Finally, that time has come; no more walking round shops on a Saturday, no more pretending to be interested in sports you couldn’t care less about because football is back. Even better….. It’s a World Cup year!
With the impending start of every season comes all the usual excitement and optimism, but it also brings the inevitable summer transfer saga and this year we’ve been treated to three. Okay, ‘treated’ was perhaps a little tongue in cheek because it’s all become tiresome and quite frankly, a little boring.
The will he / won’t he moves, fees, stances, behind the scenes etc etc surrounding Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale has dragged on too long, even though we’ve still got few more weeks of it to go yet. Thankfully, actual competitive football should break it all up somewhat. It has, however, got to the point where I believe Sky Sports News would be under a duvet, eating chocolates and crying if the transfer window system was scrapped.
Like I said, thankfully, football is back and this season promises to be one of the most competitive Premier League title races in years. Usually, stability is stressed as such an important factor for any club looking to challenge for the title, but this year, the three main protagonists all have new men at the helm.
For the first time since 1986, Man United start the season without Alex Ferguson as their manager. David Moyes is the man charged with taking over from one of the greatest managers in the game and despite him not winning a trophy in his managerial career (sorry, but the Community Shield is not a trophy), the experience and know-how in the squad he’s inherited means they will be there or thereabouts at the business end of the season.
A few months ago it would’ve seemed inconceivable that Jose Mourinho returning to the Premier League would be overshadowed in the build-up to the new season, but that’s just how overbearing the coverage of Suarez, Rooney and Bale will they / won’t they move has been. Many of us were expecting a near constant Mourinho tick-a-tape on Sky Sports News this summer, but the lack of attention and previous experience, coupled with him returning to a club where the fans love him should help Chelsea this year.
The return of Lukaku and De Bruyne after successful loan spells, as well as the additions of Schurrle and van Ginkel gives the Blues squad a good blend of youth and experience. Personally, I think both Utd and Chelsea are short of a top quality centre midfielder.
Man City also changed manager this summer, with Manuel Pellegrini coming in to replace Roberto Mancini. I wrote last season about how Mancini’s domestic record as a manager was very good, but his record in European competitions was poor and that, as well as his reported strained relationship with many at the club, likely led to his departure; so on the face of it, Pellegrini is a smart appointment: a good tactician, diplomatic with the press and renowned man-manager, his Malaga side impressed many in last season’s Champions League.
Their transfer business also seems smart: Navas, Fernandinho, Negredo and Jovetic address improvements that were required in last season’s City side, with perhaps a defender being the only squad weakness that remains.
I find it impossible to look beyond those three clubs for this seasons League winners, hardly a revolutionary opinion, but a three horse race is a more entertaining prospect than the two horse race of the past couple of years.
The remaining Champions League spot could be an intriguing battle between three clubs who haven’t changed managers. For me, it all hinges on what happens in the transfer market before the window closes. If Spurs keep Bale, then they would be my favourites to take 4th, but if they lose him, despite signing Soldado, Chadli and Paulinho, then it could be tough for them.
That really is just how key Bale was to them last year and the way they played. Tactically, everything was geared to getting the ball to Bale and during his two purple patches of form, he dug them out of some holes. As good a player as Bale is, the challenge for AVB is not to be as reliant on him as they were last season.
Before the window opened, the word was out that Arsene Wenger had a transfer war chest of at least £70m this summer. With all the managerial changes at Man United, Man City and Chelsea, it meant that there was a real opportunity for Arsenal to make a couple of marquee signings, strengthen their squad and capitalise on their stability to mount a serious challenge for the title.
Sadly for Gunners fans though, that has once again failed to materialise and time is running out for them to do necessary business. Plenty of players have been linked to the Emirates – Julio Cesar was apparently about to sign, Higuain was reported to be a done deal, the £40m + £1 bid that was thought to trigger a release clause for Luis Suarez. It’s all increasing the pressure on Wenger that was growing last year and could be a real test of Gooners, who’ve become more and more frustrated over recent years.
The whole Luis Suarez situation has not helped Liverpool and if he were to leave, then any faint hopes of finishing in the top 4 this year would likely go with him. Brendan Rodgers is building a young and exciting squad, but even with Suarez, I think they’re still 2 or 3 players away from getting back into the Champions League, although if Spurs lose Bale and Arsenal don’t sign anyone of quality, and if Coutinho and Sturridge can continue their form of last year, then there could be an opportunity.
Beyond the top six, Swansea and Everton are likely to fill the next spots. Norwich, West Ham and West Brom are also equipped to do relatively well this season. Newcastle and Sunderland have that potential powder keg situation within their clubs, meaning they could just as likely be top 8 as fighting relegation, such is the unpredictability there.
The relegation places are likely to be between the newly promoted sides, though I do fancy Cardiff to surprise a few people, and clubs like Aston Villa, Southampton, Fulham and Stoke, who were involved in the scrap last year.
In terms of my pick for the title, It’s difficult to choose between City and Chelsea, but the Premier League experience of Mourinho probably just gives them the edge, so I fancy them to pip City, with United third.
I’m just glad there’s no more weekend shopping till next July.
Written by Andy Gray
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyArmchair
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