EPL gets set for intriguing new season
With the Premier League season finally upon us, what can this edition of the English top flight bring us that last season’s nail-biter didn’t?
Many labeled the 2011/12 Premier League the most exciting ever. Certainly its final day will take some beating, with the drama of Manchester City’s two stoppage time goals to win from behind against QPR to snatch the title on goal difference from Manchester United.
But each new season promises an enigmatic showcase of thrills, spills and Sunday skills. And looking back to that unfathomable conclusion in May only wets the pallet for more.
City’s jitters against lowly opposition, United’s unerring defeat of Sunderland, the workmanlike performances of Toure, Kompany, Silva and Ballotelli in the face of adversity.
Arsenal’s shaky win against West Brom to seal third place, with Spurs and Newcastle set to pounce. Then the eruption of Etihad Stadium after Kun Aguero’s 94th minute winner. And the beauty that after all their toil on an amazing last day, QPR stayed up with fortune favoring them in another game.
2012/13 should deliver another stellar season in England, with the foundations already firmly laid.
A more open title race with more clubs staying in it for longer already looks a distinct possibility. Last season the awful early and mid-season results of Arsenal and Chelsea put each club well off the pace. Despite a recovery from each, neither was in the running for long. Both have strengthened greatly.
Arsene Wenger’s revised spending of transfer funds – namely not on deadline day for makeshift stand-ins (think Arteta, Mertesacker, Santos) – has seen bona fide talents Lucas Podolski, Olivier Giraud and Santi Carzola join the Gunners.
Meanwhile, Chelsea has had a resurgence of the Roman Abramovich splurging which typified the earlier Mourinho years, following their miraculous UEFA Champions League crown. Eden Hazard, younger brother Thorgan, Marko Marin and Brazilian 20-year-old Oscar have all joined, with rumors abounding that Hulk and possibly Edison Cavani are still to come.
Expectation weighs heavily, but both Arsenal and Chelsea have good reason to aspire to success in the league this season.
Then there’s the new dynamic that’s been added by Manchester City. Not just their building competitiveness over the last four years, but their final breakthrough last season in becoming the fifth club to win the Premier League. It’s a huge shot in the arm to their multi-million pound project.
The local rivalry with Manchester United has hit an all-time high, as the Red Devils have been backed into a corner, with far more pressure to come out swinging than they’re used to.
An interesting barometer is their failure to secure big signings this off-season. United – despite landing Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund – have been ousted in the pursuit of Luka Modric, Eden Hazard and Lucas Moura, who most recently snubbed them in favor of PSG.
The view of some pundits is that United are on the slide, but count them out of the title race at your peril.
Meanwhile, City continue to strengthen their formidable squad, with Everton accepting their £15 million bid for Jack Rodwell.
Without doubt the balance of power lay in Manchester last season (over London). Whether it will reside there again, or be spread more evenly is anyone’s guess.
Other clubs obfuscating the Premiership makeup include Tottenham and Liverpool under newly appointed Villas-Boas and Rodgers respectively, plus the resurgent Alan Pardew-managed Newcastle United, who were so impressive last season.
And looking further down the table sees the re-emergence of two clubs etched in tradition. Promoted Southampton and West Ham, both of which house prodigious academies, are back in the top flight.
These are the institutions responsible for bringing through Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Joe Cole and Frank Lampard. Not for a while have there been two such exciting prospects returned to the pinnacle from lower divisions. With any luck Leeds will soon be back as well.
So the outlook for the season coming? Chelsea, Arsenal, United and City to make up the four Champions League positions, in what order – who knows.
Liverpool, Spurs and Newcastle are the other sure-fire things to finish in the top half.
Relegation-wise? Of the newly promoted clubs, West Ham are well equipped to stay up, with plenty of Premier League pedigree and quality amongst their ranks. Expect Southampton and Reading to struggle.
Elsewhere, despite the great contrast between Stoke City’s long-ball pragmatism and Wigan’s stubborn adherence to the Martinez ideal of passing football, both clubs will probably be fighting the drop.
Last day title clinchers and relegation escapes? Goal difference to split crucial table positions? Stoppage-time screamers that make dreams and break hearts? Anything’s possible.
All we can do for now is cast our eyes over heavily clouded crystal balls, and this one could be completely wrong. What we know for certain is everyone starts on zero points. This season is there for the taking.
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