Fresh faces energize Premier League
Rejoice. The time is coming when it is possible to focus the attention on the game.
Although there are still enough weeks of transfer window maneuvering and posturing, still more waves of rumor and gossip and opinion to be forensically examined for clues about the big moves which have dominated the scene for weeks, at last the game is about to resume. The scenes surrounding Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, Cesc Fabregas and all may still have some dramas to come, but at least they can be shoved to the background. There are points to be won, goals to be scored, scores to be settled. The game returns to center stage. Thank goodness.
There is an extra frisson to this season ahead. As if the cocktail of frenetic football, emotional turbulence, injuries, insults, tensions, elations and sensationalism – all of which are shaken together to set the tone for life in the Premier League – is not enough as it is. This campaign has uncertainty.
Anybody minded to make a prediction about how the Premier League 2013-14 season is going to pan out must take on board that they are taking a leap into the unknown, such are the extreme changes that have taken place this summer. For all the top three contenders to be starting out with a new manager in the dugout is extraordinary; Manchester United under David Moyes; Manchester City with Manuel Pellegrini; and Chelsea, reunited with Jose Mourinho flings a whole load of balls into the air. Good luck taking your pick about how they are going to land.
Jose Mourinho (L), David Moyes (C) and Manuel Pellegrini will have their hands full this upcoming Premier League season (Photos: Action Images/AP Images).
Come the opening Saturday, Aug. 17, it is hard to imagine quite what will be going through the mind of the former Everton manager, Moyes, as he settles into the away dugout at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium. He might serenely feel his entire footballing life has prepared him for this moment. He may be scared witless. Every pair of eyes around the world with even a slight interest in Manchester United will be watching keenly to see how he fares.
Moyes may have had a few weeks of preseason sessions and friendly matches, media interviews and fan backslapping, but life after Sir Alex Ferguson is about to begin for real. One of Fergie’s greatest feats was his ability to keep a winning team hungry for more, to stave off complacency, and to ensure the desire to add trophy upon trophy was simply not allowed to wane. For Moyes to continue that is a major challenge.
Sunday afternoon, attention switches to Stamford Bridge, and the second coming of the main man. Mourinho picks up a Chelsea side with a few survivors from his previous spell. Once upon a time he called the likes of Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole his untouchables. Older now, they remain in situ, a link between Mourinho’s two eras. But the Blues began to evolve a new playing style over the past couple of seasons, with the likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and David Luiz bringing a more Latin feel to a team whose competitive spirit was a critical foundation since Mourinho set the template almost a decade ago. How will this current Chelsea present themselves? Will they strive to become the ultimate blend of new flamboyance with the traditional will to win? A home match with newly promoted Hull City looks like a decent place to start.
Pellegrini has to wait that little bit longer, until Monday night of the curtain-raising weekend, to make his bow on this particular stage. Manchester City have backed their new manager with some bold, decisive strikes in the transfer market. The new arrivals, particularly from an attacking perspective, have given Pellegrini the confidence to claim his strike force is as good as anything around. Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo bring skill and variety to complement Sergio Agüero and Edin Dzeko. Jesus Navas brings deftness in support, and Fernandinho offers smartness and energy to midfield.
City’s mindset will be interesting to watch too. Defending their 2012 Premier League title brought a pressure that told in some of their performances. Challenging, rather than defending, brings a different kind of determination, and one that might suit them better.
It would be a major surprise were anyone outside the last season’s top three to sustain a title bid for the duration. There will still be plenty of interest in North London, where Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, the league’s longest serving manager post-Ferguson by a distance, enters into the last season of his current contract after a complicated summer. Down the road, Tottenham have bought cleverly to augment an improving team, twice breaking their own transfer record.
Liverpool hope to make more progress under Brendan Rodgers, and they have the honor of cutting the ribbon for the season at Anfield with the first early kick off against a Stoke side led by a new voice. Mark Hughes was not the most popular choice to take over from Tony Pulis, though, and he has his work cut out to win over a new audience.
The managerial merry-go-round meant that Everton are also under new leadership, with Roberto Martinez keen to extend himself. In the North East, considering this is the first full season for Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland, it’s safe to say that few dull moments are anticipated. The same could be said for their neighbors Newcastle United, who tend not to go for the quiet life either.
Of all the new things this Premier League season will bring, one of the most notable is that for the first time there will be a summit meeting at this level between two Welsh clubs, with Cardiff having joined almost everybody’s second favorite team last season, Swansea. Expect sparks to fly when they cross paths.
The shock of the new awaits. The games will come at a relentless pace.
Bring it on.