Thursday, August 16, 2012

Premier League 2012/13 Preview

In one swift move, that can be characterized as another moment of brilliance, Alex Ferguson has tilted the balance of power for the coming Premier League season. This is the move that everyone else did not want happen but which the Utd boss desperately needed to catch up with the might of neighbours City. Robin Van Persie's move to Utd is clearly a game changer for both the EPL and Champions League as the Red Devils can now boast about having the best strike force in the world; Rooney, RVP, Chicharito, Kagawa, and Wellbeck, not to mention that the equally good Berbatov is ailing on the sidelines. Since the massive news of the transfer of the Dutchman, rumours are abounding about the parting of Chicharito, and even if that were to happen, the strike force would still be most fearsome. Goals will be bountiful.

I don't have much doubt in my mind that the EPL crown will stay in Manchester this season. On paper, City are still a little better than Utd. They however need to show they can retain the title. It is always so much easier to get to the top than to stay there, as the saying goes. On the managerial side, there is no problem in that regard as Mancini has notched 3 consecutive titles in the Serie A with Inter Milan. The distraction of the Champions League should still leave him focused enough for the EPL challenge. Their main challenge he will face is keeping the team together and minimize off-pitch issues with the likes of Tevez and Balotelli. Although they have been rather muted on the transfer market so far, this City squad is most impressive and can beat any team on any day.

Going back to Utd, their weaknesses lie in defence and midfield, just like last year. Much of their hopes relies on the availability of captain Vidic. His non-availability last year was what caused their demise and they will be destined to the same fate if he spends much time on the sidelines again. He is irreplaceable. In midfield, there is a clear lack of playmaker; Paul Scholes is still high-class but he can only be used sparingly. It is clear that Ferguson wanted upcoming Eden Hazard or Lucas Moura to fill in that gap and the fact that he lost out on both counts will enliven the debate as to who will rule the Utd midfield. If Brazilian Anderson stays fit, he could be the one, but he's too often prone to injuries.

The title will certainly be between Utd and City and Londoners Chelsea or Arsenal should challenge for third place. Chelsea are an enigma team as they have players on the wane and interesting newcomers like Hazard. Di Matteo is a good coach and he's possibly their best permanent signing of the season. If Arsenal stay consistent the whole season, they are my favourites to get that remaining podium spot, even without RVP. Time and again, Arsene Wenger has shown that he can replace the players that have left, and the arrivals of Giroud, Cazorla and Podolski will possibly fill much of the gap. The problem with Arsenal, as I have been writing, is that there is a missing ingredient in Arsene's management that keeps them from reaching the top; that inherent will to win that Ferguson and Mourinho have, that filters through to the whole team and give them 10 extra points during a season. It's not about just pretty football or massive profit targets, it's about winning games when everything is on the line and bringing trophies and making winners out of players.

I see Tottenham under-achieving compared to last year. Clearly getting rid of Redknapp, one of the 5 best managers in the league, is a step down. Villa Boas is good, but does not compare. Liverpool are a re-building side and the arrival of new manager Rogers from Swansea will not make them title contenders.

For those that have an appetite for ante-post or such markets that take months to settle, the following below are my value punts for the EPL given the odds available today. Of course, the season flows and ebbs and prices change significantly during the year but at this stage, those odds look under-priced on the exchanges.

Winner: Man Utd/Man City
Top 2: Man Utd
Top 3: Man City, Man City
Top 4: Arsenal
Lay: Tottenham Top 3, Liverpool Top 4

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