The 2012-13 English Premier League season is just around the corner. Now is the time to look ahead.
As with any season, the upcoming campaign promises to feature dozens of storylines. From defending champions Manchester City to the three promoted teams, the EPL is packed with compelling stories.
With just a few weeks left before the first kickoff (first matches are set for Aug. 18), here are 50 storylines to watch this season in the Premier League.
Manchester City won the title last spring, edging Manchester United on goal difference after a dramatic and memorable final day of the season. It was the club's first title since 1968.
City built their title-winning squad with heavy investment from the club's Middle Eastern owners. So far this summer, though, there hasn't been any new investment in manager Roberto Mancini's squad.
The squad remains strong all the same, highlighted by Euro 2012-winning Spanish midfielder David Silva, Belgian defender Vincent Kompany, goalkeeper Joe Hart and strikers Sergio Aguero and the incomparable Mario Balotelli (more on him later).
Clearly the talent is in place for a repeat. But can City handle the pressure? Or is the pressure off now that they've won a title?
On the other hand, the team's focus could lie elsewhere. City won the FA Cup in 2011 and followed with the league title in 2012.
Will the Champions League be the next target?
Manchester United have enjoyed unmatched success in the Premier League era, winning 12 of the 20 league titles since 1992-93 (by comparison, the nearest competitors are Arsenal and Chelsea, with three title wins each).
Last season, however, Sir Alex Ferguson and the Red Devils experienced an unfamiliar sensation: bitter disappointment.
United blew an eight-point lead late in the season but came within moments of winning the title anyway on the final day of the season. But after defeating Sunderland away, United experienced unique disappointment as City sealed the title in dramatic fashion, only seconds later.
Ferguson and United have reloaded by signing midfielders Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund and Nick Powell from Crewe Alexandra. Brazilian playmaker Lucas Moura has been linked with a move to Old Trafford, but the deal seems to have fallen apart.
Losing out on the title was painful enough for United, but losing it to Manchester City made it personal.
This season, it's on.
The 2011-12 season was a strange one for Chelsea. The next one should follow suit, but for different reasons.
Rockstar manager Andre Villas-Boas started the previous campaign but couldn't finish it, becoming the victim of owner Roman Abramovich's lightning-fast trigger finger.
With AVB gone, assistant Roberto Di Matteo moved into the hotseat and promptly thrived by being the consummate players' manager. Di Matteo's relaxed style allowed Chelsea's veterans to thrive, and they rewarded him with FA Cup and Champions League titles in May.
After heavy speculation and extensive flirting with external candidates, Abramovich gave Di Matteo the full-time job. Di Matteo promptly secured full access to the company credit card.
Brazilian attacker Oscar then joined in July, followed by another Hazard, but even with the increased firepower, replacing talismanic striker Didier Drogba will be difficult. The Ivorian departed for China not long after the Champions League final, leaving Romelu Lukaku to shoulder the burden as Chelsea's main target man.
Or will Lukaku go out on loan?
Spanish forward Fernando Torres is still around, and if he can rediscover his scoring touch, Chelsea could be a dangerous team this season.
Actually, they might not need him. With all the new signings, the Blues are already looking scary.
With the FA Cup and Champions League in the bag already, could a renewed league assault (last league title: 2009-10) be next?
Speaking of Didier Drogba, the Premier League will not feel quite the same without him.
Drogba, 34, joined Shanghai Shenhua this summer, ending his eight-year association with Chelsea. In his eight seasons with the Blues, he led the league in scoring twice (2006-07 and 2009-10), won three league titles and four FA Cups and knocked in exactly 100 league goals.
Admittedly, the Ivorian's talent for scoring was nearly matched by his flair for melodrama on the pitch. But when Drogba departed for China, the Premier League lost a uniquely original character.
Don't feel too bad for Chelsea, though. The Blues won the sweepstakes for the hottest name in this summer's transfer market.
Brazilian striker Neymar is probably the world's most coveted young player, but Neymar wasn't really expected to make a move this summer. Eden Hazard, a 21-year-old Belgian midfielder, was expected to make a move, and the rumor mill pumped out stories about him for more than a year.
After all the hype, all the rumors, all the speculation and all the twists and turns, Hazard signed for Chelsea from Lille in a deal reportedly worth £32 million (The Guardian). He'll reportedly make enough money to make Donald Trump blush, and that means Hazard has just a little to prove this season.
Can he live up to the hype? Is that even possible?
