2012-13 English Premier League
The English Premier League is underway, and with new talent, new teams and a new season, England’s top league is a spectacle in the eyes of Australian football fans. James Pennington reports.
While the world was spellbound by the London 2012 Olympic Games for two incredible weeks, it has already faded in the memory of football fans, replaced by the ten month drama that is the English Premier League.
Some critics have despaired that the goodwill and sportsmanship showed during the London Games will disappear immediately as the partisan, passionate football show takes centre stage again – but for most fans it’s a time of rejoicing after a summer break that always seems interminable.
The EPL is arguably the best football competition in the world, where each team is respectively competitive, unlike Spain’s La Liga, showcasing some of the worlds best, and something Australia’s own National League, the A-League, can learn from.
Here is a preview of the action to come from now until May.
The story of the summer has been Robin Van Persie. After returning from Euro 2012, Van Persie announced that he would not be extending his contract with Arsenal – and from that point, the chase was on for his signature, with both Manchester clubs, City and United and Italian giants Juventus all attempting to sign him.
Eventually, Van Persie travelled north from London to sign with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, and form a formidable attacking partnership with Wayne Rooney.
His move was a bitter pill for Arsenal to swallow, however, as Van Persie joins a growing list of star players to move on to other big clubs in recent years. It raises more questions about Arsenal’s ambitions as a club – although Arsene Wenger has brought in players to cover for Van Persie’s absence.
Lukas Podolski, from German side FC Köln, has an excellent scoring record, while the Spaniard Santi Cazorla brings extra spark to the Gunners’ midfield.
The other major signing of the summer is Eden Hazard, joining Chelsea for 32 million pounds. He’s a classy, attacking midfielder who has already impressed for the Blues in their opening fixtures of the season. But will the Belgian be enough to help the European Champions challenge at the top?
The clash at the summit
Like the late 1980s music scene, Manchester is set to dominate all others once more. United and City finished on equal points last season, with City only winning the honours by goal difference on the final day after one of the most extraordinary finishes in English football history.
Significantly, the two clubs were 19 points ahead of Arsenal in third place. That is a massive gap for the chasing clubs to close – and looks an almost impossible task, for this season at least.
City and United both possess immense attacking talent. As aforementioned, Van Persie and Rooney look set to terrorise defences across England – but Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero are incredible forwards for the Sky Blues as well.
Ultimately, the title race will come down to squad depth: a long season, featuring domestic and European campaigns always takes its toll on the top sides and those that can cover best for missing talent will win out. Here, United are behind City. While their first eleven is arguably stronger, Roberto Mancini’s side has a broader array of talent on their books.
It may not go down to the 94th minute of the final game like last season, but there’s sure to be plenty of nervous “squeaky bum time” in this title race (to quote Sir Alex Ferguson).
1st: Manchester City 2nd: Manchester United 3rd: Chelsea 4th: Arsenal
Avoiding the drop
While last year’s promoted sides bucked the trend of an immediate return to the Championship, this year’s three additions to the Premier League have a much tougher fight on their hands.
Reading, despite being promoted as champions, looks to have a threadbare squad, and are seriously lacking up front (but look out for their goalkeeper, the Australian Adam Federici).
Southampton, meanwhile, have a squad with almost no Premier League experience, which will cost them as the season goes on. Only West Ham, under the astute Sam Allardyce, look to have enough enterprise and depth to avoid the dreaded drop. Along with Reading and Southampton, Wigan’s recent run of miraculous escapes may elude them this season.
18th: Southampton 19th: Wigan 20th: Reading
One of the joys of the Premier League is that there are sub-plots and intrigues across all 20 teams – not just at the top & bottom of the table. Liverpool, under new manager Brendan Rogers should improve on their disastrous eighth-place finish from last season, though a return to the top four, and Champions League qualification, may be a bridge too far.
Tottenham, meanwhile, will be hoping to push back into the European places, and it will be fascinating to see how Andre Villas-Boas copes with the pressures of management in his second stint in the Premier League.
Elsewhere, look for Everton to make a big push for the FA Cup – David Moyes is an excellent manager, and the time has surely come for him to bring some silverware to Goodison Park after ten years in charge.
The English Premier League commenced on the 18th of August and is set to be yet another thrilling season.
Man City 4
Man Utd 3
West Ham 3
Stoke City 2
Aston Villa 0
*as of 28/8/12