Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The gloves come off, unless you’re a goal-keeper

Somewhere far to the East, a rooster crows loudly. A new day, a new beginning, a new chance for players to justify hefty transfer fees and managers to take childish quips at each other. Yes, indeed. The new footballing season is almost upon us.

Fans’ expectations are higher than they’ve ever been, except at Liverpool. They’re about the same as every year- boundless optimism which will doubtless fade into the perennial shade of wondering what forces transpire to make them lose talented players and replace them with expensive pumpkins.

Granted, Christian Benteke doesn’t look much like a pumpkin, but he’s always in sub-par form till Halloween. I rest my case.

Then there’s the Chelsea faction who’ve kindly agreed to be good sports and level the playing field by selling Petr Cech and signing Radamel Falcao. Their focus on youth continues to set the bar- Danilo Pantic joined the club and left about 3 minutes into his medical for a loan year at Vitesse Arnhem. He is simultaneously “excited to join the English champions” and “looking forward to signing for another club after not making an appearance for three seasons”.

Speaking of not making an appearance for several seasons, Nani has left Manchester United for Fenerbahce. Robin van Persie joined him because the little boy inside him said there was more money in Turkey. Manchester United, thus, were bereft of striking talent. They solved that problem by signing two defensive midfielders.

Last season, United spent the year trying to turn a striker into a defensive midfielder. This season, they figured they ought to try the opposite. It is all part of the philosophy. Next season, Memphis Depay will be goalkeeper.

Arsenal won the Community Shield which, as we all know, is what the season is really all about. They’ve been accused in the past of only signing attacking talent so they have responded this summer by only signing a goalkeeper.

This radical switch in strategy might alarm some, but Wenger is supremely confident that Arsenal will challenge for the title as long as Giroud, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Cazorla, Coquelin, Mertesacker and Petr Cech all stay fit simultaneously and Chelsea, United, City, Liverpool, Spurs and we should probably add Southampton here as well, have a bad year.

The burden of expectation has been lifted from Tottenham Hotspur. Seriously, nobody has any expectations. At all. They go into the campaign like Manchester United went into the 2011 Champions League Final against Barcelona. There is nothing to lose, except a trophy and significant financial benefits.

Southampton lost Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne but clever signings like Jordy Clasie and Juanmi show that Koeman still dons the proverbial thinking cap, occasionally. Last season was a landmark year for the Saints as they finished in a Europa League spot and coped with Liverpool’s summer raid on their squad. This season will show how close they really are to challenging at the very top of English football.

Or as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern call it, the very top of “strictly-average-honestly-even-PSG-is-better-than-that”.

Among the rest of the English top flight, look out for Crystal Palace and Aston Villa for exactly opposite reasons. Villa will be weak following their decision to replace their top goal scorer with Scott Sinclair. Honestly, one must question the validity of replacing anyone with Scott Sinclair at this point.

Palace have signed Yohan Cabaye to add to an already impressive squad (how did no clubs come in for Yannick Bolasie?). If they start well, Palace could finish as high as top seven this campaign. Watch this space for more.

A new year promises several delicious encounters, intriguing battles and new challengers to the golden throne. Points will be dropped, players will be injured (Wenger, look away now!) and controversy will doubtless show its tantalizing head. But, in the midst of this outrageous kerfuffle, let’s not lose sight of the crux- nobody will ever be a better Premier League manager than John Carver. I honestly don’t know why the others are even trying.

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