Going into a match, having just come out of a gruelling Christmas schedule with a six match unbeaten run to lie third on the league table, two points off the top, my team fall behind midway through the first half against a team two places off the relegation zone.
Rubbish! And perfect time to pause football manager and feel most inclined to put down this preview of the 2013/14 Premier League season, a season which comes with a sense of the new mixed with the usual, high octane drama we’ve become accustomed to season after season.
Last season, Manchester United reclaimed the league title from the noisy neighbours and as a result went past Liverpool as the team with the most league titles, thanks largely to the goals of Robin van Persie; the last genius gamble of long serving manager Sir Alex Ferguson who finally let go of the thinking cap and chewing gum at the Theatre of Dreams.
Inevitably, the new man at the helm will be banking on the flying Dutchman in his quest to begin a reign as Fergie’s successor on a high, off what has been a turbulent run up to the season, no thanks to speculation on Whine Rooney’s future at the club as well as failed bids for Barcelona duo Thiago Alcantara (who opted to join his former boss Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich) and Cesc Fabregas who ‘decided to stay put’ as well as for his former boy Leighton Baines.
That leaves David Moyes with pretty much the same squad that came from behind on numerous occasions to win the league. Only difference now from then is, can Moyes’s charisma evoke that similar spirit Fergie was always conjuring from his players on their way to a 20th crown last season?
Having gone fruitless years being a pain in the a.k.a.-donkey of the bigger clubs while at Everton, the expectation is that having a better squad and much better budget at his disposal now would make a ‘better’ manager of him. His ability to make the best out of what he has and potential to be at the helm for long – stability – is what got him the job and what is hoped would ensure sustained success at Old Trafford.
But his failure to land transfer targets however, point to an inferior character incapable of commanding a presence, a respect where it matters. It certainly cannot be at the level of Fergie’s but it right now is quite far from convincing even most fans of the club that Moyes is the ideal man for the job.
As a result, rivals for the league title, swirling around as sharks would at the presence of blood, have made their moves and all that’s left now is for them to go for the kill and take the league title from the Red Devils.
First shark in the tank is Manchester City that finished second last season, having failed to replicate the drive which led the club to a most dramatic title win minutes after Man. United thought the title was theirs in 2012. Hence, the hierarchy at the Etihad relieved Roberto Mancini of his job and replaced him with seasoned Chilean tactician Manuel Pellegrini.
A number of players have also been added to the squad there, with Fernandinho joining from Shakhtar Donetsk, quickfeet Jesus Navas from Sevilla, followed later from same club by striker Alvaro Negredo, with Montenegrin forward Stefan Jovetic arriving from Fiorentina some time between the two Spaniards.
Fernandinho’s arrival gives the spine of City’s midfield a bit more dynamism to the one already provided by Yaya Toure. Javi Garcia never got going last season and with Jack Rodwell still in the mix of the hustle to be Toure’s starting partner in midfield, it’s looking like it’ll be a long season for Garcia.
Upfront, Pellegrini has an enviously potent forward line consisting of Negredo and Jovetic joining Sergio Agüero and Edin Dzeko, with support over the season from Fernandinho and Navas joining a midfield already rich with Yaya Toure, Silva, Samir Nasri, James Milner and Javi Garcia… not to forget Rodwell and Scott Sinclair who may leave the club on loan for this season.
However, Man. City’s main failing last season was the defensive lapses that brought about a number of unexpected losses, an issue that should not be a bother this season after all if the goals are regular from the wealthy choice of forwards he’s assembled. Otherwise, Pellegrini’s got a coming headache.
Having captain Vincent Kompany and the rest of the back line fit and in form (Joe Hart’s bipolar form comes to mind here) all season would be crucial to Pellegrini’s main test as new manager, which will not necessarily be how well he performs in the league, as he could lead City to a third place finish and still be regarded a success based on how well he does in the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup, especially in the former where the real test is.
Man. City’s embarrassing displays in the last two European seasons pose a threat to their domestic ambition. Doing well in Europe could hamper their league performance and vice versa. Pellegrini’s job will therefore be to strike a right balance in the Premier League and Champions League or end up only delivering what Mancini could to the oil money, unsatisfactory success.
From the blue side of Manchester to London’s, a shark swirling about Moyes, also with a new man at the helm but, unlike the previous two clubs, a man who is returning to familiar terrains.
Chelsea have satisfied the yearn for European success unlike City, and in fact won the Champions League and Europa League in successive years. The Premier League, last won 2009/10, will be the main goal at Stamford Bridge and Jose Mourinho knows all to well how to go about winning it.
He was the one who won the Blues a first league title in half a century, going right ahead to retain that title the following season. Now armed with more experience from Inter Milan and Real Madrid along with a diabetic wealth of choice in players, without forgetting his undying love of life in the Queen’s most pretigeous league, Mourinho and Chelsea are the genuine favourites to win the league and break the recent hold of Manchester on the title.
Fernando Torres may not have the chance to be the undoing of Chelsea’s title quest, even though I feel he’s been improving in front of goal lately. Not to say he’s close to his old lethal self but… he’s been improving. And if indeed he falls short again, there’s Demba Ba. The Senegalese however has a prone to going on a drought in the second half of the season following a flourishing first half. What then? Hello Romelo Lukaku.
If there is a set of players highly motivated to prove a point this season, the Belgian striker’s name would be at the top of that list. The imposing young striker left good memories from his loan spell last season at West Bromwich-Albion and has looked good in front of goal this preseason for the Blues.
And with a creative force led by Juan Mata that also comprises Eden Hazard and Oscar, along with Victor Moses and new boys Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Schurlle, the problem for Chelsea won’t be the number of chances created but the number of those taken. Who Mourinho picks as the man with the task to convert those chances will be key to Chelsea’s success this season.
Among the three teams written of in this piece, Chelsea (much to my biased side’s dismay) are favourites for the league title based on the facts that Mourinho knows the league well enough and he is the sort of manager who can get his team to grind out the needed results at crucial stages of the season.
Besides, the Chelsea squad doesn’t seem as one on the brink of tearing apart, unlike City where four internationals are vying for two striking spots, if not one (depending on Pellegrini’s choice of tactics) and the duo of Yaya Toure and David Silva seem untouchable in midfield. As for United, they are title contenders simply because of van Persie. One bad injury… it’s either Rooney or the little pea step up in the Dutchman’s absence or it’s over.
The rest of the league? There’s Arsenal to lead them, followed in no particular order by Swansea City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. I’ll rather write about them in another post, a sequel if you may. But right now, I’ll finish my match on football manager… whose makers by the way have announced and released screenshots of FM14. Exciting times.