How can the Premier League possibly follow the last minute drama of 2011/12? Martin Tyler’s voice breaking “Aguerroooo” howl has become as much a part of the shared cultural canon of football as the commentary to the 1999 Champions League final (“name on the trophy […] they score. They always score!”) and possibly even the immortal “they think it’s all over” from 1966. Only time will tell. Come May we’ll know whether this season has offered up any explosive moments worthy of hall of fame worthy burst of voice over.
So what of the season ahead and the protagonist teams that will make it?
Title challenge: Manchester City
Following a summer of solid preparation, Mancini’s men go into season as joint favourites with their Red jerseyed rivals from across town. So far they’ve made only one purchase, Everton’s Jack Rodwell, but considering the squad already assembled, major recruitment would potentially do more harm than good for the City dressing room. David Silva and Vincent Kompany remain the brains and the heart of the team respectively.
Having scored some important goals for Italy at the Euros, Balotelli will hopefully be a more stable, reliable option up front while Aguero must take on pitfalls of second season syndrome. I doubt many would bet against him. Rumours abound that Danielle De Rossi may soon be on his way to Eastlands, but Mancini has been told he must sell before he can buy. Adebayor, and possibly Dzeko, will be heading for the exits in the near future.
Key arrival: Carlos Tevez – that’s right, Tevez is City’s key arrival in Manchester, having returned from the summer to commit himself to the club’s preseason regime. Had Carlos not absconded last year, City may well have won the title at a canter. “Like a new signing” as a the cliché goes.
Big departure: City’s inferiority complex – it’s been said that it’s harder to win your second title, but City looked more burdened by the club’s dysfunctional history last term than the idea of victory. Expect confidence, belief and focus from Mancini and co who will be looking to kill off last season’s occasional complacency.
Title challenge: Manchester United
Let’s be clear here: Robin Van Persie is the luxury icing on a half-baked cake of a midfield. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs continue to surpass expectation and human biology to contribute far more than high-class cameos but their days are coming to an end. Fresh blood is on stand by however, with Tom Cleverley and Nick Powell looking to add energy and drive to Michael Carrick’s timid yet potent skill set. Darren Fletcher’s future remains a worry but any part he can play in the season will be a huge boost. Anderson can deputise as the midfield tackler. Up front, Welbeck and Hernandez will compete for game time while Rooney indulges in the link ups between Van Persie, Nani, Kagawa and Cleverley. Valencia will again be key on the right, stretching the play.
Nemanja Vidic returns in defence although considering how integral his physical prowess is to his game, doubts remain over whether the Serb will be the same player after his injury. Jonny Evans will hopefully continue to play a key role in building attacks from the back. De Gea will be ready and willing to prove his doubters wrong in his second season in England. Evra struggles to cover the left flank but will march on for another campaign without adequate back up.
Key arrival: Shinji Kagawa – The Japanese has all the attributes required to inspire a renaissance in United’s midfield. Tougher and more dogged than he may appear.
Big departure: Young full-backs – With Fabio on loan at QPR, and Zeki Fryers heading off to Spurs, there is an extreme lack of natural full-back players on both sides of the pitch. Utility man Phil Jones may have to wait on nailing down a permanent position.
Third place: Arsenal
It’s been the same old story; Robin Van Persie, their star player and captain, has left the Emirates in search of trophies with Manchester United. Wenger has for once been proactive in the transfer market, bringing in Olivier Giroud to cover RVP’s goals and Lukas Podolski to do a job supporting from the flanks that Gervinho and Arshavin seemingly struggle with. Playing for Arsenal will be a lot different to Koln however, and with Podolski often left stumped when faced with a packed defence, Wenger may have to wait yet again to find his new Hleb. Chamberlain offers far more than Walcott and should feature more.
With Alex Song looking to move on to Barcelona, the midfield and defence look shaky. Arteta will continue to provide the foundation for the team’s passing game, but Coquelin must shoulder the responsibility of screening a fragile back four. Koscielny is underrated but erratic, Vermaelen exposes his teammates with his dalliances forward and let’s not even start on the full backs. Thank god they’ve got Scezny in goal.
Key arrival: Santiago Cazorla – Cazorla will offer fantastic movement, creativity and skill at the tip of the midfield, bringing the attackers into play. Should link up well with Arteta as the opposite ends of the team’s passing train.
