With six clubs hiring new managers over the summer, the 2012/13 Premier League season is shaping up to be a very interesting one. But who will make up the league’s top five?
5th – Chelsea
Chelsea lack the physicality that has characterised them since the Mourinho days (winning 8.3 aerial duels per match was one of the lowest in the division), with Di Matteo set to favour a more fluid, flair based system with a direct attacking edge. Now playing a 4-2-3-1, the most popular formation in Europe, Chelsea’s biggest concern will be getting their technically gifted youngsters to gel.
Fernando Torres looks like he may finally recapture his best form, and Juan Mata will continue to thrill next season (his 13 assists and 3 key passes per match was higher than any of his team mates). Despite boasting a talented set of players, their squad is somewhat eclectic and unformed, with a conglomeration of players signed by different managers with differing visions.
They are still a very good side, but most likely will not have the consistency to finish higher than their rivals. Di Matteo is actually extremely unproven as a Premier League manager, despite their trophy success last season. The relative inexperience of their players and manager may prove costly in the long run.
4th – Tottenham Hotspur
Andres Villas-Boas’s key concern will be whether or not he is able to implement his fluid, short-passing style quickly. At Chelsea, his radical changes were met with hostility by the players who, having spent years in the Mourinho mold of reactive, counter-attacking football, were unable to effectively change their philosophy.
AVB’s style – one similar to Guardiola’s Barcelona – is far more suited to Spurs, who already posses the technical assurance to play a high tempo passing game. Expected to replace Modric with Moutinho if and when the deal for the Croatian goes through, AVB will find himself with a squad almost perfect for his vision. Fast, youthful wingers are complimented by creative, technically gifted midfielders – his only major concern is signing a forward.
If they can hit the ground running, Spurs will thrive under the tactical style of their new manager, and find themselves capable of beating almost anyone in the league. Without the distraction of Champions’ League football, they should be able to build up a run of form that sees them settle nicely in the top 4. (click here for full report on Spurs)
3rd – Arsenal
The old cliché ‘Arsenal try and pass the ball into the net’ may finally become a tag they can discard. Their ability to shake things up next season could be as radical a change as their transfer policy was this summer. The magnificent Cazorla – whose potential influence on the Premier League cannot be overstated – averaged a high 7.4 long passes last season, as well as 1.6 accurate crosses. More significantly, Giroud won 3.7 headers per match, making him the best aerial player in France.
Last season Arsenal scored only 8 times from set-pieces, and saw 73% of their goals scored from extended periods of open play. Their new dimension should allow them to win those gritty games in which defences sit back and allow Arsenal to pass the ball aimlessly in front of them. The absence of RVP may be replaced by the goalscoring prowess of Giroud and Podolski, whose combined goal tally is similar to RVP’s last season.
As much as their new signings will boost morale and add much needed experience and assurance to this sometimes naive Arsenal team, the loss of RVP (and possibly Song) will cancel out any progress. Another 3rd place finish seems likely. (click here for full report on Arsenal)
2nd – Man Utd
United’s play was too one-dimensional last year, with Giggs and Scholes repeatedly spraying the ball out wide for their wingers to create. The combined total of 30 assists from United’s three wingers is alarmingly high, with Giggs (8) the next highest creator. Man Utd cannot rely on their ageing midfielders any more, and the return of Cleverley, plus the arrival of exciting playmaker Kagawa, should add some attacking verve to their central midfield.
If they can capture RVP we may see a truly incredible partnership, with Rooney the provider and Van Persie the finisher. It would certainly be a partnership that nobody could match; both players create chances, both players score. Both players are intelligent and both are leaders. Their squad still seems a little thin for a title battle with Man City, but Ferguson’s grit and determination will see them grind out results as ever. (click here for full report on Man Utd)
1st – Man City
If they can find another striker, this City team looks virtually unstoppable. Their form will only improve as a relatively new squad continues to learn how to play with each other. So many of these players are entering into their prime, it’s frightening. Last season they came undone on occasion when they failed to find a creative spark to win them the gritty games. This year, Tevez looks like he will be returning to his old self – and nobody makes a greater impact in those types of games than the little Argentinian. (click here for full report on Man City)
On the surface then, it looks like a boring year, with the top five remaining exactly the same as in the 2011/12 season. In reality, the way in which all five of these teams play is of great interest. How the new managers at Chelsea and Spurs set themselves up is particularly intriguing – do not be surprised if either side challenges for the title, or is handed their P45 by christmas.
As far as the top two go, the striker situation at both clubs may well define the champions. If City fail to bring in an experienced goalscorer and United succeed in their pursuit of Robin Van Persie, then suddenly United will be the favourites to regain the title.
Alex Keble is the editor of www.thechalkboard.org.uk, a website that gives in-depth tactical analysis of the weekend’s football action, offering match reports with statistics, diagrams, and intellectual insight into the modern game. Follow @ak_chalkboard.Like what the TT have on offer? Sign up for more notifications!