicago.

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