Expect a closely-fought campaign

ARSENAL MANAGER ARSENE WENGER (right) has high expectations from his new signing Alexis Sanchez.-AP ARSENAL MANAGER ARSENE WENGER (right) has high expectations from his new signing Alexis Sanchez.

Manchester City’s only title defence in the Premier League era, in the 2012-13 season, saw the side finish second and manager Roberto Mancini was consequently sacked. Manuel Pellegrini, though, seems better prepared as none of the transfer window frustrations that pestered his Italian predecessor two seasons ago has resurfaced. By Priyansh.

In its 22-year existence, the Premier League is yet to witness a successful title defence in a post-World Cup season. In fact, one needs to go back to 1983 when Liverpool retained the tag of First Division winner. While certain factors unrelated to the World Cup may have played their part in the unravelling of defending champion’s title charge, the global showpiece tournament’s shadow seems to hang conspicuously over football that’s played over the following months.

Obviously, if there’s more to the failure of the defending champion in a post-World Cup scenario than pure coincidence, Manchester City should be worried. City’s only title defence in the Premier League era, in the 2012-13 season, saw the side finish second and manager Roberto Mancini was consequently sacked. Manuel Pellegrini, though, seems better prepared as none of the transfer window frustrations that pestered his Italian predecessor two seasons ago has resurfaced.

In signing Bacary Sagna, Willy Caballero, Fernando and possibly Eliaquim Mangala — considering the GBP49 million spending restriction imposed by UEFA for falling foul of the financial fair play regulations — City has responded adequately to its squad requirements.

With its other rivals buying well and swiftly, some have underestimated the strength of the blue half of Manchester. But we need to remember that Pellegrini’s side has only become stronger.

Jose Mourinho, though, will have something to say about that. Ever since he was appointed FC Porto’s manager in January 2002, the 51-year-old Portuguese has won the league in his second season with every club he has coached.

After claiming that Chelsea was the “little horse” throughout the previous campaign, Mourinho is now expected be in charge of a race winner. The signings of Diego Costa, Francesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis have added bounteous quality to an already impressive roster. In fact, without these additions, Chelsea was top of the league with nine games to go but surprise losses to Aston Villa, Sunderland and Crystal Palace wrecked the title charge.

But this season, the side has been fortified in all departments. Notably, Thibaut Courtois has returned from his loan spell at Atletico Madrid to challenge first-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech. If anything, Mourinho’s biggest challenge will be to juggle his riches effectively.

Chelsea’s London rival Arsenal has also become significantly stronger and not in terms of playing personnel alone. The appointment of Shad Forsythe could be crucial, as the fitness expert has been specially recruited to solve the Gunners’ perennial injury problems. In the past few years, Forsythe has worked with world champion Germany.

The arrivals of Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina and Calum Chambers have understandably caused greater frenzy as Arsenal’s fans expect a serious title challenge. In fact, the expectations have always existed but this season they seem to be more aligned with reality.

Hope and expectation may not be as high at Liverpool, though, after the club sold its talismanic striker Luis Suarez to FC Barcelona. Brendan Rodgers has responded by buying a number of players rather than one world-class striker to offset the Uruguayan’s departure, something akin to what Tottenham Hotspur did after Gareth Bale left for Real Madrid last season. While Spurs’ efforts didn’t bring the expected results, to term Rodgers’ efforts as scatter-gun might be a little uncharitable.

Yet, it remains to be seen whether the likes of Lazar Markovic, Emre Can and Divock Origi can settle quickly. The Southampton trio of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren will not face similar troubles but the arrival of too many new players can distort a side that played enthralling football last season. With Champions League considerations at play, Liverpool will also have lesser preparation time for matches.

These challenges have meant that Rodgers is not satisfied with the quality and quantity at his disposal yet, as revealed by the failed approach for Real Madrid-bound striker Radamel Falcao.

Manchester United may also need to boost its playing resources further if it has to once again become a part of Europe’s elite. While the appointment of Louis van Gaal has created a buzz around the club, he has managed to buy only Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw — signings that were approved by his predecessor David Moyes.

With the departure of senior defenders like Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, van Gaal’s rebuilding efforts are nowhere near completion. However, victory in the International Champions Cup, a friendly tournament in the USA, would have boosted confidence within the side as it adapts to the 3-4-1-2 formation.

The Red Devils and Liverpool should expect a serious challenge for the fourth and final Champions League spot from Tottenham Hotspur and Everton.

Mauricio Pochettino moved from Southampton to north London on the back of an impressive season with the former. He has strengthened the Spurs defence by signing Ben Davies and Eric Dier, while Michel Vorm has been recruited to act as Hugo Lloris’ deputy in goal. The attacking resources at the side’s disposal are already impressive and Pochettino’s biggest challenge will be to harness them better.

Everton has also remained offensively strong after paying a club record GBP28 million to secure Romelu Lukaku’s signature. Manager Roberto Martinez believes the signing is a statement of intent.

Considering Everton isn’t the only side to make such a statement, it promises to be another closely-fought campaign.