The countdown to the 2012/2013 Premier League season reaches a climax this Sunday as Villa Park plays host to the traditional Premier League curtain raiser, the Community Shield. Last season’s FA Cup winners Chelsea take on Premier League champions Manchester City.
The new season promises to be one of the most fascinating of all time, if last season’s nail-biting conclusion is anything to go by. 1,066 goals were scored last season, the highest in the Premier League’s 20-year history. So far 19 out of 20 clubs have made new additions ahead of the new season in the quest for glory; the only club not to sign any new players yet, surprisingly, is Manchester City.
The Premier League champions are keen to bring Arsenal captain Robin Van Persie to the Etihad Stadium this summer but are taking a pragmatic approach to their transfer window dealings. City’s bulging squad and Uefa’s impending financial fair play rules have seen the champions play a waiting game before making a move. They expect to sell either Edin Dzeko or Carlos Tevez, so this may just happen before they make room for Van Persie.
It is likely that the reigning champions will opt not to add to the existing squad. But, then again, why change a winning formula? City will be looking to progress further in the Champions League this season so maybe, just maybe this might impact on where they finish in May.
In any other season a disappointing sixth-place finish in the league, and a massive 25 points behind champions Manchester City, would have been seen as a massive failure, but winning the FA Cup and Champions League double made sure it was one of the most successful seasons in Chelsea’s 107 year history. Fresh from winning the Champions League in May after a dramatic penalty shootout victory against Bayern Munich, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has regained his appetite for the Premier League title challenge. Indeed Di Matteo will be relishing the opportunity to construct a team bolstered by so many mouth-watering new arrivals. So far Chelsea has splashed almost £40 million on brothers Eden and Thorgen Hazard, along with the £25 million pound deal for Brazilian wonder kid Oscar. Germany international Marko Marin has also been added to the squad for a more respectable £6 million.
We expect the boys from Stamford Bridge to challenge for the title next season and will undoubtedly witness a few more signings before the transfer window closes at the end of August. Deals for Wigan forward Victor Moses and Spanish U21 Marseille fullback Cesar Azpilicueta look likely, along with perhaps another world class striker, as the Londoners attempt to wrestle back the Premier League crown. Munich will forever go down as one of the greatest nights in Chelsea’s history but the size of the task that now awaits Di Matteo is arguably greater than that which he took on last year. The real challenge, it seems, lies ahead of him.
Manchester United, meanwhile, look to be building for the future. Shinji Kagawa and 18 –year-old former Crewe striker Nick Powell are so far the only new additions to Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. With doubts over the future of Portuguese winger Nani and the inevitable exit of forgotten man Dimitar Berbatov, there is certainly room for another face or two before the start of next season. The on-off move for Brazilian midfielder Lucas Moura, meanwhile, looks as though it may last a little longer than expected, with strong interest for the player from big-spending PSG. Croatian playmaker Luka Modric, on the other hand, is desperate to leave White Hart Lane and may well be the perfect addition to the United squad. We would be less than surprised if he finds himself at Old Trafford next season and he could well be the type of creative player that United is missing. This move is made perhaps more likely still, given the reluctance from Real Madrid to meet Spurs’ £40 million price tag.
And on the subject of Spurs, new boss Andre Villas-Boas will be looking to build on last season’s fourth-place finish, as talk of the title once again echoes quietly around White Hart Lane, following last season’s post-Christmas exploits. For the second summer running, want-away midfielder Luka Modric is desperate to leave the club for pastures new. Spurs will be hoping that the matter can be resolved, sooner rather than later, so that the AVB revolution can begin at the lane. At this stage, moves for Moutinho and Hulk are only speculative but if the club can successfully sign a few top players to add to its existing pool of players which has been bolstered by the impressive signing of Glyfi Sigurdsson, then Tottenham will fancy their chances at finishing in the top four again and returning to the Champions League once again.
Across London, Arsenal have made three high profile signings already this summer: in Germany international Lukas Podolski, France forward Olivier Giroud, and Spanish forward Santi Carzola from Malaga. However, the future of last season’s top scorer Robin Van Persie remains the most talked about transfer at the Emirates. A likely outcome is that they will opt to sell their most valuable player, the type of decision that Arsenal fans have become accustomed to in the last few seasons, having waved goodbye to the likes of Henry, Fabregas, Nasri (and the list goes on). The sense of déjà vu may well leave a sour taste in the mouth of many an Arsenal fan if Van Persie is indeed, the next on the departures list.
But it may well be another frustrating season for the Gunners, especially when you take a closer look at the signings they have made so far. Bags of firepower have been added to the team sheet but there is a very real danger that the side will become unbalanced and will be left wanting at the back. Unlike Chelsea and Man City, Arsenal arguably lacks the strength in depth to sustain a title challenge to the end of the season. Nevertheless, the club’s seven-year trophy drought will undoubtedly spur them on and if Wenger enjoys better luck when it comes to injuries and Van Persie stays, then Arsenal’s new front line would be a match for any strike force in Europe. Finally, Carzola is an incredibly gifted footballer and could just be the signing of the season.
Despite the decline in success over recent seasons, the Liverpool manager’s job remains one of the biggest challenges in club football. Now, Brendan Rodgers must bring the glory days back to Anfield. He has been widely acknowledged for the job he did at the Liberty Stadium and for the brand of football he brought to the Welsh side in their first ever season in the Premier League, but it remains to be seen whether he will have quite the same success at Liverpool. And when it comes to the players themselves, Andy Carroll’s future at the club is also in serious doubt. For now, Carroll is a Liverpool player but for how much longer, well your guess is as good as ours! Having enjoyed a strong end to the season and a great deal of success at Euro 2012, there is a strong case for holding onto Andy Carroll. Much has been made of him not fitting into Rodgers’ style of play and the ethos that the incoming manager seems intent on introducing to the club, but if Carroll leaves, Liverpool will be very light at the top, particularly given the departure of Dirk Kuyt and the impending return of Craig Bellamy to Cardiff. Some consolation for Liverpool fans?……at least Luiz Suarez has signed a new contract.
The Premier League clubs have travelled the four corners of the globe in preparation for the big kick-off on August 18th. Six have been east to Asia, six to America and the rest have spent time in Europe
There was once a time when pre-season preparations consisted of brutal training sessions in the community park and round the world tours of the local non-league outfits. But, today, the need to sell a team’s ‘brand’ to new overseas markets has seen clubs travelling further and further afield for their pre-season training. This summer, Premier League teams have clocked up over 186,000 air miles to fulfil warm-up fixtures overseas.
Paradise is where the future of football belongs, with every club in the top flight chasing the same global recognition. Like any major brand, football clubs are looking to attract new sponsors and then use these new relationships to help them gain greater exposure (and more long-term support along the way). So, for now at least, the positives of the far-reaching pre-season tour are understandably outweighing staying at home to prepare in familiar surroundings.
Only time will tell who will win the Premier League next season but the main contenders will be under no illusions as to how important it will be to get quickly out of the blocks and hit the ground running. The wait is almost over as we get set for another fascinating season of football and, no doubt, a fair few surprises along the way.
Words by Dan Apostolos