Has it really gone that quickly? We’ve seen Spain dominated the European Championships, Usain Bolt run short distances very very quickly and Mo Farah run much longer distances with similar levels of success. But now we’re back to the main event, the football league returns on Saturday, which obviously means the return of the most marketed league in the world. So what has each club got to look forward to?
As you will no doubt discover this is quite a long article. Meaning I’ve been working on this for a few days. Arsenal were unsurprisingly the first team I wrote about. Then they sold Robin Van Persie to Manchester United meaning I’m having to rewrite it. The sale of Van Persie is a major blow, but the potential loss of Alex Song to Barcelona would arguably be worse. The signings of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud were both completed before the transfer window opened (and the Van Persie saga began) meaning they’ve seemingly been almost forgotten about but those 2 should have enough about them to fill the void left by the Dutchman. Santi Cazorla was bought from Malaga for a fee believed to be around £15 million a deal that very well could end up being one of the buys of the summer. With the ever improving Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the side and the possible return of Jack Wilshere and the fact that Wenger now has another £24 million available if he wants to strengthen the squad it has to be said that the Gunners will be disappointed if they can’t at least finish in the top 4, with the possibility of challenging for one of the cup competitions.
After a disastrous 2011/12 season that saw the Birmingham based club narrowly avoid getting relegated Alex McLeish was sacked and Paul Lambert, fresh from guiding Norwich City to a successful first season in the top flight, was given the job. Unlike McLeish, Lambert will have the option of a fully fit Darren Bent at his disposal next season. A proven goal scorer in the Premiership Bent will be looking to establish himself in the forefront of Roy Hodgson’s England plans and that is something that can only help Aston Villa. Shay Given is a solid and dependable keeper and if Lambert can deter Richard Dunne from his perennial attempts to score numerous own goals then I don’t see why Villa won’t sit comfortably in mid table for the course of the season.
The reigning Champions league and FA Cup winners will have a lot on their plate this season. Having already played in the Community shield last weekend they’ll be competing in 6 other competitions including the defence of the Champions League and the FA Cup. In keeping with tradition Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich has thrown money at the squad; £32 million for the highly sought after Eden Hazard and a further £25 million for Brazilian Olympian Oscar is an incredible signal of intent. However, with all the faces coming in the biggest challenge facing Chelsea next season could be how they deal with the faces that left, in particular Didier Drogba. The Ivorian was an absolute colossus in the final months of the season scoring in the semi-finals and finals of both the Champions league and FA cup. He even stepped up and slotted home the deciding penalty in Munich. His departure leaves Chelsea with the oft-maligned Fernando Torres as their only recognised out and out striker. The club will need goals from midfield and lots of them. Look for pocket dynamo Ramires to have a stand out season. As is always the way, Abramovich won’t be accepting anything less than the best.
On Sunday Manchester City announced the £18 million signing of Jack Rodwell, a frankly masterful bit of business by David Moyes. At a club who always attempt to live within their means Moyes has managed to sell a player who has spent a significant amount of time on the sidelines for a king’s ransom. How Moyes will spend the money remains to be seen but I would be very surprised if we don’t see Everton bringing in a few new players between now and the closing of the transfer window. On paper The Toffees are well set for another solid season, having seemingly fought of Manchester United’s enquiries about the availability of Leighton Baines and with the return of Steven Pienaar after an ill-fated move to Tottenham (a move I never quite understood) as well as the arrival of striker Steven Naismith from the football club formerly known as Glasgow Rangers the Evertonian’s are looking strong. Croatian Nikica Jelavic has scored 11 times in 16 appearances since his arrival in January and will again be the main goal threat as they attempt to return to the European stage.
Much like Arsenal, Fulham have seen their summer controlled by rumours of their star man leaving. But unlike Arsenal he’s not gone yet. Clint Dempsey scored 23 goals in all competitions last year (17 in the league) and if he is still playing at Craven Cottage come the end of the transfer window; a scenario that is becoming increasingly likely, then Fulham will once again be looking solid. In many ways Fulham are the archetypal mid table club and I don’t see a change coming this year, they will again be a very tricky away day for the big boys of the league and will undoubtedly be looking for some sort of cup run. You never know right?
