August 17, 2013

The English Premier League returns

EPL is back
EPL is back

The transfer madness continues to rumble on with Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale being the star attractions. Nevertheless, the twist and the emotional capsule that is the English Premier League is set to be ignited once again. And the fire won’t fail to burn with fury, what with David Moyes, Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho occupying some of football’s hottest managerial seats.

Mid-August is upon us once more, a time when teams take to the pitch chest thumping with their new recruits, defensive setups and sumptuous attacking displays all in the name of wresting control of top honors. It’s a time local armchair experts radiate confidence in their opinions, as a marathon 9-month affair kicks off.

Even before he begins his own era at the helm of the defending champions and record holders, Man United, David Moyes has already been dismissed. Skeptics say the Red Devils won’t defend their trophy or even be among the top two. Whereas on paper it may be easy to accept such statements, it’s wise to remember the Old Trafford outfit still has the same championship winning squad.

Only one player is needed in the midfield cog, a mercurial player. Thiago Alcantara chose treble winners Bayern Munich while Cesc Fabregas opted for club loyalty. Word is Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil and Luka Modric are on United’s radar. We’ve been there before, let’s see how this pans out.

In the meantime, to be dismissed from being favorites to lift a 21st title should ease pressure off Moyes. If the Glaswegian is able to defend the crown, it will come off as a surprise, if he doesn’t, well, we expected it, no? The first few fixtures will be a baptism of fire, with United set to face off against Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool.

The Chelsea match will be crucial, especially at Old Trafford. The Blues are being considered favorites to lift the title, due to the Jose Mourinho factor, rightfully so. The Portuguese tactician came to the English shores in his first stint and won two consecutive titles. Definitely, he’ll instill a winning mentality into the Stamford Bridge outfit but he still lacks a world class finisher.

Fernando ‘El Nino’ Torres hasn’t been buzzing akin to his Liverpool days, Demba Ba is yet to truly prove himself and Romelu Lukaku is still some work in progress. Goals will count, more so when rivals have rich attacking talents in their squads. It won’t be a walk in the park for the former Madrid gaffer, how much he needs Rooney.

That’s not a problem Man City have. The nouveau riche blue half of Mancunia has arguably the strongest squad in the premiership. £90million has already been splashed to secure Fernandinho, Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic and Jesus Navas. And still, their plethora of attacking talent is in place; the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Sami Nasri, et al.

Roberto Mancini had strikers that were the envy of any manager, and yet, he was booted out of Etihad. It will be the same problem facing new manager Manuel Pellegrini. Sheikh Mansour and Chairman Khaldoon don’t have a problem spending their black gold, just give them their returns in terms of trophy haul, nothing less. Though given the plethora of stars in the squad, they should be the favorites.

What about Arsenal? We’ve become accustomed to this, no? The club’s hierarchy claims funds are not an issue. Yet, only free agent Yaya Sanogo has been brought in. The trolley dash expected to snap Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Gustavo, Rooney and Suarez hasn’t materialized. And the Gunners will end up having a shortage of players.

Gone out of the Emirates’ gates are the likes of Andrey Arshavin, Gervinho, Denilson, Squillaci, Coquelin, Vito Mannone, Marouane Chamakh, Ignasi Miquel, amongst others. Not hair raising exits, but exits nonetheless, something that will definitely make North London rivals, Tottenham Hotspurs, glee.

The Lilywhites have a fine chance to dethrone Arsene Wenger’s charges from the last qualifying Champions League spot. Paulinho has come in and so has former Valencia hit man, Roberto Soldado. Andre Villa Boa’s men are always a sight to watch, but their hopes of playing amongst Europe’s crème de la crème hinge on the future of Gareth Bale. A world record fee appears tantalizing, but, David Levy, be wise.

As for Liverpool, it seems eons since the Reds occupied a Top Four slot. Nevertheless, Brendan Rodgers has done a remarkable job in strengthening his side. It’s good to note the manager is adamant that Suarez won’t be allowed to leave. How many players can hit the net like him? With a good show, a top four will not be a farfetched dream, though Europa League is the most likely calling.

Saturday 17th August

2:45pm Liverpool – Stoke City, Anfield, SS3

5pm:      Arsenal – Aston Villa, Emirates, SS3

5pm:      Norwich – Everton, Carrow Road, SS7

7:30pm Swansea – Man United, Liberty Stadium, SS3

Sunday 18th August

3:30pm Crystal Palace – Tottenham, Selhurst Park, SS3

6pm:      Chelsea – Hull City, Stamford Bridge, SS3

Monday 19th August

10pm     Man City – Newcastle United, Etihad, SS3

 

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