The Premier League Preview 2013/14
After a long summer of endless transfer speculation and will-he/won’t-he sagas, the actual business of playing football is almost upon us. That’s right, the new Premier League season starts this weekend and what better way to whet your appetite for nine months of the beautiful game than bring you the Current World Media season preview. So without further delay here’s the season as I see it playing out. Drum roll please…
So let’s start at the top. The clubs in the title conversation, or failing that a top-four finish. With three of last season’s top four clubs going into the season with new managers, the picture at the top is intriguing. Of the big four, the club that seems to have kept the lowest profile in the off-season is Manchester City. City went about their transfer business pretty decisively, adding Fernandinho, Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic and Jesus Navas to an already strong squad. Compare that to the purchases of Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell made last summer and Roberto Mancini’s subsequent whining at the failure to land Robin Van Persie and it looks like City are doing their best to vanquish the mistakes of last season. There were protests from many City fans when Mancini was sacked last season but for a squad as impressive and expensively assembled as theirs, City were mediocre in both the League and Europe with Mancini unable to get the best out of his squad despite having the best collection of strikers in Europe. All this, while seeming to fall out with everyone from the kit-man to his own shadow. In Manuel Pellegrini they have a manager known for playing the kind of attractive football City did not produce under Mancini and he should be an improvement in both the tactical and man-management side of things. I have a hunch that the title could be City’s in his first season in England.
However the reason my hunch remains a hunch, as opposed to something more confident is due to the return of the ‘Special’…sorry make that the ‘Happy One’ at Chelsea. Yes, for those of you living under a rock for the past three months, Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea has him smiling and full of joy after his terrible ordeal at the hands of those bad people at Real Madrid. They say you should never go back, but somehow the second coming of Mourinho at Chelsea seems to be the right fit for both parties. At least for now. As impressive as Manchester City’s squad is, Chelsea are a match in almost all areas. The area most would agree needs strengthening is upfront and so far the tiresome pursuit of Wayne Rooney has yielded no results. Rumours of a cut-price move for Samuel Eto’o make sense despite his age but if none of these rumoured moves come off Chelsea go into the new season with Romelu Lukaku as the in-form striker from last season, albeit for West Brom. Lukaku deserves a chance and it’ll be interesting to see how the striker situation pans out. Andre Schurrle brought in from Bayer Leverkusen is another option and can play anywhere across a front three. So if Rooney doesn’t turn up at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho still has options. The Chelsea midfield remains the envy of the Premier League and players like Oscar and Eden Hazard return a year wiser, while Juan Mata will continue to pull strings and Ramires will prove his growing importance to the club. I predict a dogfight between Chelsea and Man City for the title and though it’s hard to pick one from these two, Mourinho has been here and done it.
Manchester United’s summer has been dominated both by the Wayne Rooney soap opera, and a struggle to land key transfer targets. Thiago Alcantara chose Munich over Manchester, Everton are doing their stubborn best to get top dollar for Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini; and at the time of writing Barcelona are still adamant Cesc Fabregas is going nowhere. The one thing United fans and commentators seem to have overlooked in all the Rooney hype is that they already have a player who could perfectly fit into the hole behind RVP, should Rooney depart and his name is Shinji Kagawa. Kagawa showed during his time a Borussia Dortmund just how effective he can be in that position but was shunted out to the wing to accommodate Rooney and RVP last season. Kagawa is better than that and hopefully Moyes will realise that. It’s hard to see United finishing above Chelsea or Man City but then again they are Manchester United and if Van Persie remains fit, they will always be a threat. Overall it’s been a frustrating summer for David Moyes and for United fans it must be a new, frustrating feeling to see the club linked with so many players that haven’t arrived. However I’m guessing those frustrations pale in comparison to fans of…
Arsenal. Oh dear, where to start when talking about the lack of transfer activity at The Emirates. If there was a prize for talking a good game in the transfer market without actually doing anything, Arsenal would have something to finally put in their trophy cabinet. At the time of writing the only new arrival has been the 20-year-old French youth international striker Yaya Sanogo. A summer of being linked with Gonzalo Higuain, Luiz Gustavo and Luis Suarez has yielded nothing so far and to add insult to injury, French midfielder Etienne Capoue, a former target of Arsene Wenger has gone to arch rivals Tottenham from Toulouse. Despite rumblings of discontent among sections of the Arsenal faithful for some while the ‘In Arsene We Trust’ camp have always won out. However if the transfer window closes without at least two marquee signings, it’s difficult to see how even the most ardent Wenger supporter will be able to go against the tide of unhappiness. Arsenal do have reasons to be optimistic in the continued development of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and if Jack Wilshere stays fit we’ll see if he’s able to live up to the enormous weight of expectation and hype being placed on his shoulders. Theo Walcott seems more than willing to step up to a prominent position in the team and if the marquee striker Arsenal have been after all summer fails to materialise, Walcott may find he gets the opportunity in the central striker position he’s been craving for so long. An interesting season awaits the Gunners but also a nervy one because breathing down their necks will be…
Tottenham. All the talk has been about Gareth Bale and a move to Real Madrid seems inevitable, but Tottenham have also been busy making some astute signings and have added Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho and Etienne Capoue to their squad. If Bale does go, you can easily see more names arriving at White Hart Lane in an attempt to make up for the goals that depart with Bale. If Bale does stay however, Tottenham go into the new season even stronger than last season and with Arsenal currently standing still, Tottenham’s spending is a statement of intent that could see them break the top four at the expense of their bitter rivals.
