Premier title is most open yet

With another exhilarating season of Barclays Premier League football not far away, the new-look squads will have a fascinating mix of players.  

The Premiership kicks off on 17 August and although there will be a lot of movement between now and then, it is worth analysing a summer of key personnel changes.  

Arsenal last year were lackluster at times and the lack of a constant threat up-front made the loss of Robin van Persie much harder to take, despite Theo Walcott smashing in 14 goals and new signings Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski getting 11 each.  

They, in the end, scraped fourth place from north London rivals Tottenham, but are looking to do a lot better in the coming season – and with money to spend, boss Arsene Wenger has some pressure from supporters to bring in big names.  

Arsenal’s specific need is a striker who can replace the goals they so dearly missed a year ago. And with Stefan Jovetic and Gonzalo Higuain being lined up as possible summer ins, and with a squad of quality names like Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny, the Gunners may not be misfiring much longer. Spurs will seek another good season after being robbed of a Champions League spot on the last day of the season by their arch rivals.  

Tottenham’s big aim will be to finally sign a striker who can score consistently after the failure of Emmanuel Adebayor and the inconsistency of Jermain Defoe.  

Spurs have several strikers on their radar, such as Brazilian emerging star Leandro Daimao whose impressive form inspired the north Londoners to bid for him in January.  

With star player Gareth Bale inevitably leaving for Champions League football, Spurs will be looking for a replacement for him as well. But with the price of $125 million set for potential suitors, he won’t be sold cheap.  

The big problem will be that there appears to be no natural replacement for the Welsh superstar. And because of his key role in the team, it seems as if they will drop from the Champions League and will be battling for Europa League next year, unless Andre-Villas Boas can find the perfect replacement or another form of getting goals. 

Last season’s champions Manchester United glided to victory with hardly any competition from their rivals Manchester City, winning the league by 12 points.  

Stellar contributions from van Persie, Michael Carrick and David de Gea guided the champions to comfortable victory and they are looking to replicate their form under new manager David Moyes. 

Moyes has yet to make any drastic changes, but his main focus seems to be building a stronger midfield which United have lacked ever since the departure of Roy Keane in 2005.  

Thus far, his only signing has been Guillermo Varela, a 21-year-old Uruguayan right-back, and judging from the form of Rafael it is hard to see him breaking into the first team in his first season.  

So how will Manchester United do? Well, if they manage to sign the midfield enforcer they desire, keep hold of Wayne Rooney and maintain van Persie’s goal scoring form then it could be another excellent campaign. But they are not likely to find it easy, especially under a new manager, a change most United fans under the age of 30 won’t have experienced.  

It’s almost inevitable that they will be in the top four, but it will be an interesting season at Old Trafford for many reasons. 

Everton are left in an interesting position with long serving manager Moyes heading to Old Trafford and with former Wigan boss Roberto Martinez being hired as a replacement.  

The Spaniard won the FA Cup last month with a Wigan side that was relegated in the end and was admired for his ability to keep the club in the Premier League despite having very little money to spend. Moyes had similar constraints at Everton, but over time built a strong foundation and last year finished in sixth place.  

Martinez wants to continue this form, but will face the challenge of replacing Marouane Fellaini, who has been subject to continued interest from multiple clubs including Manchester United.  

Martinez is likely to need to replace Fellaini and bring in someone able to score prolifically as the Belgium midfielder was their top scorer in the league with 11 goals and under-performing Nikica Jelavic who scored seven was the club’s next top scorer showing that the club lacks a clinical finisher.  

Arouna Kone has been lined up as a possible summer in as he was a part of the FA Cup winning Wigan team and scored 11 times last term making him an obvious target for Martinez.  

All in all, if Martinez can secure a striker who can bag 15 to 20 goals and replace Fellaini with a capable midfielder, Everton could be pushing for a Europa League spot.  

Manchester City are expecting big things too and with all the cash in the world available and no player seeming too far out of reach, it’s hard to see them not being able to mount a challenge for the title.  

With Manuel Pelligrini installed, who took Malaga to the Champions League quarter-finals last season, the City faithful can look forward to his fresh approach.  

At his disposal are quality names such as Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure and will also be helped by new big money signings Fernandinho, who joined from Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk for $40 million and Jesus Navas, who joined from Sevilla for $20m.  

