Seven days to go to the big kick-off in what promises to be one of the most exciting Premier League campaigns in many a year…and I’m tipping Manchester City to reclaim the title that they surrendered so tamely last season. The competition from current champions Manchester United and Chelsea – both clubs under new management – Arsenal and Tottenham will be intense but, if City perform to their capabilities, they will be top of the pile next May.
While United and Arsenal have been embroiled in protracted transfer sagas this summer, City have flexed their unrivalled spending power with a near-£100million splurge on four top class players, midfielder Fernandinho, winger Jesus Navas and forwards Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic. Controversial strikers Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez are gone and, if the men who have come in are of a more harmonious nature, then City boss Mario Pellegrini will parade a formidable unit when City start their campaign against Newcastle at home. These new signings embellish a squad containing many players who would grace any team in the Premier League, such as goalkeeper Joe Hart, centre-back Vincent Kompany, strikers Kun Aguero and Edin Dzeko and midfielders David Silva and the awesome Yaya Toure.
Now, this guy Toure, for whatever reason, did not perform to his best last season, certainly not on a consistent basis. If that was because of the alleged lack of communication between players and former manager Roberto Mancini, then City fans must hope that mutual respect has been restored with Pellegrini. If all is well in that respect, then I suggest that Toure can once again be the catalyst for a title triumph, just as he was two seasons ago. Make no mistake, when this beast of a player is at his buccaneering best he is virtually unstoppable. Toure’s style is unique in the Premier League, for he can sit in midfield or bomb on with equal ease and he scores goals as well as makes them. And, when surging forward, the man is a rampaging force at the heart of a team which has match-winners in several positions. I believe that winger Navas will be in that category, for he has the speed, skill and confidence to cause chaos.
If I were Pellegrini my concern would be that the defence, which is shorn of the services of the injured Matijia Nastasic for six weeks, does not repeat the generosity it showed when allowing AC Milan to hit back with three goals after being 5-0 down in a pre-season match. That was a bit disturbing! However, I’m sure City will have been working hard on efforts to ensure there is no repeat when the action gets under way for real next weekend, or, in City’s case on the Monday night. As I say, they start with a home fixture against Newcastle, then play two of the promoted teams, Cardiff, away, and Hull City. No disrespect to any of the aforementioned, but it is not difficult to imagine City getting off to a maximum nine-point start from their first three matches. And you can’t underestimate the value of a good start to your campaign.
If City step up to the plate, which they too often failed to do last season – when they were again my tip for the title – I can’t see Chelsea, despite being re-energised under Jose Mourinho, Arsenal, with or without the tremendously talented Luis Suarez, or even Manchester United stopping them from winning the title. David Moyes has a big, big challenge at Old Trafford, where his early days as successor to the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson have been dominated by the ongoing Wayne Rooney situation. Rooney apparently wants out, Chelsea apparently want to sign him and United don’t want to sell him. The fans are frustrated, not least because United have yet to make a big signing and because the player Moyes coveted, Cesc Fabregas, says he is staying at Barcelona. Fabregas would do wonders for United, whose winning of the title at a canter last season with a team short of top quality midfield talent was, in my view, one of the most remarkable of Ferguson’s many achievements. I will be surprised if Moyes is able to replicate that in his first season in charge.