This season Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and even Tottenham Hotspur to some extent, will look to challenge champions Manchester United for Premier League glory. But Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are likely to begin the 2011/12 campaign as favourites to retain their crown…
Arsenal There are a number of issues that could extend the Gunners’ trophy drought. Johan Djourou, Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci to name three. Arsenal sorely missed Thomas Vermaelen’s presence at the heart of their defence last season and could do with another powerful centre half to help them see out games. Although Djourou and Koscielny have potential, just looking at the Arsenal defence in terms of numbers must be a concern for Arsene Wenger. Creating chances and scoring goals has not been a major problem for Arsenal – last season they netted more times in the league than both Chelsea and Manchester City – but their rear guard has been called into question on many occasions. If Arsenal are to mount a title challenge this season, they need to stop themselves from conceding needless goals. Keeping Thomas Vermaelen, Cesc Fabregas (if he remains at the Emirates) and Robin Van Persie fit is also an absolute must.
Chelsea New Blues manager Andre Villas-Boas has his work cut out. The Premier League’s youngest manager has inherited an ageing squad which lost too many games last season, often struggling to get themselves back into matches once they had fallen behind. The team, which fell 9 points short of Manchester United last season, is yet to be strengthened, while the champions have embarked on a spending spree in excess of £50million so far. Chelsea badly missed Michael Essien while he was sidelined through injury last season and the Blues will be unable to call upon the Ghanaian’s services for about half of the 2011/12 campaign. Villas-Boas has to find a way of utilising Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres in a way that will allow the strikers to play together effectively. The Portuguese also needs to incorporate the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda and Saloman Kalou into the mix. He will be doing this with a chairman breathing down his neck, demanding that Chelsea win everything, every season.
Liverpool Not many will be considering Liverpool as title challengers and for the Reds the priority will be regaining their status among the “Big Four”. Owner John Henry has already laid down the gauntlet, saying it would be a disappointment if Liverpool fail to secure Champions League qualification. Kenny Dalglish has spent big this summer, bringing in Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson to bolster his midfield. There are certainly plenty of options as far as the midfield is concerned, although skipper Steven Gerrard will be absent for the beginning of the season with a groin injury. Liverpool also look slightly vulnerable at the back and while Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez could well forge a devastating partnership up front, the Reds are weak in terms of cover for their main strikers. To have a chance of winning the league, you are likely to need two rock solid central defenders and at least three, maybe four top quality forwards.
Manchester City Many are touting City as Manchester United’s main threat this season and we could learn a lot when the city rivals meet at Wembley in the Charity Shield on Sunday. Roberto Mancini has a couple of problems to overcome if his side can topple United this season. It’s probably fair to say the Italian has one or two egos within his squad so he may find himself conducting a balancing act in winning games and maintaining the dressing room harmony. Mario Balotelli, for one, needs to decide whether or not he is interested, because if he is, he has the potential to be a phenomenal player. Secondly, Mancini must be more bold and abandon some of the defensive tactics which were employed too often in the bigger games away from home last season. The back four should not be a problem for City – they shared the best Premiership defensive record with Chelsea last season. But the way they lined up against Arsenal at the Emirates was a disgrace. If you don’t have the balls to attack the better sides, you have no business challenging for the Premier League title.
Tottenham Hotspur As far as threatening any kind of title challenge goes, Spurs won’t. But Harry Redknapp’s side are probably capable of edging their way back into the top four. They have some strong players in midfield but Redknapp needs to solve a few problems up top – i.e. sign a quality striker or two. Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko looked ok last season, but only ok and Jermain Defoe definitely did not pull his weight. It also seems clear that Harry doesn’t rate Robbie Keane. Tottenham’s goal tally would have been embarrassing had Rafael Van der Vaart not been around. Last season, another major problem for Tottenham was keeping enough clean sheets and they ultimately failed to maintain their place in the Champions League. Since Ledley King is incapable of playing more than a handful of games a season, Spurs might want to consider signing a powerhouse to play alongside Michael Dawson.