Under Kenny Dalglish Liverpool were a monumental PR disaster. From the frankly ridiculous t-shirt based support for Luis Suarez to the continued post match whining about refereeing vendetta’s the club can only go up. Dalglish has been sacked and Brendan Rodgers became the 2nd manager to get a new job after successfully guiding a newly promoted club to safety. Rodgers seems to have the backing of the board; he’s been allowed to spend big on Swansea midfielder Joe Allen, who will presumably be key as the Northern Irishman will look to bring Swansea’s short passing game to Merseyside. He’s also picked up Fabio Borini from Roma (the Italian had a brief loan spell at Swansea under Rodgers) and he’s already off the mark at Anfield having scored in Europa League qualifying against FC Gomel. Liverpool will be looking for a return to the top 4, personally I think that is beyond them but under Rodgers they might at least be a slightly more likeable club than last year.
The defending champions have been quiet this summer. However, they’ve not been totally unsuccessful. Signing captain Vincent Kompany to a 6 year contract is a fantastic bit of work. He’s arguably the best defender in the league and, as has so often been proven, the way to build success if with a solid defence. Roberto Mancini has also been signed a new deal, tying him to the club for at least another 4 years. Jack Rodwell is the only major signing made by the blue half of Manchester but it’s not like their side isn’t already loaded with talent with the like of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva as attacking options Mancini’s men will again be seen as major title contenders; and that’s before we mention Mario Balotelli. If the maverick centre forward can come anywhere close to the level he produced in that stunning Euro 2012 semi-final performance then very few teams will be able to deal with him. In summation City will consider a season without a trophy as a failure so look for them to be major players at the business end of the season once again.
The Sir Alex Ferguson lead juggernaut came within mere seconds of winning the league last year and spent the summer attempting to insure that doesn’t happen again. Shinji Kagawa was key to Borussia Dortmund’s double winning season and will slot into a midfield that is bursting at the seams with attacking talent. As if that wasn’t enough the signing of Robin Van Persie for £24 million from Arsenal gives them another striker who has a proven goalscoring record. However, the return of Nemanja Vidic may well be the best thing to happen at Old Trafford. It seems clichéd to say he’ll be like a new signing (I give it 20 minutes before that is said during United’s game this weekend) but considering how lost the myriad of players Fergie used to fill the void looked Vidic really is crucial. He brings a sense of calm to proceedings and is capable of marking opposition players out of games completely, it simply cannot be overstated what a loss he was last season, and yet United still finished second. That shows the talent available to Ferguson. You always have to be wary of a wounded animal, Aguero’s goal last season wounded United. Beware.
Newcastle had a fantastic, Demba-led season that saw them snap up a Europa League spot and challenge for 4th right up until the last day of the season. Demba Ba was incredible in the 1st half of the season and Papiss Demba Cisse was arguably even more impressive in the 2nd half. Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote all shone as well and in fact I’m quite surprised Alan Pardew has been able to keep hold of them all this summer. The main issue The Magpies will face is that they will lose Ba, Cisse and Tiote to the African cup of nations in January. How they cope with the loss of their 2 most potent goal threats and one of the more talented holding midfielders in the league will undoubtedly define their season.
The summer started terribly for Norwich; they lost their manager to Aston Villa and 15-goal striker Grant Holt said he wanted to leave. However, things have only got better. Chris Hughton, the man who has taken over from Paul Lambert, has experience of managing in the Premier League and Grant Holt has seemingly been talked into staying. In addition Hughton has picked up one of the brighter talents of the Championship in the form of Leeds United’s Robert Snodgrass. As with so many clubs in their second season in the Premier league it will be interesting to see how Norwich deal with playing an entire season where their style of play is no longer a surprise to their opposition. Surviving 2nd season syndrome will be Hughton’s main aim.
Queen’s Park Rangers
Survived on the last day of the season and are now the only team heading into their second Premier league season with the same manager. Mark Hughes has been busy this summer as well; Junior Hoilett, so impressive with relegated Blackburn Rovers last season, and Park Ji Sung, who for years has been a player Manchester United have relied upon in big games, have joined up with the likes of January signings Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora. Like Norwich they’ll be aiming to avoid 2nd season syndrome and if they can finish 17th again they’ll consider the season a success, but I see them finishing a bit higher than that.
The first of the newly promoted clubs, Reading won the Championship last season with an astonishing surge in the 2nd half of the season. The problem The Royals may have is that maintaining such a high level of momentum in the top flight may be a step too far. With that in mind, Brian McDermott has strengthened his squad with the signings of Russian Pavel Pogrebnyak is a good bit of business as he looked a real handful during his brief spell at Fulham. Chris Gunter and Gareth McCleary have both joined from Nottingham Forest and will add depth to a team who, like Southampton and West Ham, will simply be looking to survive. Whether they can stay up will rely heavily on Pogrebnyak and last season’s top scorer Adam Le Fondre; every year the newly promoted teams have to fight for every point they can get, if those 2 strikers can combine for about 25 goals then they’ll be ok. But that is a big if.
