Premier League Preview: Day 5
This is the final piece in a five-part preview of the Premier League season that will run through Friday. See part one here, part two here, part three here and part four here
Last Season: 1st place, Premier League
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Nickname: The Blues
Key Additions: Asmir Begovic, Radamel Falcao
Key Departures: Petr Cech, Filipe Luis, Didier Drogba, Mohamed Salah
The bad news for Chelsea as they head into the 2015-16 campaign is the teams they are going to be competing for the BPL title with have made far more significant moves than the Blues have this offseason. The good news for Chelsea is they started so far ahead, their competitors might not be able to catch up to the Blues this year. Led by the game’s best manager in Jose Mourinho, Chelsea have only slightly retooled as they try to become the first repeat champions since Manchester United in 2008-09. And, really, that’s exactly what they needed to do. Aside from cutting some dead weight and sending players all over the place on loans, Chelsea made two moves this offseason, both with the intention of boosting Mourinho’s the talent in Mourinho’s second team rather than his starting lineup. Asmir Begovic is a BPL veteran from his time at Stoke City, and he provides a seamless transition at backup keeper from another experienced hand, Petr Cech. Radamel Falcao was also brought in to replace Didier Drogba after his porous loan spell at Manchester United last season. Before suffering a knee injury in January 2014, Falcao had gained a reputation as one of the
best scorers on the planet. A return to that form would give Mourinho an absolute embarrassment of riches. Diego Costa was exceptional during his first season in England, Eden Hazard is getting better by the game, and Brazilians Oscar and Willian were instrumental in the attack. Despite the attacking talent they possess, Chelsea’s strength last year was its spine, and that isn’t likely to change. Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic form a terrific partnership in central midfield, as Matic’s defensive capabilities allow Fabregas to roam the pitch freely. Behind them, John Terry and Gary Cahill were rock-solid last season, while Kurt Zouma is versatile enough to spell any of those four players. Lastly, in goal, Thibaut Courtois is widely regarded as one of the best in the world, and he’s just 23. The Belgian was phenomenal last season, coming up with big saves whenever they were needed, and seems to only be improving. Just about the only thing this squad is even slightly lacking in is depth, though they do have at least one backup in each spot, so Mourinho won’t be too worried. Even with a target on their backs, the Blues are going to be tough to knock from their pedestal.
Manchester City FC
Last Season: 2nd Place, Premier League
Ground: The Etihad
Nickname: The Citizens
Key Additions: Raheem Sterling, Fabian Delph
Key Departures: Matija Nastasic, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Stevan Jovetic
Manuel Pellegrini’s men battled valiantly all of last year, but ultimately weren’t up for the title fight everyone was hoping for, and the Citizens let Chelsea slip away down the stretch. The Argentine’s squad was just one element away from being champions, and while it looks to have picked that up in the transfer window, City hasn’t done a whole lot more. On the first day of July, both Frank Lampard and James Milner signed with other clubs. Despite often being used as
subs, Lampard and Milner each appeared in 32 Premier League fixtures, and City’s midfield is thin without them. Yaya Toure and Fernandinho will certainly bear more of the workload this year as chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak has used his deep pockets to strengthen the team’s wide play more so than in engine. Cue Raheem Sterling. During the Englishman’s ludacris transfer debacle (which we covered here), he reportedly denied multiple contracts in excess of £100,000 a week. Now he has found “greener” pastures in Manchester, where the Citizens will hope he will be the key to them returning to England’s pinnacle. Sterling had a flying start in sky blue, as he scored just moments into his Manchester City debut in a friendly draw with Roma. Sterling is unquestionable the main man coming in the summer, and Fabian Delph – who had made mess of his own joining Pellegrini’s army (LINK) – should be a serviceable back ups for the aforementioned Toure and Fernandinho, but those are the only splashes that the Qatari money has made so far. It seems that City are banking on the facts that their team was so solid for the majority of last year and returns almost all of their top talent, including Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart, David Silva, Samir Nasri and Eliaquim Mangala. Last year, on paper, Manchester City had all they needed to make another title push, and this year — with the addition of Sterling — the Sky Blues are set are set for another soaring season. With an almost identical squad to last year, Pellegrini can continue to develop his tactics while other teams have to get a plethora of new transfers up to speed. There’s no doubt about it; the Citizens are dangerous both on and off the pitch. Their Qatari money makes the club able to purchase just about anyone in the world at a moment’s notice. As of now, they seem set with their squad, which as is might be good enough, but the BPL trophy could easily be dawning sky blue ribbons come May if they splash the cash on one more big talent.
