The English Premier League is the most popular football league in the world. With the 23rd edition about to kick-off this weekend, we take a look at the main contenders for the title, and who could be bidding farewell to top-flight English football next May.
Who can stop the Chelsea juggernaut?
Last season was, by Premier League standards, a one sided affair as Chelsea(once again under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho), clinched the title at a canter. The “Special One” has been fairly quiet in the transfer market so far this summer; the most high-profile new arrival in West London being Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, who comes in on loan from Monaco after Manchester United refused to take him on a permanent deal at the end of last season.Early signs are that in 2015-16 will be a wholly different story. Last season’s main contenders will, in all probability, be this seasons main protagonists with Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United all strengthening their respective squads.
Arsenal lay down a marker
If Sunday’s Community Shield can be used as a barometer then Arsenal could be Chelsea’s biggest threat in 2015-16. A 1-0 victory for the Gunners over Mourinho’s side at Wembley (coach Arsène Wenger’s first win over Mourinho in 14 attempts), givesthe North London side the psychological edge going into the new Premier League campaign. Wenger paid €15 million in the summer to take goalkeeper Petr Čech away from Stamford Bridge giving Arsenal, for the first time since the David Seaman era, a truly world class goalkeeper. Striker Theo Walcott and Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla have both signed contract extensions at the club and the vibe seems right going into this weekend’s big kick-off.
Van Gaal splashes the cash
Manchester United coach Louis van Gaal has been on a summer spending spree ahead of the new Premier League campaign. A total of €98.5 million has been laid out on Dutch striker Memphis Depay, German international midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, Italian defender Matteo Darmian and Dutch midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin. There is uncertainty at the moment over the future of outstanding Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea, who is wanted by Real Madrid and the Red Devils would like the situation settled as quickly as possible. A fourth place finish last season got them into a Champions League play-off position, but the main priority for van Gaal is to claim back a Premier League title that hasn’t sat in the Old Trafford trophy room since 2013.
Summer in the City
Manchester City had a disappointing 2014-15 campaign. OK they finished second, but eight points behind champions Chelsea and the alarming way their season fell away in the closing stages last year gives cause for concern. Coach Manuel Pellegrini goes into the new Premier League season amid rumours that current Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola will arrive at Eastlands in 2016. Despite the speculation, Pellegrini has prized English striker Raheem Sterling away from Liverpool although at €60 million, many feel he’s taking a huge gamble. Fabian Delph has arrived from Aston Villa but a player already with question marks surrounding his fitness, was injured in his first game for the club against Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup and remains doubtful for the opening weeks of the new campaign.
Liverpool look to Benteke
Brendan Rogers knows his Liverpool team must improve on last season’s sixth place finish.The absence of Champions League football has hurt the club financially but means the solitary focus is on their Premier League campaign. The Reds’ big summer signing is Belgian striker Christian Benteke who comes in from Aston Villa for €46.5 million. Rogers knows he is coach under pressure, the 42-year-old tactician must deliver the club to at least a top four finish or his exit from Anfield seems inevitable next spring.
The New Boys
The 2015-16 English Premier League welcomes back Watford and Norwich City and, for the first time in their history, AFC Bournemouth. Coach Eddie Howe did an amazing job with the club from the south coast last season and their supporters have spent the summer dreaming of what lies in store for their club over the next nine months. Despite the element of surprise that all the newly promoted clubs have in their favour, the Premier League takes no prisoners and all three of the latest recruits are favourites for a quick return to English football’s second tier.
By Steve Mitchell (@barafundler)