Unlike the end of the Roman Empire, the culmination of Sir Alex Ferguson’s at Manchester United empire will not usher in the Dark Ages in the Barclays Premier League.
With its popularity around the world the highest it has ever been, English football provides what all sports fans in America (and around the world) all the elements of great sports theater: identifiable superstars, legendary clubs, unknown upstarts and breath-taking drama week-in and week-out on the playing field.
To get ready for the season, A Lot Of Sports Talk‘s Premier League expert (and neuroradiologist by trade) Nishant Parekh breaks down each of the 20 clubs in the 22nd season of the Premier League. And to keep the Roman Empire/Dark Ages theme going, we have broken it down into social strata associated with those times (as well as in the order of Nishant’s predictions as to how the table will shake out). Enjoy your football!
It’s got to be the José Mourinho factor that makes me think Chelsea will win the league this season. The Prodigal Son (or Special One, if that fits you) has returned, and it is hard not to think that there won’t be immediate dividends.
The interesting thing to see for this squad is how the manager acclimates his style with the personnel currently on the roster, which is more suited for the “tiki-taka”-like style of play, with midfielders Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata all being diminutive players who are comfortable on the ball and deft, creative passers. Mourinho’s teams – whether it be at Chelsea, Inter Milan or Real Madrid – have won with a more physical, direct style of football, with players like Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry leading the Blues to a couple of league titles under the Portuguese manager.
This summer, Chelsea have been actively pursuing Wayne Rooney, and a deeper look at the attacking options may offer a good reason why that’s the case – other than just to stick it to Manchester United. Chelsea’s less-than-championship form in the Premier League has run parallel with the disappointing goal return of Fernando Torres during his time there. It is to be said that his (Torres) work ethic has never wavered, and the talent that he showed in abundance at Liverpool is still present…but just not prevalent. Demba Ba, acquired from Newcastle United last season, still hasn’t found his sea legs after a great first half of the 2011-12 season with the Magpies. If anything, the person that should lead the line for Chelsea is Romelu Lukaku, back with the side after a successful loan spell at West Bromwich Albion. He is a raw Didier Drogba – strong, good with the ball, a proven Premier League goal-scorer – and his professed passion for playing for the club only makes me think he’ll shine with regular first-team action. He will feel like a new signing for Chelsea.
Mourinho won the league in his first season at Chelsea in 2004-05, and the second verse of his Chelsea managerial career could very well go the same as the first.
New Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has to somewhat empathize with erstwhile head man Roberto Mancini. Back in 2009-2010, Pellegrini’s first year coaching Real Madrid, he led them to a La Liga season-record 96 points (although a second-place finish to Barcelona, who had 99 points). But European failure – a round of 16 defeat to Lyon in the Champions League – and the lack of a domestic title that year cost him his job after that one season.
After winning the Premier League in the most heart-stopping of fashions in 2012, City followed up with a second-place finish, albeit light years behind champions Manchester United. If that wasn’t bad enough, their last-place finish in the group stage of the Champions League marked the second season in a row City were eliminated before the knockout round, and Mancini’s time officially was running thin from there.
Owner Sheikh Mansour wants his team at the prestige level of the likes of Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. So in steps Pellegrini, and what has to get City fans most excited is that he has a track record of getting the most out non-fancied clubs, including a semifinal finish in the 2006 Champions League with Villarreal and a quarterfinal finish last season (where they agonizingly close to beating eventual Champions League runners-up Borussia Dortmund).
City were able to conduct their transfer business without much fuss, with the exits of Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez and replacing them with Stevan Jovetic, a prolific goal scorer at Fiorentina in Serie A, and Alvaro Negredo, who scored a goal for every two games he played while at Sevilla. Along with Negredo, Pellegrini also acquire Jesus Navas from Sevilla, and his attacking wing play that he displayed for club and country (Spain) is a dynamic that City hasn’t had in a while and will be welcomed to the Etihad Stadium. Fernandinho, a box-to-box midfielder that has been so instrumental in the rise of Ukrainian power Shakhtar Donetsk to European prominence, might be the most underrated signing of the summer and could become City’s most valuable player on the pitch in a couple of years.
All this, and they still have the likes of Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri, David Silva , Yaya Toure and Edin Dzeko in their ranks. Another second-place finish should be in the cards, at least, and Champions League success should soon follow.
After all of the conjecture over the past few years that David Moyes will end up being Sir Alex Ferguson’s heir at Manchester United, the time is (sadly) finally here. It will be interesting to see if he can translate his small club success at Everton into the grand scale at United. And doing so will mean he must wear many hats, including that of firefighter to try and put out the burgeoning conflagration that is the Wayne Rooney transfer situation. Sir Alex was masterful in handling these situations through the years (e.g. David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, etc.), and even more impressive about all of that was the way the resolutions (transfers away from or to the club) were dealt with swiftly and not drawn out in the public.
