After a brief sojourn in Poland, AWIF is back and ready to seek its teeth into a new season of Premier League football. Like so many football fans, last Saturday evening, the blog was settling into a sofa, cracking open a beer, excited for the first Match of the Day of the season. The blog is not usually a fan of Alan Shearer’s less than cogent, state-the-obvious style of punditry, but surprisingly, AWIF found itself nodding in agreement with the former Newcastle United hitman. What Shearer suggested was that the Premier League has become a division of two tiers, with seven closely matched sides whom will never be relegated, with a gulf between the other closely matched thirteen teams who must all look over their shoulders.
This assertion raised a few eyebrows amongst the record Premier League goal scorer’s fellow pundits, but Shearer has a point. With Liverpool out of the wilderness and back challenging with the big boys, Manchester City spending their way into contention, and Tottenham and Everton becoming regular bothers of the traditional big four, it is fair to say England now has a top seven. Promoted sides in the past few years haven’t been the relegation fodder they perhaps once were, with the likes of Swansea, Southampton and Hull all establishing themselves within the top flight. Even big clubs such as Newcastle United, West Ham and Fulham have been relegated in recent seasons, what was once a division of four tiers has now become the best above all the rest.
It is a situation very different to the majority of Europe’s big leagues where these four tiers very much still exist. Take La Liga for example, there are the title chasing Madrid sides and Barcelona at the top, below them the likes of Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Valencia and Sevilla will always fight it out for the European spots, but rarely bother the trio above them. In the middle, Levante, Malaga and Getafe rarely trouble the top eight, but are also never really in danger of relegation, whilst minnows such as Eibar and Cordoba almost certainly face the drop.
Even with the departure of Luis Suarez, Liverpool must still count amongst the favourites for the title, last year’s winners Manchester City may have drawn first blood, but with Mario Balotelli joining an impressive caste of additions, they are certain to mount a challenge. The champions have made a great start to the season, the restrictions placed on them by Financial Fair Play making for a stable summer. However, so have Mourinho’s strengthened Chelsea side; Fabregas and Diego Costa both hitting the ground running. Those three look set for a fierce battle, but with Arsène Wenger no longer so timid in the transfer window, Arsenal will be hoping to build on last season in which they led the pack for much of the year. The Gunners have made a lacklustre start, but due to injuries to both Giroud and Arteta will almost certainly spend before the window closes.
It is Tottenham though that currently lead the way in the Premier League, and whilst it may only be two games into the new season, signs already indicate that Pochettino will be able to get more out of last season’s signings now they have had a year to settle. Spurs will certainly be confident of a top four finish on current form, and will be rivalled in that endeavour by Everton. Many questioned how Roberto Martinez would follow up on last season’s painful near miss at a Champions League place, but the signing of Romelu Lukaku on a permanent deal from Chelsea, and the impending arrival of free agent Samuel Eto’o leave them just as strong as last term. Manchester United were awful under David Moyes, and the optimism the appointment of Luis van Gaal brought has quickly faded with the Red Devil’s slow start. However, Angel Di Maria is set to join the club, with a medical scheduled for today, and the record English transfer could be joined by as many three new signings this week, Vidal, Blind and Benatia amongst the rumoured targets. The new manager may claim it will take a miracle for United to win the title, but as always it would be foolish to write them off.
The relegation battle is anyone’s guess. The promoted sides will always be amongst the favourites for the drop, but both Leicester and QPR have strengthened well, and Burnley will put up a spirited fight. Stoke, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Hull, West Ham, West Brom and Swansea all look stronger than last season, but all will have the primary aim of staying up, and although it may seem odd to suggest that Southampton and Newcastle could go down, with all the upheaval at both clubs, their years really could go either way.