This weekend plays host to the perfect appetiser ahead of what promises to be another enthralling and dramatic campaign in the Premier League: the Manchester Derby at Wembley to contest the customary curtain raiser, the Community Shield.
But with teams starting to take place, supporters have been either wetting their lips in anticipation or dreading a campaign without their key players of seasons gone-by. So what teams will be challenging for honours, who will sit contentedly in mid-table and who will suffer a dreaded relegation battle? And which players will steal the limelight as the stars that their respective teams depend upon?
1st Manchester City – CHAMPIONS
As last season went on, the core of Roberto Mancini’s expensively-assembled side seemed to go from strength to strength, and any doubts over the Italian’s managerial qualities seemed to evaporate as they stormed to a 3rd place finish as well as an overdue FA Cup victory. Sergio Aguero seems a more than adequate replacement for the seemingly outgoing Carlos Tevez, whilst in David Silva they have arguably the most gifted player in the division. Silva is someone is of the highest echelon of Spanish talent, with his technical ability, flair and eye for the pass making him the hub and focal point of City’s attacking moves. They have the star quality, the strength in depth and the manager to make them a very serious contender for a first Premier League title in their history.
Star Player: David Silva
2nd Manchester United
Alex Ferguson seems to have managed to conclude his significant summer business as early as feasibly possible, with Ashley Young, David De Gea and Phil Jones all incoming in an attempt to add a sprinkling of enthusiasm to an already powerful squad. However the Red Devils will miss the now retired duo of Edwin Van Der Sar and Paul Scholes, with the latter leaving a gaping hole in the centre of midfield, and a lack of a deep-lying playmaker who can dictate the tempo of a match, something which Ferguson may be anxious to do something about. However Rooney and Hernandez will expect to follow the benchmark they set last season, whilst like all of Ferguson’s sides, the team are built on very firm foundations.
Star Player: Javier Hernandez
New manager Andre Villas Boas will have a difficult task of spear-heading an ageing squad bereft of natural width, whilst also attempting to live up to comparison so of Jose Mourinho, a man who achieved instant success during his time at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea can boast an impressive defensive record; however the pressure will be on Fernando Torres to score the goals, whilst the injury-stricken Michael Essiens’ energy-filled displays will be sorely missed. Villas Boas could do with recruiting a playmaker and a couple of wide men in an attempt to bring a bit more variety to the Blues’ offensive armoury.
Star Player: Fernando Torres
Questions may have been raised regarding the value for money that Kenny Dalglish has got on the deals he has concluded thus far, however one thing that cannot be doubted is the camaraderie and togetherness that the Liverpool legend has instilled during his short reign in charge. His strategy of cutting high-earning foreign players whilst bringing in promising British talent, who at times may have been purchased at more than the expected market rate, seems to have allowed smoother integration and a team that knows its strengths. Meanwhile Suarez and Carroll have the strengths to form a prolific partnership; however Dalglish will surely be on the lookout for an enhancement to the side’s defensive department.
Star Player: Luis Suarez
The signing of exciting Ivorian Gervinho has done little to dispel doubts that Arsenal are incapable of ending their trophy draught any time soon. With Fabregas and Nasri’s future seemingly unclear, Wenger will surely need to shift from his strict stance of mainly purchasing young players or risk losing their grip on the Top 4. Also the Frenchman will need to closely analyse a current Achilles heel; the leaking of goals that could easily be stopped, and this may mean purchasing a dominant leader such as Chris Samba or Phil Jagielka who could prove to be the missing piece to knit the defence together.
Star Player: Robin Van Persie
6th Tottenham Hotspur
After a failure to qualify for the Champions League for a second season running, the inevitable vultures have started to circle around the likes of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, and Harry Redknapp will be anxious to prove that the North London outfit are no longer a selling club. With one of the better midfields around, Tottenham are on the lookout for a striker that can guarantee to be a reliable goal scorer, and a regular defensive partner for the commanding Michael Dawson.
Star Player: Luka Modric
7th Aston Villa
Will be organized under McLeish, and the pressure will be on N’Zogbia, Ireland and Albrighton to provide the ammunition for Bent.
Star Player: Darren Bent
Steve Bruce has managed to make some shrewd signings immersed in Premiership experience, but will need to allow his recent purchases time to merge into a strong unit.
Star Player: Asamoah Gyan
David Moyes will again have to cope with scarce resources at Goodison Park, preventing him from purchasing a prolific striker that would see his side compete for a European Places. However a settled squad with a handful of talented youngsters should see another comfortable campaign.
