Sport

Can the EPL top last season?

Manchester City will be determined to defend the title they won in dramatic fashion last season.
Manchester City will be determined to defend the title they won in dramatic fashion last season. Getty Images / Michael Regan

IT WAS only 97 days ago when Sergio Aguero's right foot ended 44 years of hurt for the blue half of Manchester and sent billions of football fans across the world into rapture as the game's greatest league saved the best until the final minute of the last match of a pulsating season.

> > Click here to see how the teams shape up for 2012-13

Now, after a just over two months of the best sport imaginable, the English Premier League is back and ready to show off all that is good about the beautiful game.

The EPL enters its 21st season on Saturday night and the league's top brass will be hoping the world's best players can once more turn it on and there will be plenty to celebrate come May 2013.

This coming season has plenty to live up to as Britain once more has the eyes of the sporting world upon it.

We have just spent 16 days marvelling at the best runners, cyclists, swimmers, horse-riders, sailors, rowers (the list goes on) the world has to offer.

There was also before that a sparkling Euro 2012 in which Spain and the rest showed the English just how the beautiful game should be played.

And it should not be forgotten, although it is unlikely that any football fan would, that other than the spectacular finish to last season, the campaign as a whole was arguably the best in EPL history.

So how will this campaign step out of the shadows of all the great sport that has gone before it?

Can this season be as good as or even better than the last or will it be a case of after the Lord Mayor's show?

Manchester United and boss Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping for that very scenario when it comes to cross-town rival Manchester City.

Ferguson, who finally captured star player Robin van Persie from Arsenal for $34m this week, will be hoping his troops can wrestle the trophy out of the grips of Roberto Mancini and get the league title back at Old Trafford.

Van Persie will take some of the pressure off of Wayne Rooney, while with Nemanja Vidic and Tom Cleverley back from injuries which kept them out for most of last season, it will be like having two new key players in his squad. New man Shinji Kagawa will also be key to United's success.

Across Manchester new signing Jack Rodwell will add to City's midfield strength, while a slimline Carlos Tevez and Aguero will once again provide the firepower.

Chelsea seem to be a lot of people's favourites if the title is to go elsewhere other than the big two.

Owner Roman Abramovic has certainly opened the chequebook for manager Roberto Di Matteo most likely as reward for bringing the much-coveted Champions League trophy to Stamford Bridge.

Key man for the Blues will be Fernando Torres who has to step up to fill the boots of the departed Didier Drogba.
But if Torres does not fire and new signings Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin, take time to settle in, Chelsea could find itself behind the Manchester sides for most of the season.

For Arsenal it's a case of deja vu. Last year it was Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri who wanted out of the Emirates Stadium.

This time round van Persie has been commanding headlines. Even if Arsene Wenger can persuade the Dutch star to stay, it is doubtful his mind will be on the job.

The Gunners will therefore have to look to the likes of new signings Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla to provide the goals.

Arsenal will be a force whatever van Persie decides but whether it can threaten the Manchester stranglehold is another question that will have to be answered sooner rather than later.

Harry Redknapp's departure and the summer debate over Luka Modric's future at White Hart lane has hurt Spurs and new boss Andre Villas-Boas will have his work cut out keeping Tottenham in the top four, let alone getting a shot at the title.

Spurs have recruited well with Jan Vetonghen a good replacement for the retiring Ledley King at the back and Gylfi Sigurdsson set to become a star in midfield, with or without Modric alongside him but once again it comes down to who will score the goals.

City, United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs should fight it out for the top five spots, but it is anyone's guess in which order they will finish, although United is probably just ahead of the pack just because it is notoriously difficult to defend an EPL crown unless you are the Red Devils.

Newcastle United might push for a place in the top five if it can continue the form of last season and Liverpool will be looking to new manager Brendan Rodgers to inspire it to a better finish than the disappointing eighth of the last campaign.

Rodgers set the EPL alight with his style of play at Swansea last season and more of the same can be expected, especially after the signing of Joe Allen from his former club for $22m.

Swansea itself will be hoping it does not get second-season syndrome following its 11th-place finish in its first EPL journey and will be interesting to see how new boss Michael Laudrup copes with being an EPL manager and whether he can continue the style which Rodgers' team showed throughout the debut campaign.

Laudrup is not the only new manager in the EPL this season.

Norwich replaced Paul Lambert, who is now in charge at Aston Villa, with Chris Hughton, the former Birmingham City and Newcastle manager.

West Bromwich Albion lost Roy Hodgson to the England job at the end of last season, so ex-Chelsea assistant boss Steve Clarke has taken over at the Hawthorns.

Swansea, Norwich and Villa along with Everton and Sunderland will be hoping for mid-table finishes, while Stoke and Fulham could also be set for a decent campaign once more.

The same cannot be said for the would-be strugglers, however.

