Time for resurrection

Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti (left) and Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson will, in all probability, again fight it out for the EPL title.-Pics: AP Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti (left) and Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson will, in all probability, again fight it out for the EPL title.

The World Cup's shadow will loom over the Premier League, considering England's dire displays in South Africa and what that said about the self-styled Best League in the world, writes Karthik Krishnaswamy.

Four years ago, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were bitter enemies who could no longer play for the same team. Eight years before that, David Beckham was a petulant bottler who had let down English football forever.

Looking ahead to another season of the English Premier League with the collective memory still digesting events from the World Cup can prove quite tricky. Having watched Beckham's irrepressible displays in Manchester United's 1998-99 treble, and Rooney and Ronaldo bullishly reassert their compatibility over the 2006-07 season, it would be foolish to make too many judgments based on South Africa 2010.

But the World Cup's shadow will still loom over the Premier League, considering England's dire displays in South Africa and what that said about the self-styled Best League in the World.

Almost as a response — though the proposal has been in the pipeline for a while — a set of new regulations on squad size and composition will come into effect this season. The broad purpose of these rules is to encourage the greater presence of young home-grown players in the Premier League.

It is no coincidence that the German and Spanish national teams, whose slick play at the World Cup contrasted so starkly with England's ponderous, inflexible style, have greater pools of talent to draw their national teams from — the proportion of foreign players in the Bundesliga (roughly 48 per cent) and the Primera Division (35 per cent) is significantly less than in the Premier League (61 per cent), which has the second highest percentage of foreign players in Europe, behind only the Cypriot top division.

In the short term, the rule change is unlikely to affect any of the Premier League clubs massively. Even Arsenal, which routinely fields starting line-ups containing zero Englishmen, will have little to worry about, since ‘home-grown' players are defined under these regulations as players who, “irrespective of nationality or age, have been affiliated to the FA or Welsh FA for a period of three seasons or 36 months prior to 21st birthday”.

The regulations in fact encourage Arsenal's example of signing talented teenagers from all over the world and breaking them into the senior team.

What they could do in the long term, however, is to increase competition for the signatures of these striplings, thereby creating more openings for English talent.

What the new rules — particularly the upper limit of 25 players over the age of 21 — will do is to prevent clubs from stockpiling expensive, established stars by the dozen. Chelsea and Manchester City may have to look for a new modus operandi.

Bizarrely, but not unexpectedly, City welcomed these new regulations by spending over £80 million on Yaya Toure, Jerome Boateng, David Silva and Aleksandar Kolarov, inflating its senior squad's strength beyond 30. The influx of new recruits shows no sign of ceasing, with Aston Villa midfielder James Milner and Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli (who, at 19, won't add to the squad's burden) reportedly on the brink of signing.

However, when City does cull its platoon to 25 (with perfectly good players like Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy probably making way for flavours of more recent months), manager Roberto Mancini will have arguably the strongest, deepest squad in the Premier League to work with.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard (left) and Joe Cole (right) will have to combine well if the Reds want to improve upon their seventh place finish last season.-

Whether that will translate into results is an entirely different matter. Will Mancini be able to juggle the collection of fragile but king-size egos in his dressing room, and find a way to rotate them without leaving anyone too grumpy? Bookmakers have already installed the Italian as favourite to be the first manager to lose his job this season.

But the dream (or nightmare, depending on your level of affection for the excesses of the nouveau riche) scenario, of all the big names coalescing into an all-conquering whole, isn't inconceivable.

For one, the club's players come into the new season following their first proper pre-season together, and will in all likelihood gel better than they have in the past.

Last season, City's defence was its primary failing — the arrivals of Kolarov and the versatile Boateng should smarten up that area of the club's play. In Yaya Toure and Nigel de Jong, City also now possesses two of the world's foremost defensive midfielders. David Silva's guile and trickery is a frightening addition to City's existing array of attacking threats.

Next to City's ostentation, the dealings of the other top clubs during the transfer window so far have looked almost frugal.

Chelsea has made just one signing so far in Yossi Benayoun, while playmakers Joe Cole and Deco, who have both left on free transfers. Brazilian midfielder Ramires from Benfica, who is waiting for a work permit, seems a perfect fit on the right side of Carlo Ancelotti's midfield diamond.

Aside from that, however, the Chelsea of 2010-11 will look much the same as the 2009-10 side — which isn't a bad thing at all, considering that the club won the Premier League and FA Cup double last season.

But that success was achieved despite defensive worries unprecedented in the Roman Abramovich era.

Little has changed so far this season — if the Community Shield is any indication, Chelsea will struggle defensively against pacy sides, as Manchester United ruthlessly demonstrated.

Cesc Fabregas who in many ways is Arsenal's Paul Scholes, has finally confirmed that he will remain with the Gunners for another season, after a summer spent being tugged by the umbilical cord of Barcelona on one side and the vice-like grip of his adopted North London family on the other.-

United's attack might look rejuvenated after the arrival of Mexican striker Javier ‘Chicharito' Hernandez, who looks an extremely canny purchase given he was signed even before his promising cameos at the World Cup, but Sir Alex Ferguson has issues to sort out elsewhere.

At the back, Rio Ferdinand's long-term fitness is a major worry, and Chris Smalling, signed from Fulham, needs time to mature into such voluminous boots. Apart from that, left back Patrice Evra, who has possibly been United's most consistent performer over the last four seasons, will also need to put his role in France's World Cup debacle behind him very soon — this might present Ferguson's legendary man-management skills a considerable challenge.

In addition, a generation of United greats is possibly in their final season. Replacing Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes — and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who turns 40 in October — seems an almost impossible task. Scholes, who turned in another virtuoso display in the Community Shield game, will be particularly hard to live without, considering the influence he still wields in the heart of midfield.

Mesut Ozil is being talked about as a like-for-like replacement, but it's hard to see Ferguson use Ozil (if he does, indeed, leave Werder Bremen) in the deep-lying position Scholes occupies. The German playmaker's preferred areas of operation are either in the ‘hole' or on the wing.

Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas,, who in many ways is Arsenal's Paul Scholes, has finally confirmed that he will remain with the Gunners for another season, after a summer spent being tugged by the umbilical cord of Barcelona on one side and the vice-like grip of his adopted North London family on the other. This, and the signing of striker Marouane Chamakh from Bordeaux, might just spark Arsenal into finally fulfilling the potential it has doggedly refused to over the last five barren, trophy-less seasons.

Chances are, however, that Arsenal will remain trophy-less unless it sorts out its bare-bones defence. Arsenal needs to dip into its transfer funds very soon for a quality centre back, considering the mass exodus that saw William Gallas, Mikael Silvestre and Sol Campbell depart over the summer.

Can Arsenal's North London rival Tottenham Hotspur repeat last season's top four finish? Personnel aren't so much the issue for manager Harry Redknapp as much as his squad's capacity to juggle domestic and Champions League football, if it gets past its play-off against Swiss club Young Boys.

Having finished a dismal seventh last time around, Liverpool will begin its new season with newly appointed manager Roy Hodgson attempting to inject tactical freshness into what is for most part an unchanged squad. Hodgson's Fulham reached the final of the UEFA Europa League last season playing in an attractive, on-the-carpet style predicated on the foundations of tactical discipline and maintaining a tight-knit defensive shape.

How Hodgson handles Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole, both notorious for their lack of positional discipline, and how he fits both into the same team, considering their shared preference for playing in the hole behind the striker, is an intriguing question.