Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Opening thoughts on the new Premier League season

The 2013-'14 Premier League season has kicked off and will go down in history as the first one to use goal-line technology.

On the field, the first weekend appeared to be a continuation of the previous one.

Champions Manchester United, with the disgruntled Wayne Rooney starring alongside the exquisite Robin Van Persie and fast-improving Danny Welbeck, began with aplomb, despatching Michael Laudrup's much-lauded Swansea City 4-1 at their Liberty Stadium. David Moyes could hardly have wished for a smoother landing into Alex Ferguson's shoes.

Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho back at the helm, also hit the ground running, with an opening 45 minutes of dynamic attacking in their 2-0 defeat of newly-promoted Hull City.

The three teams who came up from the Championship all lost their opening games and failed to trouble their opponents' goals, a depressing reiteration of the gap between England's top two divisions.

Yet Manchester City's 4-0 demolition of Newcastle confirmed there are also divisions within the Premier League.

After a barren summer in the transfer market in spite of a £70m war chest, Arsenal remain in the mire following a 3-1 home defeat to a resurgent Aston Villa, who had managed to hold on to their top striker Christian Benteke.

Arsene Wenger cuts an increasingly cornered figure, unwilling to overspend while bearing the brunt of a constituency of supporters increasingly furious at the Gunners' inability to challenge for trophies. His players' apparent fatalism and lethargy in their opening home match should give him more sleepless nights.

While Tottenham lost the last Champions League place to their North London rivals at the end of last season, their summer shopping, including the shrewd acquisitions of Brazilian international midfielder Paulinho and Spanish striker Roberto Soldado, and the transfer of England midfielder Scott Parker to Fulham, suggest Andre Villas-Boas has already planned on life without Gareth Bale, whose purchase Real Madrid have just over a week left to finalise.

The loss of two world-class performers in Bale and Luis Suarez, who wants out of Liverpool, would hurt the prestige of the Premier League, which missed out on most of the big name transfers this summer. Until this year it would have been unthinkable for Chelsea and Manchester City to be outbid by French teams, but they were in the case of Edinson Cavani (PSG) and Radamel Falcao (Monaco).

The Premier League remains a strong global brand, as attested to by its latest TV & internet deals, and the fact the World Cup will conclude this season is not news right now.

One man less than excited about the new campaign is probably Roy Hodgson, who has only 34% of the division to choose his England XI from. After a summer of failure from England's U20 & U21 sides and the continued lack of a winter break in the domestic season, the league's host nation's prospects of glory in Brazil next summer look slim.

Meanwhile the premier carnival of cash carries on as usual.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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