First however, I want to start with big news coming after the USA-Mexico match, namely the diagnosis that Landon Donovan has the swine flu, which in part explains why he didn't play up to his recent hot form. I'll take a look at the future state of the US team in a post coming soon.
The big news internationally is the start of the 2009-2010 Premier League season. The Bundesliga, Ligue 1, and Eredivisie already kicked off, and the Serie A and La Liga begin next weekend and the weekend thereafter, respectively.
In the Bundesliga, many will hope that last season's tight title race between Wolfsburg, Bayern, and Stuttgart will repeat itself. This is a big year for Bayern. They will need to keep Ribery happy and find time for all the firepower they've added, including the dangerous Mario Gomez and Ivica Olic, who join Miroslav Klose, Luca Toni, Ribery, and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Bayern will be expected to win the title and challenge in Europe.
In their way will be defending champions Wolfsburg, who already started strong by beating Stuttgart. Edin Dzeko and Grafite, who scored a record 54 goals last season, lead a high scoring, entertaining attacking team. If you get the chance, watch this team (in fact, the Bundesliga is an entertaining league that more people should pay attention to). TSG Hoffenheim made a remarkable run from the fifth division to leading the Bundesliga at the halfway point of their first season in the top flight last year, and they will hope Vedad Ibišević returns healthy from his ACL tear to replicate that start.
Schalke will be another team to watch, with Kevin Kuranyi, Jefferson Farfan, Gerald Asamoah, Rafinha, and future US man Jermaine Jones. In addition, they had the best defensive record last season. I'll certainly watch them with interest this year. Werder Bremen are coming off a disappointing season and will likely be in the same boat this season without talisman Diego. Bremen used to be a fun, attacking team, but losing players like Klose and Diego is too much. Much of their attacking threat comes from set pieces with targets like Naldo and Per Mertesacker. Like Schalke, Borussia Dortmund has a solid defense and will challenge for a Europa spot.
Hertha Berlin and Hamburg finished with Europa League spots last season with goal differentials of 7 and 2 respectively, which is needless to say very precarious. Hertha has a decent team, but I wouldn't bet on Hamburg repeating its success, particularly with the additional games in Europe. Unfortunately I can't speak to the Bundesliga relegation battle. Sorry.
As for the Premier League, there are plenty of sites with detailed previews, including ESPN Soccernet and The Guardian to name just two.
There are certainly lots of story lines to look out far and I'll touch on a few briefly:
Can Man U win the title again without Ronaldo? One of the major stories will be how Man U copes without the prolific winger. Will Rooney step into the void to score goals (and the same for Berbatov)? Can Antonio Valencia fill the void on the wing? Will Nani ever begin to fulfill his potential? I think Man U may struggle to find an identity in a few games where Ronaldo would have otherwise stolen the game with individual brilliance, but they will be there at the wire.
At the same time, will someone step up and take the title away from the Red Devils? Chelsea looks poised to have another strong season and could be a danger in both England and Europe under Carlo Ancelotti. Liverpool gave it a good run last year, and will be dangerous anytime Gerrard and Torres are healthy, but will the loss of Xabi Alonso be too devastating?
Will it be the Big Five? The other big story line of course is how big spending and striker heavy Man City will fare. With such an expensive team, they will look to displace Arsenal at least for fourth. It's even possible Man City could challenge Liverpool for third if Gerrard or Torres get injured and if Aquilani proves an inadequate replacement for Alonso.
How will Everton, Aston Villa and Fulham fare in the Europa League? Fulham in particular could fall out of the top ten in the EPL if they get stretched by playing in Europe. Villa's youngsters continue to develop and it will be interesting to see if they will try to mount a challenge on fourth, especially with Man City looming.
Can Tottenham or West Ham challenge for Europa? Tottenham certainly fancies themselves a big club deserving of play in Europe, but the race for those spots will be tougher this season. They will have to hope that Fulham will fade and that Man City or someone else doesn't play up to their potential, otherwise it could be another disappointing season for the Spurs. However, I think they end up above Fulham.
How will the Yanks play? Tim Howard will be a constant, and Dempsey will look to build on another good season. But what about Jozy Altidore? Will he play regularly for Hull, and will he provide the goals necessary to save them from relegation?
Speaking of relegation, who will it be? Hull seems a consensus after barely managing to stay up last season. I say they manage it again. Portsmouth is one team that could be in for a very poor season, having offloaded so much of the team in order to pay its debts. Newly promoted Birmingham City, Burnley, and Wolverhampton will be fighting for their EPL lives, but someone will inevitably stay up, maybe even two. Burnley has the misfortune of facing Man U, Liverpool and Chelsea in its first five games, Birmingham opens at Old Trafford, while Wolves wait until November for such a fixture. How that plays out could determine who stays up. Last year Hull parlayed a strong start into another season with the big boys, and Wolves have a chance to do the same.
My prediction at the top is Chelsea, Man U (I'm torn here, and think they are capable of proving me wrong and beating out Chelsea), Liverpool (I think they win some silverware this year, FA Cup or League Cup maybe), Man City, Arsenal, Villa, Tottenham. That means Everton's thin squad gets too stretched in Europa, finishing just behind Spurs. At the bottom, Portsmouth, Burnley, and Birmingham will be relegated. Agree, disagree? Thoughts?