By Daniel Cousens ( @DanCuzns )
This Saturday the 2013/14 English Premier League season gets underway after what is always a very short offseason. Seriously, when you think about it, football players don’t get much of a break, especially considering they often have international duty and then a preseason tour or other commitments.
The English lower divisions are already back in action and this weekend they are joined by the top flight, with the season kicking off with Liverpool taking on Stoke City at 9:45pm Saturday night AEST. So in the spirit of the season, I felt it was my duty to prepare you for the upcoming season, although this won’t be a full on club by club guide with details on transfers and predictions for everyone, but rather just an overview of major changes and points of interest.
So for the first time in 27 years, Manchester United will not be managed by Sir Alex Ferguson. He has been replaced by former Everton manager and fellow Scot David Moyes. Now to give credit where it is due, Moyes is a good manager who had some pretty successful years with Everton with limited resources. Overall I think it is a pretty sound hire by United, as Moyes is likely to try and carry on Ferguson’s vision and structure and not completely tear it down and do it his own way the way someone like Jose Mourinho might have.
However, David Moyes is still no Alex Ferguson and I can’t for the life of me think that losing Fergie won’t cost United some points during the season. If Alex Ferguson isn’t worth a few wins a season then no manager is. For that reason alone I think Manchester United will struggle to retain their title. Then on top of that you have the issue of Wayne Rooney potentially leaving or at least wanting to. At this point in time United are quite a top heavy team in that they are quite reliant on their star players more than they used to be. Should Robin van Persie get injured then I think they are in a lot of trouble, which can be said for most teams, but it is something that rarely has been the case for the Red Devils in the past. It would be unlikely they finish outside the top four, but I’m not totally ruling it out depending on what happens with Rooney and if van Persie has a similar season to last year.
Crosstown rivals Manchester City on the other hand are poised to once again challenge for the title. Their squad is fantastic, as it should be with the money they have spent on it, but they too have a new manager in Manuel Pellegrini so it will be interesting to see what impact that has on their season. As always they have brought in some great players to strengthen their squad and of those leaving only Carlos Tevez would probably still be pushing for a first team place. As long as Pellegrini isn’t an abject failure, I can’t see City finishing outside the top 2.
The other team I think will be in the top 2 with Man City is Chelsea. First and foremost they are welcoming back ‘The Special One’ in the aforementioned Jose Mourinho. Mourinho is a writer’s dream for all his antic and quotes, but he is also a fantastic manager. Their squad is solid and I think Mourinho will get the best out of them. It is pretty amazing to think that the three teams I just discussed all have new managers though, isn’t it?
In the next three are North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham as well as my beloved Liverpool. If I had to pick today which club finishes highest out of those three sides I would say Tottenham, but it is close and anyone’s guess, especially with all three teams still in the transfer market.
Tottenham have a super talented squad and added to it with the signing of Roberto Soldado and Paulinho. I really like their team and as long as they hold on to Gareth Bale they are in for a very competitive season. Unfortunately for Spurs fans, that is a big ‘if’ and I don’t think anyone really knows which white jersey Bale will be pulling on by the end of the season, Tottenham’s or Real Madrid’s.
In a similar boat is Luis Suarez at Liverpool. The Reds are still in their rebuild mode but with a bunch of good young players and some interesting new signings, Brendan Rodgers is finally starting to build a side that can once again compete and push for a top 4 place. Whether it is this year or not remains to be seen and the Suarez situation changes everything if he leaves on the eve of the season. At the time of writing however it appears as though he is going to stay and certainly not be sold to rivals Arsenal.
The fact that Arsenal look unlikely to sign Suarez, as well as missing out on most of their other main targets, leaves them in a tough spot. They have a good team as always but that’s about it. There is a growing group of fans calling for Arsene Wenger’s head and if they fail to bring in any of the gun signings they were after that unrest will grow further. I can’t see them slipping below 6th, but it is also entirely possible they finish 6th if they can’t improve their squad. Then again, they also could finish as high as 3rd if everything comes together.
The new teams in the EPL this year are Cardiff, Hull City and Crystal Palace replacing QPR, Reading and Wigan. Hull have made a number of interesting and solid signings and will hope it will be enough to stay up. It will be tough for them but they are capable. Palace adds yet another London club to the EPL, but I’d be surprised if they can hold their place. They would need Marouane Chamakh to become what Arsenal thought he was when they first bought him, but to be honest I can’t see it. It’s not impossible, but if I had to bet on a team going down it would be Crystal Palace.
Cardiff on the other hand are a fascinating case. For years they were on the cusp of being promoted and becoming the first Welsh team into the EPL, when all of a sudden their nemesis Swansea got promoted and have become a solid EPL team. Now Cardiff join them for the first time in what is sure to be an epic battle for supremacy of Wales. I can’t wait for their derby matches. Cardiff already had a team that I considered Premier League competitive and added a few solid signings, so I can definitely see them being able to stay up, but they need some luck as all promoted teams do. But it would be great if they could stay up a while and we could see a few years of Swansea and Cardiff doing battle in the top flight.
What about the other sides?
Aston Villa I think might struggle mightily this year, which would be a very big name club to be relegated if that were to happen.
Everton start the Roberto Martinez and could really go either way. Fulham have replaced Schwarzer with the very good Maarten Stekelenburg in goals, but need a better season than last year.
Newcastle also need a better year than last year and have signed Loic Remy to try fill the hole created when Demba Ba left for Chelsea.
Their local rival Sunderland just missed out on relegation last year and have overhauled their squad, hoping to survive this year.
Norwich have also made a number of changes, but all they really want at this stage is to solidify their Premier League status.
Southampton haven’t made many waves this off season but like Norwich will be looking to just stay solid in the middle of the pack.
Stoke have ended the Tony Pulis era and replaced him with Mark Hughes. Will they no longer play their much maligned but successful, physical style? If so, will it cost them?
West Brom had a great season last year and have brought in some old veterans to try improve on that. Anelka, Lugano and Gera? That’s a bit of a retirement village, but West Brom look to be doing well.
West Ham also had a decent season last year and just added Stewart Downing to go along with Andy Carroll and Joe Cole as part of the ‘Failed Liverpool Squad’. They could go either way depending on injury as they aren’t deep, but could be dangerous if they can keep their best side on the field.
I’m sure I left out plenty of talking points and you are welcome to comment with what you are looking forward to. Overall though I’m just excited to have the EPL back and look forward to many late nights on the weekend once again, especially if my jinx of watching Liverpool games is over and I am no longer sent to bed by fellow Liverpool fans.
You can read more of Daniel's work at Something Clever