Here we go again. It is that time of year. The nights are getting shorter, the days are becoming dimmer. Students return to their studies and football fans, rejoice. The Barclays Premier League kicks off once again on Saturday August 17th and it comes as a somewhat relief to those who require their fix of football on a weekly basis. With no major international tournament to keep occupied with, aside from the somewhat nicotine patch that was the Confederations Cup in Rio at the end of June, we can once again set up our Fantasy Football teams, sit back and enjoy what promises to be a Premier League season unlike recent ones, that has a feeling of both optimism and refreshment.
It has certainly been a summer of out with the old and in with the… old. With the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson and re-entry of José Mourinho at the helm of his beloved Chelsea, the most anticipated and captivating league in world football will have an odd combination of familiarness and lacking to it. Managers is a recurring theme in the light of the new season. Former Málaga C.F. manager Manuel Pelligrini replaces Roberto Mancini as the boss of 2011/12 champions Manchester City. The Chilean impressed last season with his sound tactics which brought
his side within four minutes of stoppage time to an almost historic UEFA Champions League semi-final in their debut season only to be crushed by the might (and luck) of Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund. David Moyes has also seen his… merits … at Everton rewarded with the task of stepping into Sir Alex’s shoes at the red half of Manchester. A size too big for a manager of Moyes’ credentials, some might say.
Transfers are as usual flowing freely this window with the likes of Jesús Navas , Roberto Soldado, André Schürrle and Fernandinho the pick of the crop. Manchester City spending generously once again (which had been something that was non-existent last summer with the only additions of Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia) with over £90million alreday forked out. It can be seen however that Premier League teams are favouring various La Liga stars to add to their squads. Iago Aspas, Álvaro Negredo and the already mentioned pair of Jesús Navas and Roberto Soldado have already made the switch between the two rivaled leagues.
As previously mentioned, this new campaign has a certain new vibe to it even before a ball has been kicked. This of course can be put down to the openness of this season’s title race. With the exit of the master of winning Premier League titles at Manchester United in Sir Alex, who will step up to the challenge. Or can anyone be bold enough to snatch it away. Everyone is in with a shout. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger today claimed that it could very well be a six-legged affair this time round. I wonder if Arsenal are included in that list…
The race for the top four has become just as competitive as the joist at the top of the table in recent years. Previously the top four would presumably pick itself but now with the uprise of Tottenham, Manchester City and even Everton, the fight for the illustrious UEFA Champions League spot is cut-throat and in many cases down to the wire. All you have to do is look at the celebrations of the Arsenal team after confirming their place in the top four with a 1-0 win over Newcastle on the last day of last season. If we do take a reality check, it does at most clarify the right to compete in the Europe’s top club competition. Last time I checked they didn’t hand out fourth place medals.
If you thought the battle for top four was aggressive, prepare yourself for another ruthless relegation battle in the Premier League. Although it somewhat won’t be the same without Roberto Martinez leading his Wigan side in a yearly re-enactment of the Great Escape at the
perils of the Prem. Yes Wigan were finally put out of their misery after eight relegation avoiding seasons. And it promises to be no different this year with the likes of Newcastle, Sunderland, Stoke and Aston Villa lucky to still be in the division. The new additions of Crystal Palace, Hull City and Cardiff City will all want to avoid the drop come May.
A short breakdown of the season to come for the Premier Leagues top clubs:
Manchester United fans are left to ponder on what could be one of the most crucial seasons in their history. This is their first Premier League season without Alex Ferguson for 27 years. Do Manchester United exist without Sir Alex? Of course. But with some difficulty. David Moyes has only ever had experience in managing a team used to finishing between fourth and seventh. The expectations and standards at his new club far exceed that. He won’t have a lot of time to get cozy and admire the trophy cabinet. It is crucial that he hits the ground running. He is the heir to arguably the greatest manager of all time. The pressure on him is immense. As for on the pitch no new signings have paved way yet. With failed bids for Thiago Alcântara and Cesc Fàbregas the squad stays the same. However don’t be too surprised to see a few friends of ol’ David appearing in red shirts this season. If Robin van Persie and co. perform as they have done year after year and Moyes keeps a lid on things it should be business as usual for the Red Devils come the end of the season.
A new face is at the wheel of the Mercedes for Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini has no simpler task than to smuggle the title across to the blue half of Manchester this coming season. That’s a big ask for a man that boasts little or no silverware outside of South America. Once again the pressure is on and the stakes are high. After already spending £90million on Jesús Navas , Fernandinho, Álvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetić a good run in Europe after two seasons of embarrassment in the UEFA Champions League, and an assertion towards the title is expected.
