ENGLAND: PREMIER LEAGUE 2013/14 Season Preview – Part 1

England

With the lower leagues of English football returning, the Premier League is now only around the corner, and you can already sense that we could be in for an incredibly exciting and unpredictable season. There have been a host of managerial changes at the top of the table, as well as clubs bringing in new acquisitions. After Reading, Wigan and QPR were relegated last season, we are now joined by Championship winners Cardiff, Runners up Hull and play-off victors Crystal Palace; of course they will all be hoping to hit the ground running back in the top flight.

In a close season of many managerial changes, the main one has undoubtedly been Jose Mourinho’s much-anticipated return to the reigns at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho has come in at Chelsea, and now the vast majority of people are predicting that he will be a success in his second stint with the Blues. It didn’t take him long to be active in the transfer market, with Andre Schurrle, Marco van Ginkel and back-up keeper Mark Schwarzer being brought in by ‘The Special One’.

In addition to this, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne have returned from their loan spells with West Brom and Werder Bremen respectively, and look set to play a key role for the Europa League winners this campaign. Chelsea have been hotly tipped as favourites for the title, and when you look at the options they have all over the field, it’s easy to see why they are the team fancied. Eden Hazard will be hoping to kick on from his positive debut season in England’s top tier, so he is my player to the watch. I am backing Chelsea to claim the title under Mourinho’s stewardship, but whether they do or don’t may depend on Fernando Torres and whether he can rediscover his shooting boots.

There’s been another managerial change for a team who play in blue, this time it was with Manchester City, who announced the appointment of Chilean Manuel Pellegrini to take over from Roberto Mancini. Last season was a disappointing campaign for City, who finished runners up in both the Premier League and FA Cup. But now with Manuel Pellegrini in charge, City look like they could do pretty well this season, and possibly regain the Premier League crown.

Pellegrini has made his mark on the side very quickly, snapping up Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo from Spanish outfit Sevilla, as well as midfielder Fernandinho from Shakhtar Donetsk and finally the capture of Stevan Jovetic from Fiorentina. There will be a change of system for City next season, with Pellegrini bringing more width to the side; that is apparent through the signing of wide-man Jesus Navas, who I deem to be the key player for the Citizens this season. In his first season managing in England, it will be difficult for Pellegrini to win the league in his first season, but if he can guide the club to the advanced stages of the Champions League and win a trophy, that should satisfy the Blues faithful. Then they will go again for the 2014/15 season.

Manchester United will certainly be up there in the hunt for the title this season, but they may not be able to retain it; this will be largely down to not having Sir Alex Ferguson in the dugout, after the Scotsman stepped down as boss at the end of last season. Another Scotsman, in the form of David Moyes, was identified as his successor and at the time of writing this, they have all made one signing, and that was Guillermo Varela; a Uruguayan full-back.

Thiago Alcantara was linked with the Reds, but eventually moved to Bayern, and United are still fighting hard to bring Cesc Fabregas to Old Trafford. They desperately need a central-midfielder to play alongside Carrick in the double-pivot, but it looks like they’ll have to pay a large sum of money to land an adequate one. Of course, you can never write off United, especially with all the talent and quality they have in their squad, but David Moyes doesn’t appear to have the same authority that Sir Alex Ferguson has, and I just don’t feel they will be able to repeat last season’s title win. I have Shinji Kagawa down as my key player, and am expect him to truly shine this season.

After narrowly missing out on a Champions League spot last season, Tottenham Hotspur have acted swiftly in the transfer market, bringing in the likes of Roberto Soldado, Paulinho and Nacer Chadli. We all know that they heavily relied on the magic of Gareth Bale to get them by last season, but now it seems as if Spurs have become more of a team, and have now landed a perfect striker for their system in Soldado; who I deem to be the missing piece in the Spurs jigsaw.

Spurs have lacked a striker who can consistently produce the goods, with Jermaine Defoe lacking consistency and Emmanuel Adebayor misfiring, it is no surprise to see Andre Villas-Boas invest in the former Real Madrid man. As controversial it may seem, I do fancy Spurs to nick the fourth spot this season, they have spent well in the summer and now it appears that the players are comfortable with Villas-Boas’ ideas. Moreover, they have some excellent options in midfield, especially with Paulinho, Dembele and Sandro; that could be a very productive midfield trio. Their whole summer has consisted of rumours of Gareth Bale leaving, if they keep him, I can really see them landing that final Champions League spot. Even if they don’t, I’m still backing them to be up there and in with a shout of qualifying for Europe’s elite competition.

Once again it’s been a frustrating transfer window for Arsenal fans, with them being linked to a host of fantastic players, but only managing to bring in one face, young French talent Yaya Sanogo. They are constantly linked with Liverpool talisman Luis Suarez, but it remains to be seen as to whether Arsenal can cough up the fee that the Merseyside club are demanding. When y look at Arsenal’s current crop of players, there is a lot of talent in there, with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere all players with phenomenal technically ability. But at this present time, for me, they are not equipped to reach a place in next season’s Champions League.

