Manchester city are still alive here... Balotelli... AGUEROOOO!!!
As Manchester City fans finally start to recover from months of manic celebrations, the red half of Manchester still cant believe how the title was snatched away from them with virtually the last kick of the season.
2011/12 surely goes down as the most breathtaking climax to a Premier league campaign in history, but i am looking forward to the up-coming season and who i think will be getting their name on engraved on the Barclays Premier League.
I will start with the holders.
Manchester City will still be buzzing from the finale in May when they secured their first top flight trophy since the 1967/68 season. For me, Mancini's men start out as favourites as they look to defend their championship. With world class players in almost every position, they possess one of the most talented squads in europe with a vital blend of vigour, a 'never say die' mentality and a heap of flair. Players like Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero provide the spine of a team most managers can only dream of being in charge of.
Roberto Mancini (below) has yet to sign any players this summer which is somewhat unheard of for a manchester city squad with a value of over £435m. Along with Edison Cavani of Napoli and Scott Sinclair of Swansea, City have been heavily linked with want-away Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie, however the Dutchman seems to prefer a move away from England and Juventus being his likey destination.
With Carlos Tevez poised with a transfer away from the club if a fee is agreed with Italian giants AC Milan and reports that the big Bosnian Edin Dzeko is also a target for top european sides, it may be time for 'marmite' striker Mario Balotelli to step up and do his talking on the pitch.
Fergie's Manchester United will still be hurting. Undoubtably the worst way to lose a game, never mind a title, is in the last few seconds in a game (Believe me as a Brighton and Hove Albion season ticket holder i know all about that). However the main attribute Man Utd have over any other side is the experience of winning. Sir Alex has not only built but has sustained for his successful 27 years in charge at Old Trafford, the perseverance and drive to win trophies. 37 to be precise.
The current squad has one main area that needs strengthening. Defence. The much changed back 4 has never looked as stable as when the pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were at their peak together. Startlet Phil Jones has looked a good acquisition along with Ex-Fulham and Maidstone player Chris Smalling but both have been rotated and played in different positions including RB and CM. The aging legs of Rio Ferdinand and the injury-prone Nemanja Vidic along with the almost nervous-looking Jonny Evans is something i honestly believe will cost United.
The arrival of Shinji Kagawa is an important one for Utd. If the little Japanese midfielder shows the form he has over the last 2 years at German Champions Borussia Dortmund, then the 23 year old will certainly be a major part of any success Utd have. I'm sure the likes of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez are excited about playing with Kagawa who is known for his many assists.
The 19 time league champions also snapped up highly rated Nick Powell. Powell, 18, was a prospect from the prestigious Crewe Alexandra youth system and finished top scorer for 'The Alex' for a total of 16 goals in all competitions. Powell signed for a fee of believed to be around £3.75m and will be itching to get some first team football at Utd.
Another club who will be going all out to get their name back on the trophy are Chelsea.
Roberto Di Matteo has set unbelievable standards for himself, winning the FA cup and the Champions league after just 2 months in temporary charge. He has now secured a permanent deal and will be desperate for the West-London club to be back lifting the trophy.
As ever, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovic has made funds available and Di Matteo has taken full advantage of this by signing Eden Hazard (£32m from Lille) Thorgan Hazard who is brother of Eden ( Undisclosed from Lens) Brazilian Oscar (£25m Internacional) and Marko Marin (Undisclosed from Weder Bremen). Add these players to the likes of Ashley Cole, Michael Essien, Juan Mata, Daniel Sturridge and struggling Spaniard Fernando Torres (yes, really!) and you have yourself a squad able to challenge.
In spite of that, Chelsea have had a poor pre-season so far and fans are already questioning the tactics they have been using. The most recent loss was on the south coast to my team Brighton and Hove Albion. You cannot read too much into pre-season games but from this showing the chelsea need some extra time on the training ground. Brighton opened up their defence on more than one occasion and Di Matteo's side looked very slow going forward but like i said it was only a freindly!
After a finish of 5th last year Roman Abramovic will be demanding a lot more from his team this time round, although the loss of Didier Drogba (who scored 100 in 226 including the decisive penalty to clinch the champions league) will be sure to impact The Blues.
