The coming season looks like being one of the most difficult to predict. The days where the top four was already a formality between Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are long gone. Last year Manchester City helped by the Saudi millions finished third and two years before that Tottenham managed to break into the Champions League. Here’s the look at all the six contenders:
Champions last year and looking even stronger this year after bringing fresh blood into their squad with the signings of Ashley Young, Phil Jones, David de Gea. Scholes, Neville and Van der Sar have retired last year and Giggs is probably into his final year as a player, so Sir Alex Ferguson is slowly changing the image of the team that had so much success over the recent years. Chief executive David Gill said that they would buy one more player before the window closes on the 31st of August, and everyone seems to think it will be Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder. With Sneijder or not (Cleverly stepping in) Man Utd remain favourites for the Premier League title. The depth of the squad is even better than last season, the only question marks will be how the young goalkeeper David de Gea will fill in Edwin Van der Sar’s shoes and how long can Rio Ferdinand stay fit. The form of Ashley Young seems to be a given looking at the record Sir Alex has with developing players in his position (Giggs, Beckham, Ronaldo, Park, Valencia, even Blomqvist). If not there is always Nani who can step in.
Every year without winning a trophy and big name signings people start to predict Arsenal will fall out of the top four and this year is no different. We have to remember however that out of all the six teams Arsenal, Chelsea and Manu have played in the Champions League regularly and managed to combine those demanding mid week fixtures with a top four finish in the league. The speculation surrounding Nasri and Fabregas is not helpful, but it seems like only one of them will be allowed to leave and that is Fabregas providing Barcelona pay a fair amount of money. This shows great determination by the board to risk losing Nasri on a free transfer instead of getting £20 – 25 million for him. This should install big optimism in the supporters and providing they can buy a centre back, which seems inevitable (Cahill, Jagielka, Samba all being mentioned) and predicting Aaaron Ramsey to follow in Wilshere’s footsteps Arsenal will once again defy the odds.
After the end of last season everyone was predicting Chelsea to spend the most money after seeing Abramovich dig deep into his pocket in January and bringing in Fernando Torres and David Luiz for over £70 million. Apart from the talented, new coach – Andre Villas- Boas it hasn’t quite happened for the Blues. They have only bought Barcelona B’s Oriol Romeu and Sao Paulo’s Lucas Piazon, spent most of the summer chasing Luka Modric and although the Spurs midfielder is keen on the move It looks like Spurs chairmen Daniel Levy won’t let him go. They have also missed out on Sergio Aguero to City and the promising, young Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku is also nowhere near completing the transfer. Big concern for Villas – Boas is the loss of powerful midfielder Michael Essien for about six months. Replacing him with Scott Parker will not make Chelsea stronger. The key to Chelsea’s success seems to be the form of Fernando Torres and that’s why buying an established playmaker who can provide for Torres the way Gerrard did at Liverpool is their priority. If they can’t, I believe it will be a disappointing season for them just like the last one.
After a bad start to last season Liverpool have been bought by new American owners, who unlike their predecessors seem to be willing to invest heavily in the club (although who could blame Hicks and Gillett for not giving Rafa Benitez any more money after the awful transfers he made every year- Aquilani, Insua, Degen, Robbie Keane, Pennant, …). Arrival of Kenny Dalgish has brought back positive thinking around the club and good results soon followed. Suarez looks like a great player for many years and Carroll showed glimpses of what he can do when not injured. This summer they have invested in young British talent like Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam, which does look fairly promising. The problem For Liverpool is that Suarez has just finished playing in all the matches in Copa America and that means he had no time to prepare for a new season. From past experience we can assume it will take him a month or two to get back into the way he was. Providing the plan where Downing and Adam get the best of Andy Carroll works Liverpool fans can look forward to a successful season. Not being involved in European competition also helps.
Last season City managed to get into the top four and win the FA Cup which summed up a successful season for them. The problem is they managed to do that largely with the help of Carlos Tevez, who seems certain to leave (if he doesn’t he could have a destabilizing effect in the dressing room, which would combine nicely with Balotelli) and his replacement is the untested in the Premier League Sergio Aguero. For all his undoubted talent he is a big unknown. It wouldn’t be the first time a world class player fails to adapt to the physical game in England (Shevchenko, Veron spring to mind). Mancini always sets up his team very defensively, they are very hard to break down with the powerful midfield trio of De Jong, Yaya Toure and Barry but without Tevez’s goals and Champions League fixtures on the calendar pressure could quickly mount up for Mancini. Dzeko and Balotelli don’t look like money well spent and that could cost them the Champions League place.
Tottenham have not made any important signings apart from Brad Friedel and they seem closer to losing one of their best players instead of acquiring new. Harry Redknapp admitted lately that they just can’t compete with the top clubs as far as wages are concerned and without Champions League football this season it is difficult for them to attract quality players. Assuming Daniel Levy is a man of his word and Modric stays, if they can get a good striker (being linked to Fernando Llorente and Juan Mata) and key players stay injury free, Spurs can have a good crack at finishing fourth and causing some real damage. On their day they can beat anyone, the problem is doing it over the course of the whole season. Early exit from the Europa League would help.