Why This Year's Premier League Title Race Could Be Best for Years
Certain rights-holding broadcasters would have you believe that every Premier League season is set to be the best ever. After all, those lucrative sports-channel packages don't subscribe themselves.
But the 21st season of the Premier League era has the potential to deliver a thrilling and close title race involving several teams.
Defending champions Manchester City, Premier League domineers Manchester United, European champions Chelsea and—just maybe—a more complete Arsenal team than we have seen in recent years can all ensure that the destination of the trophy will still be unknown come next May.
Each of that quartet have made significant signings in the summer transfer window to help make them as strong as possible for what could be a long and arduous campaign.
City did not rest on their laurels after winning their first championship for 44 years last term. Of the six summer signings they made, Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia and Brazil right-back Maicon are the most stellar, while Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair and Matija Nastasic each have half an eye on the future. Veteran goalkeeper Richard Wright ticks neither of those boxes, but nevertheless he has also joined.
All of these signings were right at the end of the transfer window, meaning it will take time for most of them to gel with their new teammates. With the champions getting off to a less-than-perfect start to the defence of the title they won on goal difference alone, there is a vulnerable air around the Etihad Stadium despite their undoubted quality.
United bookended the transfer window by bringing in Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa from German champions Borussia Dortmund and poaching reigning double Player of the Year Robin van Persie from Arsenal. Both have gotten off to great starts to their United careers, and van Persie has already picked up where he left off last season by leading the Premier League scoring charts with five goals thus far.
There is a glaring lack of midfield bite in the United squad, but somehow the Red Devils almost always ensure they are heavily involved come the business end of the season.
Arsenal may have lost RvP, but they have compensated well for the Dutchman's departure with the signings of Germany forward Lukas Podolski, Spanish midfield maestro Santi Cazorla and France striker Olivier Giroud.
While Giroud—Ligue 1's joint top scorer last season for Montpellier as they were surprise title winners—is still struggling to show anything like that kind of quality, Podolski and in particular Cazorla have settled in very quickly. So far the Gunners have scored nine and conceded just two goals in the league.
As for Chelsea, they were the biggest summer spenders of them all. More than £70 million was lavished on attacking talents Eden Hazard, Oscar, Victor Moses and Marko Marin in the transfer window, while even right-back Cesar Azpilicueta is a player who looks happier going forward than defending.
Who will win the Premier League this season?
With all four teams in the Champions League—though Chelsea only by virtue of winning the competition last term—how each manager juggles European and domestic commitments will go a long way to determining their eventual fate in the title race.
How each team copes without one or more of their star players will also play a significant part in their respective fortunes. For example, United captain and defensive bedrock Nemanja Vidic is expected to be out for two months after having knee surgery, while Arsenal await the imminent return of influential midfielder Jack Wilshere after he missed the whole of last season with an ankle injury.
Injury to Fernando Torres would all but leave Chelsea very depleted up front (insert your own joke here), and City have already seen how, for all their array of talent, the absences of Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero or Vincent Kompany can be damaging to their prospects.
When it comes to the run-in of the title race, Arsenal have tended to drop out of the running as the end of the season approaches over the last few years. However, the loss of van Persie could actually play into their hands.
Over the past four seasons, the Gunners have finished at least 10 points behind the champions. But back in 2007-08, the season after they sold Thierry Henry to Barcelona, they ended up just four points behind winners United. The removal of one main goal-scoring focal point—in this case van Persie—may coax the best out of the rest of the team this term.
United have cultivated a winning mentality that comes from winning a dozen titles over the last two decades. City's recent investment and success means they are in the middle of fostering their own strong team ethic, something Chelsea still have in abundance from the days of Jose Mourinho's management.
But for all four teams, not everything will go to plan over the next nine months. It is how they deal with the adversity along the way that matters.
The prospect of seeing how it all plays out is a highly enticing one, and could potentially produce the best title race for a long time.
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