Last year, I did a huge preview for the 2011-12 Premier League season. This year, my time recently has otherwise been taken up by the glory that was the Summer Olympics in London. So, this will be a fairly brief preview, including a quick look at the transfer activity that’s taken place so far.
Firstly, I think the Premier League, come 19 May 2013 at about 5pm, will look like this:
1. Manchester United
2. Manchester City
5. Tottenham Hotspur
7. Newcastle United
10. Aston Villa
12. Stoke City
13. Wigan Athletic
14. Queens Park Rangers
15. Norwich City
17. Swansea City
18. West Bromwich Albion
20. West Ham United
I get the feeling that Manchester United will be out for some revenge this season and in Kagawa have purchased someone I frankly can’t wait to see. The recent purchase of Robin Van Persie should strengthen that claim; however it will be interesting to see if he and Wayne Rooney can link together well up front. Manchester City may focus, I feel, on the Champions League more than the league (though they do obviously have the squad to deal with both). I would imagine Jack Rodwell, their only big signing so far, will see a lot of time on the bench. Chelsea should kick on from their Champions League win and jump up the league, with some inspired purchases ready to be unleashed on the wider world, particularly Oscar (if he can prove the exception to the rule on South Americans who jump straight into the big time from home and fail). Arsenal should still finish in the top four – Van Persie may not hang around but the wise purchases they’ve made (particularly a cut-price Cazorla) should mean they can spread the goals around and do the necessary in qualifying for Europe’s richest tournament.
Falling just short of the Champions League places, I can see Spurs stagnating a little this season under Andre Villas-Boas. His side’s relative glory may come next season once he is able to put his own stamp on what is still `arry’s squad, though the signings of Sigurdsson and Vertonghen are promising ones. Liverpool will improve on last season (hard not to) under Brendan Rodgers, but not by much. His signings so far (Borini and Allen) are a little underwhelming – one hopes he isn’t falling into that trap of sticking rigidly to what he knows, which can often lead a new manager the wrong way (see Louis Van Gaal at Barca and Craig Levein at Leicester for two notable examples).
Newcastle may fall back a little bit from last season’s wonderful performance, but their squad is still full of class and I expect them again to pick up a few good wins against the bigger clubs. Pardew has made no big signings yet – you can’t help but think they need a new centre-back to provide competition for the three currently in the squad. Everton will just be reliably reliable as usual, starting slowly and picking up, with the acquisitions of Pienaar and Naismith being typical Moyes transfers. I get the feeling Sunderland and a revived Aston Villa will round off the top 10. The Black Cats should take heart from the revival Martin O’Neill sparked last season, particularly if they can get in a decent Premier League striker; Villa have already brought in a zealous young manager in Paul Lambert, and his purchase of Ron Vlaar shows his nous in stepping up a level in the transfer market.
Fulham will be top of the bottom, I think – though they failed to get Pavel Pogrebnyak in permanently, Martin Jol is the archetypal safe pair of hands, and has showed as much in his wise acqusitions of Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega. Stoke will be comfortable without being spectacular (as usual), will wind Arsene Wenger up (as usual), and have brought in a decent Premier League talent (as usual) in Michael Kightly. It’ll also be interesting to see if Jamie Ness can step up from being a fringe-ish player at the previous incarnation of Rangers. I fancy Wigan Athletic to achieve some mid-table mediocrity this time round, particularly given Roberto Martinez has finally discovered his best team (even if it includes Gary Caldwell) and the best way for it to play. Hanging on to Victor Moses may prove tricky though, and Ryo Miyachi’s loan from Arsenal is already being seen as a Moses replacement strategy. Queens Park Rangers should also avoid the relegation stooshie of last year, with Park Ji-Sung a particularly wise deal for Mr Hughes.
Of the promoted sides, I think Reading are best placed to survive. Pogrebnyak is a bit of a transfer coup for the Royals, while Danny Guthrie is a reliable Premier League-level player who should help to boost their squad. Norwich City meanwhile should be ok, with Grant Holt staying and a solid managerial appointment in Chris Hughton. I get the feeling this could be a difficult season for Michael Laudrup and Swansea City, though getting in a chap who scored 15 goals for Rayo Vallecano last season (Michu) strikes me as a rather shrewd move. His goals from midfield (if he can perform to the same level in England) may indeed be vital in keeping the Welsh side in the top flight.
Going down, I fear for West Bromwich Albion with the departure of the ever-reliable Roy Hodgson and the subsequent arrival of a man who’s never had a top job, Steve Clarke. There are already rumblings of discontent in the Baggies’ camp (allegedly) – though it will be great to see Romelu Lukaku (hopefully) get a good run in a Premier League first team. In 19th and 20th, I fear it may be difficult for both Southampton and West Ham United. For Southampton I think this season may have come too soon, though in Nathaniel Clyne they have a very exciting youngster in the side. Meanwhile for the Hammers, I get the feeling that firstly Sam Allardyce will go for his usual style, which will then get the West Ham fans’ backs up. When that happened last season, the potential future tenants of the Olympic Stadium faltered and needed the play-offs to get into the Premier League; I think when the same thing happens this season, they will go the opposite way. Alou Diarra, mind you, is a very wise purchase – they’ll need him.
And there we have it. Another season to look forward to, another 9 months of Sky overhyping matches, of mercenary footballers being paid stupid amounts of money to play a largely pointless game, of controversy mixed with moments of genius. And I can’t wait.