FOOTBALL A preview of the The Barclays Premier League 2011-12 which will kickstart next month. ASHWIN SAJITH
There is something about August that brings a bout of feverish excitement. After two months of frenzied speculation and long protracted moves, the Premier League season kicks off again. The title race last year went right down to the wire and the relegation dog fight involved six teams who could have all gone down. This season is not going to be much different and promises to be a blockbuster.
Manchester United, after an uncharacteristically busy summer in the transfer market, looks the strongest team. If Sir Alex Ferguson has his way, a deal for Samir Nasri, Wesley Sneijder or Luka Modric could soon be on the cards strengthening their only concern; their weak midfield. This coupled with the arrival of Ashley Young, David De Gea and Phil Jones make them a formidable opposition and it is hard to see anything other than a 20th title for them.
CHELSEA and MANCHESTER CITY, who have thus far been quiet in the transfer market, have the pedigree to challenge for the title but have to sort out certain issues first. Andres Villas Boas, the new Chelsea boss, has his task cut out. He has to win the dressing room over and also deliver the ‘The Holy Grail’ of the Champions League sooner rather than later to avoid the ‘Abramovich Axe’.
Mancini too must find a way to cut out the deadwood from his team and also find a goal scorer who can supplement Carlos Tevez, as last year they looked like a team lost when their inspirational captain was not on the pitch. They also have to contend with the distractions of the coveted Champion’s League at Eastlands this year, and it is their chance to show their mettle among the elite in Europe.
LIVERPOOL, under Kenny Daglish, are surely on the way up and the arrival of Jordan Henderson promises to add bite to their midfield. They would also love to continue their post-Christmas form with the trio of Luiz Suarez, Dirk Kuyt and Raul Mereiles providing the attacking flair and the defence also shaping up well resulting in a very good home record. But their away form was a cause for concern, a situation that needs to be rectified, if they have to challenge for major honours this year.
TOTTENHAM and ARSENAL have a huge headache of retaining their star players, who have become disillusioned with their clubs’ ambition. Harry Redknapp seems to have won the battle to keep his stars and is in the market for talented Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi who, if signed, will be a major boost.
Arsene Wenger, on the other hand, seems to be fighting a losing battle to keep his stars with Cesc Fabregas, and Gael Clichy almost certain to leave and Samir Nasri too wanting out. Their departures could soon lead to a player exodus from Arsenal if they do not buy big this summer. Gervinho, Ricardo Alvarez, Stewart Downing, Gary Cahill, Christopher Samba and Phil Jagielka are all mooted as potential replacements, but they could be caught in a bidding war with other clubs, which they would like to avoid. So it seems like a straight shootout between these three teams for the final Champions league spot, with Arsenal fancied to take it, if they can sign some established players with previous Premier League experience.
FULHAM, STOKE, EVERTON, BOLTON seem to be the teams fighting for the Europa League spots this year and Sunderland with the addition of Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner could be in the mix too. The bottom of the table battle for survival will depend on whether the teams can keep their key players from being poached by bigger teams. It is imperative that Wigan Boss, Roberto Martinez, persuades Hugo Rodalegga, their star of last season, to stay amid interest from Liverpool and other teams. The same goes for QPR who have to retain Adel Taarabt if they are to have any chances of survival in the big boys league.
So for the Premier League new boys QPR, NORWICH CITY and SWANSEA CITY it sure is going to be a rough ride. Their home form could ultimately decide their fate come next May. All in all, it promises to be an exciting season with a lot to look forward to and surely one more close title race as has been the trend in the past few years.
Ashwin Sajith has completed his Masters in Business Administration from SPJIMR, Mumbai.
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