With less than a month to go until it kicks off, and with the mere presence of Stuart Pearce draining all enthusiasm and hope for Team GB, we are all looking forward to the new Premier League season. And it’s already shaping up to be one of the most intriguing yet.
The 2011-12 season was unquestionably one of the most exciting we’ve seen since the Premier League era began. We had some ridiculous scorelines, plenty of unexpected results and the most exciting finale since Arsenal’s last minute win at Anfield in 1989. Yet rarely have we looked forward to a new season with so many uncertainties hanging over each of the top five. With two new managers (if you include Roberto Di Matteo), two stars kicking and screaming towards the exit door and various other issues outstanding, it all points to an interesting season ahead even with plenty of transfer window activity still to come.
As champions, Manchester City face the tough task of defending their crown, which has proven notoriously tough unless you’re Manchester United. With José Mourinho’s Chelsea being the only other team to manage it in the modern era, the difficulty should not be underestimated. And although it is more applicable to the days before Sheikh Mansour, there is always the feeling with City that an implosion is just around the corner. With Roberto Mancini being hot-headed, Carlos Tevez being Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli being Mario Balotelli, Samir Nasri being Samir Nasri (I could go on) there are more egos crammed into the same vicinity than is ever advisable, and there is a chance that the wheels could come flying off at any moment. Whether the players and manager can remain unified and pushing towards the same goal will be an interesting watch from the outside.
In the red half of Manchester, there seems to be an uncertainty and nervousness which has not been present during most of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. Although they accumulated a high points total and were a last minute goal away from another title, there were clear indications that this United team are on the decline. The central midfield area is a weak point which can no longer be carried by the rest of the team, and was exposed on various occasions last season. The effect of the Glazers’ ownership on the clubs finances is becoming even more evident, and as the club’s PR machine churns out more and more positive spin, you begin to doubt whether the finances are available to invest as needed. Rarely before the Glazers arrived did you ever hear Ferguson discuss finances, yet now it is a constant theme. This summer will tell us all we need to know about United’s short term future, and should the necessary signings fail to materialise we could see them unable to keep pace with the leading pack.
Meanwhile in North London, Arsenal are going through their usual pre-season saga, with Robin Van Persie eroding all the goodwill (and then some) that he has generated with his fine form over the last 18 months. Although it would obviously be a blow to lose a player of his calibre, it could be a case of one step back and two steps forward if he does leave. The funds generated from his sale would have to be reinvested wisely, but if done so it could improve the shape of the team and add the strength in depth which Arsenal require, providing a more balanced and diverse team than we have seen in recent years. Failure to do so, however, would be disastrous. Success in this transfer window is probably more vital to Arsenal than any other Premier League club. The right moves and the club could be ready to challenge for the title, but if it proves to be another poor summer then they could finally lose their top four place.
On the other side of Seven Sisters Road, big changes have taken place at Spurs with Andre Villas-Boas replacing Harry Redknapp. I’m confident Villas-Boas is the right man to take Spurs forward, however the initial spell is likely to be one of transition. The imminent departure of Luka Modrić, whom Spurs’ style of play was so heavily dependent upon, combined with the tactical adjustments from Villas-Boas will require a period of adaptation. A challenge for fourth should be seen as a good season, providing a platform is built to push forwards from for the following season. Whether Villas-Boas has learnt his lesson from Chelsea and takes a more gentle approach to change remains to be seen.
Fresh from Champions League triumph, Chelsea seem intent on building the most frightening forward line they possibly can. With Juan Mata already at the club and coming off a fine first season in English football, Eden Hazard and Marko Marin have already been added, with Oscar looking likely to follow soon. Drogba’s ability demanded Chelsea play a certain way to get the most out of their most lethal asset, so the signings indicate a clear deviation from their usual style. Expect to see a much more fluid, dynamic and mobile Chelsea next season. My personal belief is Roberto Di Matteo is a short term measure until Pep Guardiola is ready to end his holiday (from Chelsea’s viewpoint, not necessarily his), but if he can get the new Chelsea style to click immediately, they could be strong contenders for the title.
With less than four weeks to go, the 2012-13 season is already building up to be one of the most exciting yet.