By Tim Stannard
FULHAM 1 NEWCASTLE UNITED 0
Newcastle United begin Rafa-lution to return to Premier League
Twelve months ago, Rafa Benitez was preparing his Real Madrid players for a brand new campaign to win both La Liga and the Champions League. That didn't go so well in the end.
One year later and the Spaniard has another daunting challenge ahead: stopping the rot at an English giant and guiding Newcastle United out of the Championship and back into the Premier League.
Benitez failed to take save Newcastle's skins at the tail end of last season after being fired by Real Madrid but surprised the watching the world by opting to drop down to the English second-tier to continue the mission, attracted by the notion of having complete control of the club from top to bottom as well as genuine devotion from the fans.
The roster is still shifting on a daily basis with some of the big-time flops being moved out and more hardy scrappers coming in, but the start of the 46-game Championship season is underway on Friday with a tough clash in the English capital against Fulham.
"The main thing is to be sure we do the right things this season and to be in the Premier League next season," said the former Liverpool boss speaking ahead of the game.
TROPHEE DES CHAMPIONS: PSG v LYON: live on beIN SPORTS from 2.40PM ET / 11.40AM PT
New-look PSG in pre-season clash against title rivals
Although PSG were as overpowering in France as the whiff of a two-month old Brie left in the fridge, having won the domestic treble, it was not enough for the club's demanding owners, upset at another flat campaign in the Champions League.
Laurent Blanc was moved out, despite signing a new deal at the beginning of the year, and subsequently replaced by the king of the touchline crouch, Unai Emery. The hope from PSG fans is that the team have brought in a proven European-level winner with the former Sevilla manager having triumphed in the Europa League three times in a row with the La Liga club.
Saturday's clash against PSG and Lyon, last season's second place Ligue Un team, is taking place in Austria and the void left by the departed Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be more than noticeable. The game will be a huge indication of whether PSG will continue to be a dominant force in the French game without Blanc and The King.
NASL MATCH OF THE WEEK: TAMPA BAY ROWDIES v FORT LAUDERDALE STRIKERS: Live on beIN SPORTS from 7.30PM ET / 4.30PM PT
Struggling Strikers in desperate need for a win in Florida derby
With just the single victory from six in the Fall season, life has not exactly been a bed of roses for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the NASL during the sticky summer months.
It's a record that sees the team stuck second-from-bottom of the table, although the outlook is a little less bleak after last weekend's victory over Jacksonville Armada, the outfit currently holding up the NASL table.
There has been disruption off-the-field, too, with the Strikers choosing to leave their old base at the Lockhart Stadium and heading to another part of the city for the rest of the campaign.
But that is of no concern for Fort Lauderdale on Saturday with a clash against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a team just one place and one point above the Strikers in the standings, despite the former Chelsea and England man, Joe Cole, in the ranks. However, having the mesmeric midfielder on the pitch will always be a good reason to watch a game, as well as the desperate drama between two Floridian sides going through the toughest of times.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY V ASTON VILLA: Coverage begins on beIN SPORTS from 11.00AM ET / 8.00AM PT
Aston Villa pick up pieces after Premier League disaster
If Newcastle United's relegation from the Premier League was a trauma for the fanatics of the Toon Army, the sorrow suffered by Aston Villa supporters was akin to watching their houses taken apart, brick-by-brick and dumped into the sea.
The former European Cup winners fell apart at the seams both institutionally and on the pitch, with the footballers being routinely booed by supporters and generally laughed at by every one else.
Like Newcastle, the Birmingham-based side have taken the Newcastle route by employing a Champions League-winning manager in the form of Roberto di Matteo, whose resume includes Chelsea, MK Dons and West Bromwich Albion. However, there are severe doubts from Aston Villa fans on whether di Matteo is the right fit for a gruelling campaign that is one of the toughest in football.
Sunday's opener is one of the toughest that Villa could have faced with a trip to take on Sheffield Wednesday, last season's beaten play-off finalists and a club very much on the up-and-up. The game will be a strong indication if Villa can avoid being on the down-and-down.