This time of year provides new found optimism and anticipation for football supporters as the season kicks off again. In terms of the Premier League this could well be the closest and most enthralling campaign for ages, particularly considering the ease that Manchester United strolled to victory last time round. There are new managers at United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton and Stoke whilst Cardiff City, Hull City and Crystal Palace are welcomed into the top flight after being promoted last season. It is far too early to draw any conclusions from last weekend’s results, but here are a few predictions as to what might happen between now and next May…
Chelsea – The Mourinho factor and the rekindling of his special relationship with the blues may have a huge impact on this season’s title race. The side have a great blend of experience and youth with Frank Lampard and John Terry still there to help nurture the growth of the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne. The three maestros in midfield; Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard will only get better too which is a real worry for every other side in the league.
Manchester United – They may have failed to strengthen their squad and despite the constant calls for a new midfielder, United still have title winners in their side. The Rooney saga may have unsettled some but Moyes was Ferguson’s choice; a man in his mould capable of extending the Red Devil’s domination at the top of English football. If Robin Van Persie fires they will be close but may just fall short of Chelsea due to the Blues’ strength in depth.
Champions League Spots:
Manchester City and Tottenham – City will certainly push United and Chelsea close, particularly with the signings they have made this year. New manager Manuel Pellegrini seems like a wise and experienced replacement for Roberto Mancini and with the likes of Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez now away from the club creating a greater group dynamic should become easier.
As for Spurs, if Gareth Bale chooses to stay then it seems Champions League football will be a certainty. Yet even without him the signings of Paulinho and Soldado, plus the addition of more marquee players in the coming weeks, may be enough even without the Welsh wizard to secure at least fourth spot.
Europa League Spots:
Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton – This could be the season Arsenal finally let their stranglehold on the Champions League split as the club has once again refused to delve into the transfer market whilst their rivals spend money at will. Only Yaya Sanogo has been brought in and Arsene Wenger’s stubbornness when it comes to transfers may inevitably end up costing them a top four spot.
Liverpool had a steady yet rather unheralded campaign in Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge and they will be looking to shorten the gap between themselves and the top four this time round. If Luis Suarez stays and players like Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho hit the ground running they could certainly push the likes of Spurs and Arsenal for that final Champions League spot.
Everton have started the new era after David Moyes whose legacy will undoubtedly live on at the club. Roberto Martinez has finally got his chance at a big club after saving Wigan Athletic year after year and with a good group of players they should be in the mix again for European football come the end of the season.
Crystal Palace, Hull City and Sunderland – Unfortunately for Palace they look like the worst equipped side for survival this season as they have failed to bring in any players of real Premier League calibre. Manager Ian Holloway has stressed in pre-season how far the Eagles are behind the rest of the teams, with only two players in his squad having experienced top flight football before.
Hull, on the other hand, have been busy in the transfer market but it still seems a hard task for Steve Bruce to keep them in the division. If the Tigers can make the KC stadium a fortress then who knows, but this is an incredibly tough league this season with a lot of the smaller sides strengthening.
Sunderland are also a big worry with a largely foreign side and a rather hot headed and volatile manager. Paulo Di Canio undoubtedly reinvigorated their season last year and provided the catalyst in keeping them in the division. Yet, his rather difficult man management and temperamental charisma may unsettle his players. Phil Bardsley has already spoken out about his manager’s ways and duly been disciplined for his indiscretions.
Surprise Package: Southampton had a solid first season back in the Premier League last year and this summer have undoubtedly strengthened their side to give them a real chance of improving on last season’s 14th place finish. The signings of Pablo Osvaldo and Victor Wanyama both broke their previous transfer records and the combination of these marquee signings with promising young stars in Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana could propel the Saints to a top ten finish.
Best signing: Roberto Soldado could be the difference between a Champions League or Europa League place for Spurs. The £26m pound signing from Valencia has proven for the last few seasons that he is a clinical finisher in La Liga and the Spain international may prove to be the key cog in Andre Villas Boas’ side this campaign. Spurs may finally have a settled and consistent number 9.
Emerging Star: Ross Barkley was not given many opportunities under previous boss David Moyes but under the new stewardship of Roberto Martinez he may find his chances come by more frequently. Blessed with the raw talent so accustomed to young English players, he certainly has shades of Wayne Rooney about him and this season could prove to a big one for the 19 year old.