It’s been a somewhat subdued summer for Manchester City, with that feeling deepened by a raucous World Cup, and the fact the defending champions opted not to sign any of the stars of Brazil 2014. That is perhaps further illustration of the club’s new maturity, as City only looked to improve areas where they were obviously lacking: Fernando offers another option in defensive midfield; Eliaquim Mangala is likely to come in at centre-half. They now have an even deeper squad foundation, and that could help them stand with a stronger footing against one of the usual consequences of the World Cup: no Premier League team have retained the title in the season after the global tournament. That is partially because the event can be so energy-sapping and distort the next campaign, but it also carries extra resonance for City. They are themselves looking to retain the title for the first time in their history. It would mean all the more because it would be the club moving onto another level again, fully succeeding Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United as the dominant force.
After what has been a transfer window full of statement signings for Chelsea, the hope is the team can live up to one of the statements that has defined Mourinho’s career.
“His second years are better than his first because the players know each other,” Ricardo Carvalho once said of his old boss, and it has repeatedly been proven true. Porto and Inter won Champions Leagues in Mourinho’s second seasons, Real Madrid claimed the Spanish title. Now, Chelsea will hope to ensure they win the league for the first time in five years. The likes of Nemanja Matic will be more integrated, while all the key areas of the team have been bolstered, especially the forward line with Diego Costa. A lack of goals at key times cost them last season. That could be crucial to a key campaign.
Following a miserable 2013-14 season of so many unfamiliar worries for Manchester United, one relatively unexpected success story from the World Cup seemed to wave so much away. The innovative nature of the Netherlands’ brilliant surge to the semi-finals indicated that there should be no doubts about whether Van Gaal has been out of the game too long. He was at the forefront of some exciting football, which continued in pre-season. The question is how far it takes United: merely to the race for the Champions League, or right back into the hunt for the title?
Throughout the nine long years Arsene Wenger, pictured above, went without a trophy, one of the more persistent questions was whether the Arsenal manager had forgotten the deeper effect of winning silverware, of what Brian Clough called “the champagne effect”. It can unify a team and put them onto another level. With Arsenal, we’ll now get to find out. It also feels all the more important for them precisely because of this young British core, who may have lain down a marker. The club needs to finally make a proper mark on a title race.
For all the brilliance of Brendan Rodgers’s coaching, and all the uplift in the likes of Daniel Sturridge, it’s still hard to downplay the profound effect Suarez had on Liverpool. His general play ripped so many teams apart, his 31 goals finished so many off. No player so fully defined the side’s exhilarating style of play. Now, they must try and replicate it without him. This should not put any doubt on Rodgers’s hugely promising long-term project. It does, however, raise doubts about whether they can get anywhere close to that again in the short term.
The Uruguayan does not just leave a huge gap in Liverpool’s attack. He also leaves one in the Premier League as a whole. Suarez follows the same path as all those other truly world-class to temporarily illuminate the competition in incomparable ways, such as Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo: he moves to one of the big Spanish two. It leaves England with no-one currently on that level but, as ever, there is potential for someone to succeed him. Sergio Aguero and Eden Hazard look the likeliest.
When you look across last season’s top seven, one thing stands out beyond the various personalities involved. Not one of the clubs currently has any issues over the manager, which is perhaps the first time since the Premier League began. All are settled, all are talking about long-term planning. It could make for a race that is even more competitive than last season.
One of the problems with every set of season predictions is that they’re based on information that could be completely irrelevant by Christmas. Most people would have justifiably had Sunderland going down last season as a result of Paolo Di Canio’s management, only for that very situation to save the club… because they sacked him. A few coaches are under threat, from Alan Pardew to Paul Lambert, and decisions could condition the season.
It’s difficult to even predict how this transfer window will affect Southampton because, really, we’ve never seen a fire sale like this. They’ve lost everything that made this team, from the manager to virtually all of the star players, and are really starting from scratch.
The question is how quick they can get up and running. Otherwise, they may go from a team on the brink of a challenge for Europe to one on the brink of relegation?
For all the commotion about Sam Allardyce’s reductive style of play, it did bring one guarantee: safety. Crunching the numbers to get the minimum required is what a pragmatic manager like Allardyce is all about, but the doubt over his future also sums up the eventual dilemma every mid-table club finds themselves in: do they just consolidate and stay safe, or actually seek to grow? It is one reason the number of relegation candidates seems to be so wide every year. Last season there was a time when there were eight. Teams like West Ham could swell that.