Friday, 7 August 2015

The English Premier League Preview (Part One)

By Ewomazino Orowor
The 24th season of the Premier League gets underway tomorrow- 76 days after the conclusion of the previous campaign.

From the new official Premier League ball, to heavy transfer activities in some clubs (with astonishing vignetted transfer-related activities in some others), to new kit sponsorship deals, to if "Harry Kane" can match last season's goal scoring form; to which teams will constitute the relegation dog fight; who the Europa League contenders- or would-be avoiders -are and much more, the 2015/2016 season has been replete with talking points long before Man United and Tottenham kick-off.

However, let's  focus on the title-winning chances of the four main contenders for the money-spinning 2015/2016 season in England's topflight division.

Four of the Best
Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United, who occupied the top four places, respectively, in the table at the end of last season, are the front-runners this term. I expect an almost-there threat from Southampton, Liverpool and Tottenham.

Let's preview the two blue-jersey teams first, leaving the red ones for part two.

The Blues- with ruthless efficiency where necessary -were dominant last season. For all but the second week, Mourinho's men blossomed at the summit of the EPL table. Such was their near-impeccable campaign that many still consider them as the safest bet for the title. But are they really the safest bet?

"Hello! Is Chelsea there?" If the transfer window were to be anthropomorphised, that's probably what we'd be hearing. That's because Chelsea's had a quiet transfer window. Although, they boast a strong first XI, they are light on the bench- they're losing depth. 

In the event of an injury crisis or loss of form (not forgetting their apparent fitness challenges), they haven't got capable replacements for the mitochondria of their squad. Players like brickwall Nemanja Matic, most fouled Premier League player last season and player with the most assist last term- Eden Hazard and Cesc Febregas respectively -do not have their quasi equivalents on the bench.

Upfront, Chelsea have another conundrum! If Diego Costa continues to struggle with his hamstring, how will they get goals? Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao have not proven to be  adequate understudies. While the former may have specious reasons to be a prospect, the latter is- or has become -a risible figure. Falcao has continued where he left off at Old Trafford, thrilling us with his comedic perormances- the Pastor Maldonado of the Premier League. 

The Columbian is also further justifying the superstition behind the Chelsea No. 9 jersey. In the more recent memories, except for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Hernan Crespo, the likes of Mateja Kezman, Khalid Boulharouz, Steve Sidwell, Franco Di Santo, and Fernando Torres never excelled as Chelsea number 9s. Falcao is a real worry and may be on his way into that uncelebrated list. 

However, there is still some time for Mourinho to do some business in the market for some execllent outfield additions. 

But the real business begins tomorrow with a tricky opponent- Swansea City -at that. Chelsea's result tomorrow- and in the remaining opening round of fixtures -will really matter. Replicating their pre-season form may put the champions under pressure- if they are not under pressure already to dispel the opinions of their pre-season critics.

By and Large, Chelsea have a lot on their hands this term and the food for thought will be that the Premier League title has not been retained by holders  for six years now.

Will the Blues break boundaries or will Champions League priority be an excuse?

Manchester City
Manuel Pellegrini will be eager to expiate last season's mediocre display especially after extending his contract at the Etihad till 2017. Although, they finished as runners-up,  Man City's dispirited second half campaign took them out of contention in the race for the title (a period in which we also witnessed their embarrasing exit from the Champions League). 

Poignant reminders indeed of their disappointing trophyless season. 

This was inevitably due to the half-heartedness of majority of their senior players- except for Joe Hart, Sergio Aguero and a few others. 

This may sound like cheap criticism but a large chunk of Man City's squad apparently lacked the hunger to match the achievements of the preceding title-winning campaign. That has to change this term because a repeat should lead to drastic changes at the Etihad. Pellegrini has to justify the trust he's received to avoid being the most likely starting point of any such drastic changes.

If the squad has the right drive, motivation and consistency, Man City may pose more threat to Chelsea's title defence than any of Arsenal or Man. United. With the arrivals of Raheem Sterling and (especially) Fabian Delph, Man City have further added depth to their squad. 

What's more, here's a stunning Man City EPL sequence:
2011/12 - Champions
2012/13 - Runners-up
2013/14 - Champions
2014/15 - Runners-up
2015/16 - ____?____
Fill in the gap! It's simple arithmetic progression!

Writer: Ewomazino Orowor

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