So it’s now August, and you know what that means don’t you – the Premier League season starts this month.
It’s been a long, not so hot, summer and pre-season tours in far-flung places are being wrapped up, and soon it’s down to the nitty gritty of hardwork and lower league friendlies before the curtain raises on August 18.
Last time round Manchester City claimed their first league title in 44 years, United bombed out of the Champions League at the groups stages while Chelsea stunned the continent. So what can we expect to see from the new season?
Manchester City – Stick or twist?
Roberto Mancini has already hit out at his board and there have been no new arrivals at the Etihad Stadium as yet – is this really the same side that has spent around £240 million over the last two summers?
The club’s owners will argue that they spent so much because they were playing catch up with their Premier League rivals – now they are ahead of them there is no need to build so extensively, merely fine tune.
Interestingly, Mancini points out that City struggle in the transfer market at times because of their reputation – the club’s they buy from instantaneously mark up the price of their players because of the buying power City possess, something that has hampered business to date.
The Italian may be frustrated, but do they need any new players? At the back they will certainly need to strengthen their ranks – in Europe in particular they were found wanting at the back against the very best strikers in the world, with Napoli and Bayern Munich teaching them a thing or two during their maiden campaign.
But with the strikers they have already there is no real need for Robin van Persie - after all, it was the forwards that pulled it out of the bag on the last day of the season – and they must be careful not to buy in bulk and upset the balance.
Roma’s Daniele De Rossi would be a classy addition but aside from him there is no great need to add to their squad.
New managers, new starts?
The top four are certainly in a state of flux at the moment; blown apart last year, even Newcastle finished above Chelsea and Liverpool, and with plenty of changes happening this summer there is room for even more change at the top.
Liverpool and Tottenham both have new managers and will have to contend with progressing a little slower than others, at least at the start of the season as players begin to adjust to the new manager’s style, while Chelsea are currently undergoing a massive squad overhaul; although they have all the talent, where they end up is anyone’s guess.
All that means is that there should be plenty of change at the top again this season with plenty of drama to follow – and don’t rule out Newcastle from getting in the mix either and contuining their upwards trajectory if they manage to land the likes of Lille’s Mathieu Debuchy and Twente’s Douglas Texeira, two classy players who would add serious quality to the Magpies’ squad.
Last season saw Spurs claim fourth in dramatic fashion on the last day only to be denied the chance to play in Europe by Chelsea; expect some fairly similar fireworks this time round as well.
Chelsea spending big is hardly a new thing, in fact Roman Abramovich has been doing it fairly consistently for the last eight years – but there is something different about their approach this time.
With the addition of Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, and now Oscar, the Blues look a much slicker unit than in years gone by, and will possess plenty of pace in attack to provide Fernando Torres with the ammunition to truly kick-start his career at Stamford Bridge.
One note of caution for Blues fans however before they start celebrating winning the league title; last season Roberto di Matteo galvanised older, disenfranchised players and rallied them to glory after the flaws of the previous regime – now he will have to deal with phasing out the players who helped him claim European glory while managing a deluge of attacking players who all play in fairly similar positions.
There are going to be some unhappy players at Stamford Bridge next season, and how Di Matteo manages them and how he makes them gel will go some way to deciding how far Chelsea can go.
Manchester United's strange summer
It’s been a strange summer at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson has been going round revealing his transfer targets, the club have floated onto the stock market amid a deluge of criticism and a new shirt deal with Chevrolet was signed that saw one of central figures involved in the deal sacked for fudging the figures.
But issues on the pitch look to be going generally in the right direction. Shinji Kagawa has impressed in pre-season while the young players who had such a galling campaign last season are a year older and wiser – and if they land either Lucas Moura or Robin van Persie, or even both then they are in business.
The main question is do they really need Van Persie given his similarities to Rooney, while if this summer has taught us anything it is that United are no longer the big dogs in the transfer market. Their policy of buying young last season may have cost them, now they will want to see a return on their invenstment.