For many fans across the globe, the 2013/14 season has already begun. For those of us still waiting for our clubs to kick off their new campaign, Adam Widdrington has prepared the definitive A to Z guide for the new football season.
A – Arsenal’s secret weapon: continuity
Arsene Wenger begins his 17th season at the North London club searching for his first trophy since 2005. But what Arsenal have over the other big clubs is continuity. Moyes, Pellegrini and even Mourinho have only had a summer to work with the new crop of players they have inherited. Arsene is due a big season, and they may just surprise a few people.
B – Bale in the spotlight
Wherever the young Welshman ends up for the start of the new campaign, there is no doubt that he’ll have a huge weight of pressure on his shoulders. Will he be worthy of a new world record transfer if he joins Real Madrid, or will he be worth Spurs turning down such a fee? Either way he needs to deliver having raised the bar so outrageously last season and all eyes will be on him.
C – Cardiff’s Premier League debut
Newly-promoted and newly-branded, Cardiff City are not so blue anymore after a superb Championship campaign last year, which earned them a debut season in the Premier League. Malky Mackay has big Welsh shoes to fill after Swansea burst so impressively into the top tier two years ago and the ‘Welsh Derby’ will surely be two of the most ferociously fought contests in the fixture list.
D – Directors of Football
Whether you support Newcastle, Tottenham, Sunderland or Liverpool, Directors of Football have certainly making headlines over the last few seasons. The outspoken Joe Kinnear has been notorious since controversially returning to St James’ Park and I can’t help but feel there will be more twists in this tale that the back pages will be lapping up, probably to the detriment of the Geordie faithful.
E – Edinson Cavani v Falcao
Both strikers were amongst this summer’s most coveted players in Europe and it will surprise many that both have ended up in Ligue 1. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but money talks. What it has ensured is a Messi-Ronaldo style shootout between the Uruguayan and the Colombian (Zlatan surely won’t mind sitting this one out, right?). The controversy surrounding Monaco’s tax haven status and even reports that Falcao is actually two years older than he claims, will only bring new followers to the French league this year.
F – Fulham’s new owners
One of the most colourful Chairmen of the Premier League era has hung up his chequebook and presumably ordered a huge removal van for his statue of the King of Pop. Mohamed Al Fayed’s tenure at Craven Cottage has ended after watching his side rise from the third tier of English football into the Premier League inside his five year target. Pakistani-born American billionaire Shahid Kahn is the new man overlooking Martin Jol’s progress and is no stranger to sports team ownership, counting NFL team Jacksonville Jaguars as one of his side projects. He follows John Henry and Randy Lerner hoping to make the transatlantic transition into ‘soccer’. Will he back Jol in the market and how safe is the Dutchman? It’s going to be an interesting season for Fulham fans.
G – Guardiola’s difficult second series
The hiatus is over, the media swooning has finished – now the real hard work begins for Pep. The reality for Guardiola is that he has inherited a treble-winning team, a spectacularly hard act to follow. He must also find a way to accommodate a vast array of midfield talent in his squad which include: Schweinsteiger, Muller, Robben, Ribery, Alcantara, Martinez, Kroos, Götze and Shaqiri. A nice problem to have, but a problem nevertheless. The pressure’s on for him to provide results, and in style.
H – Hawkeye – goal line technology
Now installed in all twenty Premier League grounds, is British firm Hawkeye’s ‘goal decision system’, hoping to provide the reliable technology that has become integral to modern day tennis. Having been a talking point for many years, the system will add a sense of justice to the pitch while removing some of the referee’s decision making – which for better or worse does make the beautiful game that bit more exciting and unpredictable. I – Isco at the Bernabeu The Spanish wonderkid was hotly tipped to join his former manager, Manuel Pellegrini, at Manchester City, however couldn’t resist the charms of Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez. He became new manager Carlo Ancelotti’s first signing of the summer for a cool ?30m. Now playing on the world’s biggest stage, can he forge a regular starting berth at the Bernabeu? There is no denying his exceptional talent, but has he made his ‘big move’ too early in his career? For football purists’ sake, let’s hope not.
