Purported Title Tilts

August 6, 2015 2 By Fabian

Just hours away from the return of the Premier League. This Saturday at Old Trafford, Manchester United kick off the 2015-16 season against Tottenham Hotspur at 1445h local time. Thank God we are finally getting there. Now I’d go on and on about how meaningless and needless life has been for the past three months without the football but now is not the time for sob stories. Let us get down to business. Who will be crowned champions next May?

This is a treacherous path trodden by many who really cannot resist it, every August. I mean this predictions thing. More often than not, it is not really a case of a football enthusiast predicting what is bound to happen, but rather what he hopes to see happen. Sometimes you make a call and you get lucky when things go as per your plan. Most of the time though, you are left looking utterly daft with egg splattered on your face and your tummy rumbling from the humble pie you have been forced to eat. Ah, cest la vie! Would you rather have it any other way? I thought so.

My belief is that the destination of the league title is well decided by the happenings of the summer transfer window. At least in recent time. The club that does the best piece(s) of business most likely wins the league. Of course do note that this is said after narrowing the sample to the four or five likeliest title contenders. 2011 – Manchester United (Javier Hernandez). 2012 – Manchester City (Sergio Aguero). 2013 – United (Robin van Persie). 2015 – Chelsea (Cesc Fabregas). Yes, yes, Eden Hazard was last season’s best player in England and indeed Diego Costa’s goals set the Blues on their way, but the signing of Fabregas was the game changer. Going into this coming season, the major contenders are the quartet of champions Chelsea, City, Arsenal and United. No doubt about that. (Wenger-speak) I don’t know Liverpool.

Can the others give Chelsea a tougher battle than the meek sallenda surrender of last term? The Blues manager Jose Mourinho seems so convinced the gap is still as wide, so much that he has barely tweaked his personnel. One big change is that one of the symbols of Chelsea’s re-emergence of a decade ago and subsequent dominance, goalkeeper Petr Cech has moved on to crosstown rivals Arsenal. How much that unprecedented move by a Mourinho-led team tilts the title towards the other side remains to be seen. Then again, it is not such a disaster of a transfer business. If anything it leaves Thibaut Courtois the undisputed number one and thus won’t be needing to look behind his back for Cech’s looming shadow every other time he is under pressure. Furthermore, Jose’s brought in Asmir Begovic from Stoke City, one of the league’s most consistent performers. Either way, their rear is pretty much covered.

The only other significant addition to last season’s dominant team is a strange one, Manchester United misfit Radamel Falcao. From the onset, one has to question the wisdom behind signing a striker, albeit on loan, whose fitness is suspect and form as elicited by last season is of Sunday League at best. Then again you get the feeling that a player like Falcao will always have that class in him that it is only up to his manager to find a playing system which accommodates and brings out that inherent class. Louis van Gaal failed in that, maybe Mou believes he will be able to prove why he still is the Special One by awakening the beast nestling inside of the Colombian. Simply put, if Falcao rediscovers his form, the title stays at the Bridge. Alarmingly for the Chelsea faithful, it is well possible that they face the prospect of having all their strikers, Costa, Loic Remy and Falcao on the sidelines through injury at some point. Also serious questions can be asked of Chelsea’s aging and creaking backline, though should John Stones (from Everton) and Abdul Rahman Baba (Augsburg) arrive (as the grapevine has it) then those questions would look very silly. The title could well be successfully defended.

Now on the football-sphere, quietly and with the most minimal of fuss, Arsenal has been touted a bit more convincingly than normal as genuine possible champions in 2016. There is just something brewing at Ashburton Grove that may or may not be obviously visible to everyone. The aroma coming from whatever is brewing in that pot sure does smell like victory. Only Petr Cech has been signed, with Arsene Wenger counting on his squad’s stability, continuity and togetherness to give him the edge in the title assault. Cech represents a break with tradition as for the first time since the Invincibles of 2004, every Gooner can boast to every other rival ‘we have a keeper as good as if not better than what you have got.’ And it is true. John Terry said that Cech could well earn Arsenal an extra 15 points…and if that were to come to fruition, bingo! In addition to Cech, Arsenal will rely heavily on the fitness of the core of Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, Santiago Cazorla, Theo Walcott and especially Mesut Oezil to wrest away the title. Alexis Sanchez, on the back of an explosive first season in English football and a victorious Copa America summer should fit in seamlessly when he is rested enough. As it is, still difficult to see Arsenal winning the league, but if the Karim Benzema rumours are indeed substantive, then maybe the dream is on. The cannon should be strong enough to shoot for the runners up spot though.

There’s something about Manchester City that seem to shout to just about anyone who may care that the deposed champs are just one signing away from greatness or from a top four scrap. You know, a stitch away from making it, and a scar away from falling apart. Going by their performances on the back end of last season, City are really a long way off from the top table that they aspire to be. On more than several occasions they were brutally exposed in defence and midfield, it’s a wonder Manuel Pellegrini survived the dreaded chop. City have made only two signings. Rather odd in the sense that they are only two, and both are English, former Aston Villa captain Fabian Delph and the constant headline grabber, Raheem Sterling. As opposed to really strengthening their course for the league, the signings to supposedly boost the club’s homegrown quota have only managed to give credence the assertion that this is a season for laying out the groundwork to offer a perfect launchpad for the next manager. I really don’t reckon they have done much to mount an all-conquering quest for glory. But pause. Murmurs of Kevin de Bruyne won’t stop. Now that would be a major wildcard if Wolfsburg does cave in.

With Van Gaal increasingly looking the part in his role as the enigma that is the Manchester United manager, they are most pundits’ choice for the most entertaining and unpredictable team in this coming season. Yes, unpredictable. You don’t have a lid on what to expect. They could steamroll all and sundry, just as they could fall by the wayside in heap upon heap of disaster. Van Persie is gone, Falcao dispensed with, and soon, Angel Di Maria will be confirmed an ex-United player. The acquisitions have been so frequent, many a United fan must be stuck in a dilemma over whose number to have on their new Adidas shirt. Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton) and Sergio Romero (Sampdoria) have all been added to the Gaalactico Revolution. Big names, big reputations from the continent indeed. Again, there’s just something that doesn’t feel so right, doesn’t feel so complete enough. Captain Wayne Rooney is set to lead the line and that’s a massive boost but down at the back, that suspect defence is still the same (Darmian has not as yet usurped Antonio Valencia at right back) and then there’s David De Gea.

De Gea wants Real Madrid. Real Madrid wants De Gea. It’s a saga. A saga dragging past its definitive timeline. Usually Madrid wants, Madrid gets. How tough will United’s resolve prove, because, make no mistake. De Gea is paramount for any semblance of a title charge. His would be alternative Romero must be well versed with the Sampdoria dug out temperatures having spent so much time there last season. Can he step up and cope with being number one at England’s biggest club? The other would-be replacement, Victor Valdes refused to bite whatever he was told to chew with the lads at the Under 21 squad and is being shipped off. Basti, the Football god, may dragged Germany to the World Cup title last year kicking and screaming, sweating blood and tears, but also he subsequently failed to nail a starting place at Bayern, owing a lot to his fitness. Or the lack of. Can he be still be relied upon during the defining moments of the campaign? Those questions point to a lot of glaring gaps that would be too big for a serious title challenge. And even if they get, I don’t know, Harry Kane, or Pedro Rodriguez, it may not be enough. A Champions League spot is a more realistic target.

Of course, should things follow this script, you are welcome. Should things go south, this never happened and should therefore never be spoken of ever again. Alright, legooooo!