There are twelve new teams and/or managers in the English Premier League this season. Three weeks remain in the summer transfer window, and despite a good deal of transfer business already completed, there is a LOT more to come. It’s six days until the start of the new Premier League season and here are five questions I’ve had running through my head today about the new season.
1) Is Sir Alex really going to rely on a midfield of Cleverly, Scholes, Carrick, 18-year-old Nick Powell, Kagawa, and Crocked Anderson, to try and win their title back?
Last season things got so bad for Manchester United’s midfield that Sir Alex had to persuade Paul Scholes to come out of retirement just to make up the numbers. United have a deep squad, but injuries and illness ripped through the heart of their midfield and they desperately looked for anyone decent to come in and play. Thankfully, Scholes played better last season than he did in either of the two seasons before then, and helped United finish in a tie for the title, with Manchester City winning on goal difference. Having lost Darren Fletcher seemingly for good and seeing Giggs turn 39 and Scholes on the verge of 38, I expected United to restock their midfield in a big way this summer. Instead they’ve signed Kagawa (a good deal), and Nick Powell, a young player who has never sniffed the premier league before and… uh… that’s it. Phil Jones is versatile enough to provide another option at defensive/deep-lying mid, but he and Powell are both very young, while Giggs and Scholes will need to be handled with kid gloves due to their age. This leaves an awful lot of riding on the health of newcomer Kagawa, Michael Carrick and Anderson (who rarely looks good enough for ManU anyway).
Rumor has it that both Lucas Moura (signed by PSG) and Oscar (Chelsea) were on the radar, but ManU lost the bidding wars there. I’d be shocked if they didn’t sign at least one more midfielder before deadline day hits. If they don’t, they could see the title disappear from their grasp during the winter slog, especially if they make deep runs into the Champions League and FA Cup.
2) Do Chelsea now have as much talent as Manchester City and more talent than Manchester United?
In the last two seasons Chelsea have bought Mata, Cahill, Ramires, Romeu, Meireles, Hazard, Marin, and Oscar. That is a TON of talent and one hell of a restock for a team whose average starting player age was pushing 30 consistently. It is also a ton of midfielders, making me wonder how even Chelsea’s flexible 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 can fit them all in. Regardless, if they sign another top quality striker to go along with Torres (who I think will be fine, if not the ridiculous golden god he was in his hey day at Anfield), and if Michael Essien’s knee heals enough to regain most of his form, I’d put Chelsea right with City in both offensive firepower and overall team quality/depth.
The big question then becomes: How good is Roberto DiMatteo?
I know Chelsea’s league form under DiMatteo at the end of last season was unimpressive, but that also was not their focus at that point in the campaign. Under RDM, they merely took home the FA Cup and, oh yeah – however improbably – won the Champions League (thus sneaking through the back door of this year’s competition despite finishing 6th, AND knocking out fellow London club Tottenham Hotspur in the process. That’s a hat trick from just one win). Thus you can say that DiMatteo likely accomplished every goal Abramovitch set in front of him when he took over as caretaker.
To be honest, I don’t know what to expect of this squad or their manager. All I know is that on paper, DiMatteo definitely has the weapons to challenge both Manchester clubs for every trophy on the table this season.
3) What is up with Andy Carroll’s move?
Two weeks ago we heard that West Ham had jumped for Carroll in a big way, and Liverpool unexpectedly accepted the bid, signalling Brendan Rodgers had no use for him in the system he’s putting in place at Anfield. Since then, we have also heard that Carroll just ain’t interested in lowering himself to West Ham’s standards, despite that fact that his good friend Kevin Nolan has been wooing him, and that he’d be absolutely perfect running around at the front of Big Sam’s team.
I really like Andy Carroll and feel like he was poorly used and confused for most of last season. My guess is that Carroll is waiting to see what his options are, but I think he’ll be better and better off in London than he will be moping around and getting a lot of bench time at Liverpool. That said, if he stays I think he can improve under Rodgers, but at this point he really needs to play.
4) Is Clint Dempsey still going to move? Has his deal stalled waiting for Carroll’s to go through? Why hasn’t Moussa Dembele had a lot more rumors about moving to a big team?
I thought Martin Jol was unfairly sacked when he was running Spurs, so I was excited to see what he’d do when he came back to the Premier League with Fulham. Thus far, he has fulfilled my expectations that he is a good manager, and based on his signings the last two summers, he’s starting to make me think he’s pretty good at finding cheap talent as well. On the other hand, he inherited a pretty good squad of players when he took over Fulham, and he’s probably like to keep the best of them to go along with his new signings.
Fulham’s two best players last season were almost certainly Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele. Deuce is getting old and needs to move to a bigger club, while getting one last deal in the process. As an American, I can say I love Dempsey, and he brings something special to the game in terms of energy, imagination, and bravery that some players simply lack. I definitely wouldn’t want to overpay for him (no more than 10-11M£) but I’d be very happy to have him on my team.
As good as Dempsey has been, I think Dembele was the more important player for Fulham, and a better long-term transfer target. He’s still only 25, and has the rare ability to create space in the middle of the park that is so important in the Premier League. He’s a little like Cesc Fabregas in that he can ride a tackle really well and/or do a light dribble past a defender and suddenly the whole pitch is open to him. He lacks Fabregas’s amazing skill in the final ball department, but he’s getting better there, and he’s definitely a threat from late runs into the box. Additionally, Dembele’s contract is only listed as running through June of 2013, which is the same as Dempsey. Thus I’m surprised that he wasn’t much higher on the shopping lists for teams like Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal (though they got Cazorla), or even as a second option for United and City. (Note: He has to be at least as good as City’s midseason Pizarro rental and should have sell-on value if things don’t quite work out.)
5) Was Sunderland’s management team secretly replaced by crickets?
I ask because minus the super signing of Carlos Cuellar on a free (which was in reality, neither super nor exciting), we have heard basically nothing from them this offseason. I fully expected Martin O’Neill to hit full wheeler-dealer mode after having five months to assess the squad, and instead they have barely even nibbled around the edges. I think MON can outmanage the middle and bottom of the table at this point, but he still needs the goods to make it happen, and right now that team is missing pieces. I assume they got a good deal out of Gyan leaving for good, we know they got a good deal when Darren Bent left, and they’ve often managed to find Stoke willing takers for the various surplus parts they acquired during the sad Steve Bruce time, so you’d think there is some cash available. Basically, I’m waiting for O’Neill to put his stamp on the team but he’s clearly running out of time.
If they manage to make just a couple good buys, teams will start to dread trips to Sunderland nearly as much as they do to Stoke, which if you look at how Stoke played the top teams at home, is quite the statement.
Bonus) How exactly did Danny Murphy end up in the Championship?
Danny Murphy is a special type of player, in that he sees the pitch in a way that allows him to make passes most midfielders never see. Yes, he’s getting a bit older (35), but any of the teams in the bottom half of the table could have used him, even up through Sunderland. Great passers who understand the league are super-important these days if they can run at all (see also: Paul Scholes), so how did Murph not land a new job? He would have been useful even if he was playing mostly second-tier games and brought on as a sub in the 60th minute when you need to create offense/find a goal to kill the game. So yeah, how he ended up at Blackburn, a club in complete and total disarray, when something like 12-13 teams in the Premier League need a player exactly like him is beyond me.