25 things we guarantee* will happen this Premier League season
*Possibly not guarantee. But mostly – with one or two could-do's and the odd question
Ninety-seven days on from the most dramatic denouement in its 20-year history, the greatest league in the worldTM is back - and bigger and better than ever. This alone is a good thing. Factor in the Championship, Leagues One and Two, the Champions League, a new World Cup qualifying campaign on the horizon and the return of La Liga (the other greatest league in the world) and we may well explode with excitement…
So, to whet your appetite, we've stuck our necks out to tell you how it will all go down…
…starting with No 1: Manchester City will prevail again
The Premier League champions have all the pieces in place to retain their title, and this time with more than 10 seconds to spare. Here, the club’s powerhouse midfielder, Yaya Toure, explains why they’ll get better with age and experience:
“With a big club you expect them to sign big players, but we already have a fantastic squad. It’s very young too. I think the average age is 24 or 25, which is great for the long term. The boss has signed his new contract and some of the players have or will renew their contracts.
"That stability is important, because we have played together for one or two years now – and when you work together all the time, you play better as a unit.
“What’s also good is that the club has so many natural leaders. Vinnie [Vincent Kompany, above] is one of them: he’s a great player, he’s young, he’s focused and his commitment to this club is unbelievable. Then you have Joe Hart, who is quite young, but is a leader. We have [Nigel] De Jong, we have [Gareth] Barry, who don’t talk a lot but set an example. That’s important in games, because in certain situations you need characters like the ones we have.
“Even more than last year, I know teams will be focused on us; on trying to beat the champions. But we will be ready for that and it will make us raise our level. We would love to take this trophy again – and we will fight very, very hard to do that.”
No.2 After 380 games, they will finish up like this…
1. Manchester City (C)
2. Manchester United (CL)
3. Arsenal (CL)
4. Chelsea (CL)
8. Newcastle United
10. Stoke City
11. Queens Park Rangers
12. Aston Villa
13. Wigan Athletic
15. Norwich City
17. West Ham United
18. West Bromwich Albion (R)
19. Reading (R)
20. Swansea City (R)
No. 3 The striker isn’t dead
Football writer Jonathan Wilson tells us why, despite Spain eschewing the striker entirely in Euro 2012 and the majority of sides opting for two holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1, the trusty 4-4-2 will remain the norm in the Premier League.
“The way Cesc Fabregas played in the Euros was very unusual and different to what we’ve seen. It’s almost a target man – not in the aerial sense we’re used to, but as a board at the front of the midfield they can bounce passes off. He retains possession, which creates a new angle for the midfield.
“Now, I don’t think anybody in the Premier League will do that. But Chelsea, who have loaded their squad with really good creative technical midfielders – Marko Marin, Eden Hazard, Oscar – don’t really have a centre forward if Fernando Torres doesn’t fire. Imagine a situation in which Torres doesn’t play well and Daniel Sturridge is injured – what do they do? Maybe stick a midfielder up there and, through circumstance, are forced to play like Spain.
“There is a very slow evolution towards a 4-2-3-1 in England. It wouldn’t surprise me if Swansea move to one under Michael Laudrup, but there are a whole bundle of mid- and lower-ranking teams who default to 4-4-2. The reason for that? It is what most British coaches and players grew up with, and it means there’s no danger of overcomplicating.
“That logic takes over when coaches are terrified of being relegated, or on a run of five or six bad results. Look at what happened to Roberto di Matteo with West Brom – he got them promoted and playing really good football, and then they got one point from nine games and he gets sacked. He won the Champions League, so he’s not a bad manager. But there’s that fear – that short-termism – that clubs can’t allow bad runs to set in. They panic, and so stick with what they know. You don’t experiment because it might end up with you being sacked.”
Jonathan Wilson writes on tactics for The Guardian and is the editor of football quarterly theblizzard.co.uk