As LSMedia’s Premier League season preview continues, where better to start than with the reigning champions…
Last season’s finish: 1st
City start this season’s league campaign as the champions of England for the first time since 1968, yet despite the last-gasp manner of their championship victory putting the club’s loyal supporters on an all-time high, more will be expected of Roberto Mancini’s team this season by the club’s billionaire owners.
Last season’s title win disguised the fact that City were eliminated from the Champions League during the group stage, a poor return considering the sheer strength of the Sky Blues’ squad. Mancini will need to ensure that his team makes more of an impact in Europe this time round. Ultimately though, the experience of winning the title will add more composure to an extremely talented squad and if Mancini’s team can instil the dominance they consistently show at the Etihad into their displays away from home, expect the title to be sealed before the 94th minute of the season’s last game this time round.
Key Player: Sergio Aguero. The Argentine’s impressive 23–goal haul during his debut season in English football ensured City’s 93 goals last term was the third highest tally in Premier League history.
Fantasy Football Pick: Yaya Toure (8m). Considering Toure was one of last season’s highest midfield point scorers, 8m is a paltry sum for a player of the Ivorian’s consistency and quality.
LS Media Prediction: 2nd. Last season’s title winning experience will add more composure to the league’s strongest squad during the title run-in and they enter the season as the team to beat, though United’s hunger to take back the title may prove too much for City.
Last season’s finish: 2nd
Although Manchester United succumbed to a humbling league double at the hands of their city rivals on the way to surrendering their title, Sir Alex Ferguson will be encouraged by his young squad’s points tally last season. To lose the title only on goal difference to one of the most expensive teams ever assembled disproves the detraction that United are a declining force in English football.
Exemplifying their strengths is the fact that United scored 89 points during a season of transition and if young talents such as David de Gea, Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley continue to progress then Sir Alex could be celebrating regaining the title come May. The fitness of Nemanja Vidic is crucial to this ambition however, as his absence at the heart of the Reds’ defence was partly responsible for the 19 goals conceded at Old Trafford last season, the highest amount in United’s Premier League history. It is also vital that new signing Shinji Kagawa settles into English football, as a player similar in strengths to City’s David Silva is integral to United’s hopes of both winning the title and progressing further in Europe following last season’s miserable Champions League campaign. United’s cause will be helped by the signing of Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, whose goals make United a more menacing prospect altogether.
Key Player: Wayne Rooney. United need their talisman at his best if the title is to be recaptured.
Fantasy Football Pick: Shinji Kagawa (8.5m). The Japanese international has the potential to be one of this season’s success stories, definitely worth a punt at 8.5m.
LS Media Prediction: 1st. The addition of Robin van Persie should see a promising young team decisively step up another level this season.
Last season’s finish: 3rd
Arsene Wenger defied the odds as he steered Arsenal safely into the group stages of the Champions League following poor spells at the start and in the middle of last season. Arsenal’s success was owed chiefly to the exploits of Dutch striker Robin van Persie, whose 30 league goals was the difference between Champions League and Europa League qualification.
Unfortunately for the Gunners van Persie is set to complete a move to Manchester United, a turn of events that is terminal for any genuine title hopes. With the Dutchman’s exit, added responsibility is placed on new signing Lukas Podolski, who is tasked with filling the void that will be left by van Persie. The return of Jack Wilshere from injury will also be instrumental to Arsenal’s season and if the promising England international can match his pre-injury form then Arsenal should have enough quality to qualify for the Champions League.
Key Player: Thomas Vermaelen. Arsenal are a different animal with the Belgian’s presence at the back and his goals are crucial to a team so dependent on the supposedly exiting Robin van Persie.
Fantasy Football Pick: Wojciech Szczesny (5.5m). One of the league’s most consistent goalkeepers seems under-rated at 5.5m.
LS Media Prediction: 3rd. Robin van Persie’s departure means that Arsene Wenger must reinvest a large amount of the £22m raised by the Dutchman’s sale before the end of August, but if Arsenal buy well they will remain among the favourites for a top four finish.