Arsenal do not need a massive summer spending spree, yet they still require a couple of new players who can add to what they already have. They desperately need a powerhouse of a midfielder; something they haven’t had since Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira departed North London. Luiz Gustavo is being hotly tipped to make a move to the Emirates and, in my view he would be an excellent addition, and would provide the steel in midfield that Arsenal have been lacking. Olivier Giroud has been scoring frequently in pre-season, which is positive, but I feel that Arsenal still need to bring in a top-class striker, though it may not be easy to lure Luis Suarez away from Liverpool now, as reports suggest he now wishes to stay with the Reds. At this current moment, I predict that Arsenal will finish fifth, but should they manage to acquire Luiz Gustavo and Luis Suarez, I may be proven wrong and they may well finish in the top four once again.

Liverpool’s summer has largely consisted of rumours and reports of Luis Suarez wanting to move away from Anfield, but in terms of players coming in, Liverpool have done quite well in the transfer market. Iago Aspas, Kolo Toure, Simon Mignolet and Luis Alberto are all new faces who Brendan Rodgers has brought in, and are sure to add a lot to a very talented squad. Consistency was a major problem and hindrance for the Red’s last season, and if they can rectify that this time around, they could be in for a decent season, even if they do allow Luis Suarez to leave the club.

I for one, am quite an admirer of Brendan Rodgers sees football; the way he wants it to be played and I believe that eventually, he will get it right at Liverpool, though the Anfield faithful will be have to be patient throughout his reign. Obviously, pre-season is somewhat meaningless, but it’s positive for Liverpool to have had a good pre-season, and now they are in a decent position as the season draws nearer and nearer. Luis Suarez will indeed be missed if he departs, as he is a phenomenal footballer, but in Aspas and Sturridge, Liverpool have two really good strikers there who can more than compensate for Suarez. If he does leave, I would expect Rodgers and Liverpool to look for another high-calibre player to replace him, but if he doesn’t, despite all the controversy he’s caused, he’ll only increase their chances of achieving a top four place. Rodgers will steer Liverpool back into the top four, I’m sure of it, but not this season for me, though I may be wrong.

With David Moyes ending his long reign at Everton and replacing Sir Alex Ferguson as United manager, Everton have turned to Roberto Martinez as the man to succeed the Scot who did so well at Goodison; a decision I believe will eventually be a successful. Martinez has already made his mark on the side and looks set to employ the tactics he previously used at Wigan, deploying three central defenders, rather than the more usual centre-back pairing. Everton’s current crop of players would appear to be well adapted and suited that system, so all in all it is a good fit. Martinez has also quickly dipped into the transfer market, bringing in Arouna Kone, Joel Robles and Antolin Alacarez, whom he worked with at Wigan, as well as the fantastic capture of Barcelona starlet Gerard Deulofeu.

Martinez did good jobs at both Swansea and Wigan and I am expecting him to do well at Everton, but in his first-season at an established top-flight club, I cannot see him guiding them to a place in the top six. I’m sure they’ll be there and thereabouts, but it’s a matter of whether they can find the consistency over the course of the season and maintain a good level of performance, especially away from home against the top sides. The current Everton squad is considerably good, and the same can be said for some of the players who have come in, yet I’m still not so sure that they will be able to make the top six in Martinez’s first season at the helm. But of course this solely my opinion, and I could very well be wrong.

Michael Laudrup did a superb job at Swansea City last season, continuing the same style of football the Swans have now made a tradition. He brought in some really good talent in the form of Michu, Pablo Hernandez, Jonathan De Guzman on loan, Chico Flores and a couple more in what was a very good transfer window for the 2010/11 play-off winners; evidence of that being in the emphatic Capital One Cup win over Bradford. Every season you must improve and strengthen what you already have, and I have been impressed with the business Swansea have done in this transfer window. Wilfried Bony, Jordi Amat and Jonjo Shelvey are all examples of new blood in the Swansea Camp, as they look to build on that excellent campaign they had last season.

Laudrup has already shown what a superb young manager he is, so there’s no reason why he cannot take Swansea to great heights. Everything is in place for Swansea City to go places; a good board, an attractive style of football, a good young manager and a tremendous bunch of players. After last season’s Capital One Cup victory, the Swans are now competing in the Europa League, which is great for the supporters, but it has previously had a negative impact on clubs in the Premier League, manly ones with relatively small squad’s. However I reckon that Swansea have the squad to be competitive in both European and domestic terms, and will once again play some exhilarating football and have yet another good season in the top tier of English football.

It was quite a good a season for West Ham United last campaign, if you take into account that it was there first season back into the top flight. The style of play was far from attractive, but it sure was effective as Allardyce guided the club to a successful season in the top half of the table. Andy Carroll is West Ham’s marquee signing of the summer, joining the club on a permanent basis after a decent season on loan last term. Stewart Downing has also come in from Liverpool, and could be a decent recruit for a fee around the £5m mark.

Over the years a lot of clubs have suffered from the so called ‘second season syndrome’, but with West Ham, I don’t think they will and am expecting them to be in for another good season. Their squad is of a pretty good standard and they have match-winners in the form of Mohamed Diame, Matt Jarvis and Andy Carroll. The latter will be key for them this season, if he can come up with the goods and replicate what he did with Newcastle a couple of season’s ago, then they should sit comfortably in mid-table when May comes around.

Josh Lawless

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