And that is part of why the Rooney transfer talk is so disappointing, with the way it’s been lingering around the club (and missing out on Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fàbregas did not help the off-season vibe at Old Trafford). Regardless of whether Rooney stays long-term or not at United, a move to Chelsea – where José Mourinho has made no secret of his desire to bring him to Stamford Bridge – would be a lose-lose situation on the pitch for the Red Devils.
But to focus on the pitch (finally), they are the defending champions, and Robin van Persie was worth his weight in gold in getting him from Arsenal, leading the league in goals (26). To be able to see van Persie and how he will partner with Wilfried Zaha, who almost single-handedly boosted Crystal Palace into the Premier League with his time there on loan, will be something to behold. Zaha is the brightest English attacking prospect in a while, and reminds me of a young, raw Cristiano Ronaldo. The rest of the attacking options (including Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck) are far from chop liver, mind you. The core of the team from last year is intact, so there’s more than a good chance that United can repeat.
But with the change up top, it is a worry that the team, even with the personnel being virtually the same, will have to adjust to the new tactics and training skills and new coaching staff, and it will be an adjustment that might take longer than it may seem . So the transition period, and everything that it will entail, is the main reason I think United will not win the league this season.
To Bale or not to Bale? Tottenham are seriously poised to make a run for fourth place and, almost more importantly, finish ahead of rivals Arsenal in the table for the first time in 19 seasons. Last season was especially heart-breaking given that Spurs finished with their highest-ever Premier League points total (72) yet still finished a point behind the Gunners.
But all of that success was largely on the back – and left foot – of Gareth Bale, arguably the most in-form football player in the world not named Lionel Messi last season. The Football Writers’ Association Football of the Year, Bale’s exploits caught the attention of the world’s richest clubs, and Real Madrid have been trying its best to pry the Welshman away from White Hart Lane, willing to break the transfer record to do so. Obviously, being able to hold onto Bale would make Tottenham the clear favorites to finish fourth.
But even a £100 million move to Madrid would still give Spurs cash to bolster their team more in the transfer market. That, and there is more than enough talent around the squad to finish in the top four without Bale. Andre Villas-Boas is finally putting his imprint and style into the Premier League (his rough go of it at Chelsea seems a long time ago), and a couple of acquisitions the team made will go even further in molding Spurs to his likeness. They actually strengthened the midfield by acquiring Brazilian midfielder Paulinho from Corinthians, and if anyone saw the Confederations Cup, he was the best player not named Neymar for the Samba side on their run to the title. Étienne Capoue comes over from Ligue 1 (France) side Toulouse and brings more of a defensive presence in the midfield.
Up front, Roberto Soldado comes over from Sevilla to team up with Emmanuel Adebayor and form a lethal partnership up front. And the most intriguing signing might be Nacer Chadli, one of the many young, talented Belgians to come up the ranks in recent years. The former FC Twente man attacks from the wing, but can also play in a striker role as well.
In Arsene (Wenger), we trust. But for how long?
In the past two seasons, the Gunners have had to overcome 13-point and eight-point deficits to rival Tottenham to claim the fourth Champions League place. That is all well and good, but when you’re considered one of the big four, and your last piece of silverware came in 2005, that clearly places you fourth in the pecking order. Expectations are much higher than that, with Wenger becoming a victim of his own success. The 2003-04 Invincibles are starting to become more and more invisible in the minds of Arsenal fans.
A fourth-place finish this season, as much as Arsenal fans may call for Wenger’s head if that were to happen, would be more of an accomplishment than anything else. The front office finally balanced the books after their construction of the Emirates Stadium, but there was no real activity for Arsenal in the transfer window. That should be considered a modicum of success, given that the team has been a seller club over the past few seasons (Robin van Persie, Cesc Fàbregas, Samir Nasri, Alex Song). But if they have some money to spend, which they do, then why have they not added anyone of significance to bolster the squad?
From what I see, the team has a lot of slight and frail players, and it seems to lead to a lot of injuries within the squad. Depth is a real concern, especially up front and in the back. Arsenal had been trying to make a move for Luis Suarez this summer, which would be a game-changer. But with Suarez now back to first-team training with Liverpool, Arsenal need to focus their attention elsewhere…and fast.
We all know that Arsenal have some of the brightest young talent (Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain), and that talent saw them through some real tough times and into the Champions League last season without van Persie to deliver the goods for them. But the same story every year might not always lead to the same ending, and if it does not end in at least a fourth-place finish (or at least with some silverware), could it be the end for the longest-tenured manager in the Premier League in Wenger?