The drought is over at last, a new English premier league season begins this weekend. The great thing about a new season is the unfettered hope that springs eternal among all football fans, whether their club is in the lower leagues or in the upper echelons of the Premier League. When you are a Liverpool fan, you tend to live in a perpetual state of hope, an ingrained belief that one day the club will be restored to its former glory, the “bastion of invincibility” that Bill Shankly built and was extended by Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish. Shanks would be turning in his grave at the thought of his beloved Liverpool going 25 years without a league title.
Can this year be our year? Well the bookies, who have a tendency of being right more often than they are wrong, certainly don’t give Liverpool much hope. The odds suggest a rather predictable season, with the favourites ranked in order of the top four rankings from last season, Chelsea (13/8), Manchester City (5/2), Arsenal (4/1) and Manchester United (5/1). Liverpool are a long shot 28/1, while behind them, Tottenham at 100/1, would need divine intervention to stand any chance of winning the league.
Since 1945, only six managers have retained the league title, the last being the self-proclaimed ‘special one’, Jose Mourinho, during his first spell at Chelsea. So he will not be fazed by the challenge. It is highly likely that Chelsea will bore us all to death again this season, with their win at all costs philosophy, but I don’t see them winning the league.
Mourinho has always been a provocative character, but his latest rants portray the insecurities and paranoia of a man that could be purged at any moment. Roman the Russian calls the shots at Chelsea and no major signings to speak of going into the opening day of the season is clearly unnerving Jose. The main target of his ire is the premier league’s veteran manager, Arsene Wenger, a feud that could heat up further if Wenger’s kids can finally reach their potential.
Roy Keane has written the Gunners off because ‘there’s too many Arsenal players interested in selfies and six-packs’. While there is no doubt that the Arsenal team is littered with posers, as are many of the football teams these days it must be said, the addition of Chelsea’s Petr Cech, a proven winner, could be enough to mount a real challenge. Wenger is placing his faith in his fellow countryman, Francis Coquelin, to continue his excellent form in the defensive midfield role, something that will have to happen for Arsenal to win the league. As always with Arsenal, the big ‘if’ is whether their stars can stay fit.
The locals in Manchester will be hoping the addition of Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling can inspire a blue moon rising, after a dismal season last year. Sterling has talent but what City lack is characters, not another mercenary. I see them falling short again this season, with a new manager eventually leading the next transition. Casting an eye on that other club based in Manchester, United, I’m not overly concerned. Their manager, Luis Van Gaal, is not there for the long term, and their transfer policy has shown that. Still, if Bastian Schweinsteiger regains his best form they’ll likely cement their top four finish.
As for my own Liverpool, once again they are the wild card but as ever I do think they could surprise the bookies. Of all the clubs mentioned Liverpool have added the most talent this summer, signings that will provide much more balance to the team. As well, I’m confident that a number of last year’s signings will step up. While I still believe in Brendan Rodgers and his philosophy, he is beginning to look a bit like the hedge fund manager touted as genius when his short subprime trade came to fruition in 2008 but who has struggled to deliver that exceptional performance since. If he fails to deliver this season, his near title success in 2013-14 will be attributed to Luis Suarez, and Brendan will be out the door. Realistically, he has ten league games to prove himself.
Overall, forcing myself to be objective I fancy Arsenal to win the league. They have some genuine world class talent and I think they have finally grown into a team that can conquer their demons and break from the pattern of capitulating year after year. While my head says Arsenal will be champions, my heart says Liverpool have more than a chance. My annual €100 bet will be on Liverpool. ‘We go again’!