After a truly great summer of sport dominated our attention, it almost feels like the new football season has snuck up on without anyone realising.
But it’s easy to forget after the past few weeks of witnessing our Olympic heroes inspire a nation that last season’s Premier League campaign will be etched into the memory of every football fan for many years to come.
A title race that came down to the last kick of the season (literally) a battle for the Champions League places that had more twists and turns than a Carlos Tevez transfer saga, and a relegation battle that had supporters of several clubs biting their nails for several months on end.
Now, the new season gets underway today with either plenty of change or plenty of uncertainty dominating the thoughts of clubs ready for the next long journey ahead.
Arsenal were always going to see the majority of their summer dominated by the saga that was Robin Van Persie, but despite the departure of their talismanic Dutchman (and potential loss of Alex Song), it’s been the first summer in a while where Arsene Wenger hasn’t been afraid to splash the cash.
A considerable £40 million outlay on strike duo of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, as well as the excellent Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla, means there is still a sense that the Gunners can close the gap on the Manchester duo this season.
Aston Villa can only hope there is a sense of improvement this time around, as last season could barely have been worse under the uninspired guidance of Alex McLeish. Their plummet at the tail end of the season was so severe that had the campaign been a few weeks longer there’s a good chance they’d have been preparing to start life in the Championship this weekend.
Out went one Scot and in came another as Paul Lambert and if the 43 year-old has the same impact that he had at Norwich (consecutive promotions and consolidation in the Premier League in three years in charge), then a top-half finish and a genuine step in the right direction is within reach at Villa Park.
Chelsea haven’t been afraid to splash the cash despite their remarkable Champions League triumph back in May. That historic night in Munich was seen more by owner Roman Abramovich as the end of an era and has backed new boss Roberto Di Matteo in the transfer market.
The signings of young stars such as Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar undoubtedly underlines a future at Stamford Bridge full of attacking flair, but with Didier Drogba gone and a sixth-place finish to write off from last year there is still a transition for their Italian boss to oversee in the coming months.
Everton have had their usual summer of seeing their manager linked away from Goodison Park only to see him go absolutely nowhere, carving out improvements to the squad on a shoestring budget and witnessing significant player departures to improve the squad as a whole.
The loss of Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell is a shame for Toffees’ supporters either in their loyalty to the club (Cahill) or in the potential player they could’ve been with an injury-free run (Rodwell), but the money will allow Moyes to work his magic on bringing in replacements, and the return of Steven Pienaar will help aid the push for another top-eight finish.
Fulham have seen much change within their squad this summer, with personnel such as Danny Murphy and Andy Johnson moving on to pastures new as Martin Jol tries to mould the team into his own image.
Hugo Rodallega could prove a shrewd purchase on a free transfer in a side already full of attacking intent, but much will depend on how they cope without their star man in Clint Dempsey, with the American making it clear his future lies away from Craven Cottage.
Liverpool are beginning a new chapter in their illustrious history this season. After the departure of manager and club legend Kenny Dalglish, Brendan Rodgers has been given the task of guiding the Merseyside outfit back amongst the country’s elite in the long-term following their worst-ever Premier League finish back in May.
The additions of Joe Allen and Fabio Borini – plus the clear apprehension of the manager in having Andy Carroll in his immediate plans – indicates the fresh forward-thinking and attacking approach that the former Swansea boss wants to develop in the years to come, although at least progression towards a push for a Champions League return will be required for the club’s ambitious American owners.
Manchester City begin a season for the first time in 44 years as the champions of England after their remarkable last-gasp triumph of the title back in May at the expense of their biggest rivals, but this summer has for the first time in a few years undergone little change.
Boss Roberto Mancini and captain Vincent Kompany have committed to the club in the long-term, while having Carlos Tevez available without any distractions must feel like a new signing, and while missing out on main target Robin Van Persie will frustrate the Italian, they still remain the team to beat going into the defence of their crown.
Manchester United will be without doubt City’s biggest challengers once again; after missing out on a 13th title in such agonising fashion three months ago, Sir Alex Ferguson has gone back into the transfer market to help launch a push on all fronts this time around.
The signing of Van Persie is a real statement of intent considering their already-bulging attacking options and Shinji Kagawa could prove to be one of the signings of the season; but it’s the return to fitness of midfield duo Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher that could prove to be the real difference to United’s chances domestically and in Europe.
Newcastle will be fighting on both those fronts this season after ther superb fifth-place finish last time out, and manager Alan Pardew has managed to retain the core of the squad that made such an impact on the league last campaign, with the likes of Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheick Tiote and Tim Krul still providing a strong spine to the team.
With the addition of Dutch midfielder Vurnon Anita, there should be a genuine sense on Tyneside that they can replicate the achievements of last season and make a push for those Champions League places.
Norwich City will be looking to avoid the dreaded ‘second-season syndrome’ that has been the downfall of so many teams in the past, and the departure of manager Paul Lambert was a real setback after his remarkable achievements in Norfolk over the last few years.
New manager Chris Hughton has already had a positive impact by retaining the services of key striker Grant Holt, and the likes of Robert Snodgrass and Michael Turner are solid additions to the squad, but Hughton will have to display the same nous shown at Newcastle and Birmingham to ensure a repeat of last season’s consolidation in the top flight.