City evidently have the means to win the title, so a challenge for it can be expected and with the players bitter after having such a poor season in the Premier League and Champions League last term they want to revive the form that saw them win the Premiership two seasons ago.  

The only stumbling block could be the switch from Roberto Mancini to Pelligrini which is the same problem that they share with neighbours United and it will be interesting to see if he can get the best out of the players he inherits at the Etihad or whether he will make drastic changes. 

Liverpool has been poor of late and this past year was no different. They made big summer signings in Fabio Borini, who joined for $14m and Joe Allen, for $20m.  

Both players were mediocre for the most part, with Borini having a hard time with injuries and Allen never settling into his midfield role.  

During the winter transfer window, Liverpool made two good signings in Daniel Sturridge for $16m from Chelsea and Philippe Coutinho for $12m from Inter Milan.  

They helped Liverpool regain stability and began to push up the table, finishing seventh and indications are they will continue to improve.  

Two big issues that Liverpool are faced with this year are how they are going to replace controversial striker Luis Suarez who has requested a transfer and who will take over legendary midfielder Steven Gerrard who is 33.  

Despite his immense talent, Suarez has been nothing but trouble for Liverpool and if it wasn’t for his on-field exploits he would have been out the door a long time ago.  

Unfortunately, he has been Liverpool’s star player in recent times with a total goal tally of 30 in all competitions for the Reds last year.  

Along with his goals he brings controversy and in the twilight stages of the season he bit Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic and received a 10 game ban. 

Suarez then stated his intent to leave England claiming that the media invasion of his private life was the main reason.  

Gerrard has been a mainstay in the Liverpool lineup for 15 years since making his debut in 1998, but as he enters the last few years of his career he has shown no signs of slowing down playing 45 games in total last season scoring 10 goals.  

Gerrard will be a huge problem for manager Brendan Rodgers to replace and it will be hard to find a player as talented and dedicated as he has been at Anfield.  

It could be another bright season for Liverpool if they can find the right replacement for Suarez and
if Coutinho and Sturridge continue their form so you can expect them to be in and around the top four next year. 

Last year, Chelsea finished third, three points behind runners-up Manchester City, and this was after sacking Champions League-winning manager Roberto di Matteo and replacing him with Rafa Benitez, so it’s hard to see what they could be so disappointed about.  

They won the Europa League and Fernando Torres finally started scoring regularly which implies they had a successful season.  

The problem was that they were in the Europa League because of terrible performances in the Champions League and their Premier League form in the early part of the season was so strong that an end of season finish of third, far behind the eventual winners, left Chelsea fans disappointed.  

This season they want to win the title with returning manager Jose Mourinho and because of the managerial changes with most of their competition, Chelsea’s advantage will be having someone who already knows the club’s set up and already has relationships with some of the players. 

It will be a boost for Blues fans to have their most successful manager in the club’s history returning.  

Chelsea need a big name striker and with Radamel Falcao moving to Monaco the man that seems to be on everyone’s mind is Napoli’s Uruguayan hit man Edinson Cavani.  

He scored 38 times in all competitions for Napoli last season and Chelsea see him as ideal to lead the Premiership charge.  

Come the end of the season it’s easy to see Chelsea mounting a title challenge and with players like Juan Mata and Eden Hazard it is possible for them to win 
it all.  

Relegation looms large for a few clubs and it’s not hard to imagine who they could be.  

Crystal Palace are in all sorts of trouble before even stepping on the pitch, with a lack of funds to bring in quality players they will have to rely on stealing some transfers and hope for a replication of the brilliance of Christian Benteke for Aston Villa or Michu for Swansea.  

Plus the loss of Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United and 30 goal striker Glenn Murray to injury until Christmas, Palace need to make some good deals in the window to have any hope of staying up.  

Hull City also seem destined for the drop with a lack of a prolific striker they must bring in someone to get goals for cheap which is a hard thing to do these days as well as strengthening their defence.  

Sunderland are the third team that seem doomed. They survived last year thanks to new manager Paolo di Canio and a late burst of form that sunk Wigan but as a whole they were poor throughout the year and had only nine wins.  

They need to keep their better players such as Stephane Sessegnon and Steven Fletcher and unless di Canio can keep the side motivated and supporters happy then it’s hard to see them escaping the drop. 

carrick

Michael Carrick has matured well in United’s midfield. – PHOTOS: FILE
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