A sound six-goal hammering of an out-of-sorts Everton. Wayne Rooney’s 99th goal in a terse 1-0 encounter at Old Trafford. Manchester City’s £25 million (around Rs200 crore) summer signing, Emmanuel Adebayor, making a scorching start with an exquisite 18-yard drive. We’re only one weekend into the 2009-10 English Premier League, and there’s plenty of drama, flair and class on display. We look at the five teams to watch out for this football season
Manchester United: Life after Ronaldo
Even with 11 Premier League titles and 23 years at the helm, Manchester United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, faces a very stiff test as the new season beckons. Case in point—an early 1-0 loss to Burnley on 19 August.
United fans would have missed the magic of Cristiano Ronaldo in the FA Community Shield encounter against Chelsea (a match Chelsea won on penalties) but the Old Trafford faithful would have been fairly reassured of life after the Portuguese winger’s departure to Real Madrid. Twenty-five goals in all competitions for United isn’t the only reason Ferguson says the Madeira-born lad is irreplaceable. The quality of Ronaldo’s spot kicks, long rangers, headers, assists, dribble and pace have always set him apart from the rest. His departure
means Rooney will have greater freedom and he exhibited just that in a 1-0 win over Birmingham. The red devils will also expect Dimitar Berbatov to better his stint last year—just nine goals in 29 starts. Ferguson will also look towards a rejuvenated Michael Owen to poach some in front of the goal. The midfield offers a lot of variety—but might not offer any surprises in terms of formation. If there is something that Ferguson can play around with, it’s got to be the legs of Nani—the once-touted successor to Ronaldo. With players such as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs a year older, it’s up to the youngsters to keep the flag flying high.
Photo: Scott Heppell / AP
Arsenal: All guns ablaze
Six goals on Day 1, including one curling 25-yard strike from Denilson Pereira Neves. Though it’s very early in the season, the Gunners have taken off the block like never before.
It was Everton’s heaviest home defeat since 1958 and Arsenal’s biggest win away ever! Coach Arsène Wenger has lost Adebayor and Koulo Toure, but in Thomas Vermaelen, has he finally found a man to marshal the troops? Wenger’s 4-3-3 combination means more exciting football from the Gunners, and if you take into account the fact that Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky were not in playing condition, things can only get better. If there is one thing that could worry the London club, it’s the tough early-season fixtures. They would have played five serious games by the end of August, including a trip to Old Trafford. Trophy-less since a 2005 FA cup win, Arsenal and Wenger, who’s putting his trust in a young team, need to get their hands on the silverware.
Liverpool: Starting troubles
Another season, and another round of great expectations from Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez. Liverpool could surrender their supremacy, statistically speaking, to Manchester United if they allow them to walk alone to the title. Their late surge shook United last season but they still fell short by 4 points. Eleven draws didn’t help the Anfield cause and further question marks have appeared over the side after a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham. A 4-0 victory midweek against Stoke helped, but the Spurs were successful in cutting the ball supply to and from Steven Gerrard, and that means Liverpool have 3 points from two games. Would Xabi Alonso have helped? That’s going to be the obvious question Benitez will have to answer. You don’t always win a title in the first few weeks but Liverpool have paid the price for early defeats before. The all-too-familiar Benitez rant against the referees is not going to soothe Liverpool loyalists who are desperate to stamp their authority on English football.
The star cast: New signings like Manchester City’s Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor (far left, below) and Arsenal’s Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen (in red, challenged by Everton’s Marouane Fellaini) will have big expectations riding on their shoulders. Eddie Keogh / Reuters
Chelsea: Russian roulette
We’ve tried and lost count of the number of managers that have come and gone at Stamford Bridge. All this for the elusive Champions League crown, and this season they may finally have a winner in Carlo Ancelotti. He comes in with the Blues looking fairly settled in their squad, without too many movements in the transfer markets. Chelsea will be hoping for an injury-free start, with their man for all seasons, Michael Essien, playing in midfield. With him organizing in the centre, and Michael Ballack and Deco intimidating their opponents, Chelsea, on paper at least, boast a good depth in that centre. Striker Didier Drogba, of course, can swing between the sublime and the ridiculous, a spectrum we got to see in its entirety in their first match against Hull City. The expectations from the Ivory Coast striker can only get tougher. The Blues will also be hoping for a top performance from captain John Terry, who has always talked about dethroning Manchester United. If they play their cards right, Chelsea can expect the dice to roll in their favour.
Manchester City: Up the ladder
With any talk of the “big four” teams allowing young upstarts into their exclusive club, Manchester City is the name that pops up. They showed why in their opening fixture against Blackburn. In Adebayor, Carlos Tevez and Toure, manager Mark Hughes has got tried and tested players. Luring Gareth Barry could be the most important signing for City. The England midfielder has a presence about him that City sorely needs. Defensively, they are not the greatest but they didn’t look too bad on the opening night. But will City fans, and more importantly the City boardroom, have time for Mark Hughes? You can’t turn into champions overnight, and slow and steady City would perhaps need one season at least to break into the top four.
Radhakrishnan Sreenivasan is an anchor with television channel Neo Cricket and a regular sports presenter on Worldspace Satellite Radio.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org