Sports season previews are an exercise in futility. For one, we normally know the good teams and the bad teams off the bat and it really comes down to just shuffling the top and the bottom according to personal preference. We’re also utterly helpless against forces of nature, coaching decisions and Jose Mourinho’s explanations for what happens when. What’s more ridiculous is we do it with minimal information in our hands, having not seen a single game of meaningful football leading into the year. So, without further delay, I bring to your our preview, having seen exactly one set of meaningful games for each team.
The top teams remain the same
In a move about as shocking as Arsenal buying less players than they need to be a contender, the top of the Premiership has shifted to the tune of none at all going into this season. All top teams, with the exception of the Gunners, have pulled of rather decent performances to make sure there is no doubt who will be going for the title challenge.
You can argue that Chelsea scraped away with a draw and United needed an own goal from Kyle Walker, but those arguments are pointless. Chelsea were down 10 men for the majority of the 2nd half and did not allow a goal, holding on to their lead and United actually put on a strong performance over a team that finished right on their heels last year. Both squads were incisive in possession and displayed their quality throughout the match.
City also came in with a very dominant match against West Brom and a stern reminder that Yaya Toure happens to be a human equivalent of Captain Planet when he needs to be, doing whatever he wants on the pitch at any time. Sterling missed a sitter and further reinforced that overpriced English players remain overpriced English players, but as a whole, City look, at least for now, decisive and ready to mount a title challenge.
But The Middle Is Exciting
This is why you have to love the Premiership. Yes, Chelsea, City, United and even Arsenal, despite their inexplicable first match collapse against a rejuvenated West Ham side will usually end up towards the top of the table, but that doesn’t mean they won’t sweat.
Last year Southampton were the culprits, and Tottenham usually play the role well before they inevitably fall apart in the back end of the season (kind of like their overall match strategy). Liverpool also stick around, attaching themselves firmly on the backs of one to three players capable of deciding matches for them (see Coutinho). But the field of “faux contenders” gets wider every year.
This year we have Swansea patiently creeping in as well as a rejuvenated West Ham, finally free of Big Sam’s shackles of boring football and distaste for all that good and jolly in this world. Everton shouldn’t let the rut from last year carry over, although loss of Stones could be monumental to their otherwise static defence which moves at a pace of “what’s pace.”
Then you will also have the likes of Stoke, who since parting ways with Tony Pulis have finally accepted that attacking is also a part of football that may or may nor hold equal significance to stern defending. Crystal Palace put on a dazzling display and actually have the talent to make a run somewhere into the middle as well.
This is due to the nature of English TV revenue and competitiveness. Most English clubs are able to afford mid-tier signings that are out of reach for even mid-table clubs of Spain, Italy or France. Bolstered by an unprecedented broadcasting deal clubs like Stoke are able to pull in Xherdan Shaqiri (not to be mistaken for Shakira, although I’m sure she’d be worth more than 12mil). It’s an unfair world, but it’s an exciting one. Despite all of this, some teams fail to mess it all up tremendously. Arsenal walk into every room each year touting how much money they have and then act surprised when no one takes the lowball offer. Everyone knows you don’t skip the foreplay.
There Will Be Renaissance
I have a strong feeling that a few of the forgotten players will have a rejuvenation of a season this year. One example from last year would be Gylfi Sigurðsson (that’s like a million Scrabble points, you’re welcome) who had a terrible spell at Spurs (mostly due to playing out of position and being coached by an idiot), but returned to Swansea and found his career back on the right track.
Often players find themselves on the wrong side of the deal and trade a dependable starting job and ability to showcase talents for top 4 football, a warm place on the bench and more money. There are plenty of examples of such over the years with talented players coaxed to go to a bigger club just to fade away.
This year we will see a few of these players shine again. Wilfried Zaha and Yohan Cabaye both had weirdly inconsistent spells with United (due to not playing entirely) and PSG (due to being stuck in the rotation), but displayed superb quality on Saturday, getting onto the score sheet in the process. Cabaye is an incisive player maker with an ability to pick out the right pass most of the time and finish with a precision of a surgeon, especially on set pieces. Zaha, is a pacey winger who got buried in United’s rotation and never really got a chance to shine.
Similarly, Micah Richards is back from Italy and already captains Villa. He has always been a vocal defender with excellent physical capabilities, buried in the rotation of 30 million buys at City. Now, it’s only his health preventing him from shining bright like the diamond in the rough he is.
Europe remains an elusive concept
English clubs continue to struggle in Europe for a majority of reasons. For some it’s squad depth (seriously Arsene, you can’t expect to win with one player per position across your whole defensive line), for other’s it’s that their style doesn’t bode well against the European giants (John Terry resembles a statue more and more so I think Barcelona can just pass through him at this point).
In the end however, it’s the quality of competition back home that does in the English clubs. No one wants to give up the precious Top 4 Finish Trophy (I see you Arsene) and give up the revenue of playing in Europe. And the EPL is the league with the most predators ready to bounce. It’s like that scene from Saw where you have to chop your own foot to get free. Except that teams are doing that, and also chopping your foot just in case, so you have to chase them with a limp too.
With the FA Cup and EPL entering the fray, it gets harder and harder to rest marquee players for Europe, and while some teams do have depth, there really isn’t anyone on City’s roster who even come closer to Yaya Toure. Same goes for Arsenal and Alexis Sanchez. Unless you learn to clone them, you rest them, and that means giving up points one place or the other. There is only one winner in the Champion’s League. At the end of the day there are 4 in the EPL, it’s a game of probabilities.
We Actually Have No Idea What Will Happen
As you may have noticed (if you read this far, and if you have, kudos) that we talked in numerous generalities when we really should have been listing specifics. Welcome to the world of previews, where the only specifics you get is that we specifically have no idea what’s going to happen. Thank you for humoring me in this pointless exercise. Until next time (when we actually talk about stuff that matters).