By Andrew Discenza
All You Need to Know Before the English Premier League kicks off on August 13th
New Faces in New Places
Liverpool have made by far the best signings of 2011. After Kenny Dalglish brought in the electrifying forward pairing of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez in January, the manager reinforced the midfield in the off-season with Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, and Jordan Henderson, as well as recalling Alberto Aquilani from his loan spell. Asking only for his players “just to be themselves,” Dalglish seems to have the master plan on Merseyside.
Manchester United made moves early to secure the signature of David de Gea, the highly rated goalkeeper from Atletico Madrid to replace the retiring Edwin van der Sar. Sir Alex Ferguson has also brought in 19-year-old defender Phil Jones and Ashley Young, who will undoubtedly provide the manager a dangerous option out wide, having already showcased his talents in the pre-season.
Tottenham made the single smartest move in the transfer window, signing goalkeeper Brad Friedel to replace Gomes. The Brazilian has been inconsistent at best between the posts for Spurs, and who better to help the club challenge for Europe than the sure-handed American.
Arsenal continue their trend of rather understated transfers, but bringing in Gervinho from Lille will help guard against their stubborn lack of consistency in the forward position.
Aston Villa went for quality over quantity in the off-season, acquiring Shay Given, an admirable replacement for Friedel, and Chalres N’Zogbia, Wigan’s midfield maestro of last season.
Sunderland just went for quantity. They acquired seven new players in the off-season, including veteran defensive duo of John O'Shea and Wes Brown, as well as the steady Craig Gardener in midfield and the potentially explosive Sebastian Larsson.
Manchester City have the potential to break the bank at any moment, but their fairly underwhelming summer has been a pleasant surprise. Gael Clichy can only strengthen the side as one of the top left backs in the league, and Sergio Aguero meanwhile will prove a vital insurance policy should Carlos Tevez leave the club.
Which brings us to…
Big-Name Transfers Still Up in the Air
Wesley Sneijder has been the subject of persistent transfer rumors, especially to Manchester United. The ideal replacement for Paul Scholes, should Sir Alex manage to secure the signature of the star Dutchman.
Having announced his intentions to leave the club on more than one occasion, Carlos Tevez’s departure from Manchester City seems an inevitability. But the Eastlands club have been unimpressed by offers for the Argentine, and should he stay they might just find themselves mounting a true title challenge.
The Cesc Fabregas drama is clearing taking its toll at the Emirates. Whether the Arsenal skipper is truly heading to Barcelona this time who knows, but despite the Spaniard’s vital importance to Arsenal, the only card left for Arsene Wenger to play is to raise his price tag.
Tottenham are in the same boat, as Luka Modric has drawn in the interest of Europe’s top sides. Chelsea remain intent on the Croatian, but Harry Redknapp has proven a formidable obstacle thus far.
Dimitar Berbatov is an overlooked factor that could play a big role in Manchester United’s season. The success of Rooney and Hernandez has cast doubt over the Bulgarian striker’s future, but the 30-year-old was United’s main source of goals at the start of last season, and his absence could leave a notable hole on the score sheet.
Queens Park Rangers made the most promising moves of the three promoted clubs. Danny Gabbidon, Kieran Dyer, and Jay Bothroyd will add much needed Premiership experience to a side desperate for top-flight survival. Having finished top of the Championship after a 19-match unbeaten start of the season, QPR have the brightest chance of survival.
Norwich City splashed out on five new players in the transfer window, but all lack much-needed Premiership experience. A majority of their wins last season came by just a solitary goal, and they will have to show more mettle than that to survive in the Premiership.
Swansea City have brought in Danny Graham, Wayne Routledge and Leroy Lita to bolster their ranks, but like the two teams above will have an uphill battle to keep their place in Europe’s most competitive league.
How They’ll Finish at the Top
Manchester United are already favorites to lift the title for a 20th time. Sir Alex Ferguson has lost some familiar faces but promising youngsters like “Chicharito” Hernandez and Tom Cleverly should calm any worries. They’ve got the heart, the experience, and the confidence to do it all again.
Liverpool will return to Champions League football thanks to Dalglish’s inspirational signings and attitude. Midfield depth and the potential to score at will should give the Reds an edge they’ve lacked for too long.
Chelsea, despite a conspicuous asbsence of first-team changes, will be in the thick of it again. With strength at every position they can’t be counted out, although as a collective unit they’ve been a bit wayward and need better chemistry to win the title.
Arsenal will squeeze into the fourth Champions League spot, only just. The Gunners will continue to fret over possible departures, but the youthful side has the potential to finally bring silverware to the Emirates.
Manchester City will suffer under the impending departure of their talisman Tevez. Although boasting a hefty squad and pocketbook, they relied too many times on the Argentine and Joe Hart in goal last season.
Tottenham will continue the fight to break into the top four. Just missing that extra bit of quality, Harry Redknapp won’t see Champions League football next season but look forward to excitement all the same at White Hart Lane.
Andrew Discenza is a freelance football writer living in San Francisco. An avid football fan since childhood, he is drawn to the competitive edge in the top European leagues, but recognizes talent from across the globe, especially the Americas. His Premiership Nutshell column can be found on Soccer365.com each week during the season.
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