Why the 2012-13 Premier League Season Will Be the Best Ever
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Last season set the bar for final-day drama in the Premier League. The fights for the championship, top four and relegation all went down to the wire, climaxing in Sergio Agüero's late stunner, handing Manchester City the title and devastating prematurely celebrating Manchester United players and fans.
The adrenaline-pumping excitement of that finale, plus the novelty of crowning new Premier League champions and some memorably thrilling matches throughout, led some to pronounce 2011-12 the best EPL season ever.
But here's why 2012-13 can top it and produce the best Premier League contest we've seen since the reformatted competition began 20 years ago.
1. Fergie's Revenge
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Manchester United, under Sir Alex Ferguson, have given fresh meaning to resilience.
You can count on them never to know when they're beaten, and that goes as much for the longer term as it does in their famous injury-time wins.
Only once in Premier League history has anyone managed to keep Man United off the top two years in a row—José Mourinho's imperious Chelsea sides of 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Even then, United bounced back to dominate the league for the next three years, plus beat Chelsea in the Champions League final in 2008.
So it will be fascinating—and possibly a little frightening for everyone else's fans—to see how Fergie's side respond to losing out so dramatically to crosstown rivals Manchester City last year.
2. Blue Moon Rising
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One reason 2011-12 wasn't actually as good as that thrilling ending suggested was that the championship never should have come down to the last kick in the first place.
Manchester City made winning harder than it should have been, dropping points at crucial junctures midseason when they had the chance to pull away from the pack.
Part of that was down to lack of championship-winning experience in the squad, particularly when Yaya Touré was away at the Africa Cup of Nations and Carlos Tevez was AWOL in Argentina.
This season City should be an even more powerful force and looking to establish a dynasty rather than emulate Blackburn's one-hit wonder of 1995.
3. Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool Resurrection
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers
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The 2012-13 Premier League will see unprecedented competition for the top three spots.
Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, who have all suffered varying degrees of disappointment and setbacks in the preceding seasons, all look to be heading back to the top of their games.
Under the ownership of John W. Henry, Liverpool is striving to recover from the disastrous Hicks-Gillett years. New manager Brendan Rodgers will be called upon to return the storied club back to both winning results and style.
Chelsea are still struggling to rebuild in the post-Mourinho era, but 2012-13 finally sees them shedding some of the old guard and replacing them with exciting young prospects like Oscar.
Meanwhile, Arsenal too are rebuilding with ambitious signings and renewed defensive steel.
4. Top-Six Pressure
Alan Pardew and Papiss Cisse of Newcastle
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At the same time, there will be increased pressure on the top from the next tier of teams.
Spurs and Newcastle will regret failing to nail down the top three and four spots last season, and remain strongly poised to challenge again.
Aston Villa, looking to bounce back from a horrendous season under Alex McLeish that nearly saw them relegated, should be able at least to contend once again for the top six under new manager Paul Lambert.
And could this be the year David Moyes' Everton start the season as strongly as they tend to finish?
With Steven Pienaar back permanently and January signing Nikica Jelavic settling in as one of the Premier League's most lethal strikers, the Toffees will also be in the mix for top six.
5. Familiar Names Return
West Ham captain Kevin Nolan
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There will be no Premier League debutants like Swansea or Blackpool in 2012-13, but instead we'll have the return of one of the bigger clubs to be relegated—West Ham.
The Hammers' return will add the spice of more London derbies and present even the best sides with a challenge—particularly under long-ball champion Sam Allardyce.
Big Sam's return to the top flight is sure to supply plenty of fodder for the press—and opposing managers—to deride the good, old fashioned "English" style of play in these days of the intricate passing game.
Stoke City's Tony Pulis might even get a break.
6. Exciting New Players
Manchester United signing Shinji Kagawa
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The money-flushed Premier League can always be relied upon to bring in foreign players at jaw-dropping prices, but this season there have been some signings of rare quality and intriguing potential.
The addition of that kind of talent to a league already boasting the likes of Sergio Agüero, David Silva and Robin van Persie will ensure 2012-13 will be not just exciting, but the best Premier League season so far.