EPL back in the spotlight after Olympics

Premier League soccer emerges from the shadows and back into the spotlight this weekend.

Soccer players

LONDON - After two glorious Olympic weeks when cycling, rowing, athletics, swimming and boxing have captured the public's imagination, Premier League soccer emerges from the shadows and back into the spotlight this weekend.

For once, in England at least, the trials and tribulations of the big clubs, and their close-season transfer spending sprees have been pushed off the back pages by the exploits of Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, Michael Phelps, David Rudisha and the others.

Although it will be the usual frenetic, high-octane business on the field when Manchester City kick off their title defence against newly-promoted Southampton and European champions Chelsea visit Wigan Athletic this weekend, some post-Olympic re-evaluation would do soccer no harm.

Twitter and other social messaging sites have seen thousands posing questions such as: "What can soccer learn from the Olympics?", and in general the answer is that fans want to see an end to arrogant, spoilt-brat behaviour and diving and cheating from players.

They want a return to a far more Olympian sporting sense of fair play and even FIFA president Sepp Blatter agreed during the Games that soccer could learn from other sports - and male players could learn something from their female counterparts now playing the game at a high standard.

Blatter told reporters at Wembley: "Absolutely, we can learn a lot.

"There is even a difference between women's and men's football. In women's football simulation practically doesn't exist. They are not lying down and saying they are injured. They stand up.

"We can learn inside our sport and also outside our sport. You can learn something every day."


Once the Olympic glow has faded, however, all the fans will probably learn over the next few weeks is what they knew already.

That is that the title will go to either Manchester City or Manchester United, that Chelsea and Arsenal will finish in the top four and that promoted Reading, Southampton and West Ham United will all fight against an immediate return to the Championship.

City, who clinched their first title for 44 years last May with Sergio Aguero's last-minute winner in their final match against Queens Park Rangers, warmed up for the new season with a 3-2 win over FA Cup winners in the Community Shield at Villa Park on Sunday.

They have made only one major signing so far, buying England international midfielder Jack Rodwell, 21, from Everton on Monday for 12 million pounds.

Talk of Robin van Persie leaving Arsenal for Manchester City appears to have waned, with the Dutchman, the League's top scorer last season with 30 goals, looking more likely to move to Manchester United.

Manager Alex Ferguson has, according to widespread media reports, made a personal intervention to Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger to resolve a matter that has gone on since the end of last season, but whether Van Persie joins Japanese striker Shinji Kagawa at Old Trafford remains to be seen.

Kagawa, 23, moved from German champions Borussia Dortmund for a reported fee of 17 million pounds to boost United's bid to take the title back from City which begins at Everton on Monday.

Arsenal, who finished third last season, have had a busy summer with French forward Oliver Giroud from Montpellier, German striker Lukas Podolski from Cologne and Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla from Malaga all moving to north London.

Wenger hinted that Podolski would make his debut on Saturday against Sunderland, although he is not fully match fit, when Arsenal set out on their campaign to end a seven-year trophy drought.

Chelsea, who won two trophies last season, will be without long-term talisman Didier Drogba after he left for Shanghai Shenhua in China, but have been busy spending 64 million pounds on new players, including exciting Brazilian playmaker Oscar, Belgium striker Eden Hazard and Germany winger Marko Marin.

Billionaire owner Roman Abramovich kept faith with Roberto di Matteo after their Champions League success, while Andre Villas-Boas, who was replaced at Chelsea by Di Matteo midway through his first season in March, has a new job, replacing Harry Redknapp as Tottenham Hotspur look to improve on their fourth place last season.

Liverpool, still chasing former glories, have signed Joe Allen from Swansea City for 19 million pounds, and begin life under new manager Brendan Rodgers against West Bromwich Albion, managed by former Liverpool assistant boss Steve Clarke, on Saturday.