English Premier League: Contenders and pretenders
World-beaters tasting defeat, relegation-zone surprises and mid-table outfits proving they can match the Premier League big boys have made the start of the 2012/13 EPL campaign the most exciting in recent memory.
Since Sergio Aguero sealed the title for Manchester City last season, the Citizens haven’t quite looked themselves.
Manchester United and Chelsea have been performing roughly on par when measured against their expectations, and Arsenal are certainly asking questions of their wealthier contemporaries.
Can this be the season that a team from outside the ‘Big Five’ takes home the trophy?
To assess each team’s Premiership credentials, I think it’s best to analyse the ‘contenders’ for the title individually to decide if they genuinely have a chance, or are merely going to be battling it out for a European spot come the end of the season.
How does your team measure up?
I think it’s fair to say that Roberto Mancini’s men have underperformed in their first five matches. Only two wins from five matches have consigned the blue half of Manchester to the middle of the table.
Three tough fixtures against Liverpool, Stoke and Arsenal yielded disappointing draws for the Citizens. Manager Mancini and the wealthy Abu-Dhabi based owners will have been particularly incensed by the home draw to Arsenal, and will feel they should have done better.
City’s results will improve. They won the title last year with roughly the same team and the same manager. They’re a classy side, and will no doubt be up there come May.
The Red Devils will be out for revenge this year. Nothing hurts like losing the title, and nothing hurts more than losing it the way they did.
It took a miraculous last-minute goal from City striker Sergio Aguero to wrench the trophy away from Old Trafford, and the pain of losing the title on goal difference was surely a factor in the signing of Robin van Persie.
Last season’s Golden Boot winner looks to have carried his awe-inspiring form into the new season and team. A strike partnership with Wayne Rooney will cause sleepless nights for every defender and Manager in the League.
Manchester United will undoubtedly be in the top three. I believe they will win the title.
As a Chelsea fan, it’s hard for me to objectively assess their chances of winning the title.
As much as I want them to, I just don’t know if they can win the title this year.
They’ve recruited very well. Oscar, Eden Hazard and Victor Moses are brilliant talents, and will prove to be match-winners given time.
Their poor record against other top teams will be their undoing. Without Drogba, I don’t see where the goals will come from in these crunch matches.
Chelsea will do well, but will they perform consistently?
Spurs have a great side on paper. Not the strongest side in the Premier League, but far from the weakest.
However losing Modric and van der Vaart in the same transfer period has got to hurt.
Thankfully for them, star man Bale stayed on, Dembele, Sigurdsson and Lloris signed permanent deals, and Defoe has found form. There is a mountain of potential at White Hart Lane, but will that be enough?
New manager Andre Villas Boas has been given a second chance in the EPL. His failure to convert potential into results at Chelsea has now given him a new resolve to develop his signature attacking style and produce results worthy of a Big Five team.
I hope he can do it. I feel sorry for him; he didn’t deserve to be treated the way his was at Stamford Bridge.
However, for all their potential I can’t see Tottenham making the top four ahead of their title rivals. Fifth place for mine.
They may be mid-table at the moment, but expect that to change in the coming weeks.
Alan Pardew has done brilliant things at St. James’ Park. Or is it Sports Direct Arena?
If the organisers of the sponsorship deals at Newcastle FC had a fraction of Pardew’s transfer-market savvy, the Tyneside club would be rolling in funds, and might be a genuine contender for the title.
As it is though, I think the best they can do is a Europa League spot.
Last year’s signings Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse are very impressive players, but I can’t see them beating the likes of Arsenal or Manchester City.
The last few weeks have changed my opinion of the Gunner’s title chances. Given my hatred for the red side of London, I’d love to label them as Pretenders, but unfortunately, I honestly think that they will be contesting the title.
Losing Robin van Persie was a huge blow. He was their talismanic, goal-scoring captain, and their fortunes last year were almost entirely dependent on him. Especially so since the departure of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
However, selling him was a good piece of business from the wily Frenchman, Arsene Wenger.
Robin van Persie freed up the funds to buy Oliver Giroud, Lukas Podolski and most importantly Santi Cazorla.
The little Spaniard has looked like a player worth £35m, not the reported £18m transfer fee they paid the financially-troubled Malaga FC at the start of the season. For all of his brilliance though, Arsenal don’t depend on him like they did van Persie.
In addition to their new signings, the Gunners have a multitude of attacking options eager to show they can score goals; Gervinho and Walcott are under-used and under-rated.
What’s more, when Vermaelen, Szczesny and Sagna are back from illness and injury, Arsenal will be just as strong at the back as they are up front.
Honourable mentions go to Everton and Fulham, who both look impressive after their opening rounds, but I can’t see them continuing this form for long enough to challenge the bigger names in the Premier League. I hope I’m wrong though.
It’s a shame that it’s only the teams with a huge bankroll who really have a chance, but that’s the way football is moving.
With any luck, maybe the Financial Fair Play Regulations will make the playing field a little fairer, and in 2014 we’ll see one of the ‘smaller’ teams genuinely contesting the title.
Regardless of the clear financial inequalities, the remainder of the season is shaping up to be extremely exciting, so let’s all get down on our knees and pray for a conclusion to this season like last year’s.
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