Star Player: Marouane Fellaini
10th Stoke City
Tony Pulis’ side has many critics regarding their direct style of play, however it has proved effective and Stoke are likely to purchase players of a higher calibre to aid their upcoming European adventure. This may prove a slight (and welcomed) distraction, but the vocal Britannia crowd should ensure yet another mid-table finish.
Star Player: Ryan Shawcross
Mark Hughes’ departure caused a stir, but Fulham seem to have found a suitable replacement in Martin Jol. The squad is hard-working with snippets of genuine talent; however the extremely early introduction to the season due to the Europa League may cause problems as the season progresses.
Star Player: Brede Hangeland
12th Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves will be desperate to avoid another ‘survival Sunday,’ and they have shown their intentions with the captures of Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara. There is talent and experience in the shape of Doyle, Jarvis and Hunt, meaning that Mick McCarthy can expect a more prosperous season ahead.
Star Player: Roger Johnson
13th West Bromwich Albion
Roy Hodgson managed to quickly shrug off his Liverpool nightmare last season, steering West Brom to comfortable safety, and has plenty of attacking talent which he will hope to compliment with a sturdier back-line, starting with new arrival Ben Foster.
Star Player: Peter Odemwingie
14th Bolton Wanderers
Owen Coyle may be lucky to avoid relegation battle this year, with a lack of strikers and the broken leg’s suffered by Chung Yong Lee and Tyrone Mears both threatening to curtail any ambitions they might have. They must ensure Gary Cahill stays and hope that an engine room of Nigel Reo-Coker and the soon-to-return Staurt Holden will provide the spark and energy for a comfortable season.
Star Player: Gary Cahill
15th Newcastle United
With promises of untold riches following the sale of Andy Carroll, and the excellent early captures of Demba Ba, Sylvain Marveaux and Yohann Cabaye, the Geordie faithful would have been forgiven for being optimistic. However the promised money has failed to materialise, and key players such as Joey Barton and Jose Enrique are threatening to follow Kevin Nolan through the exit door. One word fittingly describes Newcastle United at the moment: chaotic.
Star Player: Hatem Ben Arfa
16th Queens Park Rangers
Egomaniac Neil Warnock has managed to win over the supporters at Loftus Road, and will need to call upon all of his experience if he is to maintain QPR’S Premier League experience. Continuing to build from the back will be essential, whilst new signings Jay Bothroyd and DJ Campbell could potentially provide the firepower at the other end. A lot will depend on the eccentric genius that is Adel Taarabt, who will remain at the club for the time being.
Star Player: Adel Taarabt
17th Blackburn Rovers
The pressure will be on rookie Steve Kean to both dispel supporter’s fears ahead of the upcoming season, whilst trying to ignore the distractions that seem to becoming more and more frequent from the new owners. Kean failed to convince during the last campaign, and with key players such as Phil and Jermaine Jones no longer at the club, the likes of Junior Hoilett, Martin Olsson and Mauro Formica will need to provide the flair, whilst Chris Samba,(if he stays) Michel Salgado and Paul Robinson will need to organize things at the back. The owners will also need to put their money where their mouth is and purchase a striker that and lead the line. Nerve-wrecking times to be a Rovers supporter, with the owners yet to act upon their promises.
Star Player: Paul Robinson
18th Swansea City
The Welsh outfit impressed with their attractive brand of football as they achieved promotion success via the play-offs, with their 4-3-3 formation and short, intricate passing being likened to Arsenal and even Barcelona. However they will need to add stability, hard-work, grit and determination if they are to survive and compliment their qualities in possession.
Star Player: Scott Sinclair
19th Wigan Athletic
With an abundance of goals being conceded by the Latics during the last season, Wigan were lucky to scrape survival, largely due to their attacking talent, with Charles N’zogbia playing a pivotal role. However with the French winger seeking a change of scenery, the likes of Hugo Rodallega, Victor Moses and James McCarthy may struggle to outweigh the barrage of goals they are likely to concede in order to maintain their record as the only top flight side never to have been relegated.
Star Player: Ali Al-Habsi
20th Norwich City
Paul Lambert will have his work cut out if he is to achieve yet another season of success following two successive promotions. A hard-working yet un-inspirational squad will undoubtedly show commitment and hard-work aplenty under the stewardship of their respected manager, Norwich may fail to find the flair and goals that are required to stay in the Premiership, whilst their defence could struggle against the likes of Rooney, Suarez, Aguero and Torres.
Star Player: Grant Holt