J – Jose’s Return
In his first press conference back, Mr Mourinho declared he was now ‘The Happy One’. He also stated he had more knowledge and experience that at any previous stage of his managerial career, which, given the structure of time, does make sense. Whether a Chelsea fan or not, Jose’s return is something to be excited about, and will add some ‘bite’ to the League after Sir Alex’s retirement. He’s a winner, but will brush away any speculation his side are title favourites. Let the media mind games begin.
K – Kompany’s revenge
The Belgian led his side to their first Premier League title after a dramatic last minute winner by Sergio Aguero against QPR on the final day of the 2011/12 season. However last year, City seemed impotent and helpless to stop a rampant Manchester United almost walk the league. With a new manager at the helm and some exciting new attacking options, Kompany will want to prove critics who suggested he wasn’t at his best last year, wrong.
L – Lukaku – Chelsea’s striking solution?
Although Fernando Torress netted an impressive, but probably surprising, 22 goals in all competitions last year, he only managed eight in the league. Add to that the four league goals Senegalese striker Demba Ba contributed from January, and Chelsea fans may have cause for concern. Although the formation of three playmakers playing directly behind the lone striker proved very fruitful for the Blues (Lampard, 15 league goals; Mata, 12 goals; Hazard 9 goals and Oscar 4 goals), if Chelsea are to push on and improve on their third place from last year, they need more firepower up top. Enter Lukaku. The Belgian powerhouse scored a staggering 17 league goals last season while on loan at WBA. Could he be the answer Mourinho is looking for? For me, I can’t see how he could possibly leave him out.
M – Managerial merry-go-round
Just some of the managerial changes made by chairmen across Europe this summer. It adds unpredictability and intrigue in equal measure and gives the bookmakers a lot more work to do. All will be hoping for that precious and invaluable first home win to arrive quickly to put their respective fans at ease. A shake-up like this is brilliant for the neutral.
N – Newcastle’s French Revolution marches on
After a near disastrous campaign that almost led to relegation, Pardew’s men have a lot of ‘sock pulling up’ to do. The French arrivals of Sissoko, Gouffran, Yanga-Mbiwa, Debuchy and Haidara last January have already been added to this summer by the loan signing of French International Loic Remy (that’s right, the man who snubbed them for doomed QPR). Remy will provide pace and drive to the Newcastle frontline, taking some of the pressure from Papiss Cisse to deliver goals. Expect a different prospect this season given the majority of the French boys have had an entire summer to fully gel.
O – Open title race Moyes has big shoes to fill, Pellegrini expects to win five trophies in five years and Mourinho claims he is more equipped than ever to bring glory to Stamford Bridge. Coming up the rear is Wenger’s new ‘high spending’ Arsenal (yeah, I’m still waiting too) and an ever-developing Spurs side (Bale or no Bale). One thing we can probably all agree on is that the final standings of last year – a club winning the league by 11 points – are unlikely to be repeated.
This one could go right to the wire and I’m predicting a dogged fight between Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs.
P – Pressure on Paolo
Di Canio’s arrival arguably saved the Black Cats from relegation at the tail-end of last season and over the summer, the outspoken Italian has made wholesale changes in his squad and recruited his own crop of what he hopes are shrewder buys than his predecessors have managed. Impressive signings such as Emanuele Giacherini from Italian champion Juventus and an almost unrecognisable Jozy Altidore will need to hit the ground running in order to maintain Di Canio’s reputation in the North East. He will only be able to dine out on the 3-0 victory over arch-rivals Newcastle for so long, and there is no denying the current Sunderland squad is now ‘his’ squad.
Q – QPR’s Championship challenge
After many expected ‘Arry to walk out on Rangers after relegation, he has committed himself to helping them challenge for promotion next season. Never short of a comment to make in the media, his presence in the second tier is sure to spice up what is already one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. Charlie Austin, Danny Simpson, Gary O’Neil and Richard Dunne will all add a healthy mix of young appetite and Premier League experience although Redknapp will still have his work cut out in order to make at least the play-offs.
