August 4, 2012
One glance at the calendar and you can see that we are already entering the month of August. Not only is summer almost over, but most of the sporting world is preparing for the start of the new soccer season. Some leagues have already started playing, and the early qualifying rounds for the Champions League and Europa League are well underway, but for many soccer fans the season starts when the English Premier League gets underway on August 18.
For the next nine months, the teams will battle it out for the prestige of taking the League Title or the financial rewards from qualification for European competition. At the other end of the league, teams will battle to survive the relegation dog fight and avoid the fall into the Championship.
The FA Community Shield
For years the traditional season opener plays out at a neutral venue between the previous league champions and the winners of the FA Cup. Proceeds from this game do to charity and good causes and is usual played like a pre-season friendly match, but with early season bragging rights for the winner. This year Manchester City and Chelsea will meet up on August 12 at Villa Park, Birmingham.
The Premier League
Last season was one of the closest ever, with Manchester City only snatching victory with two goals in injury time of the last game. After 85 minutes the league title would have gone across the city to rivals Manchester United. This season both teams have brought in new players, but will need to watch out for the challenge of a resurgent Chelsea who surprised many people by winning the Champions League on penalties. Arsenal will also be close but do not quite have the strength-in-depth of the other teams and could fade but will probably take the last Champions League spot.
Many of the top teams often rest players in the early rounds of the FA Cup and League Cup, but once it gets towards the final stages the potential rewards of European qualification mean that any teams left in it genuinely try to win. However the winners of these competitions are often from the “second tier” of Premier League teams that cannot quite keep the consistency to challenge for league honors. Teams like Liverpool, Newcastle and Tottenham will look to get through to the final stages and lift the silverware.
None of the teams want to end the season in the bottom three spots and face the ignominy of relegation to the Championship. This can also have serious financial penalties and many of the teams that are relegated suffer from financial problems for years afterwards.
Norwich and Swansea have both changed managers in the summer and could struggle in their second season in the top flight. Wigan are perennial battlers against relegation, but their luck will run out one season. Other teams that might struggle include West Ham and West Brom, but QPR might also be down there again.
The New Managers
Every year the close season is the time when the managerial merry-go-round cranks up to full steam. Any manager that had a bad season could get the call from the chairman and need to find new employment. The large clubs will soon swoop on smaller teams for a high-performing replacement or look around Europe for a high profile name.
Two of the biggest managerial changes of the summer were Liverpool and Tottenham replacing Kenny Dalgleish and Harry Redknapp with Brendan Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas. Of these, Rodgers had a great first season in the Premier League with Swansea and Villas-Boas was less successful with Chelsea.
Other changes include Paul Lambert leaving Norwich after three fantastic seasons for Aston Villa and the former Newcastle manager Chris Hughton taking over at Norwich. Danish legend Michael Laudrup took the Swansea hot-seat and Steve Clarke is now in charge of West Bromwich Albion after Roy Hodgson took over the national team.
It will take a season or two before we know how successful these managerial moves actually are. However it is likely that at least one of them will be out of work before the end of the season if they get off to a bad start.
Many of the managers will try to spend the summer period recruiting new players to strengthen the side. Some of these transfers pay off and others are less successful, but often the best signings are not the most expensive player.
So far this summer, Chelsea spent big to build on their success last season with an aging squad. The biggest signing was the Belgian international Eden Hazard from Lille for £40million, but Brazilian midfielder Oscar also cost a massive £32million from Internacional. Most other clubs would be happy to spend the £9.8million that Marko Marin cost from Werder Bremen. With rumors linking them to other big names like Hulk (Porto) and an owner with large pockets they will look to challenge for domestic and European honors.
Arsenal spent a total of £25million on Olivier Giroud from Montpellier and Lukas Podolski from Koln to reinforce their attack. However, rumors suggest that top-scorer Robin Van Persie will leave before the end of the summer.
The Manchester rivals have been fairly quiet so far, with United buying Nick Powell from Crewe and Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund to strengthen the midfield. Manchester City have not made any major signings, but that is probably just a matter of time.
The new season will see a titanic battle between twenty clubs who all have different aspirations for the season. Some will be happy to survive, while for others nothing less than the league title or Champion’s League will suffice. The course of the season will see some surprise results and some teams will do better, and worse, than forecast. All we know is that it is going to be another exciting season of top-quality soccer action.