London – Striker Carlos Tevez feels he's in the best physical condition in five years as he prepares to spearhead Manchester City's defence of their Premier League title, starting Sunday at home to promoted Southampton.
Tevez produced a lively performance during last weekend's 3-2 victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield, scoring his side's second goal with a fierce shot from outside the penalty area following a weaving run.
“The preseason games went very well. I was pleased with how I played and I am looking forward to the start of the Premier League and to start playing,” Tevez said Friday. “For the first time in four or five years I have had a full month of preseason training.”
The Argentina international has put last season's feud with coach Roberto Mancini behind him.
Tevez refused to warm up during a Champions League fixture with Bayern Munich in September and didn't play for the next six months, with Mancini at one point saying that it would be “impossible” for the player to return to the team.
“All the problems are part of the past and the truth is that I am very happy now,” Tevez said.
Arsenal begins life without Robin van Persie at home against Sunderland in which manager Arsene Wenger could give debuts to Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.
Santi Cazorla, another offseason signing, picked up a knock on midweek international duty with Spain and will undergo a fitness test before Saturday's kickoff.
“We bought players who can provide, we bought players who can score,” Wenger said before speaking about Van Persie's departure to Manchester United.
“It is a massive challenge to replace him, so we have to be even more of a team and work together more to compensate that loss. We have lost world-class players before and we always survived.”
“We are prepared and had anticipated the situation for a long, long time.”
Brendan Rodgers' first league match as Liverpool manager is at West Bromwich Albion, which plays its first league game under Steve Clarke, an assistant to Rodgers' predecessor, Kenny Dalglish.
Despite being fired by Liverpool when Rodgers was appointed, Clarke bears no grudge toward the club.
“I've got no grievance whatsoever with Liverpool Football Club,” Clarke said. “After Saturday I'll wish them well for the season. It's a big game for me because it's my first in charge of West Bromwich Albion.”
Rodgers goes into the season opener looking to compete for a top-four position that would return Liverpool to the Champions League.
“The challenge at the top of the table is greater than ever,” Rodgers said. “Now there are seven or eight teams involved, but the top four is certainly not something we'll shy away from.
“It's where a club of this status wants to be, but it's always easier said than done and the reality over the past three seasons or so hasn't been that.”
Joe Allen, a midfielder signed form Rodgers' previous club Swansea for a reported 15 million pounds, ($23.5 million) is in line to make his Liverpool debut.
Elsewhere, the tenure of Andre Villas-Boas as Tottenham manager begins with a difficult away game against Newcastle.
“It is one of the hardest trips you can make in the Premier League, Newcastle away,” Villas-Boas said. “Both teams had a good season last year and that means it will be an exciting and entertaining game.”
Fulham plays Norwich at home and United States international Clint Dempsey won't be playing as he looks to maneuver a transfer away from the club.
Promoted West Ham begins at home to Aston Villa, which has a new manager in Paul Lambert, formerly of Norwich.
Queens Park Rangers takes on Swansea while Reading is at home to Stoke.
Meanwhile, Van Persie will have to wait until Monday to make his Manchester United debut at Everton. – Sapa-AP