R – Right move: Summer steals or phenomenal flops?
As the season progresses, we all start to see how well suited new signings are to their clubs. On paper, Torres seemed to be worth every penny of his £50m transfer fee, but a tricky start turned into intense media scrutiny causing an uncharacteristic lack of confidence in a player who had already scored over 60 goals in the Premier League. Equally, on paper, £2m Michu’s arrival at Swansea last season was low-key but turned out to be the buy of the season, and Laudrup has done well to hold onto him this summer.
Integration into a squad, adjusting to the pace and physicality of the Premier League and culture adaptation away from the pitch will all play a part in a new signing’s success. And luck perhaps?
S – Stevan Jovetic
No, not Suarez – enough has been written about him this summer. Stevan Jovetic – the creative Montenegrin – comes with huge expectation after encouraging development in Serie A with Fiorentina. Having netted double figures in both his previous two seasons in Italy and bettering a one in three ratio for his country, Jovetic will most likely feature wide in a three-pronged attack, or roaming deeper centrally behind a main striker.
T – Tottenham’s new front man
Roberto Soldado should require little introduction, but if you’ve been living in a Premier League-shaped goldfish bowl for the last few years, here’s what you need to know. Since moving from Real Madrid to Getafe in 2008, the Spanish international striker has never failed to net double figures in the league, chalking up his best tally to date with 24 goals for Valencia last season. Had Spain not sacrilegiously invented the ‘false nine’ formation then he may have shown a better return than only six international goals. Nevertheless, the 28 year old should be feared and is the all round striker Spurs were craving last year.
U – Unbelievable Jeff! Sky have competition
New Premier League rights holder BT Sports look set to put a proverbial cat amongst the Sky Sports pigeons following the launch of two new HD channels. A big marketing campaign and the genius decision to give current BT broadband users free access to live EPL football could be the start of a change in the way we buy and consume TV sports packages. The added competition in broadcasting and punditry may be nothing new to Sky, although they should perhaps sit up and take notice this time. Either way, healthy competition and more choice is always good for us, the viewers.
V – Villa – Lambert’s youth policy maturing
Having held on to Benteke, Lambert can continue to make slow but sure progress this term. The notion of ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ could well be realised by his crop of young talent after dancing with the relegation devil last year. But football purists can only admire Lambert’s faith in youth and will all be galvanised after a hard-fought relegation battle. Expect a more composed and confident side this year, but a top half finish may still be out of their reach.
W – Wilfried & Wilfried
Bony and Zaha. The new Swansea man has already made a dream start to his England career having netted a brace against Malmo in his debut. The Ivorian netted a stunning 31 league goals for Vitesse Arnhem last season and has already showed signs of a successful pairing with Michu, which could help alleviate the pressure for goals off the Spaniard. Zaha may well find a regular starting place for the champions comes sooner than expected after the lack of form of current wingers Young and Nani. His call-up to Roy Hodgson’s senior England squad is a sign of how highly he is regarded, and anyone who saw his exploits in Palace’s promotion-winning season last year knows there is lots to come from the youngster.
X – Xmas fixture pile-up
Who doesn’t love the five fixture pile-up during the festive season? Terrible weather, postponed games and sometimes only two days’ respite between key fixtures. It’s the sheer unpredictability of this time of year and knowing your season could look ever more rosier or bleaker coming out the other side of it. For those latter clubs, cue panic spending spree in January.
Y – Young, gifted and back – Wilshere’s year?
For years we’ve been talking about the promise of Jack Wilshere and he as shown glimpses of world class talent since emerging in Arsenal’s first team. However, injuries have blighted his progress over the last two years and he desperately needs an injury-free season to truly deliver on his potential. At his best – he is quite simply sensational and can play an integral part in the futures of his club and for England. And in a World Cup year, he could do worse than show the whole planet exactly what he’s capable of.
Z – As in Hit Row _
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