Last season’s finish: 4th
Spurs were very much in the title race last season up until the ill-timed circus surrounding Fabio Capello’s departure as England manager consumed tabloid favourite Harry Redknapp and subsequently derailed Tottenham’s title challenge. The distraction proved terminal for Redknapp’s Spurs career as chairman Daniel Levy opted to start afresh this season by recruiting former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Villas-Boas inherits a talented squad and if the Portuguese manager can add to his attacking options before the transfer window closes then Tottenham should reap the benefits of having a young and ambitious manager at the helm, who in addition is determined to prove his worth after a disastrous spell at Chelsea. Unfortunately, any funds are likely to come from the sale of Croatian playmaker Luka Modric, who will be sorely missed if his summer transfer ever manages to materialise.
Key Player: Gareth Bale. With Modric set to leave, Spurs’ Champions League hopes are pinned to the form of Bale. The dynamic Welsh international will be a pivotal instrument in AVB’s attacking mentality.
Fantasy Football Pick: Stephen Caulker (5.0m). Impressed on loan as Swansea City and at the Olympics for Team GB, if the young centre half can break into the Spurs starting XI then he is definitely worth a try.
LS Media Prediction: 4th. A change was probably needed after missing out on the Champions League last season. The instalment of a determined young manager could prove the remedy.
Last season’s finish: 5th
Alan Pardew watched his managerial stock soar last season as he defied the odds by leading Newcastle United to a top five finish after many (myself included) had tipped the Toon to struggle. In hindsight Newcastle’s tags as potential relegation candidates was completely unjustified when considering the quality exemplified by the trio of Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa in midfield and the explosiveness of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse up front. Notably Ba, Cabaye and Cisse were all signed by Pardew, representing the manager’s fluency in a tricky transfer market.
Though in spite of the quality possessed by Newcastle, they undoubtedly punched well above their weight last season and the St. James’ Park support will do well to anticipate a more modest league placing this season, especially when taking into account the burden of Europa League football is to come, a sapping obstacle that can prove detrimental to progress – as Stoke City fans will testify.
Key Player: Fabricio Coloccini. Newcastle look thin defensively and an injury to their Argentine stalwart would destroy any hopes of another top six finish.
Fantasy Football Pick: Demba Ba (7.5m). Although Ba’s goals dried up after Cisse’s January arrival, should Pardew restore Ba in a central position then 7.5m is a good price for the powerful striker.
LS Media Prediction: 8th. The distraction of the Europa League will be too much for Newcastle’s top six aspirations.
Last season’s finish: 6th
Despite only finishing 6th in the league, the lowest placing since Roman Abramovich’s arrival at the club, Roberto Di Matteo’s appointment as manager resulted in a historic Champions League triumph, a victory that crucially guaranteed Chelsea’s participation in the competition this season.
The appeal of playing for the European champions is evident, with talents such as Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar all arriving at Stamford Bridge this summer. The challenge for Di Matteo is to keep all of these attacking talents happy alongside the similarly able Juan Mata and Ramires, whilst mounting a serious title challenge. Despite the potential for unrest within the squad, Di Matteo has one of the league’s most staunch defensive units at his disposal and if the Italian can mould a squad oozing with quality into a team, then a title challenge is not unrealistic. If not, Abramovich will presumably exercise his itchy trigger finger, with former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola already touted as a possible replacement.
Key Player: Frank Lampard. Lampard was a giant during Chelsea’s Champions League campaign and his deployment in a deeper midfield role is a vital calming presence for the European champions.
Fantasy Football Pick: Gary Cahill (6.5m). Goal-scoring central defender for one of the league’s strongest backlines. Only 6.5m? Go on then.
LS Media Prediction: 5th. The squad’s over-abundance of high-profile attacking midfielders could be a hindrance to Chelsea’s chemistry.
Part III to follow.