As we edge closer to the start of the new season, pre-season plans across England are beginning to gather momentum. Football is enhancing its reputation as a truly global game with Premier League teams jetting off to the far corners of the globe. Tours such as these are just as much about expanding a club’s reputation and fan base, as they are improving a squad’s match fitness before the competitive fixtures kick-off. Currently, Chelsea and Liverpool are in the United States, QPR in Malaysia, and West Ham have been in Austria. United of course, are in South Africa before moving on to China.
With little over a month to go before the season kicks-off, I thought it would be worthwhile to have a look at how some of United’s rivals have been faring over the off-season as well as looking at their prospects for the season ahead.
The talking point of the whole Summer has been Robin van Persie’s announcement that he will not sign a new contract at Arsenal. Who can really blame him either? Interestingly, United have been strongly linked but gladly I can’t see Sir Alex bidding for the want-away striker. City are welcome to him as far as I’m concerned. They have replaced van Persie with the German striker/winger, Lukas Podolski who I believe could be a very shrewd signing. They have also signed French striker Olivier Giroud from Ligue 1 champions Montpellier, and I am tipping him to be a rather more expensive version of Marouane Chamakh (a flop).
An Arsenal team minus their Euro 2012 stars including Podolski, and public enemy number one, van Persie, won the Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup last week. The tournament was played at St Mary’s, the home ground of new Premier League club Southampton. As well as the Gunners, the tournament also included the hosts and Anderlecht. From the point of view of a United supporter, the trophy presentation was nothing short of hilarious. Arsene Wenger’s team collected the trophy with Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ ringing out around the empty stadium, before the champagne was sprayed as if they had won the Premier League itself. The trophy presentation can be seen here:
Verdict: Nothing at all about this Arsenal team frightens me. Wenger is starting to lose the faith of the fans and I can’t see them coping well should van Persie be sold this Summer. This could well be the year Wenger misses out on the Champions League places.
If there’s one team I’m worried about this year, it is definitely Chelsea. I truly believe that if United don’t win the title, City won’t either, and Chelsea will be the club to break the Manchester duopoly of the 2011/12 season. I found it staggering that Roman Abramovich took so long to appoint Roberto di Matteo to a permanent deal. Even if Pep Guardiola had been willing to go to Chelsea, I still would have chosen di Matteo after last season’s heroics. Unlike Arsenal and City at this point, Chelsea have significantly strengthened their squad, and I’m sure most people are a little envious of the attacking talent di Matteo has at his disposal. What’s more, they’ve strengthened early in the window which will give their new signings plenty of time to bed in. Marko Marin, who is a fine footballer, probably won’t be in the preferred starting eleven, while one time United target Eden Hazard scored on his debut against Seattle. Add into the equation the signing of the Brazilian playmaker Oscar, which should be completed before this article is published, and the ominous form of Fernando Torres at the Euros, and this team is starting to look very good indeed on paper.
Verdict: If this vast array of attacking talent even begins to click, watch out. Chelsea could be rivaling City for the most expensively compiled bench this season.
City have been surprisingly quiet in the transfer window so far, but expect that to change as the season nears. City showed last year that they are extremely vulnerable when Vincent Kompany is missing, so expect to see at least one central defender added to their squad. van Persie is another who could be headed to Eastlands with Emmanuel Adebayor, Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez rumoured to be leaving, while Roque Santa Cruz has already been sold to Real Betis. City have been in poor form in their two friendlies so far, losing to Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal and playing out a goalless draw with German 2. Bundesliga side, Dynamo Dresden.
Verdict: Hard to judge at this point as they are extremely likely to strengthen significantly between now and the start of the season. City will be strong again but could be their own worst enemies by adding too many big singings to an already strong squad.
Liverpool fans will be hoping a change of manager brings a change of fortunes, but I myself cannot see it happening. Their only signing of the Summer so far is that of the Italian striker Fabio Borini who is yet to set the world alight. Meanwhile, a premature announcement on the website of Liverpool’s major owners, Fenway Sports Group, have a clear indication that Clint Dempsey will be signed from Fulham in the near future. Although newspapers are known to be extremely unreliable, it’s quite amusing reading some of the transfer talk regarding Liverpool. Just last week they were linked with Bolton’s Mark Davies which makes me wonder if Brendan Rodgers thinks he’s still managing Swansea. Someone should tell him that he can set the standard for his transfer targets a little higher now than he could at the same time last year.
Verdict: Like Arsenal, I can’t see Liverpool threatening at all and Rodgers would do well to set the goal of qualifying for the Europa League. A worry for United however, is the fact that they always have the ability to step up when they play United and take crucial points off us.
I think Tottenham could be a little bit of a dark horse this year. I don’t think they’ll threaten to win the league but I do think they’ll beat Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle to 4th. Andre Villas-Boas is a fine manager, and will have a point to prove, and surely won’t make the same mistakes again. Tottenham looks a good fit for the up and coming manager. They beat Liverpool to the excellent Gylfi Sigurdsson who was rumoured to be a United target, while the signing of Jan Vertonghen will prove to be one of the best deals of the Summer. Deals for ex-United prospect, Zeki Fryers and ex-loanee Emmanuel Adebayor should be tied up by this time next week. Young Central Coast Mariners goalkeeper Matt Ryan is also due to train with the club next week.
Verdict: Spurs will play an attractive, organized style of football under Villas-Boas and the signing of Adebayor and another striker will give them the firepower they require up front. Their midfield also has goals written all over it, with Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Sigurdsson all noted goal scorers, anchored by the hugely impressive Scott Parker.
The upcoming season could prove to be one of the hardest fought in recent memory, and United will have their work cut out to reclaim their Premier League crown. With City and Chelsea having so much depth in their squads, United can’t afford any customary dry spells and will need to start the season how they intend to go on. Everton away first up should give a good indication of United’s premiership potential.