1. New Managers In The Top Four
For the first time in my life, Man United have a manager who isn’t Alex Ferguson. For the first time since they last got impatient, Man City have a manager who isn’t Roberto Mancini. And Chelsea have a new manager who isn’t even new.
How well the new managers fit into their respective clubs will most likely be the defining factor in the title race. Mourinho has the experience of winning the Premier League, Moyes spent a decade getting the most out of an Everton team on a shoestring budget, and Pellegrini should be seen as a real upgrade over Mancini.
2. Return of Holloway
No real analysis or deep thought here, he is just hugely entertaining. Especially since his team is one of the favourites for relegation.
Going into year two of the Brendan Rodgers project, Liverpool are making some interesting signings, and seem to be shaping their squad to fit the manager’s system much more effectively than last season.
If they can figure out what they are going to do about the Suarez situation (though it looks like he is staying for the time being), then they might be in a good spot to push for European qualification, and possibly even top five – though top four might be a bit too far.
4. Will Arsenal Improve?
Arsenal have had a busy summer. They’ve been active in the transfer market and made more transfers than almost any other Premier League club. The problem with all these dealings is that they are neither exciting for fans nor hugely impactful on the quality of the first team.
They’ve dumped 27 players this summer (including loans) and brought in just one. While this has been a really impressive shaving of the wage bill, the question is whether all this activity will make the team better, or just less expensive.
None of the departed players were integral members of the squad, though some of them were paid like it. This is a positive, as is the fact that the team finished last season strongly, and seemed to have figured out who their best defenders are.
The question that will be answered this season is if they will be able to perform at a higher standard, and with greater consistency. I’m not sure they will be able to, but it will be interesting to watch.
5. The London League
What a shame QPR aren’t in the Premier League any more. Crystal Palace have stepped up to fill the shoes of Harry Redknapp’s latest adventure in prudent football management, so the league of London clubs stays at six teams. Chelsea topped the table last season, and following the close race for fourth last season, results against other teams in the capital might be key to Champions League qualification again this time around.
6. European Campaigns
Will Man City be better than their pathetic showings the last two years? Quite probably, given the experience and successes that Pellegrini has had in Europe, first with Villarreal then with Malaga.
Chelsea have won European trophies the last two seasons, but even a prolonged but unsuccessful Champions League campaign would be preferable to another Europa League fixture pile-up.
Arsenal will most likely do exactly as they have the last few seasons, and make it through the group before being totally outplayed by one of the main contenders, and it is anyone’s guess how United will perform in Moyes’s second Champions League campaign.
Di Canio’s Swindon team were incredibly fit. From all the reports, it looks as if Sunderland will be in similar shape. Superior levels of conditioning ought to help them against some of the less talented squads, but they will still need their manager’s tactical ability to show itself in order to push into the top half of the table. Whether or not Di Canio has the tactical nous to go with his chest-thumping sideline antics will define how successful Sunderland are this season.
8. Swansea – Second Season Syndrome?
Swansea were fantastic last season. They improved on their first season in the league, despite losing one of their most important players, and their manager. Michael Laudrup’s debut season even netted them a trophy. The concern will be that after the League Cup triumph, they rather went off the boil. How they will cope with the raised expectations and the added European fixtures.
9. Aston Villa’s Youth Movement
Paul Lambert’s team swung wildly from inexperienced and naïve to bright and inventive last season. If they can be more of the latter, and with less of the former then they could be quite good to watch. Having jettisoned old and unnecessary players like Bent and Dunne over the summer (replaced by the likes of Jores Okore), the squad has the building blocks of a good side, as long as they can build on the experiences of last season, and keep Benteke scoring goals.
Suarez biting people, John Terry being racist, Suarez being racist, Tom Huddlestone’s ever growing hair. Every league season throws up something unexpected. What it will be this season is anyone’s guess, but trust me, there will be something strange taking place before the end of the season.