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Robinho set to star in moneybags match-up

SoccerNews in English Premier League 13 Sep 2008

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Robinho is set to make his Premier League debut on Saturday against Chelsea – the club he was set to join until English football's previously unchallenged big-spenders were trumped by Manchester City.

In an astonishing example of how much money is now involved in the top-flight of English football, the Brazil star was signed from under Chelsea's noses on transfer deadline day when City were taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group.

Up until then, few thought any club could have more cash at their disposal than Chelsea, backed by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

But City's new owners made clear their intention to break into the supposedly closed-shop of England's top four clubs – Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool – by signing Robinho for a staggering British record 32.5 million pounds.

Brazilians have a chequered history in English football.

Juninho was a firm favourite at Middlesbrough but few Newcastle fans remember Mirandinha's time at their club with immense affection.

City meanwhile have repeatedly disappointed their passionate supporters, a situation made worse by their proximity to serial trophy-winners Manchester United.

It seemed they would flatter to deceive yet again when former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the man who was supposed to bankroll City back to the big-time, had to end his ownership of the club.

However, his decision to sell City to the oil-rich Abu Dhabi group has opened up new possibilities for the Eastlands club and their faithful fans.

Manager Mark Hughes, a former United and Chelsea striker, said Robinho was looking forward to playing his part in a clash which will go some way to proving if an embarrassment of riches simply means yet more embarrassment for City.

“The intention is that he plays a part on Saturday,” said Hughes.

“The one impression everyone has of Robinho is that as soon as he gets the ball you sense something is going to happen and I think everyone will see that at the weekend.

“By all accounts he did not pick up any injuries (in the World Cup qualifier against Bolivia) and played 90 minutes, but like all the players who have been away on international duty we will have to get them back and have a look at them.”

Elsewhere, champions United face north-west rivals Liverpool in a clash always eagerly anticipated by fans of both clubs.

Liverpool have made an unbeaten start to the league season while United, still without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, have been unconvincing.

But Liverpool's Spanish defender, Alvaro Arbeloa, has warned that the champions remain a threat even without last season's 42-goal top scorer.

“United don't have Ronaldo – but they still have really good players like Nani, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney and now Dimitar Berbatov,” Arbeloa said.

Theo Walcott may have been the hat-trick hero for England in their World Cup qualifying win away to Croatia on Wednesday but the teenager could still be left out of the starting line-up for Arsenal's match away to Blackburn.

“I don't know if he will play at Blackburn,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

“I will have to rotate the squad in the next three games because you cannot expect the players who have played in their national teams to play three times in a week.”

Extra police have been drafted in for Newcastle's match at home to Hull where several protests against the Magpies board are expected following the departure of fans favourite Kevin Keegan as the club's manager.

Meanwhile, West Ham players will look to impress new boss Gianfranco Zola at home to bottom-of-the-table West Brom although the Italian is not expected to assume full command until Monday.

Saturday's other matches see Fulham at home to Bolton, Portsmouth entertain Middlesbrough and Wigan are up against Sunderland.

Premier League new boys Stoke are at home to Everton on Sunday while Monday's match is at White Hart Lane between Tottenham and Aston Villa.

Fixtures (1400GMT unless stated)

Saturday: Blackburn v Arsenal, Fulham v Bolton, Liverpool v Manchester United (1145GMT), Manchester City v Chelsea, Newcastle v Hull, Portsmouth v Middlesbrough, West Brom v West Ham, Wigan v Sunderland

Sunday: Stoke v Everton (1230GMT)

Monday: Tottenham v Aston Villa (1900GMT)

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