The First of the North London clubs im going to look at is Arsenal. It may come to a surprise to people but i think this will the year that The Gunners FINALLY get their hands on some silverware. They finished on a high in the previous campaign, beating fierce rivals Tottenham to 3rd place. Lately they have been in the papers for different reasons though. Captain and top scorer Robin Van Persie, with only a year left on his contract, has told arsenal he will not be signing an extension leaving Arsenal fans around the world heart broken. The 29 year old scored 30 goals in the 2011/12 season and he became only the second player to score against 17 different premier league opponents in a single campaign. He also won PFA Player of the year, FWA Player of the year and earned a spot on the Team of the year.
With Arsenal looking to cash in before Van Persie goes on a free, Wenger has also been busy in the transfer market signing Olivier Giroud. The 6ft4 French international will be looking to live up to his £9.6m price tag playing alongside Polish born Lukas Podolski. Podolski, who has over 100 international caps for Germany and 150 career goals, will add more fire power to Arsene's arsenal with his lightning pace and precise finishing. Since writing this article Arsenal have completed the singning of Malaga Winger Santi Cazorla which has deemed very popular with the fans.
Already armed with arguably England's brightest young talent Alex Oxlade chamberlain, Midfield meistro Alex Song, Euro 2012 Russian star Andrei Arshavin and the British trio of Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere i genuinely believe they have the balance of youth and experience to win something.
White Heart Lane was home to some of the most attractive football in England for large parts of last season. Tottenham had a flying start and were highly considered outsiders for the title. That was until Fabio Capello left the England post and there were whispers Spurs manager Harry Redknapp was being lined up to take over. Spurs soon lost their form and Harry couldnt buy a win (even with all the money he saved on taxes!) and they were beaten to 3rd by Arsenal. Ouch! They finished 4th but missed out on champions league because of Chelsea's Triumph in Munich. Redknapp (below) was later sacked.
Time for a new era, an Andre Villas Boas era. In his first season with Porto they won the league by over 20 points and only conceded 13 (yes 13!) goals in the whole season. Along with the Primeira Liga, Porto also won the Portugese supercup and the Europa league in AVB's first season in charge, impressive! Although when he later took up the managers role at Chelsea things didn't go to plan and he was sacked after only 9 months in charge.
Since arriving at The Lane, AVB has had a clear out. 8 players have left the club including Niko Kranjcar, Louis Saha and Steven Pienaar. Ex-captain Ledley King retired after 13 years at the club and was replaced by Belgian international Jan Vertonghen, a 6ft3 goal-scoring defender. England under 21 international and recent Great Britain representitive at the Olympic games, Steven Caulker will be desperate to break into the first team after impressing with Premier League new boys Swansea City.Spurs also snatched Gylfi Sigurdsson from under Liverpool's nose and are thought to be close to signing Lanky Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
Players like Barcelona target Gareth Bale, PFA young player of the year Kyle Walker and England Midfielder Scott Parker will be out to prove their worth and help Spurs push on and try to finish top 3, but it wont be easy!
Liverpool need to stop living off their past glories and start seriously challenging for the Premier League. Brendan Rodgers is a very intelligent man who likes his teams to play the way football should be played (in my opinion!). The Anfield faithful wanted the big names like Guardiola and seemed a littled bit underwhelmed when Rodgers finally took the job.
Rodgers has signed Italian striker Fabio Borini in an attempt to get the goals flowing as Ex-toon hero Andy Carroll has so far failed to live up to his £35m price tag. Daniel Agger could also be on his way out and with Jamie Carragher turning 60 this year (seems to have been playing for ever!) Rodgers may need to look around for some replacements. Steven Gerrard had a very good Euro 2012 and if Liverpool do make a push for top 4 he will be the major player in the Liverpool team.
My surprise package this year I think will be Everton. One of the most impressive managers to grace the premier league, David Moyes seems to always work wonders with the strapped for cash mersey club.
Although their fan favourite Tim Cahill has moved on, the signing of Steven naismith from Rangers may prove a very shrewd bit of buisness by the strawberry blonde manager. Nikica Jelavic was on fire after joining The Toffees in January and if he keeps scoring then theres no reason the blues cant finish top 6 next year after a very impressive 7th last year. Steven Pienaar is a very good signing for them and will be a crucial member of the team. The everton faithful have plenty of youngsters to be excited about including Magaye Gueye, Ross Barkley Seamus Coleman and Apostolos Vellios not to mention the more experienced players like fuzzy haired Marouane Fellaini (below), John Heitinga and England Left back Leighton Baines.
Will we ever see a conclusion to the title race as astounding as what we saw in Manchester in may 2012? I doubt it, but heres hoping!