Big departure: Robin Van Persie – Last season the team was built around RVP. Arsenal will pluralise their attacking play in a similar manner to how United adapted after the sale of Ronaldo, and in the long-run will be all the better for it.
4th place: Chelsea
Who is actually in charge at Stamford Bridge? Abramovich seems to have taken the initiative on player recruitment while Roberto Di Matteo often looks more like an assistant playing as a front man to John Terry’s player-manager, operating in the shadows. It seems both the club’s leadership and squad are in a state of transition.
Torres could be about to pull himself together and rediscover his sharpness. Such a transformation will be much more likely without Drogba around, although the pressure will be on as Chelsea’s impressive array of attacking midfielders, lead by Juan Mata, won’t be struggling to create chances. At the back, Luiz ans Cahill may well begin to push Terry into the dug out permanently following their Champions League heroics although question marks till linger over both players in a normal match situation. Mikel and Romeu will patrol alongside a deep-lying Lampard in front of the defence.
Key arrival: Eden Hazard – The Premiership’s latest precocious youngster was a landmark capture for Chelsea with the majority of Europe’s top clubs chasing Hazard’s signature. The Blues need a player who can elevate their game in a tight spot like a certain Ivorian used to and will be relying on Hazard to provide match winner magic when it matters most.
Big departure: Didier Drogba – What else can be written about the talismanic forward that hasn’t already been said? His important goals, presence and determination will be sorely missed at Stamford Bridge but his departure gives space for a new era to take hold. Almost every attacking failure this season will be diagnosed through the lens of what the Drog could have done.
5th place: Everton
As ever, the story of Everton’s season relies upon how they start. Topped off by the return proper of Steven Pienaar, the Toffees can boast one of their most exciting squads in recent years. Up front, Jelavic looks to have it all as Premiership striker and will hopefully shine ever brighter now that he’s been reacquainted with his former Rangers playmate, Steven Naismith. In midfield, Fellaini is an awkward opponent at both ends of the pitch while Darron Gibson looks to have found his rhythm at Goodison Park. All eyes are on Ross Barkley who has been hyped up to high heaven by supposed in-the-know’s. Don’t forget about Leon Osman either who works hard for the team in the final third.
In defence, Everton looked fairly settled. Tim Howard can usually be relied upon while Sylvan Distin has pace alongside Phil Jagielka’s all round abilities and Jonny Hetinga’s anticipated reading of the game. Leighton Baines is the team’s dead-ball specialist and attacking outlet from the back.
Key arrival: Steven Naismith – Over the last few years, Everton’s problem has been an inability to find the net. Naismith could be the remedy to any second season syndrome suffered by Nikica Jelavic.
Big departure: Jack Rodwell – his sale meant that Leighton Baines could be kept at the club.
6th place: Newcastle United
The Magpies have enjoyed their rather muted summer, with no serious bids having so far been made for their players who made such an impact on the Premier League last year. Cisse and Ba remain the team’s two danger men while Hatem Ben Arfa will be pushing for more game time to exert his creative influence at the front. New attacking midfielder Romain Amalfitano will also be keen to contribute too however as he looks to become the latest under-the-radar French import to make a big impression on Tyneside. Fit again Sylvain Marveaux will feel like a new signing too, adding depth and options on the left and in the centre of the park.
The versatile and skilful midfield pivot of Toite and Cabaye remain the core of the team, chasing down opponents and spraying passes forwards, but the defence looks suspect. Colocinni is a reliable figure at the back but the feats of those around him last season may not be repeatable. Youngster, Curtis Good, has arrived from Melbourne Heart though and is touted as a prospect at centre-back suggesting that Pardew is aware of the need to freshen up his defence. While an experienced head may have been more suitable at the back, the capture of defensive midfielder Gael Bigirimana should add steel further up the pitch. Newcastle’s back line will be vulnerable if attackers can get at them though, but as a last line of defence, Tim Krul looks like the man for the job.
Key arrival: Vurnon Anita – a talented midfielder purchased from Ajax: comfortable in a defensive role protecting the back four but also able to bring the ball forward too. Will provide competition and cover for Tiote and Cabaye.
Big departure: Alan Smith – not for playing reasons, but the removal of his wages from the club’s expenditure will be weight off the bean counters’ minds.
Read part 2 here.
What do you make of the predictions and team previews?