Football is Back!
As the world attempts to recover from the hysteria that was ‘Neymar’s deal to PSG’, football creeps on us again and offers us a slight reminder that ‘It’s about me and I am almost back’. The end of every football season across Europe ushers in new anticipation almost immediately. There are summers where football is extended either by a continental event or by the confederations cup; but even that pales in comparison to European league blitz and excitement. Yet, even among the elite leagues in Europe, it is a consensus that while the English Premier League might not be the league with the best quality of football, it is light years ahead of its peers in excitement, competitiveness and glamour. The Premier league has come of age. From insane money injection to TV rights deals that astounds the mind, the 2017/2018 season promises to be even better.
At the beginning of last season, most bookmakers predicted a two-horse race between the Manchester clubs. The deflection of attention suited Antonio Conte and Chelsea perfectly. Though the media continuously touted it to be a race between Chelsea and Spurs to retain interest, in truth, it was a procession from the Blues. Chelsea undoubtedly benefitted from the lack of European involvement last season and the big question going into this season is if the Blues have the squad to compete in several murky waters. The sale of about 17 players in the summer (though majority of these were fringe players) only magnified the thinness of the team. Reuben Loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake, Kurt Zouma and the likes might not be starters but their presence provided numbers and cover for the most part. The acquisition of Tiemoue Bakayoko almost seems like a bargain in a transfer market that has gone bonkers. He has the physicality and energy needed for the league. However, question marks remain over Alvarao Morata. He certainly has the talent, but the cynics maintain that there is a reason he was a fringe player in Madrid. Amidst the noise about Morata, a lot hinges on the fitness of Eden Hazard and we might be surprised to find out that a certain Michy Batshuayi might steal the headline in the coming season.
How Arsene Wenger could survive the incessant clamour to step down at the end of last season can only be a leverage that can be pulled by being on a job for two decades. From the vitriol of Arsenal Fan TV to the ‘Wenger Out’ banners consistently trudged over the Emirates stadium, the pressure from Wenger reached an all-time crescendo. Salvaging the FA trophy at the final game of last season might be clutching on straws but it was enough to give Wenger ‘a vote of confidence’. The Gunners might not be in the elite European Champions League next season, and as United found out last season, involvement in the Europa League takes its own toll. The acquisition of club record signing, Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon, is by far the biggest Arsenal transfer business. The Frenchman is a goal machine and appears to have all the attributes needed for his new job. The goal for Arsenal will be to win the elusive premier league title and keeping Alexis Sanchez at the club, is super pivotal to making that happen. It might be cliché but just like Merlin, the immediate future of Arsenal rests on Sanchez. When he is at it, no one comes close in the league.
History suggest that Jose Mourinho has enjoyed his greatest successes in his second season at almost every club he has been to. Some might dismiss this a coincidental conjecture but this might be untrue, after all, even the most ingenious of us need time. Mourinho is a serial winner and his marriage with United last season was a union where both parties needed each other almost equally. Mourinho needed to redeem an image slighted by the nonsense that was Chelsea’s season in 2015/2016, and United needed a big name to revive an empire under decline since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. Football narrative was turned on its head when Romelu Lukaku opted for the theatre of dreams ahead of Fulham road. Mourinho will care less. Lukaku guarantees goals and the biggest question mark on the Belgian is whether he can deliver on the big stage. It was also key that United could keep goal keeper, David De Gea. As age takes a toll on Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer, the Spaniard could well be the best thing between the stick in world football today. Jose has recruited well and while splashing 40 million Euros on a 29-year-old defensive midfielder borders on the ridiculous, a bit of perspective is required. Top quality defensive midfielders are in short supply these days and Nemanja Matic is one that has won almost everything and knows the league; having conquered it with Jose in 2014/2015. The pressure is massive on Jose and United to succeed this season. Winning the Europa League and the League Cup last season masked the failures of that campaign, but there will be no mercies spared the Reds this time around.
Queue in City: A club with the acclaimed best manager in modern day football. A club with the most potent striker in the premier league over the past few seasons. A club with a frontline that will send shivers down the spine of any defense in world football. A club with the best right back in the league. A club with the most expensive defense every assembled in the history of the game. It is easy to see why the smart money is on Manchester City to win the league this season. Few will disagree that Pep Guardiola massively underachieved last season. Yet, in a season that was poor on grades, there were flashes of what this team can do. When they click, they are unbelievable. City’s problem has never been lack of goals. It is in defense that their troubles lurk. The shenanigans of Claudio Bravo cannot be quickly forgotten, but with the Brazilian goal keeper, Ederson acquired, and a backline of Kyle Walker, Danilo, Vincent Kompany and Benjamin Mendy, it is difficult to see what will stop City. Winning the league and getting to the latter stages of the Champions League is the minimum requirement for City’s season to be ticked as ‘successful’.
For Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, they certainly cannot be pushed aside. Liverpool will always be in contention; it is whether they have the stomach and tenacity for the marathon. Keeping Mane fit and ensuring Coutinho stays will be dynamics that will impact on their overall season. And then Tottenham Hotspurs. Chelsea might have been the most consistent side last campaign but Spurs were the best to watch. The tough task was for chairman Daniel Levy and Coach Mauricio Pochettino to retain the squad, and save for Walker (Tripper is more than a capable replacement), they have managed to do that (as at the time of writing; you never fully know). It remains to be seen how they adapt to playing away from their defunct home, and conquer Wembley. The club has done little business and many have criticized Spurs of standing still while their rivals have strengthened. It is a logical point on face value, but when one juxtapose it against the fact that Spurs have the youngest squad in the Division, it quells the doubt. Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and the likes will only get better. It is in squad depth that Tottenham might be found wanting. In conclusion, it will make for another footballing folktale to have a story such as ‘Leicester City of 2015/2016’; or if that is asking for too much, a team that will at least come close. Whatever be the case, if last season was touted as ‘the clash of new box office managers’, the impending one can be termed as ‘whose cash will yield the most value?’ If this league has taught us anything in recent times, it is that it is no respecter of the form book, erudite pundits or renowned bookmakers.