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Will Manchester City repeat as Premier League champions this season?
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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New Liverpool Kit

PLAYING IN STYLE

See the kits of your favorite Premier League clubs this season.

The Barclays Premier League kicks off this weekend live on FOX Soccer at 10 AM ET Saturday. It isn’t the world’s most popular soccer league because the action is the most competitive – although it is. Their teams don’t have the most fans because they boast the best players – although they do. And it isn’t the best-watched league because the atmosphere is the most vibrant, the production values are the highest and the grass is greenest – although they all are.

The Barclays Premier League is the world’s most exciting because it offers the best spectacle. Dramatic like a British soap opera, it has the biggest characters, the most intriguing narrative and endless plot twists. Last season, Manchester City snatched the league title from Manchester United in the final minute of a 9-month season after building and relinquishing leads in the standings all season long.

Here is your starter kit for all the drama the 2012-13 season will offer, starting Aug. 18 on FoxSoccer and FoxSoccerPlus:

How it works:

From August 18 through May 19 of next year, 20 clubs will play a double round-robin – one home and one away game against every other team in the Premier League, the highest professional division. A win is worth three points, a tie one and a loss none. At the end of the season, points are tallied and the team with the most points is anointed champion of England. The three lowest-placed teams will be relegated to the second-tier Championship and replaced by its champion, runner-up and a play-off winner. If two teams are even on points, their goal difference (goals scored minus goals conceded) is used as a tie-breaker. Failing that, goals scored will be counted. There are no playoffs in the top division.

These are the stories you must follow over the next season:

Who takes the battle for Manchester?

Shocked that their “noisy neighbors” City, as United manager Ferguson refers to them, beat them to last year’s title, United has reloaded with Robin van Persie and Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa. City remains the deeper club though, but could be undone at any time by an explosive mix of egos. One of these two clubs will be champion of England. And one won’t even be the best team in town.

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Will Chelsea’s cosmetic surgery be successful?

Following an improbable run to the Champions League title, the European champions decided to throw out their game plan, which revolved around sturdy defense and last-minute goals. With several long-serving veterans out, Chelsea bought mobile young attackers Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar. Manager Roberto Di Matteo, who took over mid-way through last season, hopes to reinvent his team as one that plays attractive, possession-oriented soccer through a plethora of ball wizards. But will a makeover backfire? It did for his predecessor, Andre Villas-Boas.

Can Liverpool be resurrected?

One of the world’s most storied clubs, Liverpool has been in decay since appointing classical English managers twice in the last two years. They tried to impose old-fashioned, rudimentary British tactics on the modern game and failed badly. Brendan Rogers, whose newly-promoted Swansea played dazzling soccer last season, has been brought in to pull the Reds into the future. It will take some doing, since the squad is ill-equipped for his fluid style. But Liverpool should turn the corner pretty soon.

KICK THIS!

Jamie Trecker examines this season's best Barclays Premier League fixtures.

How will Arsenal and Tottenham fare after the upheaval?

Having lost their best player for the umpteenth time, Arsenal will have to console itself with the acquisition of Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, all solid offensive pickups. But how will they fare without van Persie, who pulled so many wins out of the fire for them?

Tottenham Hotspur faded so badly down the stretch that it fired Harry Redknapp, once thought untouchable and the favorite to become England manager. They’ve given Villas-Boas a second chance to succeed Redknapp, who had the club on the brink of competing for the title. Can the erstwhile wonder boy manager, who is still just 34, rebound? Can Spurs?

Who goes down?

The beauty of relegation is that it gives the last-place teams something to play for. Relegation must be avoided at any cost, to spare fans the humiliation and keep the bulk of players from leaving. Favorites for “the drop” would seem to be Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers, Wigan Athletic and the newly-promoted Southampton, Reading and West Ham.

Amy Lawrence is a contributing writer for FOXSoccer.com who has been writing about the game since USA `94, covering the Premier League, Champions League, European leagues and international soccer.

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