Best of the rest:
So from the teams with their sights on the top, to those that will be around the fringes and challenge for the Europa League slots. Despite talk coming out of the club of targeting a top-four finish and an encouraging end to last season from the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Coutinho, Liverpool don’t appear to have the squad depth to mount a serious assault on the top four. It’s not clear what affect the Luis Suarez saga will have on the team if he stays, but regardless of the outcome of that situation Liverpool supporters should realistically expect steady if unspectacular progress on last season’s seventh place finish. Swansea supporters have every reason to be excited by the new season. Actually they have several reasons: The addition of players like Wilfried Bony to ease the over-reliance on Michu. The fact that Michu is still a Swansea player. The fact that Michael Laudrup is still the Swansea manager. The fact that the core of last season’s successful side remains intact. The signing of Nathan Dyer to a new contract. The addition of more Spanish players. European football. Swansea could prove to be a seriously dangerous team this season and with Bony and Michu up front, I predict a few opposing teams being on the wrong end of some thrashings. I tipped Swansea for big things last season and looking at the squad they’ve put together, I don’t see many teams going toe to toe with them this season. Jonjo Shelvey could also prove to be an inspired purchase too. The Europa League campaign could end up being a blessing and a curse but if you’re a Swansea fan you won’t be complaining.
Everton may not have the familiarity and stability of David Moyes anymore but in Roberto Martinez they do have a manager that should bring a more attractive style of football to Goodison Park. Under Martinez, Wigan leaked goals at an alarming rate and the open style of play he favours may see Everton more exposed at the back but he inherits a reliably stable defensive unit and also has impressive attacking options. At the time of writing, Marouane Fellaini is still an Everton player and there is a genuine buzz around the Barcelona youngster Gerard Deulofeu, signed on a season-long loan. A top eight finish seems about right in Martinez’s first season. Aston Villa came dangerously close to going down last season, with Paul Lambert’s project to build a squad focussed on youth almost backfiring spectacularly. If it wasn’t for Christian Benteke’s goals and Brad Guzan’s goalkeeping, Villa’s season in the Championship would already be underway. So you might ask how a team that came so close to relegation last season could be among the best of the rest this season? Well keeping Benteke was a good start, and this summer Lambert got his transfer deals done early. Whereas last summer he scoured the lower leagues to identify young talent, this summer he looked to Europe bringing in talent from Holland, Denmark, Poland and Spain. The 20-year old Danish central defender Jores Okore has come in to give Lambert greater defensive options and defence is the key area for improvement if this season isn’t to be another flirtation with relegation. Where Villa excel and give the most cause for optimism is in attack. Benteke along with Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann proved to be an extremely formidable front three and the addition of young attacking players like the Bulgarian Aleksandar Tonev will give Villa an added edge going forward, where they have been one of the most effective counter-attacking teams in the league. They still need a more experienced, older head in central defence as well as a creative central midfielder but this season should be a marked improvement on the last.
Among the rest of the teams making up the numbers I can pretty much predict the following: Fulham and Norwich will have decent seasons undermined by a lack of consistency. Both will have enough firepower though (Fulham with Berbatov and Bent and Norwich with Van Wolfswinkel and Hooper) to comfortably stay out of trouble. The same can probably be said of West Ham, who will be difficult to break down in true Sam Allardyce fashion. Expect crosses to be pinged in to Andy Carroll by the boatload, especially from recent signing Stewart Downing. Sunderland’s Paulo di Canio will either make headlines as an eccentric genius or a total nut job up at the Stadium of Light and there won’t be many dull moments. USA international Jozy Altidore and the Italian Emanuele Giaccherini could prove to be buys of the season if it all goes well. That’s a big ‘if’ though. Meanwhile over at Newcastle expect the headlines to focus on tensions between Joe Kinnear and Alan Pardew if things don’t start well, as well as a split in the dressing room caused by mutinous Frenchmen. However you’d like to think Pardew has enough talent at his disposal to keep Newcastle clear of trouble…that’s if he can work out what his best team actually is. Southampton should also have enough quality to stay clear of trouble without actually challenging the top half of the table and will probably cause the odd upset along the way. West Brom will struggle to improve on last season’s eight place finish and Romelu Lukaku’s return to Chelsea means that goals will need to be made up for by Shane Long, Nicolas Anelka and Matej Vydra joining on a season-long loan from Udinese after being named Championship player of the year last season while at Watford.
It’s easy to focus on the clubs that got promoted from the Championship as the teams to go straight back down so that’s exactly what we’ll do here. Of Crystal Palace, Hull and Cardiff, the team seemingly best equipped to stay up is Cardiff. The Welsh club have broken their transfer record three times this summer buying a striker (Andreas Cornelius), a midfielder (Gary Medel) and a defender (Stephen Caulker) and alongside experienced players like Craig Bellamy could just achieve their aim of finishing above the bottom three. Stoke City have got rid of Tony Pulis and replaced him with Mark Hughes but despite that change it’s difficult to see Stoke not being dragged into a relegation battle with what is a workmanlike but far from spectacular team. Crystal Palace seem to lack the quality needed for long scrap to stay up but do have the charismatic Ian Holloway and his man-management skills, while Hull despite bringing in Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore also look lacking in the quality department.
Well that pretty much covers it. The only thing left to do now is sit back and enjoy the inevitable controversies, debates, goal of the season contenders, bad tackles, managerial mind games, refereeing ‘disgraces’, stupid player tweets, managerial sackings and SKY Sports changing the spiel from “best league in the world” to “most watched league in the world”. All we need now is for the transfer window to shut and it’ll all be about the football. It’s almost here!!!
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