Get ready for the return of Premier League, plus what's next for Brittney Griner?

Get ready for the return of Premier League, plus what's next for Brittney Griner?

Happy Friday, everyone! Another week down. Congrats!

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Rejoice, soccer fans: The Premier League is back! Arsenal visits Crystal Palace this afternoon to kick things off, and then all 18 other teams open their respective seasons this weekend.

In case you missed it this summer, the rich got richer as reigning champions Manchester City added Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund. The third-leading scorer in the Bundesliga last year, Haaland is a huge reason why our soccer expert Roger Gonzalez calls City "the clear-cut favorites to win the league" in his preview of all 20 teams.

But that means there's lots of pressure on Haaland, too, notes soccer reporter James Benge in his Manchester City season preview.

Benge: "Haaland scored 115 times in 116 games for Red Bull Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund. ... He may just be on one of the great hot streaks at the start of his career. The very best and only the very best of strikers can be relied upon to regularly outperform their expected goals (xG) to some extent but not to the level Haaland has. ... This is a team who fetishize the close range shots in line with the goal more than anyone else. ... Haaland's sweet spot is City's and vice versa."

Our team of soccer experts has done a terrific job previewing other top teams, including...

We also have expert picks for title winners, top four, bottom four and individual awards.

We'll have live analysis over the weekend -- and the French Ligue 1 begins this weekend as well -- so be sure to stay tuned to our soccer coverage going forward.

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for...

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The Dodgers are very likely going to cruise to another NL West title as they own the best record in MLB. The only thing they didn't need was an injury to one of their stars. Clayton Kershaw exited his start against the Giants after experiencing back pain while throwing warm-up pitches in the fifth inning.

This is worrying for a couple of reasons, our MLB expert Mike Axisa notes. First, it's far from Kershaw's first back issue.

Axisa: "He missed 41 days with back inflammation in 2014, 74 days with a disc herniation in 2016 and 39 days with a back strain in 2017. Kershaw also spent short stints on the injured list with back issues in 2018 and 2020. Last season, a flexor injury cost him much of the second half and postseason, and he missed time with a hip injury earlier this year."

The 34-year-old hurler has been terrific this season with a 2.64 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP, both top-10 marks in the NL (min. 80 IP). Any extended absence would be a tough blow for the Dodgers, whose rotation is starting to look a little thin.

1. RHP Walker Buehler (out since June 10 with a forearm injury, could return in September)2. LHP Clayton Kershaw (exited Thursday's start with an injury)3. LHP Julio Urías4. RHP Tony Gonsolin (23 1/3 innings away from his previous career high)5. LHP Tyler Anderson6. LHP Andrew Heaney (healthy now, but limited to five starts by shoulder trouble so far this year)7. RHP Ryan Pepiot (9 2/3 innings away from his previous career high)

Not so honorable mentions

Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison

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Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner was found guilty on charges of drug smuggling and cannabis possession in Russia and sentenced to 9 years in prison. She was also fined 1,000,000 Russian rubles (just over $16,000).

As part of a statement, President Joe Biden said the sentence is "more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney."

Griner was arrested in February for allegedly carrying a marijuana concentrate in her luggage. She has been detained ever since and recently pleaded guilty. Wednesday, during the closing arguments of her trial, Griner said she "never meant to break any law."

This is far from the end of Griner's story, though. In late July, the U.S. reportedly offered a prisoner swap that would free Griner and corporate security director Paul Whelan in exchange for convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout. While the WNBA star has now formally been sentenced, a prisoner swap still remains a possibility.

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