World Football: 10 Inevitable Headlines We'll See Before the End of the Season
One of football's greatest appeals is how the season unfolds, with a mixture of surprise and reassuring familiarity.
Upsets, manager sackings, player transfers, injuries—all the elements are guaranteed to surface, but the intrigue lies in the details.
Here are 10 storylines that are bound to crop up this season.
Redknapp Returns to White Hart Lane
Spare a thought for André Villas-Boas. Here's a man who seemed to be modelled on his former boss José Mourinho: young, handsome, dynamic, Portuguese and with precocious European success with Porto.
But there, the similarities end. AVB's Chelsea tenure was a disaster, and his Spurs career has hardly started any more auspiciously.
AVB currently ranks third behind Southampton's Nigel Adkins and QPR's Mark Hughes in the Premier League sack race. Can hyped-up rumours of Harry Redknapp's return to White Hart Lane be far behind?
Arsenal Star Eyes Exit
Well, this one's already started, with Bacary Sagna's remarks to L'Equipe pored over with varying degrees of glee and dread.
But Sagna—invaluable as he has been, and his consistent excellence has been one of Arsenal's major overlooked strengths the past few years—is not really a big enough star to drive the press frenzy in the time-honoured manner of Vieira, Van Persie, Fabregas and Henry.
So who will it be? Like Sagna, Theo Walcott got his want-away story in too early in the season; plus, he still has yet to prove his potential on a consistent enough basis to qualify as a must-keep player.
So the answer is simple—Arsenal's next big star with one foot out the door will be whichever player has the most impact this season.
It could even be one of the new boys. After all, RVP only delivered one complete, injury-free season in eight years, and that was enough to convince him he was too good for the club.
Robin Van Persie Injury News
This is a phrase that sports editors keep on macro, just as they used to with Michael Owen.
Arsenal fans could be forgiven for indulging in a little schadenfreude when Robin van Persie picked up a thigh strain on his very first international break away from Man United.
At 29, it's pretty much odds-on that a player known to Dutch fans as "glass ankles," and who sat out a cumulative 12 and a half months of his Arsenal career, will pick up further injuries.
City Need More Players, Pleads Mancini
What's a manager to do when your team's owner will only shell out a miserly £530-odd million on players?
Roberto Mancini is not shy to ask for more. Last season, Manchester City allowed the title race to get much, much closer than they would have liked.
This was largely because they failed to capitalise when rivals Man United shed points in mid-season. Yaya Touré's Africa Cup of Nations absence was keenly felt. Meanwhile, stars like David Silva and Sergio Agüero, key to City's success, went through flat periods, costing the team points.
Come the January transfer window, Mancini is sure to remind Sheikh Mansour that deeper cover last season could have sealed the Premier League title with comfortably more than a few seconds to spare.
Chelsea: Changing of the Guard
It's been a long, torturous time coming, but Chelsea's transition from the old guard looks to be entering its final stages.
Rumours of Didier Drogba's dramatic return from China proved false. Michael Essien, a shadow of his former dominating presence after persistent injury troubles, was finally off-loaded to Real Madrid. And Frank Lampard has eased seamlessly into a peripheral role.
That leaves one last stubborn obstacle.
John Terry won't go out quietly, but Chelsea fans will take comfort that he has a ready-made replacement in Gary Cahill, as we saw when Terry picked up a knock in England's World Cup qualifier against Moldova.
It's only a matter of time before a more serious injury paves the way for Cahill to make himself JT's permanent replacement.
FC Barcelona: The Death of Tiki-Taka?
Inevitably, at some point this season Barcelona will stumble, and the press will once again drag out the obituaries for tiki-taka.
These are the same ones that were aired when Barcelona lost the Champions League semifinal to Inter Milan in 2010.
And when they failed to win La Liga last season.
And when Spain lost their group stage match to Switzerland at World Cup 2010.
And then again when they drew 1-1 with Italy in their opening Euro 2012 match.
Like the death of Mark Twain, rumours of tiki-taka's demise have been exaggerated. But persist in running them, and eventually they'll be true.
Who will incur Sir Alex Ferguson's wrath this season?
Some beleaguered referee?
A hapless journalist overstepping unspoken press conference boundaries?
An international association? (We're looking at you, KNVB; the Dutch footballing authority has been threatened in the past with legal action by both Bayern Munich and Arsenal in the wake of player injuries.)
Or perhaps this season we will be treated to a full-on falling out with a player.
You can almost hear the ticking of the timebomb as excerpts of Wayne Rooney's book My Decade in the Premier League are slowly drip-fed to the press.
Liverpool in Crisis
There's only so much blame Liverpool owner John W. Henry can pile on his bumbling predecessors, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
Certainly, the pair left a legacy of crippling debt and bureaucratic chaos. But Liverpool's biggest challenge this season is dealing with the effects of a bizarre feast-or-famine transfer history under Henry.
First, the club threw ludicrous sums around to secure the questionable services of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll. The following year, such largesse was scarce—Liverpool reportedly refused to cough up more than £3 million for the highly sought-after Clint Dempsey.
The bungled Dempsey bid left Liverpool woefully short of scoring options, and it is difficult to see how Brendan Rodgers can turn the club's fortunes around in a season.
If Henry sticks by the former Swansea manager, there is every hope that he can transform the struggling giant. But things at Anfield are likely to get worse before they get better.
Aston Villa Relegation Fears
Aston Villa played so poorly last season under hated boss Alex McLeish, many cringing fans almost wished they would go down.
They finished two points clear of the drop, McLeish was handed his walking papers and Villans looked forward to a new dawn under former Norwich manager Paul Lambert.
Unfortunately, McLeish's departure alone will not be enough to banish the malaise surrounding the club, and Lambert is already struggling.
Expect Villa to run relegation very close again this season.
Cristiano Ronaldo to Man City
When Cristiano Ronaldo suggested he was unhappy at Real Madrid, every ambitious manager with serious financial backing went on alert.
While many sceptically dismissed the story as a cynical negotiation tool, there is every reason to believe the Portugal star would entertain a move to Manchester City.
Ronaldo, despite the frivolities his personal style may sometimes suggest, is a consummate professional, and a man to whom winning remains paramount.
At the same time, he has expressed an entirely understandable fatigue with the kind of relentless atmosphere he experiences living in Madrid.
Manchester City could prove a perfect haven for Ronaldo.