FOOTBALL With just over a few days to go for the Premier league to start, here are a few things you should know. SWAROOP SWAMINTHAN
The World Cup may be over but football is back. The Barclays Premier League (BPL), England’s top-flight football league, enters another edition this weekend. In just 19 years, the BPL has gone from being a poor cousin of its then-more-illustrious Spanish La Liga and the Italian Serie A to being the most watched league in the world.
Last year, the competition was tight as eventual champion Chelsea beat Manchester United by a solitary point. If that evidence is anything to go by, expect an even closer fight to the finish this time.
Will the big four deliver?
While the “traditional big four” have been unspectacular, if not static, in the transfer market thus far, moneybag Manchester City, last year’s fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur and the club immediately below — Everton and Aston Villa — have either maintained their position or has improved their team on paper rather significantly.
Manchester City has built an ensemble ; Spurs has retained its core group of players; Aston Villa, with James Milner still on its books, could make some telling signings if it sells him to Manchester City. And Everton, who had to contend with the shenanigans of Joleon Lescott last season, has been largely stress-free. It’s champion player Mikel Arteta also committed to the club with a new five-year deal.
But for the top four, things have not been going well. Arsenal has just three centre-backs at the time of writing. While it has managed to retain Cesc Fabregas, it surely can’t afford to expect him to win the title on his own. Liverpool has replaced the abrasive Rafael Benitez but the atmosphere around the Anfield club continues to trouble the new manager, Roy Hogdson.
The protracted takeover by a Chinese billionaire and wantaway midfielder Javier Mascherano will have to be sorted out before September. Manchester United has a solid first-team but surely can’t keep relying on veterans Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes day in day out. It’s only significant signings — Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling — will at best be bit part players until they settle into Old Trafford. This will also be a make-or-break season for Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov.
Champion Chelsea has retained its core group of players but the entire squad is a year older. Having not made a marquee signing so far, it will again rely on Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry — either nearing 30 or on the wrong side of 30 already — to inspire the team. City’s riches have afforded it to splash the cash but the question remains: can it gel before Christmas? Otherwise this could be one very expensive failure; at least for another season. This could also be the season when Manchester United finally overhauls Liverpool’s 18 league titles. Or, the Merseyside club under new management, could win their 19th league title.
Watch Out For:
Cesc Fabregas :If he had managed to remain fit through last season, Cesc could have won a double; a PL winners’ medal to go with his World Cup triumph. But again, he has a chance to lead a young Arsenal side to its first title triumph since 2004. He has the supporting cast (Robin van Persie, Andrie Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky) to achieve but needs to remain injury-free.
Didier Drogba: After seeing his form dip in the 08-09 season, he was back to his best last year. What makes Drogba tick is the fact that he is a forward built for the rigours of the BPL — he is strong and pacey and has the ability to lead the line. With Ancelotti deciding not to buy any marquee forwards, the onus will once again fall on Drogba to inspire Chelsea.
Wayne Rooney :He was the BPL’s most feared forward last season until his injury against Bayern Munich in March. Having not scored a goal since that night, he would want to find his scoring boots pretty quickly; which he’s capable of. And one thinks he might well do that because that’s the only way he can put his world cup disappointments behind.
Fernando Torres: Start, run, derail, stop. This was what happened to Torres the last season and not surprisingly, Liverpool mirrored it. For Liverpool to be competitive, they need Torres to stay at the top of his game for the entire campaign. Having just won a World Cup with Spain, he might well have the ambition and drive within to lead Liverpool to a first ever BPL title.
Popularity: 1% [?]