English Premier League 2013-14: Season Preview
EPL 2013-14 season is all set to roll. The top three clubs from last season are starting with a new coach. Debojyoti Chakraborty takes a sneak peek and explores the possibilities
Any EPL preview this season would bring David Moyes in the limelight. Essentially for two reasons: the man he is replacing and that his future will pave the way to determining how young and aspiring British managers are to be promoted in the coming years.
Not everyone is expecting him to deliver right away and the cynics would be boosted by his lacklustre performance (statements) during the ongoing transfer window. Moyes has a couple of problems already with the ongoing Wayne Rooney saga and lack of quality wingers leading the chart. He has a six-year contract and one would assume the men in charge in The Red Devils‘ camp would give him a fair go. It would be interesting to see whether Moyes retains United’s wing play in a 4-4-2 style or uses his own more direct attack-through-outlets style of 4-4-1-1. That said, the Old Trafford faithful would still like to see another success. But they might have to settle for a podium finish, in more realistic terms.
The Special One returns as The Happy One. He has a settled squad, with a plethora of talent at his disposal, especially in the attacking midfield option. The man credited with the advancement of the 4-2-3-1 system, will however have to decide whether to start with the misfiring Fernando Torres or the misfit Demba Ba, or groom Romelu Lukaku should he fail to bring in any marquee striker before the transfer window closes. This season could be the most competitive of them all at the top of the table, and José Mourinho’s been-there-done-that experience might just win him the race.
Manuel Pellegrini is the latest occupant of the revolving chair of hot seats at Manchester City. He is not as collaborated as his predecessor – but for a season at the Santiago Bernabéu – but brings with him a brand of football that made Malaga a European darling last year. A tactical genius; be rest assured to see him experiment a lot with tinkering formations, even through the course of a match. Pellegrini would dearly like to take a dig at his old friend who replaced him at Real Madrid.
Gareth Bale’s supposed valuation of £100 mn has irked quite a few, pointing out how it has made a mockery of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play. Things can go down to the wire and it seems more and more likely that Bale would be staying at White Hart Lane. With the added steel of Paulinho in the midfield and a clinical finisher in the form of Roberto Soldado, André Villas-Boas would have every reason to believe Tottenham Hotspurs can definitely finish in the top four.
The old story continues at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger does not feel the price tags associated with his potential targets are justified. While clubs finishing above and below Arsenal have been strengthened, Arsenal have been in a state of self-denial. The likes of Gonzalo Higuaín are captured by Napoli and others amidst The Gunners’ speculation. It is very much likely that the pride or self-satisfaction of finishing in the top four will no longer be there, come end of the season.
The Swans are flying high and there seems to be no stopping them. With the acquisition of a proven frontman, Wilfried Bony from Eredivisie and retaining all their core players, Swansea look set for another fine season. Michael Laudrup has added depth to the squad considering they would have extra games to take care of in Europe. And their European participation seems set to continue.
Newcastle’s fifth-place finish in the year before raised the expectations last season and that is why their lowly standing surprised many. People will be wrong again to bank on their past showing and underestimate them. While they did remarkably well in the Europa League – taking out Guus Hiddink’s expensive Anzhi Makhachkala en route – the extra games cost Newcastle dearly. Lesser games this time and a mouth-watering strike force up front in the form of Papiss Cisse, Loic Remy and Bafetimbi Gomis could propel them to another European crack.
The European aspirations can take a back seat as The Toffees look to enter a new era under Roberto Martínez. Martínez likes to experiment with tactics and strategy and we may see quite a few new things tried out at Everton with 3-4-3 being the obvious. A very capable custodian, he should aim for a top half finish as opposed to the survival scrap he was so used to at Wigan.
Liverpool could not have expected a worse start to their campaign. And they are yet to play their first competitive game this season. Want-away striker Luiz Suarez seems their only hope of climbing up the chart, and this is not a good omen for them. A mid-table finish looms large, but a bottom-half standing would be a disaster.
Southampton are perhaps the best team in the league to deploy a 4-2-3-1 counter-attacking system in place with perfection. They would like to consolidate their grand entry to the Premier League last season and hang on to a top 10 finish.
Norwich City will also push hard for a top of the table finish after acquiring two new strikers – Gary Hooper from Celtic and Ricky van Wolfswinkel from Sporting Lisbon. With an already solid defence, they might just upset a few bigger clubs this time round. But if they do well, Norwich might actually lose at least one of the new strikers in the winter transfer window.
West Ham, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion are perfect mediocre sides. They never look like relegation candidates; no one has ever accused them of hunting like champions. They appear to be content at the relaxing mid-table life.
Aston Villa are too much dependent on Christian Benteke. They would do well to avoid a lower mid-table finish.
Sunderland and Stoke are running a risk this season and may find themselves again in the relegation dogfight.
Cardiff City marks their debut in the Premier League after a 51-year absence from the topflight of English football. They should enjoy whilst it lasts.
Crystal Palace is yet to survive a season in the topflight. That too after having a record 49 points in a season (1992-93) and having three teams below them in another (1994-95), when the top division was trimmed down to 20 clubs. Not something to draw inspiration from.
Hull City will fight for sure, after all they are a Steve Bruce side. But that may not be enough.
Among other things, this will be a landmark season in English football as Hawk-Eye will be used as goal-line technology. Let us hope it helps in better decision-making without slowing down the beautiful game too much.
Before I depart, a few words about a true romantic hero who has lived the ragged-to-riches story on the footballing ground. Rickie Lambert neither had the glamour of a Michael Owen, nor was he earmarked for great success like that of a Wayne Rooney. But boy, has he put in the hard hours! Rising through the ranks of lower division football leagues for 12 years, sometimes playing in front of empty stands (if there were any), he netted 15 goals in EPL last season to become the top-scoring Englishman. To round off his Cinderellesque story, earlier this month Lambert got called into Roy Hodgson’s squad, interestingly on the same day his wife gave birth to their third child, and went on to mark his England debut with a winning goal in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Scotland at Wembley. Upon being asked what the goal meant to him, Lambert said: “That’s what I’ve been dreaming of probably all my life. It means so much.” We, at Goalden Times, salute his sheer will to succeed. May he continue to rise to the occasion and do football proud.