Queen’s Park Rangers have made considerable additions to their squad as Mark Hughes tries to make sure there isn’t a repeat of waiting until the final day to secure safety. Notable signings such as Park Ji-Sung, Junior Hoilett and Jose Bosingwa underline the growing ambitions of the West London outfit.
While QPR only narrowly escaped the drop last season, there will be a real belief that huge strides can be made as their Welsh boss moulds the squad into one capable of challenging for a top-half finish.
Reading produced a stunning second-half to their season last time out and earn promotion back to the Premier League after a four-year absence in the Championship, and are set to be among the favourites for the drop. But Brian McDermott has strengthened the squad well in preparation for life back in the top flight.
Arrivals such as Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak will add a touch of class to the side along with good defensive additions in Adrian Mariappa and the return of Nicky Shorey – and if the Berkshire outfit do manage to retain their Premier League status come May then it may finally earn their modest and often understated manager the credit he deserves.
Southampton have had an even longer exile and more tumultuous exile from the Premier League, but after a seven-year absence, a drop into League One and the threat of liquidation just a few years ago, manager Nigel Adkins has produced miracles in getting the club back amongst England’s elite.
The Saints will hope to to produce the same attacking flair that served them so well in the Championship last season, while keep an eye out for midfield duo Jack Cork and Adam Lallana to pull the strings in the heart of a side whose sole aim is not begin a new absence from the top-flight next summer.
Stoke City have had a quiet summer as they prepare for a fifth straight season in the Premier League, with Michael Kightly the notable addition to Tony Pulis’ squad at the Britannia.
Pulis has been trying to add to his attacking options, not least of all in his pursuit of free agent Michael Owen, and that sort of addition could see the Potters break back into the top 10 with a settled squad now full of Premier League quality and experience.
Sunderland have also had a summer of little activity, but certainly not through the lack of trying; their efforts to bring in Steven Fletcher from Wolves has been well-documented as Martin O’Neill tries to shape the squad to move forward.
The departure of the on-loan Nicklas Bendtner and the confirmed sale of Asamoah Gyan to the Middle East means that additions, and despite the signing of Louis Saha further strengthening to the frontline are crucial if the Black Cats are to repeat the kind of form they showed upon O’Neill’s arrival at the Stadium of Light.
Swansea City earned many plaudits last season for comfortably securing their place within the top-flight by playing some excellent attacking football created through a philosophy under Brendan Rodgers (and previous managers such as Roberto Martinez) of maintaining possession and building from the back.
However, Rodgers has now departed and it’s up to Michael Laudrup to continue the work built up over the past few years at the Liberty Stadium. The Dane will have to do so without influential midfield duo Joe Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson, and with Scott Sinclair set to depart the former Getafe boss will have his work cut out to build on the efforts of previous management.
Tottenham have undergone one of the biggest changes of the summer; out goes Harry Redknapp and in comes Andre Villas-Boas as he earns a shot at Premier League redemption following his short-lived spell in charge of Chelsea last season.
While a top-four place will be the aim once again this time around, the transfer saga of Luka Modric has once again dominated their pre-season, and while the additions of Sigurdsson and Jan Vertonghen have improved the squad, their lack of strikers (only Jermain Defoe and youngster Harry Kane currently on the books) means forward additions will need to be made to the squad inorder for a realistic push for the Champions League to be maintained.
West Brom are another club with a new manager who has a point to prove; Steve Clarke has had an outstanding coaching career, but for the first time he steps up from an assistant role to the managerial hotseat as the Hawthorns welcome a third-consecutive season in the Premier League for the first time.
Often the epitome of the ‘yo-yo’ side, the Baggies will hope that they can earn a repeat of their 10th-placed finish under Roy Hodgson last time out, while Romelu Lukaku could prove to be one of the shrewdest transfers of the summer as the powerful on-loan Chelsea forward looks to make his mark in England.
West Ham return to the Premier League after their play-off glory over Blackpool back in May, with Sam Allardyce looking to cement their place back in the promised land having had several years of top-flight experience.
The signings of Mohamed Diame, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Alou Diarra and the return of James Collins demonstrates that the former Bolton boss wants a strong spine to build from, and although his direct style of play frustrates many Hammers fans, few will be complaining if they are in a similar position in 12 months time.
Wigan are often seen as the perennial certainties for relegation, but time and again Roberto Martinez’s side find a way of defying the odds when it matters and continuing to reign supreme in their annual battle against the drop.
Once again though the Latics will find the going tough, with star man Victor Moses set to leave and the loss of Mohamed Diame a blow, but they have strengthened with some good signings such as striker Arouna Kone the on-loan Arsenal midfielder Ryo Miyaichi, who impressed in a similar spell with Bolton last season.
So unpredictability and uncertainty surrounds many clubs going into the new campaign – sounds like your same old Premier League season to me. I for one can’t wait.
1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United
9. Queens Park Rangers
10. Aston Villa
11. Stoke City
14. West Ham United
15. West Bromwich Albion
18. Swansea City
So what do you think? How will this season’s Premier League season pan out? Will it live up to the excitement that last season generated? Leave a comment and let us know your views.