Top five: Premier League challenges in 2013/14

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For all the goals, all the drama, all the heartbreak, tears, triumph and joys the English Premier League at the end of the day is a business. 

Having sold its broadcasting rights to Sky and BT in a record breaking deal worth around £3.018bn combined with a BBC match of the day highlights deal worth £178million there are a lot of companies, including those with the TV rights abroad, who will be expecting the league to deliver.

Ahead of what is surely the most important season in Premier League history, Josh Paice takes a look in no particular order at the five biggest challenges it will face this season.

1) A perceived lack of world class players

As a football fan; listing players is one of our favourite things to do. The subject can be debated until closing time and beyond yet in the 2012/2013 season with the exception of Robin Van Persie, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez no player in the Premier League can really be considered to be in the world's top ten. 

With Bale seemingly on his way to Real Madrid, and the possibility Suarez could follow suit, combined with the fact that big named players such as Edinson Cavani, Falcao, and Gonzalo Higuain - all heavily linked with moves to the Premier League went elsewhere this summer - on the surface; the Premier League seems to be rather short on the world's very best talent for the first time in its history. 

That said the Premier League still boasts players with all the tools to be considered among the very best. Names like Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, the most technically gifted England player in a generation Jack Wilshere, Chelsea's "Three Amigos"; Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard, and exciting newcomers like Fernandinho, Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Alvaro Negredo, Jesús Navas and Andre Schurrle to name but a few will all have a whole season to demonstrate just how good they are to a wider audience than ever before.

2) The success of English teams in Europe

Last season's Champions League was nothing short of a catastrophe for the Premier League with no team managing to make it to the quarter-finals, Manchester City finishing bottom of their group and Chelsea earning the ignominious title of being the first defending champion to fail to make it out of the group stage. 

It may surprise some to learn that having four teams from the Premier League playing Champions League football every season is not a right but a privilege to be earned. The association ranking based on the UEFA country coefficients is used to determine the number of participating teams for each football association. 

With Chelsea winning the Champions League in 2012 as well as saving face by winning the Europa League in 2013 (the Premier League also fielded three of the eight teams in the Europa quarter-finals) we are not at panic stations yet. That said; another bad season in the Champions League could begin a very slippery slope for English football. 

With the billions being spent on Premier League TV rights: continued failure to succeed in Europe's premier competition could lead foreign investors to look elsewhere.

3) A continued pressure to field home grown, British talent

Here is another subject in which seemingly every one associated with English football has had a say on: from the national team manager Roy Hodgson and former FA Chairman David Bernstein through to the fans themselves, politicians, pundits and coaches. 

In January 2013; a European Football Observatory Reports findings, published by The Mirror, showed 55.1 per cent of footballers in the Premier League were foreign. When the Premier League began in 1992/93 there were just 13 foreign players on the books and by contrast La Liga foreign players last season made up just 35.3 per cent of the total playing staff. 

One of the Premier League's greatest strengths is its ability to showcase some of the best talent from all over the world, but just how damaging are these stats for the national game? This summer was a disaster for English football with the England U21s, Under 20s and Under 19s managing just one win between them in nine games. 

For the 2010/11 campaign the Premier League introduced a 'home-grown' player rule stating that clubs could not name more than 17 non home-grown players over the age of 21 in their teams. 

Some critics argue this is still not enough as by its definition; to be classed as 'home-grown' a player must have played in the English system for three years prior to their 21st birthday. This means players like Spain's Cesc Fabregas who joined Arsenal at 15 would still count as home-grown. Should England perform badly at next year's World Cup expect this issue to be debated over and over again.

4) The success of the Kick it Out and Respect campaigns

With the continued globalisation of the English Premier League comes a responsibility for its players to appear as role models and ambassadors of the sport for children and adults around the world. Two organisations that seek to ensure this are Kick it Out, and Respect. 

Launched in 2008 the Respect campaign was set up to combat deteriorating behaviour at all levels of football. Despite a few teething problems early on and isolated incidents such as the Luis Suarez biting incident last season, the campaign does appear to be working:  Dissent cautions (in 2012-13) are down by 13 per cent in all affiliated football, all cautions are down by 10 per cent, and all dismissals are down by 9 per cent. 

The FA has also recruited and retained 5000 referees since The Respect campaign began. Now though any serious incidents that may occur in the 2013/2014 season will be highly scrutinised due to the campaign having five years worth of experience behind it, which is more than enough time to have established itself. 

As for Kick It Out, an official body since 1997 and cited by the likes of FIFA, UEFA, The European Commission and The British Council as an example of good practice: the 2012/2013 season was difficult to say the least. 

Starting in October with several high profile names such as Rio Ferdinand, Joleon Lescott and the entire playing staff of Wigan and Swansea boycotting the Kick It Out T-shirt in protest at the organisation and ending in February with ambassador Paul Elliot being forced to tender his resignation from the body following 'discriminatory' text messages he had sent to former player Richard Rufus. 

However, like any club who under-performed last year, a new season marks a chance for the body to move forward; something Kick it Out must do if it is put last season behind it.

5) The successful introduction of new technologies and laws

After years and years and years and years of calls, this year the Premier League will become the first football league in the Europe to debut goal-line technology. The chosen system: Hawk Eye, will use seven cameras per goal to analyse whether the ball has crossed the line. The technology is supposed to be accurate with just a 3mm margin for error and will inform referees if the ball has crossed the line within half a second. 

With such an investment the world will be watching to make sure it actually works and recent events during the Ashes have seen the company come under scrutiny for some high profile incidents involving the Umpire Decision Review System. 

Referee Howard Webb told the BBC he has a 100 per cent faith in the technology. Equally, a new law amendment to the offside rule is bound to face some teething problems. The amendment as described by Webb:

"Revolves around how players who challenge for the ball are now penalised in terms of interfering with an opponent. So if you are just stood somewhere nearby but not challenging for the ball [when it is played through] and not challenging the opponent, then the assistant referee will not intervene and won't penalise you. It is when the player challenges for the ball, that's when they are going to be penalised." 

A new year, a new season, a new era and as fans all we can do is hope that these new introductions are a success.


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