PREVIEW-Soccer-Blackpool add orange twist to opening day

LONDON Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:00am BST

LONDON Aug 12 (Reuters) - Blackpool's ground is being hastily upgraded, as is their squad, but the return of the seaside club to the English elite for the first time since 1971 adds a juicy orange twist to Saturday's Premier League kickoff.

Relegation favourites they may be, but Ian Holloway's side will hog some of the limelight on Saturday as their season begins with a trip to Wigan Athletic -- a match that was switched to an away fixture while their Bloomfield Road stadium is enlarged.

Blackpool began last season tipped for the drop into the third tier but instead ended the campaign by beating Cardiff City in the Championship playoff final at Wembley -- a victory worth an estimated 90 million pounds even if they, as most pundits predict, go straight back down.

Not that they have been splashing the cash in the offseason -- a situation that left Holloway frustrated until he finally got clearance to sign five players on Wednesday.

Striker Marlon Harewood, previously with West Ham United and Aston Villa, will offer a physical presence while defender Craig Cathcart, signed from Manchester United, and midfielders Ludovic Sylvestre, Malaury Martin and Elliot Grandin will add some depth.

"I've been running up blind alleys but we have a structure and we want to stick to that. I'm not falling into other people's traps," Holloway, whose quips will enliven the forthcoming season, said on Wednesday.

"I can sell sand to an Arab and fridges to Eskimos if I believe in it. But it's not easy because the difference between where we are and the rest of this crazy world is astounding."

FINANCIAL MUSCLE

While Holloway gathers little-known cast-offs, Manchester City need no encouragement when it comes to opening the chequebook for the game's big names.

The new financial muscle men of English soccer have lavished another 80 million pounds during the close season as they bid to tilt the balance of power.

So long in the shadow of Manchester United, City, now fuelled by seemingly limitless funds from their billionaire Abu Dhabi owners, came agonisingly close to breaking into the top four last season and after signing Yaya Toure from Barcelona and David Silva from Valencia and with more on the way they are being widely tipped as genuine title contenders.

Manager Roberto Mancini took over halfway through last season from Mark Hughes and the Italian will know that he will have to hit the ground running in his first full season in charge, beginning at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

Tottenham, like City, have to go back to the 1960s for their last league title, but after pipping City to fourth spot last season courtesy of a 1-0 win at Eastlands, will also be in the frame for what promises to be a wide open title race.

Mancini's biggest challenge will be picking his strongest team out of the embarrassment of riches at his disposal and wily Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp may just view the opening day as the perfect time to play the league's big spenders.

"I would have liked another two weeks training with them, but of course that has not been an option," Mancini, who still hopes to sign Aston Villa's James Milner, said this week.

"But I'm excited, it's going to be a big year for us. I would have liked to have another 20 days together with the squad, because we want the whole squad to the same level, so for that reason it's so important that we start the season well."

BUDGET CUTS

City's spending power stands alone in a new climate of budget cuts and tightening purse strings which, added to the new 25-player squad rule, could usher in a less frivolous culture.

Chelsea, for one, appear to have become almost frugal these days compared to owner Roman Abramovich's early years in charge.

The champions, who begin at home to promoted West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, have so far signed only Yossi Benayoun from Liverpool while Carlo Ancelotti's squad has been shorn of midfielders Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Deco and defender Ricardo Carvalho, who agreed a move to Real Madrid on Wednesday.

While West Brom, managed by former Chelsea favourite Roberto di Matteo, should be brushed aside, Ancelotti will be keen to top up his squad before the transfer window closes.

"It was not a good pre-season," Ancelotti said of a disappointing run of friendly defeats and Sunday's 3-1 Community Shield defeat by Manchester United.

United, runners-up last season, open against promoted Newcastle United on Monday.

The new air of confidence at Liverpool in the wake of Roy Hodgson's replacement of Rafa Benitez, the signing of Cole from Chelsea and Spain striker Fernando Torres' loyalty pledge will be put to the test with the visit of Arsenal on Sunday.

Aston Villa, who were rocked on Monday by the resignation of manager Martin O'Neill, host West Ham United on Saturday while Everton begin at Blackburn Rovers.

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)