By: Chris Dagonas
The English Premier League is the world’s wealthiest soccer league. Their TV deal is incredible, their fan base is international, and their stadiums are huge, safe, and almost always sold out. Most of the world’s greatest players play professionally in England, with about half a dozen other teams offering exceptions (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan…that’s about it). So, with the kickoff of the Premier League now come and gone, and my return from Europe secured, I have taken some time to break down some of the need-to-know info for Premier League fans old and new.
5 Teams That Could Win It All
Manchester United – The Red Devils finished as champions last season, one year after being dramatically supplanted by their crosstown rivals Manchester City in the 2011-12 season finale. On the field, nothing much has changed (unless Wayne Rooney leaves). Off the field, however, is where all the difference could be made. The legendary Sir Alex Ferguson has taken his leave, and rode off into the sunset in style, and has been replaced by former Everton manager (and fellow Scot) David Moyes. Much has been made of Moyes’ ability to constantly keep Everton competitive despite operating on a fraction of the budgets of the big clubs. This is a different animal all together, though. Managing a team like Manchester United is about managing playing time, injuries, egos, and off-field distractions – particularly the latest Wayne Rooney saga – all while implementing strategies and keeping players motivated. This could be the season where Manchester United slips a little to third or fourth, allowing space for the other big clubs.
Manchester City – Everyone’s favourite big spenders just kept right on spending this summer, adding winger Jesus Navas and striker Alvaro Negredo from Sevilla, midfielder Fernandinho from Shakhtar Donetsk, and striker Stevan Jovetic from Fiorentina. Their only big loss was striker Carlos Tevez, who switched shirts for Juventus. Net spending; 72 million pounds. Because, you know, Arab oil barons. Incumbent striker Edin Dzeko has been in top form during the pre-season, and, oh yeah, Sergio Aguero is still on the roster, and still awesome. Splashing out the cash for attackers must be fun, but this team is actually built on top-notch defending. Centre back Vincent Kompany and goalkeeper Joe Hart are perhaps the Premier League’s best at their positions. If new manager Manuel Pellegrini and the new signings can kick-start the offense, Manchester City looks poised to reclaim the Premier League crown.
Chelsea – What’s old is new again, as Jose Mourinho has returned to guide the Blues for a second stint. In three full seasons with Chelsea from 2004-2007, Mourinho won two Premier League titles and one FA Cup, and his team performed very well in the Champions League, although they never managed to win that title under Mourinho. Two shrewd, somewhat under-the-radar signings, in Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel, will help the transition from the Lampard-Terry-Cole squad of the last decade. The defense still leaves something to be desired, as John Terry is no longer the force he once was, and David Luiz is, well, insane. So while this is a team built to score and keep possession a lot, they are susceptible to strong counter-attacks and elite strikers. Like, you know, the ones you might meet when playing Tottenham or Arsenal or the Manchesters.
Tottenham – Gareth Bale Gareth Bale Gareth Bale Gareth Bale Gareth Bale. But seriously, we’re talking about a team that is just slightly above-average on defense, and relies far too much on a certain attacking player…whose name escapes me at the moment. Garth…something. Anyway, assuming that Spurs can hang on to that aforementioned player, and not sell him for, say, the total yearly salaries of the top 7 NBA players, they will have a puncher’s chance at winning the title. If they do sell him, and are unable to restock, well, as Brendan Gleeson once said, they won’t be shite, but they won’t be very good, either.
Arsenal – The old cliche goes that Arsenal is the place where young French and Franco-African players go to hit the big time. They have continued to prove it this summer by bringing in 20-year-old Frenchman Yaya Sanogo… and no one else. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. This team finished 4th in the league last season, and only 2 points behind third-place Chelsea. They are fast, aggressive on offense, and disciplined on defense. They lost nobody of real importance (sorry, not sorry, Arshavin) and all of their key players are under 30. It may be an outsiders’ chance, but Arsene Wenger’s club looks once again like a legitimate candidate for the Premier League title.
