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Manchester United face much tougher competition for the title next season.
On the final day of last season’s nail-biting, tension filled battle for the title, football fans from across the world gathered in front of their television screens and were overcome by feelings of excitement and astonishment, with bottom jaws dropping in unison and tear glands weeping with tears of either joy or anguish as Sergio Agueroooooooooo! thumped home a 94th minute title winning goal to finally end what was a thrilling and intriguing Premier League season.
This year, for neutrals at least, watching Manchester United zone in on their inevitable 20th title was akin to sitting in a cold, misty graveyard, watching a doddery old undertaker slowly hammer blunt nails into a dusty coffin lid, finally sealing inside the corpse of a long-dead championship cadaver.
There has been plenty to enjoy about the desperate and financially decisive struggle between London’s most prominent clubs for third and fourth place, but let’s face it – any year in which midfield metronome Michael Carrick is a contender for Player of the Year must be a little on the dull side.
As both Barcelona and Bayern Munich have done in their respective leagues, Manchester United struck a victory for the status quo by strolling to the title, with little in the way of pressure from their major competitors. Next season won’t be another monotonous trundle to the title that we witnessed this year, will it?
For one, it seems increasingly likely that lone gunslinger Jose Mourinho will be riding back into town, like Lee van Cleef turning up to ensure that Clint Eastwood doesn't get his own way with the buried treasure. Which managerial dugout the Portuguese mastermind will keep warm might be the long-running story of this coming summer, with resources and ambition aplenty to be found at both potential vehicles for his unswerving appetite for trophies – Manchester City and Chelsea.
Chelsea is most likely because, although Roberto Mancini isn't the most quotable guy in football – choice headlines from his press conferences this year include “We will fight for the title” and “We cannot win the title” – the Manchester City hierarchy seem to be calibrating ambitions with the adage
“Rome wasn't built in a day” in mind where the committed and wilful Italian is concerned.
If ice-cool striker Sergio Aguero can have an injury free season then City will be much better next season, especially as there is no troublesome African Cup of Nations next January to kidnap Yoyo Toure from his handsomely-paid role as midfield powerhouse. With Mario Balotelli returning to set off fireworks and wrestle training bibs back in Milan and the miserable Edin Dzeko seeking a move – probably back to Germany - there will also be space on the wage bill for a big name – could the reports in the media over the last two years, about Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao transferring to England, actually be true? If so then expect them to move to the highest paying club from the Champions League slots, either Manchester City or Chelsea.
Chelsea have suffered a crazy and whirlwind season, even by their standards. The fantastic and hard fought European Cup win seems like a memory from a bygone era. The frustration of watching the cool and slick Roberto Di Matteo bundled out of the door was made doubly worse for Chelsea fans as the knowledgeable but prickly ex-Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez was brought in to bail them out, just two months into the season, leaving the club without true passion or direction until his interim period is over.
Even the most patient and sympathetic of football fans are getting bored of the charity case that is Fernando Torres, and that spells trouble for his Chelsea career. Roman Abramovic may have decided that £50m was too much to squander and toss to one side without giving ample opportunity, but even Ukrainian poster boy Andriy Shevchenko was only given two uninspired seasons at Chelsea before Roman produced an upside-down thumb from behind the thick, velvet curtains of his Imperial balcony.
Pacey and composed forward Andre Schurrle is a player reportedly on his way to West London and if Torres indeed leaves, expect Chelsea to secure the services of another striker. The distraction surrounding the futures of John Terry and Frank Lampard will also be resolved one way or another this summer. A decisive and clear outcome on their future roles will be positive for the club as a whole no matter what happens to the dynamic duo.
As for Manchester United, a summer of big decisions lies ahead. Key players such as Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand face uncertain summers and may be leaving the club, which will leave a large hole to fill in terms of quality and experience.
For the sake of football fans everywhere (although I'm sure United fans won’t mind another year like this one), Chelsea and Manchester City both need to make sound decisions this summer in terms of the manager’s role and key playing staff. With one or two more additions to bolster their squads, both clubs can build on the tremendous playing squads they already have and come back with a bang next year. Then we can all look forward to a title race that excites and inspires, no matter who wins it.
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