10 Things To Look Out For In The Premier League This Season
10 Things To Look Out For In The Premier League This Season
The overseas tours are over, the sponsors satisfied and the appetites whetted: now the real business starts, with the return of the Premier League.
The World Cup was a lovely summer interlude, but the bread and butter of the league is back and the exciting prospect of rainy Tuesday nights in Stoke are tantalisingly close.
We've kept our beady eye on the summer's ins-and-outs, stories and developments - so here's a handy guide to 10 things to look out for during the season ahead.
1. Top New English Talent
The numbers don’t lie: the Premier League's foreign influx continues to stifle home-grown talent. Nonetheless, last season introduced us to some A-grade English talent (Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, Southampton’s Luke Shaw and Everton’s Ross Barkley to name a few) and this season may well herald another rise of another crop of bright young stars, with Liverpool winger Jordan Ibe (above), Manchester United’s goal getter James Wilson and his defensive midfielder team-mate Michael Keane set to invade pub talk oneupmanship. Another one to watch is Arsenal’s £16m teenage centre-back Calum Chambers, a recent signing for from Southampton who you might have seen bossing the Manchester City frontline in last week's Charity Shield.
2. Southampton Could Do Better Than Expected
Which neatly brings us to the summer’s mini exodus over at Southampton. Bookmakers have been quick to write the team off as relegation fodder, but don't believe those admittedly geographically spot-on ‘Sinking Ship’ headlines just yet. The bulk of the squad who trailed to Manchester United remain, keeping want-away stars would have only dampened dressing room spirit and as for that famous academy conveyer belt? It's been whirling its way to bigger clubs for some years now, and if one man knows how to utilise the remaining young talent it's manager Ronald Koeman, the former coach of talent-merchants Feyenoord, who'll be attempting to build on last season's solid finish.
3. QPR Will Do Better Than Last Time
The last time we saw QPR in the Premier League, the money men in charge set about assembling a bunch of footballing mercenaries, all but handing P45s to the heroes who achieved promotion in the first place. Even stalwart defender Clint Hill later citied this as the reason for the club's plunge back to the Football League. But back with a second shot, stability, and Joey Barton et al looking to keep their places, fans could be forgiven for a longer residency this time around, particularly with the free signing of Rio Ferdinand. It could be 'Arry's shrewdest yet.
4. Manchester United Should Recover
The Van Gaal effect? It's certainly working on last season's unlikely men, with the re-emergence of Ashley Young as a threat from the flanks and return to form and fitness of Darren Fletcher - the pair playing a key role in Manchester United’s rip-roaring pre-season US tour which saw them rip apart LA Galaxy (7-0), Inter Milan (3-2), Real Madrid (3-1) and finally Liverpool (2-0) - suggesting United's dark days are on the wane.
5. 3-5-2 Is The New 4-2-3-1
You might shudder when you remember Steve McClaren's 3-5-2 in England's defeat to Croatia in 2006. But it's making a comeback – Louis Van Gaal used it shrewdly with The Netherlands at the World Cup and is set to do so again at Manchester United (the best way of accommodating Rooney, Mata and Van Persie), while QPR (with Rio Ferdinand as a sweeper) and Hull are likely to follow suit. Watch out for a few more doing so by Christmas.
6. Allardyce Is On Borrowed Time
Poor Big Sam. West Ham fans have never warmed to his style of football and, despite a reasonably big budget, the Hammers struggled last season, mainly due to Allardyce putting all his eggs in one Andy Carroll-shaped basket, and then the basket getting broken (to hugely stretch a metaphor). Owners Sullivan and Gold looked like they'd fire him in the summer, but didn't, instead setting a pretty-unrealistic top six target and, humiliatingly, getting Sam to appoint an attacking coach - which turned out to be Teddy Sheringham. Carroll is injured - again - but at least he's injured himself early, giving Sam time to replace him with £12m Enner Valencia, albeit the Columbian will miss the first few games...through injury. If they don't start like a train, and playing like Barcelona, expect the calls for Sam's head to begin in earnest.
7. How Will Liverpool Cope Without Suarez?
Three major factors are different for the Reds this season: the loss of their talisman Luis Suarez, the presence of the Champions' League, and very real expectation that they will challenge for the title again. Despite the fact that they achieved an excellent start without the bitey one last season, he still weighed in with a huge 31 goals in 33 games. They have yet to sign a direct replacement - who that will be could define their season. A huge bonus for them last year was the absence of any European football; they've moved to address the extra games with a raft of new signings: eight so far at a cost of £100m. However, as Spurs showed, it's not always easy to integrate that many newcomers. Steven Gerrard, freed from the strains of England, will be crucial in knitting the whole thing together and helping the squad deal with increased expectations.
8. Roy Keane At Aston Villa Should Be Entertaining
No one really knows what's going on at Villa with Randy Lerner trying to sell the club and not investing any money meaning that summer signings have been bizarre, to say the least, led by Philippe Senderos, Kieran Richardson and Joe Cole - players who have all very much seen better days. Equally bizarre is the decision by Roy Keane to become Paul Lambert's assistant - whilst still retaining that same position alongside Martin O'Neill for Ireland. Perhaps he will be able to inspire an average group of players to perform above their station, or perhaps he won't be able to deal with the frustration of working with such limited resources. All we are thinking is that a home League Cup match against Leyton Orient in two weeks' time looks like a Cupset waiting to happen.
9. Arsenal Have Their Best Title Chance In Years
Yes, they've lost Thomas Vermaelen, but this is not as big a blow as previous captains departing, as he was no longer a first choice pick at the Emirates. And Arsene Wenger has finally splashed the cash - £50m of it - on goalkeeper David Ospina, defenders Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy, together with star forward Alexis Sanchez, and all well before the start of the season. If that wasn't enough, their reserve Joel Campbell was a sensation at the World Cup, and should feature for the Gunners this season. The trophy monkey is off their back after their FA Cup triumph last year: they should be serious contenders.
10. The Title Race Is Wide Open But It Could Be A League Of Two Halves
Arsenal have strengthened, Manchester United are recovering, Chelsea look formidable, Liverpool now have run-in experience and plenty of new signings and Manchester City are the champions. Add in the dark horses of Tottenham - whose many post-Bale signings are now a year older and wiser, and the confident Everton, who've paid big money for the first time in years (both of these could do well in the Europa League too), and it's a mouth-watering prospect. However, below the Toffees, the odds jump from 125-1 to 1000-1 Newcastle, emphasising that there could be seven-way tussle for the title and a thirteen team relegation battle.