5 Teams That Could Surprise Us All
Liverpool – The Reds will be back in the Champions League next season, I can say that with full confidence. They were unlucky in drawing so many matches last season, as their goal difference was better than two teams ahead of them (Everton and Tottenham). They have brought in some young talent in winger Luis Alberto and striker Iago Aspas, plus a veteran central defender in Kolo Toure to deal with the retirement of Jamie Carragher. Captain Steven Gerrard is still a great player, but the talented duo of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen sit patiently on the sidelines, waiting for the inevitable dip in play that may be coming this season or next. They’re a deep and talented squad, perhaps second only to Manchester United in that regard, and should challenge the top 4, or rise into it, this season.
Swansea City – They posted a pretty impressive defensive record last season, but struggled to put the ball in the net. They have fended off the big clubs to retain the services of star defender Ashley Williams, and have added some firepower up front in the form of Ivorian striker Wilfried Bony (more below). I would not be surprised to see the Welsh club among the Europa League contenders this season, and finishing inside the top 7. Speaking of Welsh clubs…
Cardiff City – The League Championship winners from last season have announced their intention to stay with the big boys by signing fringe England-national-team defender Steven Caulker away from Tottenham. They bring with them a talented midfield, highlighted by Korean national Kim Bo Kyung, who will have people talking early and often with his dynamic play. Up front, expect big things from Danish national striker Andreas Cornelius, who scored 18 goals in 34 games for FC Copenhagen last year, as a 19-year-old. One thing is certain; Cardiff are not messing around. They intend to stay in the Premier League for the long haul.
Sunderland – Yes, they finished just above the drop zone last season, but that does not mean they are doomed to repeat that fate. They made two smart moves in the summer, bringing in American forward Jozy Altidore to partner with Steven Fletcher up front, and snuck in Italian midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini for good measure, while losing only one starter from last season, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet (whom they promptly replaced with Italian veteran Vito Mannone). They’re not European calibre, but Sunderland can well be a top 10 team this season.
Stoke City – I really like what they’ve done this summer. They lost no one of any real value, jettisoned some dead weight, and added three useful, young players. Maurice Edu, as Toronto FC and Glasgow Rangers supporters already know, is a powerful holding midfielder that will help shore up the defense until he returns to Turkey, while defender Marc Muniesa was a Barcelona reserve player, so you know there is some talent there. They are big and strong up front too, with Kenwyne Jones and Peter Crouch able to dominate in the air. If they can manage more goals from the run of play, rather than relying too heavily on set pieces, they should up their goal total from last season and make a run at European football.
5 Transfers That Will Matter
Disclaimer: There are still several transfers that may happen, such as Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale, or Luis Suarez switching jerseys. If any of those happen, they automatically become more important than the ones listed below. But since they have not happened yet, I will not comment on them. These are five transfers that are completed, and will pay dividends for the new teams.
Wilfried Bony – Striker – Swansea City: Joined from Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem for 12 million pounds. Plays nationally for the excellent Ivory Coast. Coming off an incredible 31 goals in 30 games last season, should provide ample goals for the Welsh side, and hopefully finds chemistry with Spanish revelation Michu.
Paulinho – Midfielder – Tottenham: The Brazilian central midfielder adds some offensive presence, to help take some pressure off Gareth Bale’s shoulders. He can also shore up the central defence by shadowing opposing teams’ creative playmakers. He is a classic box-to-box midfielder, with speed and a powerful shot.
Jesus Navas – Midfielder/Winger – Manchester City: A speedy winger who can help create and finish scoring chances. Has a blistering shot and tons of pace. He arrived from Sevilla for 14.9 million euros, and will instantly play a role in adding firepower to a talented, but sometimes ineffective, midfield corps.
Diego Lugano – Defender – West Bromwich Albion: The experienced Uruguayan centre back will add aerial security, calm decision making, and yes, experience, to a previously shaky West Brom back four that finished in the bottom ten in goals allowed last season.
Pablo Osvaldo – Striker – Southampton: This is the most recent of the big transfers, as the Argetine-born Italian striker was just added on Saturday from Serie A side Roma. He led that team last season with 16 goals, and will hopefully meld well with Southampton hero Rickie Lambert.
The first week of games has already come and gone, and only Arsenal have disappointed thus far (of course). So, sit back with a warm ale and some fish and chips, and enjoy the world’s best soccer league.