Also promoted automatically from the Championship; Southampton get the unenviable task of starting the season with a trip to the Eithiad Stadium to face champions Manchester City. Successive promotions have bred a winning culture on the south coast and dealing with the inevitable disappointment of losing a few games on the bounce (which Nigel Adkins has to be expecting to happen) will be crucial to any hopes of survival. But perhaps not as crucial as the form of Rickie Lambert; the 30 year old scored 27 league goals last season as well as setting up a number of teammates. Lambert can learn from the success of Grant Holt last season and if he can be half as effective in the top flight he’ll have had a very useful season.
Tony Pulis’s side were poor last season but that was partly due to the sheer number of games they were asked to play. The Europa league came just a bit too soon for the squad and they were very overworked. This season The Potters will be able to concentrate on domestic competitions and will set about that in their traditional physical style. Michael Kightly from Wolves and Jamie Ness from the football club formerly known as Glasgow Rangers are the only new arrivals and it would be a surprise if anyone else really came in. Expect to see Stoke hanging around mid-table while causing a few surprises with home wins against some of the clubs at the top end of the league.
A solid mid-table turnout last season Martin O’Neill’s side will be looking to push on again. It has to be said O’Neill has been very quiet this summer; save for a rejected £12 million bid for Wolves striker Steven Fletcher there has been little movement at all. But with the talented Aaron McClean improving all the time Sunderland will once again sit in mid-table while possibly putting together a half decent cup run.
Michael Laudrup has taken over from Brendan Rodgers and will attempt to continue the attractive short passing style that made the Welsh side so popular last year. The loss of Joe Allen to Liverpool may be crucial, the Welshman dictated the tempo last season and replacing him will be essential to Swansea’s success this season. If Laudrup can be half as good a manager as he was a player then they’ll be in good hands. As with QPR and Norwich City the main goal will be surviving again.
An atrocious end to last season saw Spurs fall from comfortably holding 3rd place to missing out on the Champions league. Harry Redknapp was relieved of his duties as manager and Andre Villas-Boas has taken over. Gylfi Sigurdsson is the only real signing of the season so far and they’ve seen their summer dominated want-away Croatian Luka Modric who is pushing for a move for Real Madrid. Strangely, despite losing last season’s top scorer, Emmanuel Adebayor, Villas-Boas is yet strengthen his attacking options with Jermaine Defoe as the only recognised striker at the club. Goals from midfield, or the buying of another striker, will be pivotal to any success that Tottenham have this season. A top 4 finish is the aim, but I’ve said that about a few teams, somebody will miss out.
West Bromwich Albion
Roy Hodgson is now the England boss but new man Steve Clarke has been able to pick up Swedish international Markus Rosenberg from Werder Bremen and Belgian powerhouse Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea. If Clarke can adapt quickly to a role as manager, rather than assistant, then West Brom can feasibly finish in a respectable position. However, if he struggles then the players will as well. It’s a 50/50 shot.
West Ham United
The 3rd and final promoted side; West Ham had a team that was arguably too good to go down 2 years ago. The Hammers came up through the playoffs and have spent quite a lot of money in an attempt to ensure they don’t go down again. Alou Diarra and Mohammed Diame will provide a solid base for the midfield and the introduction of the fantastically named Modibo Maiga could provide a much needed goal threat. Sam Allardyce has experience in keeping clubs in the Premier League and should be able to again, even if he will do it in a style that seems to rankle with some of the West ham faithful.
It is almost pointless writing a season preview of Roberto Martinez’s Wigan. Realistically Wigan’s season starts about 28 games later than everyone else’s as they make their traditional late season charge towards survival. Japanese starlet Ryo Miyachi has arrived on loan from Arsenal and striker Arouna Kone will replace the Fulham bound Hugo Rodallega. The best bit of business done this year though is undoubtedly managing to keep Martinez as manager despite advances from Aston Villa, Liverpool and Tottenham. Survival is the aim of the game, and with Martinez at the helm I don’t see why they can’t do it again, probably securing safety by picking up 25 points out of their last 30. I really wouldn’t be surprised.