IF you are made for football, mad about the game like us here at Footy Footnotes, well, this weekend marks a particularly special period because the insanely popular and widely followed Barclays-sponsored English Premier League is kicking off.
The 2018 Fifa World Cup, which was on from June to July, provided us with the refreshing respite in the interviewing period between conclusion and start of the new season which traditionally runs between August and May.
Easily the best league in the world by spectatorship, the start of any new English Premiership season always sets pulses racing and it is no different when Manchester United and Leicester City, both former champions, today (Friday) take to the field to set the ball rolling for another battle for supremacy in the land where the game was invented.
No doubt many esteemed and sincere followers of the game already have an image of their favourite teams’ fixtures saved somewhere in their smart phones or computer desktops for easy retrieval of their respective clubs’ games arrangement.
Thus the weekly football grind is back and a changing of the guard we are predicting!
As the global viewership readies for a roller-coaster ride on the English Premier League juggernaut, sought is the top division’s premier competition; the A-game. That said, will Manchester United return to their devilish dominance and clinch their first title since the iconic Sir Alex Ferguson left; will Liverpool continue seeing red as their nearly three-decade long drought persists or eventually come right; do Manchester City have what it takes to successfully defend the crown; is Premiership newbie Unai Emery gunner blaze a trail with the ammunition in his Arsenal; will Chelsea roar and return to a podium finish; can Tottenham Hotspurs surreptitiously steal a march on other competitors and pull the big one off; or a surprise package will do a Leicester City and produce another wonderful Alice in Wonderland script?
The English Premier League kicked off last weekend and the opening action panned out as largely expected with several interesting points to ponder already. With six genuine contenders for the big prize, this promises to be another fiercely fought contest . . .
Irresistibly swashbuckling last season during which they smashed and set new records, the Citizens may find that imperious form difficult to replicate for the obvious reasons. For all the respect we hold for Josep Guardiola and our admiration of the football brains he boasts, he is only a lesser mortal to the hallowed Ferguson – the last emperor to win back-to-back-titles in England – and this will be an enormous challenge for the Spaniard. Many managers have not been as convincing in the season that immediately follows the one they won the championship; Antonio Conte (Chelsea, 2016-17), Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City, 2015-16), Jose Mourinho (Chelsea, 2014-15) and Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City, 2013-14) being cases in point in the recent past. Besides, this is the same man who got a rude awakening in his first full season in charge in England as he went trophyless. The Citizens remain the team to beat, though.
The formula that wherever Jose Mourinho has coached he has won the league title in his second season in charge did not work as he found his nemesis Guardiola in no compromising but menacing mood last term. Subdued business on the market has not helped matters either, leaving him a frustrated and sulking lot while also at loggerheads with the Old Trafford hierarchy over transfer targets. But being Jose, Mou fights back, and best, when in a tight corner with his parsimonious sides always giving very little away. But will they garner that many points, enough to secure them gold?
The Reds have done some tidy business with transfers expected to add more depth and strength to their squad. A team to beat on their day, the Champions League losing finalists look soundly strong on paper and if they can improve on their defensive deficiencies then they can go all the way. A cup, any trophy for that matter, has become overdue at Anfield and the Kopite faithful will be deeply relishing one. As such even coach Jurgen Klopp concedes as much. “We need to be ready for the big challenges, the big goals. We have to be this angry, aggressive, greedy team full of desire that wants to win each game. All the other teams have quality as well so we need to be ready for fights, not celebrating signings and stuff,” he was quoted as saying during the team’s pre-season. But will Jurgen get jogging? Can the Klopp get ticking? Will the Kop get klopping as they walk on and dream on?
An ever-lingering presence in the Top Four over the past three seasons and FA Cup finalists for the past two terms, they have flattered to deceive in that period. Spurs have looked a progressive force in each of those seasons but will they shed that nearly-men tag and deliver this time around? With a largely unchanged squad, continuity may help them here but without any meaningful additions will that not leave them severely under-strength?
After severing ties with title-winning Antonio Conte, they will be entering a fresh, different phase under new manager Maurizio Sarri, who will be out to implement his own ideas and system. The Blues have enjoyed the distinction of, on average, lifting a cup every term over the past five seasons but having brought in a coach who has never won any in his senior managerial career of just over a dozen years he has been in the trenches in his native Italy will Sarri turn on the power at Stamford Bridge?
Much like their London rivals, they may not fly the highest at the Emirates and will also be in a transitional period with Emery now in charge. Can Arsenal grow out of the hovering shadow of the now-gone gooner Arsene Wenger, a long-serving servant, and have Emery’s influence spur them to a title tilt? Just how much will they miss out on as the incoming manager’s philosophy grows on the team?
A flash in the pan
Are we likely to have any pleasant surprises, that underdog, while punching above their weight, also pulling that weight? Given the history and tradition of the English Premiership, this is a phenomenon that seldom happens; once in a blue moon. On the odd occasion it does, it sensationally captures the imagination of the entire world.
If it is about football that you care, let’s share the cheer because we are made for the game, mad about the game!