Arsenal lost midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer. Fabregas joined Barcelona, his boyhood club in a big-money move, and Samir Nasri joined Manchester City, also in a big-money move.
This summer, the names have been changed, but the situation is much the same.
Dutch forward Robin van Persie served as Arsenal's captain last season, when he led the Premier League with 30 goals. Earlier this summer, however, van Persie announced that he would not sign a new contract with the club.
Van Persie's current deal runs through the 2012-13 season. His announcement led to rampant speculation that he'll leave Arsenal before the new season begins.
Stay tuned. Anything could happen at any time.
The Luka Modric saga is hardly less fascinating than Robin van Persie's.
With rumors of Real Madrid's interest swirling, the Croatian midfielder has missed training and has been fined by his current club, Tottenham Hotspur (Associated Press).
And don't forget Paris Saint-Germain, the new-money French club with cash to burn. PSG are reportedly willing to top Real's offer (The Guardian).
How long will Modric remain in North London? Spurs and new boss Andre Villas-Boas appear ready to play hardball, but that's a familiar story in these kinds of situations.
And more often than not, the tough talk is merely a prelude to the inevitable transfer.
Speaking of Andre Villas-Boas, the young Portuguese manager took the reins at Chelsea last summer, only to find himself sacked less than a year on the job.
Still only 34, Villas-Boas is back in the hotseat with another London club, this time Tottenham Hotspur, and his performance will be interesting viewing all season. That will be true most of all when Spurs play Chelsea and new boss Roberto Di Matteo (AVB's former assistant).
Welsh winger Gareth Bale signed a new contract over the summer, and Spurs brought in defender Jan Vertonghen from Ajax and midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson from Hoffenheim (via a loan cameo at Swansea City).
The roster is refreshed, the manager is new and Spurs have an intriguing season ahead.
Brendan Rodgers is the new manager at Liverpool, and the 39-year-old Northern Irishman is expected to bring a pass-happy style with him to Anfield.
Rodgers replaces Kenny Dalglish, who was sacked in May after a largely unsuccessful second spell as Liverpool's manager. Rodgers most recently guided unfashionable Swansea City to an 11th-place finish last term while playing attractive football.
Liverpool's owners are hoping for more of the same as they continue the quest to return the Reds to their former glory.
So far Rodgers' only signing is young Italian forward Fabio Borini from AS Roma, but the transformation will go ahead with or without more new faces.
The Manchester Derby retook center stage in English football last season, and the managers spent their share of time in the spotlight.
Manchester City's Roberto Mancini and Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson traded barbs throughout the season and played mind games deftly down the stretch. Tensions boiled over in late April when the two clashed along the touchline during the season's second Manchester Derby.
Mancini and City came out on top last season, but no Premier League manager—not even Jose Mourinho—has managed to completely surpass Ferguson. Watching the two this season should be fascinating.
Seven years and counting.
Most Premier League fans will know what that means without any explanation.
For the rest: Arsenal have gone seven years now without winning a trophy. The Gunners' last piece of silverware came in May 2005 with a triumph over Manchester United in the FA Cup final.
Since then, Arsene Wenger and company have failed to win anything. The drought could have ended in 2011 with the Carling Cup title, but a late defensive meltdown handed that trophy to Birmingham City.
As the drought has stretched on, the trickle of players leaving North London's red half has swelled to an alarming stream. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri departed last summer, and Robin van Persie could be next.
Winning a trophy—any trophy—this season could go a long way toward satisfying desperate fans and convincing Arsenal's best players to stick around.
It might even help with the financial bottom line.
Don't look now, but Arsenal might have another contract saga brewing.
England international midfielder Theo Walcott has a contract with Arsenal through the 2012-13 season. As yet, negotiations over a new deal have proven fruitless (The Guardian).
Walcott has been linked with a shock move to Liverpool among others (Daily Mail). That sounds unlikely, but it's becoming more and more likely that another big name could be leaving the Emirates soon.
Everton finished ahead of Liverpool in the final Premier League table last season. That had not happened since 2005.
As usual, manager David Moyes and the Toffees will start the new season with a distinct financial disadvantage compared to their crosstown rivals. But in midfielder Marouane Fellaini, forward Nikica Jelavic, goalkeeper Tim Howard and others, Everton have the core of a solid squad.
Could a push for Europe be in the cards this season?
Newcastle were the surprise team of the Premier League last year. Under new manager Alan Pardew, the Magpies pushed for a Champions League spot until the final weeks of the season.