QPR just managed to avoid relegation on that remarkable final day of last season and while boss Mark Hughes has brought in new players, expect the west Londoners to be once again battling against the drop come May.

West Brom could find it hard too, especially with a novice manager in Clarke and no real big-name players.

Traditionally all three promoted clubs find it hard the following season in the EPL and expect no different from Reading, West Ham United and Southampton.

Both Reading and West Ham have been busy in the transfer market but do not have the cash or the status to attract the top-name players.

Southampton, too, will likely struggle and will have to rely on last season's top scorer Ricky Lambert to provide the goals if it is to avoid going straight back down.

The Saints' fate seems already assured if you take a look at the predictions, but both at the bottom and the top it could be one of four or five who could be title winners or falling through the relegation trap door.

So EPL season 21 could be another thriller and if it is half as good as the last campaign, then bring it on.

HOW THE TEAMS SHAPE UP FOR 2012-13

ARSENAL
Last season: 3rd
Predicted finish: 4th
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Key man: Lukas Podolski
Ones to watch: Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla

ASTON VILLA
Last season: 16th
Predicted finish: 12th
Manager: Paul Lambert
Key man: Brett Holman
Ones to watch: Karim El Ahmadi, Ron Vlaar

CHELSEA
Last season: 6th
Predicted finish: 3rd
Manager: Roberto Di Matteo
Key man: Fernando Torres
Ones to watch: Marko Marin, Oscar, Eden Hazard

EVERTON
Last season: 7th
Predicted finish: 8th
Manager: David Moyes
Key man: Leon Osman
Ones to watch: Steven Pienaar, Steven Naismith

FULHAM
Last season: 9th
Predicted finish: 15th
Manager: Martin Jol
Key man: Hugo Rodallega
Ones to watch: Clint Dempsey, Mladen Petric, Sascha Riether

LIVERPOOL
Last season: 8th
Predicted finish: 6th
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Key man: Steven Gerrard
Ones to watch: Joe Allen, Luis Suarez, Fabio Borini

MANCHESTER CITY
Last season: Champions
Predicted finish: 2nd
Manager: Roberto Mancini
Key man: Mario Balotelli
Ones to watch: Jack Rodwell, Sergio Aguero, Adam Johnson

MANCHESTER UNITED
Last season: 2nd
Predicted finish: Champions
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson
Key man: Nemanja Vidic
Ones to watch: Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa

NEWCASTLE UNITED
Last season: 5th
Predicted finish: 7th
Manager: Alan Pardew
Key man: Papiss Cisse
Ones to watch: Demba Ba, Romain Amalfitano, Hatem Ben Arfa

NORWICH CITY
Last season: 12th
Predicted finish: 14th
Manager: Chris Hughton
Key man: Grant Holt
Ones to watch: John Ruddy, Robert Snodgrass, Steven Whittaker

QPR
Last season: 17th
Predicted finish: relegation
Manager: Mark Hughes
Key man: Adel Taarabt
Ones to watch: Park Ji-Sung, Fabio, Samba Diakite

READING
Last season: 1st in championship
Predicted finish: 16th
Manager: Brian McDermott
Key man: Pavel Pogrebnyak
Ones to watch: Danny Guthrie, Chris Gunther

SOUTHAMPTON
Last season: 2nd in championship
Predicted finish: Relegation
Manager: Nigel Adkins
Key man: Ricky Lambert
Ones to watch: Nathaniel Clyne, Steven Davis

STOKE CITY
Last season: 14th
Predicted finish: 13th
Manager: Tony Pulis
Key man: Peter Crouch
Ones to watch: Geoff Cameron, Michael Kightly

SUNDERLAND
Last season: 13th
Predicted finish: 10th
Manager: Martin O'Neill
Key man: Sebastian Larsson
Ones to watch: Stephane Sessegnon, Carlos Cuellar

SWANSEA CITY
Last season: 11th
Predicted finish: 9th
Manager: Michael Laudrup
Key man: Danny Graham
Ones to watch: Michu, Chico, Jonathan De Guzman

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Last season: 4th
Predicted finish: 5th
Manager: Andre Villas-Boas
Key man: Gareth Bale
Ones to watch: Jan Vertonghen, Gylfi Sigurdsson

WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Last season: 10th
Predicted finish: Relegation
Manager: Steve Clarke
Key man: Jonas Olsson
Ones to watch: Romelu Lukaku, Ben Foster

WEST HAM UNITED
Last season: 3rd in championship
Predicted finish: 17th
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Key man: Kevin Nolan
Ones to watch: Ricardo Vaz Te, Modibo Maiga

WIGAN ATHLETIC
Last season: 15th
Predicted finish: 11th
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Key man: Ali Al-Habsi
Ones to watch: Victor Moses, Ivan Ramis

Topics:  english premier league, epl


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