So the new season is much closer than you think. DON’T PANIC! In order to help tell you what you should think about things, I’ve tried to guess at the media narratives (mostly English-speaking media, mind) that will dominate the discourse for the next two months.
The Premier League
The running theme is all bets are off! Sir Alex Ferguson has gone, so now we can all dream dreams once more!
Prepare for a lot of “gauntlets” to be thrown in the title race, amid reminders that “it’s still too early”. Should Manchester United do well, there may be one or two “this is SAF’s team”‘s, but generally I think there are many who would love nothing more than David Moyes to be a kind of regenerated Fergie. I mean, they both have those adorable Scottish accents and seem vaguely angry all the time!
As for Chelsea, there could be a lot of the “Does Jose Mourinho still have it?” angle should the team falter early, as well as several pundits wondering to no one in particular whether the squad he inherited does not have the same loyalty as the one he commandeered in 2004. If Chelsea does well, they will be “genuine title contenders” although they’ll be the unofficial second fiddle to Manchester City.
City will be the lynch-pin of the entire thing, and this again comes down to the adaptability of Pellegrini to English football. My own sense is he’s easily won hearts and minds in the English media, having convinced everyone that City’s spending has been responsible and measured on guys like Fernandinho, and Pellegrini’s tactical plans are sound and mature. So if he does well, they’re champions, and if he doesn’t do well, they’re going through a slow start but will eventually become champions.
Arsenal’s season will look exactly like it has for the past four years. Some very good games, some unexpected losses, a lot of naval-gazing. Complaints that Wenger didn’t follow through on his spending spree promises, then a spending spree on August 31st. Spurs’ story will hang on whether Bale leaves or stays, and you know how it ends either way.
As for the rest of the league, Newcastle will be absolutely hated because it’s run by a Joe Kinnear. Cardiff will be watched with derision from the left and fascination from everyone else.
I’ve said nowt about Liverpool, haven’t I?
Pep! Peppy Pep Pep Pepper Pep! Everything rides on the ex-Barcelona man, and the tactical transformation from the Jupp Heynckes quick turnover route to Guardiola’s more patient, passing build up play. Should Bayern start well you’ll read a lot about the European “steamroller” and how it’s also damnably unfair because they earn so much money under the scam that is FFP, and if it goes pear-shaped there will be stuff about Guardiola as over-rated, or Bayern’s players being unable to adapt to Guardiola’s “vision” or whatever.
My guess is Borussia Dortmund and Schalke will be in a kind of early death match for second place. Schalke have to do much to add to their squad except bringing on the heavily-hailed 18 year old midfielder Leon Goretzka, while Dortmund won the Super Cup and kept Lewandowski amid a pile of hype. Elsewhere in the league, you know, keep an eye on Hannover?
This will likely be another annual edition of Godzilla versus Mothra, with the entire rest of the league playing the role of Tokyo. The major point of order here involves the changing of the managerial guard, and whether Florentino Perez’s “Neuvos Galacticos” (I just made that up) can blow past any and all holes in their otherwise considerable roster.
Personally, the first two months of the season will involve me having to restrain myself while Real Madrid flail about for the first little while under Carlo Ancelotti. I have no beef with the man, but I do have a beef with the post-Mourinho Marca spinners who looked a jerk-faced but successful gift horse in the mouth before shooting it in the face. Should this happen I have no idea what the media will say, but I will only be restrained in my temper by those two little words: sample size.
Barcelona will be, in all honesty, the most interesting team to watch in the early part of the season. Tito Vilanova’s downturn health is very sad, and it also represents a possible transition from the familiar Barca Way. Tata Martino’s last accomplishment was leading a determined Newell’s Old Boys side, and I expect we’ll see a lot of tacticians come out in the wings if his Barca succeed with the “I knew this would happen” type stories, based on their hours of watching the two Torneos late into the evening.
Methinks this could be the year when everyone exclaims that Serie A is back, baby! The eighties are here again! Free Silvio! Messi to Napoli! And so forth.
Why? I don’t have any good reason, except to hope that, as with the Premier League, the binge spending of Aurelio De Laurentiis will shower trophy upon trophy on southern Italy and Napoli will rise again. We’ve been down this road before, including last season I believe.
However, with new signings comes hope. But this will likely come down to the usual grudge match between Juventus and Milan, who did much to cast off the tired catenaccio stereotype against Manchester City the other day. Milan for their part have done jack shit so far in their attempt to overcome their Turin rivals, with their biggest chunk of change going to Christian Zapata for five million pounds. As for Inter: crickets.
Juventus have Carlos Tevez, which will at least be funny for a while until everyone realizes he can still score goals that help to win games. And we’ll see Angelo Ogbonna play centreback in the Champions League should Chiellini find himself knacked up yet again.
Fiorentina look pretty cool too in the off-season, having picked up Mario Gomez and Josep Ilicic. Sadly they might replace Udinese’s role as the perpetual pretenders to the outside spots, but I wouldn’t place bets. And Strootman’s at Roma! Good old horse face.
PSG will win it again under Laurent Blanc, and next year the Eredivisie will replace the league in this final Big Five slot. I kid! But not really.
Anyhoo, not much to say here. PSG have added Cavani, Lucas Digne and Marquinhos to the squad at considerable cost, and the team now accounts for around one third of the entire league transfer expenditures. Everyone else have picked up dribs and drabs except of course for AS Monaco, who walk in the game with James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho and Falcao, in addition to several others. So kind of like Godzilla versus Mothra, but a much crappier production.