Premier League big kick-off: Eight things to look forward to
1. United’s midfield pile-up
Not long ago there were grumbles about the lack of top-class midfielders at Manchester United; now there are concerns they have too many. But after the Anderson and Tom Cleverley years, no one can complain. With Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin – the former a World Cup winner, the latter one of the best players in England in the past three years – joining Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera, the question is how Louis van Gaal will balance his hefty, ego-rich resources. Liverpool have also been squad-building, losing Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard, but bringing in Christian Benteke, James Milner, Danny Ings and Roberto Firmino. Are any of them any good at organising a defence?
2. Pinnacle proprietary aerodynamic technology
Right up there among modern football’s big close-season traditions: Nike’s annual PR launch for their new official Premier League ball. This year’s effort, the £95 Ordem 3, is, they say, “the most advanced football ever” with “pinnacle proprietary aerodynamic technology, Nike Aerow Trac grooves”, “fuse-welded synthetic leather” and “a bold Visual Power Graphic”. Translation: it’s red and white and you can kick it.
3. A record-breaking transfer window
Three years ago Uefa revealed the “whole football family” had signed up to the letter and spirit of financial fair play – their vision to “moralise our sport” and drive out “greed, reckless spending and financial insanity”. This summer they relaxed the rules, pledged to stop putting off wealthy investors, and lifted restrictions on PSG and Manchester City – who paid £49m for Raheem Sterling. The transfer window closes at 6pm on Tuesday 1 September, with last summer’s £835m the total to beat.
4. A hard-to-call sack race
So what are the odds on sackmcclaren.com going live by mid-September? Among the other contenders: will Dick Advocaat come to regret his decision to stay on at Sunderland? How long might Liverpool’s owners tolerate a slow start from Brendan Rodgers? And were Leicester wise to take such an almighty punt on Claudio Ranieri’s Tinkerman charm proving more successful than Nigel Pearson’s ostrich-based philosophy? Slaven Bilic could also be vulnerable if West Ham fail to click, but perhaps the smartest bet is Quique Flores at Watford – their fifth manager in 12 months.
5. Are Bournemouth the new Burnley? Or better?
For the first time in their history, Bournemouth are a Premier League club. Their hugely watchable brand of football, masterminded by fresh-faced workaholic Eddie Howe, led them to the Championship title, and the Goldsands will be buzzing for the visit of Aston Villa on Saturday. But how will they fare? Their open style is likely to win admirers but not necessarily matches. Will they be another Swansea or will they go the way of Burnley? A bit of both, perhaps; though they do look vulnerable defensively. They have more money to spend than Burnley, though, thanks to the backing of a secretive Russian owner, Maxim Demin.
6. Can Harry Kane shine again?
This time last year, Mauricio Pochettino was yet to be convinced that Harry Kane was the man to lead his attack at Spurs. Now the 22-year-old is burdened with being England’s bright new hope and starts the season as one of the most feared and sought-after strikers in the league. Kane was brilliant last season, the highlights undoubtedly being his stunning roles in Tottenham’s wins over Chelsea and Arsenal at White Hart Lane. Overall his goals earned 24 points and no other player in the league could match that. So will Kane?mania continue – or was he just a flash in the pan?
7. Falcao’s goal drought
Will it be a Fernando Torres-style five-month ordeal – or will he click straight away? Not so long ago Radamel Falcao terrorised defenders all over Europe but after one haunted loan spell at Manchester United he’s being written off by some as an overpriced busted flush. There was surprise when Chelsea decided to give him a chance and if he struggles early on his confidence will drain. But if José Mourinho can find a way to revive him, it could be a masterstroke of a signing. Also watch out for new, relatively sensible hair.
8. Big fashion statements
Among the season’s bravest new outfit choices: Watford’s home shirt, making them look like actual hornets; Newcastle’s new Wonga-blue ensemble, rendered out of date hours before they launched it after the sponsor rebranded; Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland and Swansea’s synchronised green away options; and Norwich’s special new third kit. The club’s Head of Retail called it a “really out there” design with the “fun factor”, then pushed his luck: “We encourage fans to let us know what they think via social media.” The only positive: as it’s the same colour as their first and second kits, it’s unlikely to make it out of the cupboard. – © Guardian News & Media 2015