Pardew's squad was built by means of thrifty acquisitions like Senegalese strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, and midfielders Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheick Tiote.
Newcastle surprised some last season, but this campaign will be different. Pardew's men will be expected to retain their top-five spot or even improve on it.
But is that realistic?
The men's football tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympics began in late July and concludes with the gold-medal match Aug. 11.
The Premier League season kicks off the following weekend.
Should Team Great Britain advance to the gold-medal match (admittedly, an unlikely proposition), or even the bronze-medal match (slightly less unlikely), its players would have about a week to recover and prepare for the new club season.
Sounds great, no?
But it's not just Team GB. A number of Premier League players feature for Olympic footballing nations.
So how will that affect the start of the league campaign?
Racism played an unfortunately prominent role in the Premier League last season.
Liverpool's Luis Suarez served an eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra. Chelsea's John Terry stood trial in a British court—though he was found not guilty—on charges of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers' Anton Ferdinand.
Those two incidents brought racism to the forefront of the nation's sporting attention. The FA's discipline in the Suarez case was firm, and that suggested English football's readiness to take on the issue in a meaningful and measured way.
If another incident mars the 2012-13 season, the FA's response will be intriguing.
Goal-line technology is here, and not a moment too soon.
According to BBC Sport, the International Football Association Board approved two goal-tech systems, and some form of the technology will be used at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2014 FIFA World Cup.
As for the Premier League, goal tech is supposedly coming "as soon as practically possible."
We all remember what happened to Marko Devic and Ukraine this summer at Euro, so let's hope "as soon as practically possible" means August.
The beneficiary of that goal-line non-call for Ukraine this summer was England and manager Roy Hodgson. The team Hodgson left to take the England job was West Bromwich Albion.
Under Hodgson, the Baggies finished a respectable 10th last season in the Premier League, just five points behind Liverpool.
Under new manager Steve Clarke—a man with no previous full-time managerial experience—West Brom have been slow to add new players. Ben Foster has made his loan move from Birmingham permanent, and Belgian-Moroccan forward Yassine El Ghanassy has joined on loan from Gent.
Will those two deals be enough to keep the Baggies comfortably in the middle of the table? Or will they slide into the relegation scrap with an inexperienced manager?
Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov was Manchester United's record signing when he joined from Tottenham in a £30.75 million deal in 2008 (Daily Mirror).
Four years later, the 31-year-old apparently can't find a home.
So far, no deal has materialized. Maybe Berbatov will stay and succeed with Manchester United this season, or maybe he'll finally leave.
At this point, no one really knows.
Followers of the Premier League are familiar with the work of Fulham's Clint Dempsey, Everton's Tim Howard and Tottenham Hotspur's Brad Friedel.
Those guys are all Americans playing—and succeeding—in England. They're not the only ones.
Geoff Cameron, a 27-year-old defender, could be the latest American moving to the EPL. As of late July, Stoke had agreed personal terms with Cameron as well as a transfer fee with his MLS club, the Houston Dynamo.
Americans, it seems, are gaining a foothold in the world's most exciting league.
Is Clint Dempsey now the best American player?
Landon Donovan and even Michael Bradley have strong arguments, and Donovan has certainly accomplished more than Dempsey.
But Donovan has never put together a season like the one we just witnessed from Dempsey. The Texas native scored 23 goals in all competitions for Fulham as the Cottagers finished ninth in the league.
Dempsey's impressive performances earned him respect around Europe and drew rumors of interest from several clubs. In recent weeks, Liverpool reportedly came close to signing him, but no deal has yet been announced.
At 29, Dempsey is now in his prime. All American fans will be hoping his rich form lasts as long as possible.
A brand-new page on the official Premier League website outlines the league's guidelines for clubs and players concerning the use of social media.
Scores of players have carved out a niche on sites like Twitter, connecting with fans, media and adversaries alike.
Not surprisingly, that hasn't always been a good thing.
Where to, Joseph?
One of the Premier League's most prolific tweeters is Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton.
Why? He explained it all on his website—and Twitter, of course.
So what's next for Barton? If he manages to "fall back in love" with football, maybe we'll see him playing in the Premier League this season.
Or maybe not. At this point, few really care.
Barton's current club, Queens Park Rangers, narrowly avoided relegation last spring.
With or without the combative midfielder this season, Rangers are looking like a good bet to escape the relegation scrap.
