2012/13 English Premier League: The Title Contenders
The English Premier League has finally begun and in doing so has brought some clarity as to the real competition for silverware this season. The amount of spending in the sport continues to increase as shown by previously lesser clubs such as Manchester City and their meteoric rises to title contenders. New owners bring hope to seemingly helpless clubs, but nonetheless there is only one champion and four UEFA Champions League spots to be had. The following four teams are those who should be considered the serious contenders to bring home the title.
The North London outfit have come into the season after what many would describe as a summer filled with turmoil. There was yet another major transfer saga surrounding star striker and the EPL’s leading scorer Robin van Persie, which ultimately culminated into a move to Manchester to play for United. The club also saw Alex Song make a swift exit to join Spanish giants Barcelona. For a manager to continuously sell the club’s best assets year after year is one that would often destroy a fan base, but manager Arsene Wenger pulled off yet another strong summer of smart, efficient spending to put the Gunners in what many would consider a stronger position than last campaign. The Frenchman brought in Lukas Podolski from Koln (Germany), Olivier Giroud from Montpellier (France), and Santi Cazorla from cash-strapped Malaga (Spain). Podolski, a proven goal scorer, comes into the club as a regular in the German national set up and at the age of 27 already has 100 caps for his country. Giroud comes over to England after leading both Ligue 1 in scoring and ultimately Montpellier to the Ligue 1 title, one that nobody expected them to win at the start of the French season. He also features regularly for the French national team. Cazorla is a prototypical Spanish maestro, calm and unbelievably skilled with the ability to play anywhere in the midfield or up top. Many Gooners see him as the replacement to Cesc Fabregas, if not a better, more mobile version. Anybody who gets into the Spanish national side, let alone receives any time on the pitch, has to be of an extremely high class. Between these additions, the maturing of an already young team, and the return of newly appointed #10 Jack Wilshere following a season out of the game through injury, Arsenal look set to challenge for the title and at the very least a Champions League qualification spot. Their defense has been revamped with the promotion of Steve Bould to Assistant Manager following Pat Rice’s retirement, but the big question will remain where Arsenal’s scoring output will come from. Giroud has yet to prove he is the answer at striker, which leaves fans biting their fingernails hoping he and the club can come good this season.
Chelsea are a tricky club for one to wrap their head around. Yes, they are the reigning champions of Europe, but they are also the reigning sixth place finishers in last season’s English Premier League. Had they not won the Champions League title they would be playing in the lesser Europa Cup, which would leave football fans worldwide with a different perception of the club entirely. Thanks to owner Roman Abromavich they have got bags of money, which they splashed this summer on possibly the best signing in Eden Hazard from Lille (France), another class young Brazilian in Oscar from Internacional (Brazil), and in experienced Premier Leaguer Victor Moses from Wigan Athletic (England). The summer also saw Marko Marin come in from Werder Bremen (Germany), Cesar Azpilicueta from Marseille (France) as well as Eden Hazard’s younger brother Thorgan on a free from Lens (France), while Didier Drogba was easily the most high profile exit. That now leaves the club with three incredible #10’s in Mata, Hazard, and Oscar, but unfortunately only one attacking midfield position. In turn manager Roberto Di Matteo has deployed Mata as the #10 and handed Hazard and Oscar spots on the right and left. Nonetheless there is enough creativity, skill and finishing ability between those three as well as Spanish front man Fernando Torres to put balls in the back of the net. It will be interesting to see if John Terry’s racism issues with the FA continue to be a distraction and if this much talent can find a way to make it work up top. The defense looks to be solid as usual and Petr Cech is about as good as it gets in the Premier League. One should, as usual, expect to see Chelsea sniffing around the title race this season.
2. Manchester United
United made quite the splash this summer in sealing a shock move for Robin van Persie, league leading goal scorer, to leave English rival Arsenal to come to Manchester as a Red Devil. Shinji Kagawa also made a high profile move from German champions Borussia Dortmund to help anchor the United midfield while their were no major moves outward for the club (unless Ji Sung Park, Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Pogba are considered major, which they should not be). Youngster Nick Powell from Crewe Alexandra was also the major young talent on the market this summer, whom Sir Alex was able to snatch up. While he likely will not contribute in the next year or two bar the Capital One Cup, Powell definitely looks to be one for the future. United are hopeful that the additions of Kagawa and RvP into the lineup will prove to be the extra push to see them past City for the title, as they lost by the slimmest of margins at the death of last year’s campaign. The biggest question mark about all this is undoubtedly van Persie and Wayne Rooney’s ability to share the pitch and play off each other. If those two can figure it out they will be a tandem good enough to make a mockery of nearly any defense around the globe. If Tuesday’s Champions League win over Cluj is any indication of those two players’ future together, then United fans are in for a successful season.
1. Manchester City
The reigning champions of England come into the season off their slowest summer since becoming a rich, successful club. Nonetheless they still brought in tons of talent with the likes of Scott Sinclair from Swansea (England), Maicon from Inter (Italy), Jack Rodwell from Everton (England), and Javi Garcia from Benfica (Portugal). While all four of these players are undoubtedly of a high quality, one must remember this is Manchester City whose bench, even reserves could still beat many Premier League clubs. Roberto Mancini’s side don’t look to have lost anyone of real significance either this summer so their jam-packed squad, specifically the incredible duo of Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez will look to wreak havoc on defenses week after week. They have to be the favorites to re-capture the title simply because they are so goddamn talented. The biggest question for City has constantly been and still remains if all this talent (more specifically all these egos) can find a way to play together and for each other. If Mancini can find a way to make that happen, then this should be another trophy to the blue side of Manchester.
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