The 2011/12 season looks set to be one of the closest fought battles in years. Some clubs have been spending big, some clubs have been trying to hang on to their best players, and some clubs have been left stunned by the departure of their talisman. The transfer season is far from over and a single transfer could shake things up in a massive way, but after pre-season I’m ready to hedge my bets.
Last season I was sure that Manchester United would struggle to stay up-sides with Chelsea with a squad that appeared weaker than those of the past. And although they weren’t at their dazzling best, they remained defiant and lost just four times all term. With the addition of Ashley Young, the return of Antonio Valencia, Louis Nani - who has been outstanding in pre-season, their five world class strikers and the potential acquisition of Wesley Sneijder, United will be the team to beat this season and my money is on them to win back-to-back titles.
The arrival of Andre Villas Boas seems to have given Chelsea a new lease of life and their pre-season performances will give fans a reason to be optimistic. They are still desperate to sign Luka Modric to bolster their midfield but Tottenham remain adamant he is not for sale. Many of Chelsea’s key players are into their thirties and if Modric does arrive at Stamford Bridge it would freshen up their aging squad, along with Josh McEachran who could feature more this season after impressing the new manager. It will be interesting to see how Villas Boas will combine Torres, Drogba and Anelka as a strike force,and who is going to lose out. Chelsea have not made many additions to the team so far this summer and regardless of whether or not Torres manages to find his best form, they will still be United’s biggest challengers this season.
There was never any doubt that Man City would be among the Champions League places last season with their star studded team. They also got their first taste of silverware since 1976, beating Stoke to lift the FA Cup. City will provide a serious challenge for title this season. They have been strengthened by the addition of Clichy and Aguero but, in my opinion, they are still somewhat in their transition phase and it will take another season to become Champions, which they undoubtedly will be. I like Mancini’s no nonsense attitude and I will back them to go far in their debut season in the Champions League.
Arsenal are desperate to hang on to Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and the success of their season will be determined by the outcome of this transfer saga. Losing these two players would be a disaster, especially after the departure of Gael Clichy to Man City. On a positive note, new signing Gervinho has looked sharp in pre-season and is exactly what the Gunners needed to partner Robin Van Persie. They will have a massive boost in the return of Thomas Vermaelen and they seem to have found confidence in their young goal keeper Wojciech Szczesny. Aaron Ramsey has recovered remarkably from his horrific injury and has impressed during pre-season. He looks set to feature heavily this season. They can improve on last season’s results if they improve their mental strength and hold onto a lead, which cost them vital points last year.
Like Arsenal, Tottenham are battling to keep their best player of last season. Chelsea have tabled bids that are yet to meet Tottenham’s valuation of Luka Modric, and this transfer saga could upset team morale which has always been high at the Lane. Spurs will struggle break back into the top four this season unless Harry Redknapp signs another top striker and offloads some off the fringe players. Last season saw the emergence of Sandro, who was one of Spurs’ best players towards the end of last season. The big Brazilian will no doubt become a key player for Redknapp this season.
I am not convinced that the players Liverpool have brought in this summer will give them the boost they need to get back into the Champions League. Kenny Dalglish has spent big this summer, signing some fantastic players in Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing and of course Andy Carroll joined the club earlier on in the year. The key player for Liverpool will be Luis Suarez and it will be interesting to see how much Steven Gerrard will feature after suffering from a lengthy groin injury. Without the stress of European football this season could mean they have the most realistic chance of breaking the top four than any other. Liverpool will offer plenty of goals but the competition for places in the top four will likely see Liverpool squeezed out of the running again.
One to watch this season will be Sunderland. Steve Bruce has spent his Darren Bent money well and brought in nine new players this summer. The Black Cats finished 10th last season but wouldn’t bet against them rising three place this year.