Connect in the back of the net

After the unquestionable snooze fest that was World Cup 2010, I thoroughly enjoyed Euro 2012. There was much more of an attacking intent from the teams involved, but one constant remained: Spain again emerged victorious, showing the importance of creation, movement and being able to keep possession.

The Spanish method, it would appear, has resonated with some of those in power at the top end of the Premier League. Chelsea have spent big to recruit smaller, more dynamic and technically gifted attacking midfielders in Marko Marin, Eden Hazard and Oscar, to add the existing talents of Juan Mata. Spurs dispensed with the services of Harry Redknapp and brought in Andre Villa Boas, who in his short reign at Chelsea favoured the 4-3-3 attacking approach.

Liverpool decided to replace manager and club legend Kenny Dalglish with Brendan Rogers, whose style of play and formation is similar to that of Barcelona. Even Man Utd signing Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund would suggest a change in formation if they are to truly capitalise on the Japanese playmakers remarkable talents.

With Arsenal’s style of play already established in the Spanish vein and defending Champions Man City wealth of attacking options centred around the technique and movement of David Silva and Sergio Aguero, could the upper echelon of the Premier League be moving toward the more subtle Spanish approach?

Personally, I hope the Premier League is moving to a move technique driven approach and it’s a move that would have long term benefits to the National side. I feel the overall standard of the Premier League has gone down over the past few seasons, despite Chelsea winning the Champions League in May. However, after a six week break from competitive football since the final of the Euros, I look forward to this season with the usual trepidation.

In terms of the where the title will go, I’m going to be boring and say I can’t see beyond the same two sides as last season.

Man City, as defending champions, will have to deal with a different pressure now; I don’t think there’s any argument that they have the best team and the best squad, but it’s not only question of whether or not they have learned from almost throwing the title away in the second half of last season, but do they have the hunger and desire to give what it takes to be champions again, having already done it.

That ability and experience of being able to push on and win titles consistently is something that Man Utd have in their locker. They will also be hurting; having seemingly having last season’s championship in their grasp as City dropped 10 points in 5 games around March/April that saw Utd move ahead and take what seemed to be an unassailable lead.

Signing Robin Van Persie is without doubt Man Utd strengthening their squad, his quality is without question, but a total wage/transfer fee package of around £70m over the next four years on an injury plagued 29 year old in the last year of his contract is a gamble.

Quite how Utd maintain a balance on the pitch whilst also accommodating the attacking talents of Rooney, Van Persie, Kagawa, Young, Nani, Valencia, Welbeck and Hernandez will be interesting. 8 into 3 or 4 places doesn’t go and will be hard to keep everyone happy, but managing a squad is one of Ferguson’s strengths.

On the face of it, signing last year’s Premier League top scorer is usually a no-brainer, but I found it a little strange, having already signed Kagawa and Utd’s existing strength in depth in that position; also considering that centre midfield and right back are the positions more in need of improvement.

In comparison, City have so far only recruited Jack Rodwell from Everton; a signing more with the future, rather than the present in mind; although Rodwell’s man-marking ability means he could be used in the big Premier League and Champions League matches.

In the clamour for what I believe will be the remaining 2 Champions League spots, most of the contenders are arguably in a process of transition. Arsenal, despite signing the promising Giroud and the proven quality of Podolski and Cazorla, have lost their talisman and top scorer in Van Persie.

They also still have weakness at defensive midfield and left back to address, though they may make further acquisitions between now and the closing of the transfer window. Many Arsenal fans may point to Song at DM, but I believe he lacks the necessary discipline in that position and an upgrade is needed to help the back four.

That being said, I expect Arsenal to finish in the top four, come next May.

Chelsea have spent big, but lack quality in depth in defence and central midfield. Although the achievement of winning the FA Cup and Champions League cannot be discounted, their Premier League performances were not significantly better under Di Matteo and they still lacked a consistency under him last season. Unless they can improve that and avoid injuries in defensive areas, it could be another season of upheaval, I could just as easily see them finishing 3rd as finishing 7th.

Tottenham made a big call in sacking Harry Redknapp and perhaps a bigger call in replacing him with Andre Villa Boas, given how his first season in Premier League management went at Chelsea. With the impending departure of Modric, the failure to sign Adebayor permanently and the loss of senior pros from the squad, most notably Ledley King, means Gareth Bale could be relied on even more than usual and it may just be a season of disappointment for Spurs.

Liverpool’s league campaign last season was a major disappoint and one that cost Kenny Dalglish his job. After an impressive first Premier League season with Swansea, Brendan Rodgers was the man Liverpool’s owners wanted to replace him and he’s already got Liverpool looking comfortable with his preferred formation and style of play. Agger and Skrtel looked the best central defensive partnership in the league last season and retaining them, as well as having Lucas back fit, will be a huge plus for Rodgers as he tries to get Liverpool back in the Champions League. Although new signing Joe Allen will help Liverpool’s pattern of play, it’s tough to see Liverpool breaking into the top four this season.

Newcastle impressed many last year and surprised us all by staying in contention for a top four place right till the end. Papiss Cisse had a great goalscoring run after signing in January, but the challenge for him and Newcastle is to do it all again. Teams will be more prepared for Newcastle this season and it’s a question of if they have the necessary quality to overcome that and replicate their exploits of last year. Anita could be a good piece of business for the Magpies, but I find it hard to see them breaking the top six this season.

Everton have lost Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell, but the re-signing of Pienaar on a permanent deal and the acquisition of Steven Naismith could be important for them and if they can avoid their usual slow start to the season, they could be the surprise contenders for a top six finish.

At the other end of the table, it’s often harder to predict the 3 teams who will go down, then who will win the league and this season is no different. As always, the newly promoted teams will be amongst the favourites, as will Wigan, who surely cannot defy the impossible on a shoestring yet again. After losing their influential managers, Swansea and Norwich will be hoping that second season-itis does not strike them, but I can see it being a tough campaign for both clubs. West Brom, for me, are another club that could be in for a difficult season with Steve Clarke making the step up from being a number 2.

If I have to put my neck on the line, I’ll say Man Utd will likely sneak the title, with Wigan, Reading and Norwich being the ones to go down. Whatever the outcome though, like many, I’m just happy that football is back with us and look forward to the trepidation that it brings.


Written by Andy Wales

Follow me on Twitter @AndyArmchair

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