Premier League 2012-13 preview: Four new-season talking points
Kieran Beckles takes a look at four talking points ahead of the new Premier League season, ranging from Arsenal to Swansea
Ferguson’s treble dreams premature
Manchester United’s treble success in 1999 was unprecedented in English football, and even Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ and Jose Mourinho’s special Chelsea side were unable to match that remarkable feat. So who better to orchestrate an audacious attempt to replicate the Red Devils’ achievements of 14 years ago than the wily Scotsman himself. United’s £24m capture of Robin van Persie has prompted a sentimental Ferguson to reflect on the strike-force he possessed in 1999. It was fronted by telepathic duo Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, with the clinical Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in a supporting role, and veteran Teddy Sheringham acting as back-up. The quartet managed a staggering 76 goals between them as United won the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League. Heading into the 2012-13 campaign, Ferguson will have Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernández, Danny Welbeck, and now Van Persie at his disposal – they managed a combined 89 goals last season. So, in attacking terms, the 70-year-old certainly has licence to dream of another treble. But even with Nemanja Vidić taking up the role of Jaap Staam, and with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes survivors of that 1999 team, the Red Devils could fall short. Where is Roy Keane’s successor? Darren Fletcher’s fitness is still very much in doubt, and Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa are not in same mould as the former Republic of Ireland skipper. In addition, David De Gea lacks the intimidating presence and leadership of Peter Schmeichel. True, these are attributes the talented Spaniard can add to his unquestionable agility and sharp reflexes in the future – but he hasn’t impressed enough yet. Ferguson is nearing retirement, and he arguably faces the biggest test of his reign at Old Trafford – dethroning Manchester City. It could be a season too soon for United to dream of success on both domestic and European fronts, but another trophyless campaign is unlikely at Old Trafford.
Rodgers’ bid to revive Liverpool
Liverpool’s much-maligned form in the second half of the season unsurprisingly resulted in Kenny Dalglish’s swift dismissal, which came before the club’s fans had time to digest what was ultimately a disappointing campaign. Of course, a measley six wins from 19 homes games is a miserable return for any club, not least the 18-time English champions. The ‘Liverpool Way’ is an expression which has frequented many discussions in recent years, and there has been a departure from this tradition, with the Reds starting the past four seasons with four different managers in charge – Rafael Benítez, Roy Hodgson, Dalglish, and now Rodgers. Can the former Swansea City manager finally provide the solution to Liverpool’s title conundrum? The 39-year-old has promised to bring back an attacking philosophy, but the Northern Irishman will have to prove it is more than a mere nostalgic throwback to the glory days under Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, and Dalglish. Italian striker Fabio Borini and midfielder Joe Allen have joined Liverpool at a cost of £25m, plus relative unknown Oussama Assaidi, while Rodgers is looking to La Liga for “quality loan signings”, with Real Madrid’s Nuri Sahin and Barcelona’s Cristian Tello touted targets. The expectations of Liverpool supporters have been lowered, and Rodgers should get the time needed to imprint his ideas on the squad. There is a quiet sense of optimism at Anfield, and while Rodgers’ self-proclaimed target for the season is to improve on the last campaign, privately, he will be hoping for a top-four finish in his first season in charge at the Merseyside outfit.
Arsenal’s new steely resolve
What a difference a year makes. Last summer, Arsenal were wallowing in self-pity as their captain Cesc Fàbregas finally completed a long-awaited return to his boyhood club Barcelona. Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri moved in tandem to Manchester City, and a 2-0 defeat by Liverpool at The Emirates and a 8-2 thrashing by Manchester United contrived to leave Gunners fans despondent. Fast forward to August 2012, and despite Van Persie being roundly castigated for switching to United, there is a steely resolve about the north London club. Arsene Wenger has acted without hesistation, but crucially with ambition, in the transfer market, signing Germany’s prolific Lucas Podolski, Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud and the highly-rated Santi Cazorla for a total cost of £26m – all before Van Persie’s exit was announced. These three signings, and the promise of further arrivals, have neutralised the anguish over the Dutchman’s departure – there is a sense that Arsenal can do without the striker. In addition, Wenger’s decision to promote Steve Bould from his role as the Under-18s coach to assistant manager will see a new assuredness seep into the Arsenal defence. September will be an early indication of how this new-look Gunners side are gelling, with daunting trips to Anfield and the Etihad Stadium, while they welcome Champions League winners Chelsea in the final game of what will be a big month for Wenger’s men. Get through that tricky period relatively unscathed, and Arsenal could be on course for a tilt at the title, and finally ending their seven-year trophy drought.
Norwich and Swansea should fear second season syndrome
Norwich City and Swansea City have both become victims of their own success this summer, as the respective architects of their promotion and survival in the top flight have both departed for pastures new. Rodgers was tempted to Anfield as he embarks on arguably the biggest challenge in English football – masterminding Liverpool’s revival. Swansea’s subsequent appointment of Michael Laudrup will certainly have pacified the club’s supporters – the Dane is a bigger name then surely even the most optimistic of Swans fans could have envisaged – but it remains to be seen whether he can build on the foundations laid by Rodgers at the Liberty Stadium. A sublimely skilful footballer, Laudrup’s previous forays into management have left the former Real Madrid midfielder with a patchy record. Swansea earned lofty comparisons to Pep Guardiola’s mesmerising Barcelona side last season, and Laudrup was a member of the Catalans’ original ‘Dream Team’. On paper, the 48-year-old should be a cosy fit at Swansea, and it will be intriguing to see if the Welsh outfit can continue to progress. For Norwich, Chirs Hughton may not bring the promise of imaginative, attacking football, but his man management skills will ensure he extracts 100 per cent from his squad, which will be key for the side who were ruthlessly efficient under Paul Lambert. Newcastle’s sacking of the popular Hughton was met with a clamour of disapproval in December 2010, and few predicted what a roaring success his replacement Alan Pardew would be at St James’ Park. Norwich represents Hughton’s second shot at top-flight management, and few would begrudge him a mid-table finish with the Canaries this season. His experience of English football and much-lauded man-management skills could render his appointment a success at Carrow Road.