Another season of English Premier League football is upon us, and there is plenty to get excited about
1. Will Rooney And Van Persie Click?
Could this be the key to whether Manchester City retain their title or not?
Few would have bet against City before this week’s confirmation that Robin van Persie was going to the red side of Manchester, but now we have the tantalising prospect of the league’s two top goalscorers from last season playing alongside each other.
Wayne Rooney and Van Persie notched up 57 goals between them in the league last season, but that is no guarantee of a successful partnership.
It might not work out, but it also has the potential to be a phenomenal pairing that turns the balance of power in the city upside down.
City remain strong favourites - and rightly so given their depth - but United now have their first-choice defenders back as well as some serious firepower up front.
Of course that assumes that Van Persie, who has played fewer Premier League games that Louis Saha in the last three seasons, can stay fit.
2. How Will Chelsea’s New Signings Work Out?
Arsenal may be the most changed team among last season’s top four, but it is Chelsea who appear to have made the most interesting signings in the summer.
Just days after they achieved Roman Abramovich’s ultimate goal by winning the Champions League, Didier Drogba had left and winger Eden Hazard had arrived. It felt like a new era had been swiftly ushered in.
Given that Manchesters City and United were also interested in Hazard he is obviously quite a player, even if he made little impression on the Community Shield last weekend.
With Marko Marin and Oscar also having arrived, it will be fascinating to see how Roberto Di Matteo uses the resources at his disposal.
Does he ease the new signings in? Will Frank Lampard continue on the road to becoming an impact player? How does he get the most out of Fernando Torres?
After Andre Villas-Boas’ revolution failed last season, Di Matteo has been conscious to rather focus on evolution, but his new signings will be key to the process.
3. Can Liverpool Challenge In The Premier League?
It’s been a long four years since Liverpool last put in a genuine Premier League title challenge, with the Merseysiders having finished as runners-up to Manchester United in the 2008/09 season.
However, they followed that impressive showing by finishing the next three seasons in seventh, sixth and eighth respectively, with the most recent of those marking their worst-ever finish in the modern Premier League era.
That result, unsurprisingly, marked the end of the line for manager Kenny Dalglish, despite his leading the side to Carling Cup success, with the former player booted out of the club before Brendan Rodgers was brought in.
The new boss’ arrivals appears to have revived a sense of anticipation at Liverpool, with Rodgers having earned plenty of plaudits last season after leading Swansea’s impressive showing in their debut Premier League campaign, in which they finished 11th - just five points behind the Reds.
Rodgers has since brought in highly-rated midfielder Joe Allen, who he worked with at the Swans, while striker Fabio Borini, also a former Liberty Stadium employee, was lured away from Roma ahead of the new season.
Those two signings alone may not strike too much fear into the heart of the opposition, but Rodgers’ wily approach to the game and undoubted man-management abilities stand the English giants in good stead this term as they look to reassert themselves at the top of the Premier League pile.
4. Will We See Goal-line Technology?
The calls for goal-line technology became more and more frequent last season following a number of dicey decisions made by match officials in both domestic and international matches.
Since the beginning of the game it has been down to the referee and his linesmen to make the tough decisions, although human nature leaves too much room for error, while football fans expect nothing but perfection from the men in black.
In 2008 FIFA introduced two extra officials behind both goals in an attempt to help the referee make decisions on whether or not the ball had crossed the line, but even those extra sets of eyes weren’t enough to help Ukraine, who saw what appeared to be a legitimate equaliser against England ruled out in the 1-0 Euro 2012 group stage defeat.
However, the International Football Association Board have since approved two systems, Hawk-Eye and GoalRef, which will first be used at the Club World Cup in December and, if successful, at the 2013 Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup.
The Premier League stated they would like to implement the systems “as soon as practically possible”, with many hoping that means a January introduction. If not, then we have been promised by the Premier League that the latest we can expect to see the technology introduced is in the 2013/14 campaign.
5. How Will AVB Get On At Spurs?
Huge expectation greeted Andre Villas-Boas’ arrival at Stamford Bridge last summer, but it took half a season for everything to unravel.
It’s widely accepted that his time at Chelsea went badly because he tried to change too much, too quickly in a dressing room that had some old, stubborn heads. Player power won out in the end.
Now that Villas-Boas has taken charge of a younger, more dynamic squad at Tottenham, that theory is about to be tested. He will have to be a bit more humble after his unceremonious exit from Chelsea, but there’s no doubt he has something special about him and he could be just the fit for Spurs.
With Luka Modric on his way to Real Madrid, Scott Parker missing the start of the season through injury and Ledley King retired, Villas-Boas’ touch will be shown early as he tries to mould the side together in the absence of some important cogs.
And of course he’ll need to sign some strikers, which is proving tricky what with Daniel Levy’s salary ceiling.
6. A New Installment Of Mario Balotelli
You either loved him, hated him or were just plain over him, but one thing we’re dying to catch a glimpse of from Mario Balotelli is a smile.
The Manchester City striker bagged an impressive 17 goals in 32 matches in all competitions last season, although one might have easily believed he had merely scored on the training ground, given his complete lack of celebration after each strike.
Many have chalked that up to his perpetual supply of arrogance, while others believe it to be a sign of his boundless talent. But whatever it is we hope he can finally show a glimpse of his emotions, because if a striker doesn’t get his jollies off by scoring goals, then how exactly does he?
However, with his frontline antics having helped City to their first English league title in 44 years, as well as his bagging two goals for Italy en route to the Euro 2012 final, one imagines the Balotelli on display this season will be even more egotistical, stuck up and cocksure than the one we’ve all come to love and/or despise. God help us all.
7. The Promoted Clubs
To be honest, the clubs coming up from the Championship are usually near the back of the queue when it comes to things we can’t wait to see in the new season. But this year that’s a bit different.
To start with, there’s a bit of a feelgood factor about Southampton, who were in administration just three short years ago. The prospect of returning to the Premier League seemed a distant dream as they sunk to League One, yet here they are back in the big time. With a good deal of Premier League pedigree, it feels as if this is where they belong.
The same applies to West Ham, who would have landed at least one Premier League title by now if they had managed to hold onto the talent that’s come out of their academy. The Hammers’ campaign will have added intrigue this term as well, with Sam Allardyce looking to restore his reputation as one of the better English managers after being sacked by both Newcastle and Bolton.
There was a time when Allardyce was a serious contender for the England job (as an aside, even now one has to think he could have done better than Steve McClaren). He may never return to that station, but a solid couple of seasons with West Ham and his name may no longer draw chuckles from football fans.