EPL: Who Will Win the Premier League Title in 2012-13?
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It has come around so quickly hasn't it?
It seems like only five minutes ago that Sergio Aguero settled the most eventful Premier League season in history in the most dramatic way possible at the Etihad.
After a summer to stew over Spain's superlative Euro success, more penalty heartbreak for England, Mexico's surprise Olympic gold medal and of course the obligatory transfer rumours, fasten your seat belt as it all kicks off once again on August 18—it's set to be just as eventful.
Although all 20 teams kick-off the season harbouring hopes of success—for some, Premier League survival will be the best achievement of all—only a handful of teams are equipped with the necessary resources with which to challenge for the year's main prize: the Premier League title.
So let's take a look at the protagonists' chances of becoming champions—starting with the holders.
It was 44 years of hurt for long-suffering Manchester City fans until Aguero sealed the championship in the dying seconds against QPR. But after they threw that albatross from around their neck, the challenge is to turn a solitary Premier League title into an age of domestic dominance.
Undoubtedly, they have the squad. They have a superb and pragmatic manager in Roberto Mancini, and ultimately, they have all the financial resources to add to an already star-studded squad.
It is somewhat of a surprise that they have only captured Jack Rodwell from Everton over the summer, given their immense wealth and appeal—a fact that has evidently frustrated Mancini.
Encouragingly for the City faithful, the whole of their championship-winning squad is still together and—judging by their Community Shield victory—appear to be more harmonious, with no sign of infighting, and have enhanced their understanding of how each member of the team plays.
One thing's for certain: After waiting so long to be called 'Champions of England,' City aren't going to give up their crown without a fight.
Pipped at the post in the dying seconds of the season to their cross-city rivals was a bitter pill to swallow for Sir Alex Ferguson's side.
Coming so close to a 20th league title—with what was widely regarded as one of United's poorer crop of players—will give Ferguson and United fans faith. Sir Alex is peerless at knowing when players' time at Old Trafford has run its course, and he has shifted on some deadwood in order to strengthen his squad for a title assault, the most notable being Ji-Sung Park.
Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa has joined from German champions Borussia Dortmund, and the latest youngster to graduate from Crewe's fabled academy, Nick Powell, has secured a dream move to Old Trafford, thanks to an outstanding season in League Two.
Much may depend on whether Ferguson can persuade Robin van Persie to come to Old Trafford. A proven goalscoring alternative to Rooney is needed after the second season struggles of Javier Hernadez, and van Persie is undoubtedly a natural goal scorer.
2011-12 signalled a changing of the guard in Manchester, as the 'noisy neighbours' wrestled the title from Old Trafford—looking at the respected line-ups, you would have to give City the edge once again. But discount United at your peril.
Arsenal's FA Cup victory in 2005 was the last piece of silverware the North London club managed to win. Their last league title had come a year earlier, when their 'Invincibles' side went a whole Premier League season unbeaten.
The next eight seasons have flattered to deceive on many fronts. League leads diminished and overturned, the continuing sale of their best players and a distinct lack of marquee signings to change the fortune of a faltering side. "Frustrating" would perhaps be the best word to describe the period.
They showed signs of a revival at the back end of the season, cementing the third spot and a Champions League slot on the final day of the season.
On the back of that top-three finish, Arsene Wenger may have finally swallowed his pride and has finally splashed some serious cash to change the Gunners' fortune and mount a serious challenge for the Premier League. German international Lukas Podolski, French striker Olivier Giroud and Spanish winger Santi Cazorla have all been brought to the Emirates over the summer—at an expense of over £38 million.
There is obviously the Robin van Persie saga for Wenger to resolve, and the sooner the better for all concerned. When combined with van Persie the aforementioned signings are one of the most potent attacking forces in the entire competition.
However, scoring goals hasn't been Arsenal's problem. Their lack of success has been more down to defensive frailties than any other area—worryingly, the one area Wenger has failed to resolve so far this summer.
If they can resolve their defensive issues, Arsenal are serious challengers this season given their fluid style and a number of goalscoring options—it's an 'if' though.
Winning both the Champions League and FA Cup isn't the worse season around. But for a club of Chelsea's recent history, finishing 25 points adrift of Manchester City isn't acceptable.
Andre Villa Boas came and went, failing to implement the Barcelona-esque football Roman Abramovich so craves—but one thing Abramovich craves more is success, and AVB couldn't bring any to Stamford Bridge.
Interim boss Roberto Di Matteo worked miracles to win both European football's premier club competition and the historic FA Cup—deservedly getting the full-time post in the summer—but the challenge to bridge such a gap has required major squad rejuvenation.
Ageing figures of Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Jose Bosingwa have all moved on—replaced with young starlets such as Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin: all players in key positions.
It may take time for these quality, but still developing, players to adjust to the Premier League and Chelsea's setup—a top-three finish and another long European and Cup adventure would be a triumph in what could be describes as a transitional year.
Both have new managers intent on playing attractive, dynamic football—for Tottenham, that won't be much of a change from the gung-ho mentality of Harry Redknapp which made them the most exciting team to watch in the league at stages of last season.
Liverpool, now under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers, will need to adapt to Rodgers style of possession football. He has brought in some of his own players, including his Swansea general Joe Allen (via BBC), but it may take a season or two to fully reap the benefits of such a transition of styles.
On the balance of things, it is difficult to look at anyone but Manchester City to retain their crown. Mancini has a settled and now successful squad who now know how to win championships. With the quality that he commands, I just see them having a little too much for their opponents.
It won't be straightforward for the Citizens and, if they go through the proverbial sticky patch, there are some quality outfits ready to take advantage.
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