FOX Soccer Exclusive
The real Premier League starts now
Good riddance to the phony war -- and welcome to the real start of the Premier League.
At least that’s how it feels now. While the transfer window remained open, teams had the air of works in progress. Marouane Fellaini actually played for Everton while his heart was at Manchester United, to be joined now by his body and soul in time for the first game of a long weekend culminating at Swansea, where leaders Liverpool face a test at the former home of coach Brendan Rodgers.
In between we shall see, among much else, the onset of the Mesut Ozil era at Arsenal. The erstwhile Real Madrid playmaker accompanies his new teammates to Sunderland happily shouldering the pressure that comes with a near-$65-million transfer fee and the ringing endorsement of coach Arsene Wenger.
According to Wenger, who has been with the club since 1996, his prospects for renewal of a contract that expires next June depend on the success of a side built round Ozil -- and that means a matter of months. So much for bedding-in time. Meanwhile the German attacking midfielder, though aware that Arsenal’s trophy cabinet was last restocked in 2005, promises a challenge for the Premier title.
The campaign, then, will begin in earnest at the Stadium of Light and Wenger will not mind that, with a much-altered Sunderland squad still to settle under Paolo di Canio.
The normally combustible Italian thoroughly enjoyed his midweek night as Public Enemy No. 1 at nearby Newcastle, where he played in a testimonial for long-serving goalkeeper Steve Harper that drew more than 50,000. The highlight of their night was a challenge from behind on Di Canio by Joey Barton -- Di Canio lightly flicked his calf afterwards, as if bushing off a drop of water. But then it was back to work and the serious business of preparing for Arsenal.
If Ozil takes top billing among the League’s newcomers, his name stands only just above those of the late-summer signings made by Chelsea. In contention for debuts at Everton are Willian -- and no one seems to know where the gifted Brazilian will fit into Jose Mourinho’s pattern, with so many other creators already at the club -- and Samuel Eto’o.
Eto’o, even after missing the first three games, must be a candidate to lead the scoring charts at the end of the season. At 32, he remains the one-in-two striker he became in his teens with Real Mallorca and looks fit enough to maintain the habit at Stamford Bridge, where once again -- and perhaps for the last time -- Fernando Torres has been presented with a massive challenge for the spearhead role.
Will Samuel Eto'o carryover his passing and goal-scoring rate to the Premier League this season (Image: WhoScored.com)?
It’s a tough game Chelsea face at Everton but not as tough as it might have been had they not kept the registration of young Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, who had a dazzling last season at West Bromwich and is also on loan for the duration at Goodison Park, which means that he misses the clash with his parent club.
Roberto Martinez still has Arouna Kone, one of his signings from former club Wigan, and should also field the potent midfielder James McCarthy. So there is enough talent on blue Merseyside to worry Chelsea, though they are strong enough at least to earn a point towards their campaign to retrieve the title; given the Mourinho factor, they are heavily fancied among the pundit classes, even if I have yet to be convinced that champions United will drop off in the absence of Sir Alex Ferguson.
This is going to be an interesting weekend at Old Trafford. On the face of it, Crystal Palace should be among United’s least trying visitors of the season. Newly-promoted through the playoffs, unable to afford big-name signings -- except maybe Marouane Chamakh, who is most famous in England for his disappointing time with Arsenal -- their main asset seems to be the lightness of expectation on their shoulders.
But new United coach David Moyes will be aware that no side should be underestimated in the Premier League, especially one that can come relaxed and attempt to frustrate, knowing they will not be criticized for it. As long as Palace are on level terms, the anxiety will grow on the Mancunian slopes. I wouldn’t be surprised by 5-0. But a tie wouldn’t shock me either. It will certainly be a game of contrasts, not least in the technical areas, where the towering, steely Moyes will engage in a battle of wits with that restless little ball of energy and emotion called Ian Holloway.
Although Fellaini has an excellent range of abilities, Moyes often used his aerial power to make the difference in tight games when with Everton. For this reason, Fellaini appears an astute acquisition for United. His debut will be closely watched as, for the first time, the title challengers, reveal the true nature of what they have to offer.
The most changed team of all, Tottenham, are at home to Norwich. Can Christian Eriksen provide more bullets for Roberto Soldado -- hitherto most lethal from the penalty spot -- to fire within short range? Manchester City travels to Stoke with attackers galore but defensive worries.
And finally Liverpool will try to keep a perfect start going. And they, of course, have the big new star still to come when Luis Suarez returns from suspension at the end of the month. We’re getting there.
The real Premier League season of 2013-14 is standing up.
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