Big bucks should call the shots

Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie poses with the trophy along with Manager David Moyes after the team’s win against Wigan Athletic in the English FA Community Shield soccer match at Wembley recently. Van Persie will be central to new manager Moyes’ plans as a new EPL season begins.-AP

After hectic pre-season parlays, as the football juggernaut in England is set to roll again, we don’t expect anything dramatic, writes Ayon Sengupta.

Big clubs, with big money, have always succeeded more often than not and there have hardly been stories of ‘David’ in League football. In the last five years the top spenders (in terms of transfer fees and player salaries) have managed to get a stranglehold (see table) at the top of the points-table (except Liverpool) and any change to that hierarchy is difficult to visualise.

So after hectic pre-season parlays, as the football juggernaut in England is set to roll again, we don’t expect anything dramatic. But this time round, it at least offers some new beginnings.

For the first time in 26 years, a Manchester United side will mount a Premier League challenge without the enigmatic Sir Alex Ferguson. And title challengers, Chelsea and Manchester City, too, have had changes at the wheel.

David Moyes (United) and Manuel Pellegrini (City) in Manchester will have the world weighing down upon them, while Chelsea fans will be praying a happy homecoming for Jose Mourinho, the “Special One.”

The contest between these three wise men promises to be an intriguing one and they are the bookmakers’ hands-on favourites to pick up the coveted silverware in nine months’ time. An invigorated Arsenal (hopefully it finally manages to sign some proven names), with EPL’s longest-serving manager now, Arsene Wenger, at the helm, and Tottenham and Liverpool (if they can hold on to Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez respectively) will surely offer great resistance.

Everton too, remains a top-flight pretender and new boss Roberto Martinez has pronounced his desire to drive the Toffees into a prized Champions League spot. But the lack of depth in the side might again frustrate the fans of the Merseyside club. Last season’s surprise package, Swansea and Southampton, under Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino, will surely spoil a few parties and make a dash for a place in the Europa League.

Last term, United was the top team, but without playing any earth-shattering football, and was only helped over the line by the prolificness of its summer signing Robin van Persie, who scored 26 goals in 38 matches. He again will be a contender for the Golden Boot, but for United the lack of transfer activity may cause some trepidation. The retirement of Paul Scholes and the advanced age of Ryan Giggs, along with the erratic form of Anton Valencia and Nani gives the club a mere functional midfield and Moyes will do well to add some creativity before the transfer deadline of September 2.

Keeping up with the era of change, the blue side of Manchester have found themselves an incisive manager in Pellegrini and the Chilean has quickly discovered the need for width in his side and the arrival of Spain international Jesus Navas is expected to address that problem. Brazilian Fernandinho will act as a cover-up for the over-worked Yaya Toure in the middle and the addition of Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic will certainly offer more competition upfront to Sergio Aguero and Eden Dzeko. For City, it has been a well-planned and well-executed transfer window and a near perfect pre-season record puts it in great shape to mount a serious title challenge, though it may do well to add cover in central defence.

The re-appointment of Mourinho has been Roman Abramovich’s biggest summer coup. And the Portuguese wonder-manager, mellowed and more pragmatic, has gone about adding depth to his squad, and signing in early to give his new wards a chance to settle in. The Blues definitely have the most creative midfield in the League and the addition of Andre Schurrle and the return of Kevin de Bruyne (was out on loan to Werder Bremen) have given further strength to it and the strikers can be well assured of finding enough scoring opportunities. The left-footed Juan Mata will again be a force to reckon with.

He will cut in from the right side and is expected to shepherd the young midfield. (The aging Frank Lampard will only be used sparingly to increase his longevity.) The Spaniard with 18 goals and 33 assists in his two Premier League seasons, has won the supporters’ player of the year award for each of his two terms, while his team-mates nominated him the players’ player of the year, too, last time. Eden Hazard and Oscar, one season wiser and stronger, are likely to be more dependable, and the return of Michael Essien, from a loan spell to Real, will offer extra security to the defence. The manager’s preferred 4-3-3 system might yet get the best out of the misfiring Fernando Torres. Young Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, who scored 17 goals in 35 games while on loan to West Brom last season, can make an impact but is believed to lack the experience and imagination to lead the line. Success in Mourinho’s persual of Wayne Rooney will offer a ready supply of goals as well as a loss of spirit in the Old Trafford ranks. Even, unmindful of that transfer outcome Chelsea clearly starts the season as the favourite.

Jose Mourinho is back and Chelsea is happy.-AP

Bloomberg Sports’ data-driven stimulation, too, has picked it as the winner. A computer simulation there has played the upcoming campaign 10,000 times and the average results have been calculated, along with some probabilities.

The rule of the law always puts the promoted sides as relegation favourites and Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and Hull have failed to adequately bolster their squads to withstand the rigours of the English top tier. All three sides have essentially opted for bargain buys and have very few players with top-flight experience. This will surely make their job doubly difficult in crunch games. The idea of complete squad overhauls at Stoke City (manager Mark Hughes, who had a similar ill-fated experience with QPR) and Sunderland (Paulo di Canio) also threatens to be absolute disasters, giving a little hope to the promoted sides.

England manager Roy Hodgson will also want the 20 clubs to give adequate opportunities to home-grown talents ahead of and for the World Cup year. The lack of first team football has left the national side short of players, especially in attack and to a certain extent in defence.

Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Wilfred Zaha, Andy Carroll and Jermain Defoe will need to play regularly and score, to have the required confidence to take England past the qualifying stage. Defensively, too, the manager would need options for a central defensive pairing to Gary Cahill and back-ups for the injury-prone wing backs Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson.

Goal-line technology, similar to cricket’s much-debated hawk-eye system, too, will make its debut this season, hopefully bringing to an end contentious goal-line judgments. But past experience with technology in sports has brought out its glaring inadequacies, but money and muscle can ride over such deficiencies. City (£5,239,750 wage per week approximately), Chelsea (£4,058,742) and United (£3,921,987) will spend the most and it would be foolhardy on our part to look for a winner elsewhere.