It’s back. After arguably one of if not the greatest seasons in Premier League history, it’s time once more for us to brace ourselves for another rollercoaster thrill ride. Last year had it all, a fight for the Title, a fight for fourth place, a fight for survival. We even had a team win the Champions League, but still only finished 6th. If this season is even a touch like the last, then we’re in for another blockbuster. So who looks the most likely to claim the title? Here’s my preview of how this season could shape up at the top.
Last season’s title race has to be one of the most exciting and memorable of all time, but not if you’re a Manchester United fan! Sergio Aguero’s last-gasp winner against QPR will be forever written down in folklore at the Etihad, as the first in what could be successive titles.
This year is shaping up to be just as or even more thrilling than the last, with Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal looking to claim to City’s crown. At the moment, based on current squads, City are favourites for me. The Champions, following last season's success, now possess the know-how in winning titles, something they previously lacked, and whilst also keeping the squad together and not bringing in another torrent of transfers, this now stable and experienced side look the most likely to go the distance.
With a supposedly now settled Carlos Tevez set to partner striking sensation Sergio Aguero, there seems to be no weak-links in the side. The only problem for City I feel is the size of their squad. Having a squad full of talent can be good in one way, but bad in another. There are only eleven places on the team sheet, and many players who see themselves as first team regulars will inevitably be left out. Ensuring the right balance of maintaining success and playing time is critical for Mancini to get right this season. For me, in order for it to work most efficiently, some players may have to leave, in order to avoid threatening the harmony in the dressing room, as well as avoiding incidents similar to the fiasco of the Carlos Tevez affair. Balotelli too needs to step up to the mark, as if he continues to be renowned for his tantrums rather than his talent, affecting the City dressing room, then the title may not be resident at the Etihad for much longer.
At the moment, Manchester United still don’t possess enough quality to really threaten their Blue rivals. The additions of Nick Powell and Shinji Kagawa were much needed in the centre of midfield; filling in the gaps left by injuries that have plagued this United side. With Cleverley and Andersen back in contention, as well as Fletcher beginning the first steps on a long road to recovery, United’s midfield is looking all the stronger. Despite this, I still feel there is not enough quality in this Red Devil’s side to make them favourites.
Should they sign Robin van Persie, on the other hand, which is looking more and more likely, then United will pose a real threat to Man City, and promise another enticing title battle, as well as the mouth-watering possibility of a Rooney-RVP front two. United have a lot of young players nonetheless, who are still learning their trades, whether or not they are capable of going one better than last season is unclear yet, but they have the best manager in order to help bring the best out of them in Sir Alex Fergusson. United will hope to not have to rely on their Golden Oldies such as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, and perhaps even Vidic and Ferdinand, in order to help them achieve a 20th Premier League title.
Chelsea have certainly splashed the cash this summer, acquiring Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar amongst others and it appears they still aren’t finished. Ambramovich has moved quickly to rejuvenate his squad, kicking out some of the oldies and replacing them with much needed youth. Chelsea do and will have the quality to mount a challenge this season, but for me, the amount of pressure on Di Matteo accompanied by his lack of experience at this level means I don’t see them as being able to pick up the title next May. Chelsea’s fate this season stems from whether the Italian can step out of Pep Guardiola’s shadow, the man Roman Abramovich ideally wants at the helm at Stamford Bridge Another reason is the amount of matches Chelsea will have to play this season, as they are going to have to take part not only in the European-Cup Winners Cup but also the Club World Championship in Japan. The extra fatigue from these extra fixtures could hinder Chelsea’s title aspirations.
On the pitch nevertheless, competition for places, especially in attacking positions, will only be increased by this year’s spending spree, which is always a good thing. Cesar Azpilicueta, a Spanish right back currently at Marseille, also looks set to join the European Champions as an adept replacement for the recently departed Jose Bosingwa. Would I say Chelsea are title contenders this season? Yes. Champions come May? Highly doubt it.
Arsenal are my shock fourth contender for the title. I have been widely sceptical of Arsenal’s chances, especially since the impending departure of Robin van Persie. But, if they can sign either Nuri Sahin or Yann M’Vila, as both have been strongly linked with the Gunners and I am very sure at least one will join the club, then Arsenal have to be considered in amongst the contenders. Arsenal’s downfall over the past few seasons has been undoubtedly defensive fragility, stemming from a lack of cover in midfield as well as a creaky defence. If they can keep Vermaelen and Koscielny fit as well as bringing in sufficient cover, accompanied by plugging the defensive hole in midfield, then I see no reason why Arsenal shouldn’t be considered as contenders.
Furthermore, the additions of Podolski and Giroud will certainly help to fill the void left by van Persie, and credit must be handed to Wenger for moving so swiftly to sign them. However, should Arsenal lose Alex Song (as he is rumoured to be on his way to Barcelona) and fail to bring in one of the previously mentioned holding midfielders, in addition to bringing in stronger cover for their back four, then a scrap for fourth may once more be what Gunners fans will have to look forward to this season. Arsenal hold their own future in their own hands – well in Wenger’s hands and their board’s back pocket.
Amongst the rest, Tottenham Hotspur look the most able to launch a shock title challenge, however, as we have seen with Chelsea, it takes time for AVB to implement his methods on a new team. For me, the Spurs squad will be able to pick up his tactics much quicker than the arrogant Chelsea squad he took control over last summer, this accompanied by a strong team, proficient in all areas, means Spurs most definitely will be competing for Champions League football this season, but perhaps not the title. They do however, for me, look the most likely to potentially upset the apple cart.
Liverpool have a top-class manager in Brendan Rodgers who will look to bring attractive football to Anfield, exemplified by what he showed with his Swansea side last term. The Liverpool squad isn’t strong enough to compete for the title, judged on last season’s showing. Rodgers will have his work cut-out in attempting to bring out the best in the British flops, for example Downing, Adam and Carroll, but will reap the benefits from their new signings, especially Allen and Borini, accompanied by having a strong defence to work with, as well as star names such as Suarez and Gerrard. A top seven finish will be a good achievement for them in this campaign, rather than claiming the title.
After Newcastle’s sensational season last time out, The Magpies will hope to build on last season’s success. Buoyed by the fact that they have kept all of their star names, such as Ba and Cabaye, Alan Pardew has been able to add to his squad in order for them to post another challenge to ensure European football next season. Title contenders would be stretching it a bit far, but you never know with this Newcastle side.
Whatever happens, wherever the title ultimately ends up, what we do know, is that we are in for another pulsating thriller of a season, and it all starts in a just few days time.