Last Season: 3rd place, Premier League
Ground: The Emirates
Nickname: The Gunners
Key Additions: Petr Cech
Key Departures: Lukas Podolski, Wojciech Szczesny
Like so many of their recent seasons, Arsenal’s 2014-15 campaign was derailed by injuries. A slow start had the Gunners in 8th place in November, but — once players started to get healthy — Arsenal won 10 of its final 14 games from February on, losing just once in that span, to climb back into 3rd come season’s end. So, as they assessed the squad this offseason, manager Arsene Wenger and the board decided the Gunners didn’t need to do much to become a title contender. The
one splash they did make, however, could pay major dividends. After keeper Wojciech Szczesny struggled and ultimately lost his job to David Ospina last term, the Gunners went out and signed Chelsea backup Petr Cech to solidify the team’s goalkeeping situation. Cech is a 10-year BPL veteran and brings the Gunners the type of star in goal they haven’t had since the days of David Seaman. Assuming Cech can regain the form he showed before riding the bench last season, Arsenal’s last line of defense will be significantly stronger this year. That could be enough to carry the Gunners into the title hunt, as the rest of the roster is loaded with talent. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny form one of the league’s best center-back duos, while fullbacks Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin are dangerous in attack and solid in defense. In the midfield, a host of stars — including Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Santi Cazorla — will likely rotate in and out of Wenger’s lineup as the Gunners compete in the Champions and Premier Leagues. Former Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez scored a team-high 25 goals in all competitions last year and should continue to befuddle opposing defenses with his pace and trickery. Up front, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck, while not world-class players, are effective, known quantities who can score goals. There are rumors that Wenger is after one big-money signing, and a stellar striker (like longtime rumored target Karim Benzema) coming in could change the complexion of the title race. As it stands, everything is in place for the Gunners to compete with Chelsea, Man United, and Man City at the top of the table, but they’ll need their studs to stay out of the physio’s room and on the field to turn the title challenge into a title.
Manchester United FC
Last Season: 4th place, Premier League
Ground: Old Trafford
Nickname: The Red Devils
Key Additions: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian
Key Departures: Robin van Persie, Nani, Rafael
Manchester United has experienced a period of transformation over the past two seasons. The David Moyes saga unsuccessfully came and went, but manager Louis van Gaal has quickly brought the Red Devils back to prominence, and this season should be their brightest since Sir Alex Ferguson hung up his whistle. Though they struggled for a couple months last season, van Gaal’s tactical shift, towards a slower and more methodical build up, based around a strong central defensive midfielder, caught fire and United bloomed, winning 16, drawing four, and losing only two BPL games between November 8 and April 12. While that run was impressive, United sputtered down the stretch to finish in fourth. In the offseason, United have added a trio of first-class talent which should make their opponents tremble. The first man to sign was 21-year-old winger Memphis Depay, who will immediately give the club another lightning-quick playmaker that can score and create goals. The Dutch international spent the last four years racking up 39 goals in 90 appearances at PSV, and has
blossomed beyond his youth in the last two. Depay will be a great replacement for the aging Ashley Young and should provide great balance with Juan Mata, who still is looking to break out since being cast away by Chelsea. Behind Depay, the Red Devils have swooped up a pair of prime central midfielders, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, who, like Depay, instantly add another dimension to the squad. Schweinsteiger has won a slew of major trophies as the number one choice at the position for Bayern and the German National Team, and he will bring over a ton of experience on top of his elite talent. Six years younger at 25, Schneiderlin doesn’t have the pedigree of the German international, but he displayed his BPL talent last year, pulling the strings all season en route to Southampton’s seventh-place finish. The only piece of defensive cover the Red Devils acquired was Matteo Darmian, who flourished with Torino for the past four years in the Serie A. He is untested in England but should be a solid backup on United’s backline, which only got stronger as the season progressed. Everything seems to be in line for United to have a fantastic season, but there’s one glaring issue. Keeper David de Gea is rumored to be on his way to Spain to play for Real Madrid, and that loss would be a devastating one for the Red Devils. De Gea was one of, if not the, top keeper in the league last year, and though the Red Devils have brought in Sergio Romero as cover, he certainly isn’t the number one that can lead them to the title. If De Gea does end up moving, United will need to act swiftly to find a comparably elite goalie. As of now, however, the Red Devils are in fantastic shape. The additions of Depay, Schneiderlin, and Schweinsteiger – who will all mesh with Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini in the side – completely cover up the losses of Robin van Persie and Nani. Furthermore, the new trio could make United’s the deadliest midfield in the league. The ability to control the center of the park was something Sir Alex Ferguson did fantastically with the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, and van Gaal seems to be bringing United back toward those glory days.