Top ten prediction: EPL opens with full strength teams

The English Premier League kicks off on Saturday, and it’s the first time in years that a sizeable chunk of its teams will be at full strength.

Here’s what some media outlets are saying about the team’s starting lineup:

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NEW BUY

Yorkshire is famed for daleks and hissing ventriloquist dummies, but Dubai-based magnate Massimo Cellino will take his first step toward establishing his club Leeds as a world-beater as the EPL’s financially-strapped champions come to the United Arab Emirates to play their opening match of the season.

The Italian, who bought the club from previous owner Ken Bates, has been fined and given a suspended 12-month prison sentence for tax evasion in Italy but should be allowed to travel to the United Arab Emirates because of diplomatic immunity.

His season begins with a trip to United Arab Emirates to play Al Ain, which is making its first appearance in the EPL. It also will play rivals Cardiff and Crystal Palace.

Gone are the days when Leeds, one of Europe’s most successful clubs, competed at the highest level. The departure of Kevin Blackwell, Dennis Wise and one of the club’s great fans, George Graham, to Chelsea had already done significant damage. Then the arrival of Cellino, who has scant managerial experience, has removed all doubts.

He has brought in former Valencia and Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella, who’s expected to get a baptism of fire at the Emirates, but he’s hoping that having a healthy, full-strength squad will give him something to build on.

“Since we took over the club, my mission has been to carry out the objective which my sole objective had been to put the club back on track,” Cellino said. “From very, very humble beginnings this club has never really had any respect for its history. What we have done so far and where we have achieved already, is something that needs to be taken credit for.

“So I am sure the win over Chelsea last season, in front of 90,000 people at Stamford Bridge, became an extra motivation for the players and convinced them it was possible to make something of ourselves.”

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SQUAD BUSINESS

It’s hard to believe the Premier League could muster two games this weekend.

Manchester City, which came second to Chelsea last season, finally confirmed its captain Vincent Kompany will miss the start of the season while he recovers from a groin injury.

Bojan Krkic and Cristian Hernandez are both expected to make their debuts after signing in the last two weeks.

“It’s great to get two strikers who can score goals. A player like Bojan adds creativity, another player like Cristian Hernandez who scores goals can come in and score goals,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. “I was really pleased to sign Bojan from Barcelona because he brings lots of attacking attributes. It will help us if we’ve good forwards.”

The only change in the visiting squad could be to Leroy Fer for Jason Denayer. Fer has not played since sustaining a knee injury while Denayer has been plagued by injury.

City starts the season with a return to Champions League action after sitting out last season. The teams drew 1-1 in their opening match last season in Manchester.

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WEST HAM RE-BIRTH

After an offseason of one of the largest player sales in British soccer history, the one headline more eagerly awaited than any won’t be West Ham’s Saturday debut.

That will be the return of manager Slaven Bilic after last season’s surprise quarterfinal exit at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League.

“Our only responsibility is to give a good performance,” Bilic said. “We are the favourites. But if you speak to all the media on the beach, all the talk is about our big last match against Barcelona. No, it’s not. It’s about trying to get points and trying to do better than we did last season.”

West Ham, which defeated Aston Villa 2-0 in the Community Shield last month, faces title-favorite Manchester City on the south coast of England.

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