Two distinct power bases have emerged in England ahead of the new Premier League season, which kicks off this weekend.
The two Manchester clubs fought a close battle for the championship throughout 2011/12, with the blue half of the city celebrating after the title was clinched in stoppage time on the final day. But their hegemony will be challenged this time around by three contenders from London.
Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have each invested wisely during the close season to establish increased quality in their starting XIs as well as extra strength in depth among the squad. City and United enter the campaign without a traditional clutch of new faces, compared to the heralded arrival of stars such as Santi Cazorla, Eden Hazard and Jan Vertonghen in the capital.
With Liverpool attempting to rebuild once again under a new manager, a series of teams trying to take the leap from mid-table to European qualification, and a trio of sides with Premier League experience making the step up to the top flight, the 2012/13 season has the potential to be equally as exciting as the last. FIFA.com has all the details.
Having ended a 44-year wait to become champions of England three months ago, Manchester City have no intention of resting on their laurels. Roberto Mancini has been unusually passive in the transfer market to date, with promising midfielder Jack Rodwell the only arrival at Eastlands, but the Italian’s squad remains crammed with quality.
Inspirational captain Vincent Kompany recently signed a long-term contract extension and Carlos Tevez has been welcomed back into the fold following his dispute with Mancini last season. The Argentinian was among the scorers as City laid a marker by beating Chelsea in the FA Community Shield on Sunday.
It is perhaps easy to forget that Manchester United were only denied a record 20th title in 2011/12 on goal difference. Losing to their city rivals at the last minute will merely have steeled Sir Alex Ferguson’s determination to add yet another trophy to his incredible collection, although the Scot has also been reticent to heavily invest during the close season. That is likely to change with the pending arrival of Robin van Persie, though, after a fee was agreed with Arsenal.
Japanese attacker Shinji Kagawa has moved to Old Trafford after playing a key role in back-to-back Bundesliga titles for Borussia Dortmund, and Ferguson will again keep faith with talisman Wayne Rooney, the evergreen Ryan Giggs and rising star Danny Welbeck. The Red Devils are also boosted by the return from long-term injury of powerful defender Nemanja Vidic.
Change has certainly been the order of the day for Chelsea. Roberto Di Matteo was appointed manager on a permanent basis after the Italian backed up success in the FA Cup with an emotional and dramatic triumph in the UEFA Champions League final against Bayern Munich in May, ending a long odyssey for continental glory by owner Roman Abramovich.
The Blues’ league form was indifferent last season, though, with a sixth-placed finish well below standards, and the Stamford Bridge side have reacted with two stellar additions. Belgian playmaker Hazard picked Chelsea as his preferred destination after being courted by Europe’s top clubs, and he will be joined by Brazil starlet Oscar, who completed his switch from Internacional while starring for his country at London 2012.
Arsenal too can be pleased with the signings they have secured, although their preparation for the new season has been overshadowed by doubts over Van Persie’s future with the club. At the beginning of July, the Dutchman signalled his intention not to sign a new contract due to disagreements on “the way Arsenal FC should move forward”.
Arsene Wenger had already captured the services of Germany international Lukas Podolski and France striker Olivier Giroud before Van Persie’s announcement, and pulled off a coup with the signature of Cazorla from Malaga earlier this month. The Gunners are therefore well stocked ahead of the new season but their attempt for the title may be hampered by Van Persie's expected departure.
A new consistency during recent campaigns has contributed to Tottenham Hotspur being considered challengers not just for Champions League qualification, but for the Premier League itself. Harry Redknapp guided his team towards a genuine chance for glory last season but a drop in form saw Spurs fall to fourth and the manager lose his job.
Despite difficulties during a short-lived spell at the helm of Chelsea, Andre Villas-Boas was named as Redknapp’s replacement. The Portuguese has overseen the arrival of talented midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson and former Ajax captain and 2011/12 Dutch Footballer of the Year, Vertonghen. Talks are also ongoing with regards to the permanent signing of Emmanuel Adebayor, who bagged 17 goals while on loan at White Hart Lane last season.
A new man is in charge at Anfield for the third season running, with Brendan Rodgers the latest to be handed the Liverpool reins. Handpicked by the club’s owners after impressing the whole country at Swansea City, the Northern Irishman faces a tough task to steer the Reds back into the Champions League. Stalwarts such as Craig Bellamy, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez have departed, and Rodgers has brought former charges Joe Allen and Fabio Borini with him.
Across Merseyside, David Moyes continues to wring the best out of a small budget at Everton but the Scot’s skills might be stretched this time around. Rodwell followed Tim Cahill out of the door at Goodison Park, although Steven Naismith was picked up for free and fans’ favourite Steven Pienaar is back after a brief stint with Spurs. Most crucially, the Blues have kept hold of Leighton Baines and goalscorer Nikica Jelavic.
Newcastle United can still call on the services of their key players, with Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba likely to form a potent striking combination for the Magpies. Alan Pardew and his team took everybody by surprise with their rise to fifth during the previous campaign and, with Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote anchoring midfield, will be a match for many.
Reading, Southampton and West Ham United are the three new sides to join the 2012/13 Premier League after their promotion from the Championship. The trio will hope to repeat the feat of the three teams who entered the division last season – Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers and Swansea – all of whom avoided relegation.
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