QPR and manager Mark Hughes have overhauled the squad, bringing in Park Ji-Sung and Fabio da Silva (the latter on loan) from Manchester United, goalkeeper Robert Green from West Ham, Andrew Johnson from Newcastle (and Ryan Nelsen from nobody) and Samba Diakite from Nancy.
None of that should be surprising. Immediately after last spring's narrow escape, Hughes promised that QPR would not find themselves in such a position again, as long as he's manager (ESPN.co.uk).
Yet another Premier League footballer who's used Twitter to make trouble for himself is Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri.
At Euro 2012 he feuded with working journalists, drawing the ire of the French federation with a foul-mouthed rant (Daily Telegraph).
Nasri is unquestionably a talented footballer. But can he keep himself together this season?
Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli experienced a wild 2011-12 season, as B/R's Will Tidey details here. (Sneak peek: "Why Always Me," a car crash and a hooker.)
His summer was hardly less eventful.
That's always been the theme with Balotelli, a supremely talented Italian forward who is equal parts brilliant and bonkers.
The 2012-13 campaign could be the season he finally shows what he can truly do. Or he could fail spectacularly.
Or we could see anything in between.
Manchester United's eternal Welshman Ryan Giggs trucked on again last season, holding down the midfield with men close to half his age.
At 38, Giggs is now the all-time appearances leader for United and a living, playing legend.
His buddy Paul Scholes retired in 2011 only to pull a classic "just kidding" and return to United this past winter. And Scholes didn't just come back; he actually played pretty well.
At 37, Scholes is only a baby yet, and like Giggs, he's back for another season.
How long these two continue is anyone's guess.
So does anyone want to go even money on another decade?
At first blush, the situation at Scottish club Rangers might not seem to have any connection to the English Premier League.
In early July, however, the Scottish FA denied international clearance for a number of players seeking to leave Rangers after the club's financial meltdown last spring (ESPNSoccernet).
Defender Steven Whittaker has received provisional appearance for a move to Norwich City (Norwich Evening News), but others remain club-less.
Meanwhile, Rangers continue fighting for transfer fees. In the view of the club, a number of players have "unlawfully terminated their contracts" (BBC Sport).
English clubs are involved, and the fight could continue into the season. How will that affect their performance?
Speaking of Norwich, the Canaries have a new manager.
His name is Chris Hughton, he's 53 and he has previously managed Newcastle United and Birmingham City. Hughton guided Newcastle to the League Championship title in 2009-10, but was sacked less than halfway through the Magpies' first season back in the Premier League.
Hughton replaces Paul Lambert, who himself jumped on the managerial merry-go-round and joined Aston Villa (arch-rival of Birmingham City, coincidentally).
Which brings us to…
Aston Villa have a new manager, and his name is Paul Lambert.
Lambert, 42, previously managed Livingston, Wycombe Wanderers, Colchester United and Norwich City, all since 2005. His longest stop was at Norwich, with whom he spent three full seasons.
In those three seasons, Lambert led Norwich to the League One title in 2009-10 and promotion from the League Championship to the Premier League via a runner-up finish in 2010-11.
The Canaries finished a respectable 12th in their first season back in the Premiership, but now Lambert has moved on. His new employers will be hoping progress follows him around
Aston Villa will need a similar revival after last season's dour 16th-place finish, two points above the relegation zone. It was a finish that earned Alex McLeish the sack and gave Lambert his biggest chance yet.
West Ham United will be back in the Premier League this season after a brief one-year absence.
Leading the charge is Sam Allardyce, the bigger-than-life personality previously at the helm of Blackburn Rovers. After being dumped unexpectedly and inexplicably by Rovers, Big Sam promptly led the Hammers back to the Premiership via the League Championship playoffs.
Rickie Lambert scored 27 goals last season as Southampton finished second in the League Championship and earned promotion back to the Premier League.
The Saints most recently enjoyed Premiership status in 2004-05, when their last-place finish ended a 27-year run in England's top flight. Over the next seven seasons, Southampton fell to the third tier and won promotion back to the League Championship before last season's run.
Lambert was the Championship's top scorer last season. The Premiership obviously will present a stiffer challenge, but for Southampton to survive, Lambert must recreate last season's form as well as possible.
Reading started poorly in the League Championship last season, falling to 23rd in September. Then, everything changed.
The Royals closed the season with 23 wins in their final 31 matches, taking over first place with four matches left and clinching the title with a match to spare. Brian McDermott was named the Championship's manager of the season, which was his second full campaign with the club.