The return of the Special One may have dawned a new era on Stamford Bridge. The now labelled ‘Happy One’ returns from a momentous treble winning season at Inter Milan and more recently a debatably failed stint at Real Madrid to revive his Chelsea, who have only won the Barclays Premier League once since his first reign as manager when he succeeded in winning consecutive titles in his first two years at the club. Not to dwell on the history of Mr. Mourinho as there is much to be done. Although perhaps flagged as a disappointing season saw Chelsea achieve third place in the league and win the UEFA Europa League under the much criticised tenour of Rafa Benitez. What can be seen that has been missing at the Bridge is evidently attractive, attacking football. This is something that Mourinho can bring to
the table. He has at his disposal a squad that should be performing considerably better than it does. With attacking quality in Eden Hazard and Juan Mata and the likes of Michael Essien and Frank Lampard anchoring the midfield they should have little trouble in contending for
the title this season, especially with the right man in Mourinho steering them in the right direction. The one problem that could and has been their undoing last season is a proven striker. Despite the fact that they have options in Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, these are not, to put it harshly, strikers that are of considerable quality for which to win a title with. An established striker can sometimes be the tipping of the scales in winning a title (as was seen with Robin van Persie last season). Romalu Lukaku is an undoubable talent however experience and durability in a 40+ game season is a mountain of pressure on a 19 year old’s back. Chelsea obtain a squad of considerable depth and talent and with Mourinho’s magnetism a fight with the Manchester duo is on the cards for this season’s title.
This summer was set to be one unlike others at the Emirates. Arsène Wenger delared that he would infact invest considerable funds into high caliber players to bring to Arsenal. Fans rejoiced. “This was different, he’s going to spend this time” … they thought. Arsène has once
again left it late. Perhaps he thought Brendan Rodgers would have been too happy to sell his star player in Luis Suarez to him, a rival. The saga continues but it does seem that poor Arsène isn’t used to the wheelings and dealings of the transfer market. Having released a total of 17 players either sold or loaned out, his squad does appear to be a little thin. Anyone else remember when he signed 5 players in under two days at the close of the transfer market in 2011? The second act may be to come. In all seriousness however Arsenal looked a sharp side in pre-season (however you can base nothing on pre-season in football) with Olivier Giroud looking especially sharp. Add to him the ever-present skill and flair of Santi Cazorla and maybe, just maybe some marquee signings and a top four finish should once again be the priority. Perhaps a cup run to end Arsenal’s ludicrous 3000+ day quest for a trophy should keep the ‘ARSENE OUT’ bandwagon away for another 12 months.
Tottenham Hotspur F.C.
It’s a matter of ‘With or Without You’ for Tottenham this coming season as the Garreth Bale saga drags on. From Marca claiming that he has already signed a 6 six year contract, to conspiracy theories surrounding his injury, the drama never ceases. Although we are none the wiser of Bale’s future it can be seen that Spurs are preparing for the possibility of life without him at White Hart Lane. The acquisitions of striker Roberto Soldado, Brazilian anchoring midfielder Paulinho and Belgium winger Nacer Chadli has seen Tottenham greatly improving their squad. Top four will again be the priority for André Villas-Boas men having so agonisingly missed out last year by a single point. At times last season and the one before that Spurs looked somewhat capable of competing with the likes of Manchester United for the title but so is the sad tale of after Christmas for Spurs fans as they cover their eyes in horror and dismay not believing how their side have blown it this time.
However putting past failures behind and pushing forward builds character for a team. Tottenham, unlike many of their Premier League rivals have duly strengthen their team and splashed out on a quality striker in Soldado, (which in modern football a quality striker is hard to come by for sale) who should prove to be worth his £26million fee. And in doing this strengthening they place themselves, on paper, ahead of others competing for the illustrious UEFA Champions League spot. If a miracle is performed by infamous Spurs owner Daniel Levy in keeping Garreth Bale, 3rd place may not appear out of the question. If worse comes to worse, AVB will have £80million at his disposal. Tough times.
“This year will be our year” … no? Come on, give me a break. I have high optimism for Liverpool for the forthcoming season. If their performances after January through May are anything to go by, then they have every right to aim high. The purchase of duo Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho completely altered what was turning out to be a debut season of frustration for Brendan Rodgers, into a delightful one. The flair and passing of Coutinho to the unexpected immediate success of Sturridge saw the Reds win 9 of their final 18 games, drawing 6 and losing only 3. Highlights being the 6-0 demolition of Newcastle and the 4-0 and 5-0 destructions of Wigan and Swansea respectively. The summer has saw Brendan Rodgers brining in handy Spanish centre forward Iago Aspas from Celta Vigo and fellow La Liga player Luis Alberto. Kolo Toure was brought in on a free transfer, seen as cover for the departure of Kop idol Jamie Carragher, and Simon Mignolet takes the post of goalkeeper from Pepe Reina who has linked up with former boss Rafael Benitez on loan to Napoli. It has been a busy but quiet transfer window for Liverpool, getting many of their signings done in the early stages of the market. Top four is as always the holy grail for Liverpool fans, however don’t be too surprised if they fall short of expectations. A Europa League place seems more respectable and realistic for Brendan Rodgers’ second season in charge. The clearcut decision that could be Liverpool’s ticket in or out of Europe is of course, Luis Suarez. As simple as it seems, if he stays they have every right to compete for a UEFA Champions League place and if consistency prevails then they have a good shot at it this year. If they sell they are losing their main man, their goal threat. He is good enough to play in any side in world football and is well capable of flourishing in the Champions League. The fact of the matter is, will he be doing it with Liverpool.