Football Sport

Musical chairs: but who is singing the right tune?

Written by Leanne Lu

This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2013 issue of World Gaming magazine.

The 2013/14 Premier League season has just got underway and it is fair to say this is the most eagerly anticipated season in a very long time. Three of the top four clubs from last year have changed their managers while the only one who retained his post, Arsenal’s Arsène Wenger, was very close to being sacked during a turbulent 2012/13 season. With the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool also active in the transfer market as they look to make up ground on the big guns, we anxiously wait to see who will lift the English Premier League trophy this season.

After just three seasons in the top job and with a Premier League title and FA Cup win to his name in that time, Manchester City sacked manager Roberto Mancini at the end of the 2012/13 season. In their official statement, the club justified their decision by emphasizing the need to bring a “holistic approach to all aspects of the club”. Whether Mancini’s replacement, Chile’s Manuel Pellegrini, will be able to bring such an approach remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain – “holistic” changes have taken place right across the Premier League.

The top three clubs – Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea – are still considered favorites with very little difference between them although that’s not surprising given all three have undergone such significant change. Nevertheless, World Gaming magazine likes the look of West London club Chelsea and wouldn’t be surprised to see them return to the top of the tree.

José Mourinho. The name itself has the power to make everyone take note. Although some would say his three year stint with Spanish giants Real Madrid damaged his reputation – having established so many enemies around him and won just one La Liga and one Copa del Rey along the way. The big guns always expect more. But Mourinho still boasts a certain charisma that follows him wherever he goes. His return to Stamford Bridge, where he won two Premier League titles, two League Cup titles and an FA Cup in his previous stint – has instantly restored confidence to the squad. He was quick to praise veterans such as John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard and claimed they were training like “animals” during their summer tour.

Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet joins Liverpool from Sunderland

Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet joins Liverpool from Sunderland

Ever since the departure of Carlo Ancelotti, Roman Abramovich had struggled to find a manager with the ability to deal with the huge egos that are typical of such a big club. Despite boasting enormous talent, they seriously under-achieved last season but that will certainly change under Mourinho. Being a defensive-minded manager, he will find the right balance between the two ends although he also added some attacking elements during his stay at Madrid. Chelsea’s football may prove to be far easier on the eyes than it was in his first stint at the club. A top striker is all he wants this summer with United’s Wayne Rooney his main target. If Rooney does indeed end up donning the Chelsea jersey this season they will be very difficult to beat.

The biggest question at City will be how long it takes Pellegrini to adjust to English football. Fluent in English, Pellegrini is highly intelligent having earned a degree in civil engineering in a former life. Nevertheless, his success only came after he left South America for Spain where he excelled in stints at Villarreal and Málaga. And English football is very different. Referees are less strict than their Spanish counterparts even though the football is much faster and boasts more physical confrontations. The intention is to keep the game flowing, which has led to an amusing saying among British football fans along the lines of “Lionel Messi can’t be counted as the best player in the world until he has played at Stoke City on a cold, rainy Monday night”. It can be interpreted that small clubs from the north can make life difficult for the top dogs from further south with the help of bad weather and resilience.

Manchester City will improve their offensive side in the new season with plenty more attacking options. Not only is Pellegrini renowned for favoring attacking football, City’s transfer strategy is certainly aimed at scoring more goals with all four incoming transfers – Fernandinho, Jesús Navas, Álvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetiæ – being offensive players.

Everton’s David Moyes has taken over the most sought after yet demanding job in the footballing world. Fittingly, Sir Alex Ferguson retired on top but that means there will be huge expectation on Moyes to continue that success. Fortunately there are few shortcomings in the team and if Phil Jones and Chris Smalling can shoulder the burden from veterans Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidiæ at the back, Moyes will only need one or two additions in the midfield.

Manchester United have their eyes firmly set on Barcelona star Cesc Fabregas

Manchester United have their eyes firmly set on Barcelona star Cesc Fabregas

Their main transfer target, Cesc Fabregas, would be a reasonable boost to their title hopes should he arrive from Barcelona but will Moyes boast the same edge we saw over and over again in Sir Alex? That mental advantage was one of the reasons for the long-lasting success of the managerial great and such was the aura he and his players held that in many cases, clubs basically stopped playing in front of Sir Alex – especially at Old Trafford – and were seemingly happy to try to escape with the draw. It will be interesting to see how rival teams approach their trips to Old Trafford with Moyes now in charge.

With United, City and Chelsea the three clubs likely to challenge for the title, the race will be on among the group of clubs just below them to earn European qualification. Arsenal’s hopes of a revival this season are largely down to Wenger’s determination to spend big. Two or three marquee signings will certainly improve the team but they will face a much tougher challenge from London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. It is a pity Spurs manager Andres Villas-Boas missed out on Spanish striker David Villa, but the signing of Brazilian Paulinho will be a key to Spur’s quest for the top four. The box-to-box midfielder had a wonderful summer when he showed his talent in the Confederations Cup and he is exactly the type of player Tottenham has missed most in recent seasons. Villas-Boas just needs a top central striker to replace Emmanuel Adebayor or Jermain Defoe to complete the puzzle.

The future of Liverpool's Luis Suárez was one of the most intriguing sagas of the off-season

The future of Liverpool’s Luis Suárez was one of the most intriguing sagas of the off-season

Of course, the one other club that will be hoping to challenge for a return to Europe will be Liverpool. The Reds have been active in the transfer market during the off-season which was a must if they have any realistic dreams of moving up the ladder, although time will tell if they have been astute in their acquisitions. The most intriguing is Spanish striker Iago Aspas who impressed for Celta Vigo in La Liga last season and, it is hoped, can help fix the club’s woes in front of goal. The same goes for Luis Alberto, while Kolo Toure has arrived to bolster the defence and Belgian national team keeper Simon Mignolet replaces Pepe Reina in goal. However, all eyes remain firmly fixed on star striker Luis Suárez who had been closely linked with a move to Real Madrid and then had Arsenal chasing him hard. The Reds have been understandably reluctant to let Suárez go and after a tense summer in which he made no secret of his desire to head elsewhere, it appears he has finally accepted he will remain with Liverpool this season. But time will tell whether they get the best out of him over the coming months and their European aspirations largely rest on whether or not he replicates his incredible form of last season.

At the other end of the scale, Magpies supporters could well suffer a heartbreaking season after the club insisted on employing former head coach Joe Kinnear as their director of football this summer against the will of current manager Alan Pardew. The discontent in management is hardly the best way to turn things around. Newly promoted Crystal Palace will struggle, having lost their best player in the promotion campaign, Wilfried Zaha, to United. They will have trouble replacing one of the most promising youngsters in Britain and, sadly, their stay in the top flight is likely to be a short one.