Five Team Race for Premier League Glory

AP Photo
The Associated Press

After a short reprieve, the Premier League is back! Advancing no further than the round of 16 in European play last year, British teams surely play with chips on their shoulders, looking to reclaim their spots in the ranks of the game’s elite.

To capture domestic glory and surpass the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and PSG on the continental level, these proud franchises need to step up in a major way. But do they have it in them? Let’s take a look.

It’s been a curious offseason for the defending champs. Adding Radamel Falcao makes sense on paper but, given the striker’s recent struggles, he seems more like insurance for Diego Costa’s hamstring rather than a genuine upgrade for the squad. His listless play with Manchester United highlights how hard it is to adapt to a new league. Falcao will need a fine season to justify being the club’s sole major offseason acquisition.

While Chelsea owes a lot of its success throughout the past decade to Petr Cech, granting his wish to remain in London breaks one of the cardinal rules of sport: do not trade a top flight player to a rival. They don’t need him, but Arsenal surely does, and the transfer may well come back to bite the Blues in the behind.

The two moves aside, Jose Mourinho’s squad is virtually the same. It is generally foolish to question The Special One’s decisions, given his two Champions league triumphs, but last year’s embarrassing exit to PSG raises suspicion of his ability to guide his side to European glory. His team’s performance in the season opener does as well, a disappointing draw at home which saw Swansea City generate 10 scoring chances to Chelsea’s three.

Besides an unimproved squad, Mourinho’s inclination to defend, rather than press, puzzles many fans. Counter-attacking is fine, but a team cannot live by it, and exposing the back four to constant pressure is a tactic that usually unravels. Every siege has its limits, eventually giving in to the enemy’s barrage as weariness sets in and attackers work out the perfect angle for the perfect strike.

Mourinho has all the offensive talent he needs, led by Eden Hazard’s ball-skills, Cesc Fàbregas’ vision, and Diego Costa’s ferocity. He may need to use more of it this year, if he hopes to defend his title and compete for the European Crown.

Manchester City
Manuel Pellegrini’s squad was neck and neck with Chelsea before falling off massively in the second half. Yet, just a year removed from their own Premier League victory, Manchester City is well in the discussion to reclaim the throne.
Losing Edin Džeko hurts, but newcomer Raheem Sterling will likely fill the void admirably. Sergio Aguero is as good a striker as any and the team boasts a solid midfield group led by David Silva and Yaya Toure. The addition of Aston Villa star Fabian Delph rounds out a robust attack that led the league in goals last year.

The main question surrounding the club is its back line. They were oh so close to signing Diego Godin, losing out on his services as Atlético Madrid found a way to resign the Uruguayan defender rather than transfer him. Yet, featuring the likes of Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis, the unit is not devoid of talent and will likely bounce back after a down year.

With a spot in the Premier League’s top four virtually guaranteed, Man City’s success in European competition is crucial towards calling their year a fruitful one. Despite recently inking an extension, Pellegrini remains on the hot seat for his lack of Champions League triumphs and needs a few statement wins in order to secure his position with the club going forward.

If Aguero can stay healthy, Manchester City will likely have the best team in England and the burden will fall on the manager to extract maximum return from the group.

Manchester United
The Red Devils had by far the most exiting offseason, signing Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay, and Bastian Schweinsteiger. As they learned last year though, spending money on big names is a risky proposition and developing chemistry will be key to a bounce back season.

Barcelona’s forward Pedro is also likely to join the team next week and manager Louis van Gaal has his work cut for him to ensure that his shiny new toys play nice with the old guard. Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao were major disappointments and a comparable performance from this group of newcomers would spell disaster at Old Trafford.

Similarly to their city-mates, defense remains a question mark. Matteo Darmian is the only major addition to a unit that forced David de Gea into one sprawling save after another. Without de Gea, it is unlikely United would have a spot in the Champions League this year and his impending transfer puts a load of pressure on Sergio Romero to fill his shoes.

They came away with a full three points against Tottenham in the opener but, their overall display was mediocre at best. The teams had an even split in time of possession while the Spurs generating far better chances. It took an own-goal and a hero’s effort from Romero to keep the visitors from securing a point, leaving United fans worried about the future. Romero’s performance was obviously a major sigh of relief, but resurfaces doubts of a back line that was awfully unimpressive.

Looking forward, the Red Devils should improve as their refurbished core jells. As long as they can avoid a major defense collapse, Wayne Rooney’s squad should be in contention for several pieces of silverware.

Arsenal was pegged by many as a sleeper to win the Premier League. Then came a 2-0 fiasco at home to open their campaign, reawakening the cliché: “Arsenal will be Arsenal.”

Although Alexis Sanchez didn’t start, his 67th minute substitution did bring some life into a club that simply couldn’t find a breakthrough effort. They will need him in fine form because, aside from Olivier Giroud, the Gunners lacked playmakers in the first hour of the match. Of course, if the Karim Benzema rumors are true, everything changes.

Regardless, manager Arsène Wenger is again forced to explain why his team cannot win when faced with imperfect conditions. One mark of a championship squad is the ability to pull through ugly matches, finding the necessary inspiration to generate points when nothing seems to be working. Arsenal will undoubtedly win games but, after two decades at the helm, Wenger will need some heart from his club to claim his first title since the undefeated 2003-04 campaign.

Speaking of the changes one game can make, what a debut for vaunted goalkeeper Petr Cech. Going into the match, he was seen as arguably the signing of the year, providing the Gunners with much needed confidence and poise. Then came two brutal mistakes, a late clearance attempt that was beat by a Cheikhou Kouyaté header and a costly misstep that allowed a weak Mauro Zárate effort, from well outside the box, find the back of the net.

We expect Cech to be better and a Benzema addition would be revolutionary. For now though, we are left scratching our heads, wondering if Wenger possesses the ability to realize his team’s potential.

There was some hesitation in including the Reds on this list but, when a top club spends millions of pounds over the course of two seasons, it deserves some consideration.

A sixth place finish last year culminated an eclectic campaign, featuring a 5-3 win over the eventual champions and a 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Stoke City in Steven Gerrard’s last club appearance. Seventy-seven days later though, Liverpool has its revenge, exercising its demons with a victory at Britannia Stadium to open the season. Five new additions saw action, including veteran James Milner, youngster Roberto Firmino, and prolific striker Christian Benteke. Unfortunately, they all looked average at best.

It was mostly a dull affair, with both sides generating few chances, until incumbent midfielder Philippe Coutinho broke through with a wonderful effort from 20 yards out. The man known as The Little Genius took a pass in the midfield, gave himself some space, and ripped a rocket into the top right corner to steal three points from a match destined for a goalless draw.

While the victory is a positive step for Brendan Rodgers’ club, his newcomers will need to make noise for Liverpool to have a chance at the title. Benteke’s 32.5 million pound transfer is similar to Diego Costa’s and Alexis Sanchez’s, players with better reputations and histories of success. Anything short of a 15-20 goal campaign will be disappointing, putting his manager on the brink of unemployment.