Now, none of that matters.
Now, the slate is wiped clean and Reading must try to survive in the Premier League.
The club's only previous appearance in England's top flight last two seasons, from 2006-08. Can McDermott and the Royals make it last longer this time?
Mexican international Giovani Dos Santos joined Tottenham Hotspur from Barcelona in 2008. Four years later, he has played 15 league matches and has not scored a goal.
Those totals likely won't change dramatically this season with new manager Andre Villas-Boas in charge. The squad is packed with talent, and Dos Santos will probably find first-team opportunities limited.
England international Jack Wilshere last played a competitive match for Arsenal at the end of the 2010-11 season.
That season was a successful one for young Jack, who was named PFA Young Player of the Year and earned a spot on the PFA Team of the Year. In the run-up to the 2011-12 season, Wilshere suffered a stress fracture against the New York Red Bulls in a preseason friendly.
The injury lingered, and Wilshere eventually missed the whole season.
As the 2012-13 season dawns, the word is that Wilshere will be out until October (Daily Mail).
So now the question must be: Is he ever coming back?
Part of the Brendan Rodgers Revolution at Liverpool involves old faces instead of new.
On-loan midfielders Joe Cole (last seen at Lille) and Alberto Aquilani (Roma) have returned to Anfield after long-term loan spells abroad.
Neither player really fit with former manager Kenny Dalglish's plans. If one or both fit in and perform well this season, they would almost be like new signings.
If not, it's not really a big deal.
For Liverpool, it's a win-win situation. But will it help the Reds win?
Because Rodallega was a free agent, Fulham didn't have to pay a transfer fee. But even without a transfer fee, this could be a risky move for the Cottagers.
After a decent start to his Premier League career (19 league goals from 2009-11) Rodallega found the net only twice last season.
So could this be a waste for Fulham? Or will it be the right fit that reinvigorates Rodallega?
Former Southampton captain Claus Lundekvam stunned the Premier League in July with a claim that he had engaged in a betting scam with teammates and opposing captains.
According to a Norwegian report cited by the Daily Mail, Lundekvam said he influenced minor in-game incidents—like the first throw-in of a match—to win bets.
Since then, no new developments have emerged. But don't be surprised if this story resurfaces during the season.
Chelsea's unlikely run to the UEFA Champions League title last spring owed plenty to good fortune. But the Blues also earned the trophy with stout, organized defense.
The form quickly became known as "parking the bus."
In most cases, the phrase "parking the bus" has been used derisively, but few could deny its effectiveness last season. Despite being dominated—at least in possession—by mighty Barcelona in the two-legged semifinals, Chelsea won both home and away and eventually won Europe's most prestigious club competition.
So will opposing teams take the same tack against Chelsea this season? Will it become the fashionable new style?
If it worked against the tiki-taka masters, why wouldn't it be effective in the Premier League?
New Chelsea signing Eden Hazard reportedly will earn about £170,000 per week. It's an almost unbelievable figure, but it's hardly noteworthy in the Premier League today (Daily Telegraph).
Actually, let's rephrase. Hazard's wages are hardly noteworthy for a handful of Premiership teams today.
The rest can only dream of paying a single player that much money.
Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that a club like West Ham would support a wage cap for Premier League teams (ESPNSoccernet).
Financial Fair Play is not a new concept, but it hasn't stopped rich clubs from spending more and more money.
Is a wage cap coming? Probably not, but this story might be one to follow.
Arsenal's Robin van Persie led the Premier League with 30 goals last season.
Will he do it again?
That seems unlikely if Arsenal force him to stick around North London. An unhappy player, after all, is unlikely to perform well.
Regardless of where he plays, though, RvP is currently in his prime and should be considered a top contender to lead the league in scoring.
Other leading contenders are Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (27 goals last season) and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero (23).
Will one of those guys win the scoring title, or will it be someone else entirely?
Welsh winger Gareth Bale pulled out of Great Britain's Olympic squad this summer because of a back injury (Daily Telegraph).
In July, Bale played in Tottenham Hotspur's preseason friendly against the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. Not long after that, Great Britain played Senegal in the Olympics.
Bale's appearance raised familiar questions over the tension produced by players representing both club and country. Bale could have been suspended under FIFA rules, but a ban appears unlikely (BBC Sport).
The debate over club and country will go on, but this summer, Bale and Tottenham seem to have taken a bold step forward for clubs.
Might others try to emulate their example this season?
UEFA qualification for World Cup 2014 begins this fall. England's qualifying campaign starts Sept. 7 away to Moldova before home matches against Ukraine (Sept. 11) and San Marino (Oct. 12).
The Three Lions will be the favorites to secure automatic qualification from a group that also includes Poland and Montenegro. As ever, Premier League players will jockey for spots in the national team lineup.
New boss Roy Hodgson guided England to the Euro 2012 quarterfinals, and smooth qualification will be expected.
But these things never seem to go quite as planned.
Every season, the bookies, the media and a large segment of the rooting public enjoy handicapping the race for the Premier League's first managerial casualty.
Sunderland's Steve Bruce "won" the race last season, crossing the line near the end of November. Martin O'Neill (more on him momentarily) took over and guided the Black Cats the rest of the season.
Ahead of this season, TheSackRace.com lists West Brom's Steve Clarke and West Ham's Sam Allardyce as the co-favorites for first sacking at 6-to-1.
A betting man might see Roberto Di Matteo as good value at 12-to-1, considering Roman Abramovich's long history of short-tenured managers.
But is the best bet on Harry Redknapp as the first manager hired mid-season?
After Sunderland's poor start and Steve Bruce's sacking last fall, Martin O'Neill led the Black Cats to a respectable 13th place last season, comfortably clear of the relegation zone.
Yet some struggled to shake the feeling that Sunderland hadn't actually improved all that much under O'Neill.
Regardless, O'Neill faces perhaps a bigger challenge this season: trying to win at Sunderland over a full campaign.
We wish him luck. Carlos Jimenez Cuellar is a fine player, but as Sunderland's only signing so far this summer, he's a bit underwhelming.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger faced unprecedented pressure on his job last season.
Fans and media alike cried out for his head as the Gunners stumbled out of the gates and Wenger seemingly lost his magic hat.
Arsenal and Wenger recovered nicely, finishing third in the league and qualifying automatically for the Champions League. So far this summer, the Gunners have signed Lukas Podolski from Koln and Olivier Giroud from Montpellier.
But the defense could still be a problem, and the RvP transfer saga still casts a glum shadow over the Emirates Stadium.
So what happens if Arsenal struggle even more mightily at the start of this season?
While the Brendan Rodgers Revolution takes shape at Liverpool, Swansea City must cope with major and unwanted changes.
Rodgers obviously is gone. So is Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who joined on loan from Hoffenheim and impressed during the second half of the season.
Midfielder Joe Allen could be next out the door, with Liverpool the rumored destination (BBC Sport).
Under Rodgers, Swansea played attractive, passing football. How will they cope under new manager Michael Laudrup?
Remember, the Swans are entering only their second season back in the top flight.
Wigan finished the 2011-12 season strongly, charging out of the relegation zone with seven wins over the final nine games.
That run included victories over Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle United. Over the course of the season, that kind of form would have made Wigan title contenders.
The Latics clearly aren't that, but under manager Roberto Martinez last spring, they played thrilling football. Martinez flirted briefly with Liverpool over the summer, but he'll back back at the D.W. Stadium this season.
Switching to a 3-4-3 formation might have made the difference last season, but will it be enough to keep Wigan in the Premiership for another year?
Fernando Torres has served as the punchline for thousands of jokes, good and bad, since his mega-money move from Liverpool to Chelsea in 2011.
That's fair enough. When a team dishes out £50 million for one player, he's generally expected to perform.
El Niño generally hasn't performed well for Chelsea. Since joining the Blues, the formerly prolific striker has scored seven league goals in 18 months.
Yet Torres began to show hints of his former form near the end of the 2011-12 season, and again at Euro 2012.
We're still some distance from proclaiming El Niño back, but with Didier Drogba out of the Chelsea lineup, he should get more chances this season.
If so, is it really so implausible to think he could become a star again?
OK, don't answer that yet.
Hard to believe as it might seem, Manchester United superstar Wayne Rooney collected just two bookings last season.
Over the course of his career, Rooney has collected 64 yellow cards and two red cards in league play. But only two of those yellow cards—and none of the red cards—came last season.
While cleaning up his image, Rooney also managed to score 27 league goals, second only to Arsenal's Robin van Persie.
Rooney turns 27 this October. Around that age, top players tend to enter their prime.
For so long, Rooney's temper held him back from reaching his full potential. Last season showed he has found a way to control his worst impulses.
So could this be the year of Rooney?