City still the team to beat
SATED with a summer banquet of World Cup excellence and high drama, we devotees of the Premier League must belly up to the thrilling stodge of a new English football season. The universal groan which greeted Germany’s clinical victory has subsided and made way for the peevish prattle of pre-season conjectures, as our favourite clubs wipe the drool off their cheque-books and set about buying the players who fire the football imagination; none, sad to say, forged in the neglected smithies of these islands.
The tournament in Brazil gave substance to the triumph of technique and tactical optimism which ought to be at the heart of the game at every level. Brazil losing their marbles was sad to see: tripped off their nappers with patriotic fervour and roaring out that atonal rant of an anthem like Klingons with haemerrhoids will live long in the memory. Germany’s vivisection of the hosts was appallingly delicious and in stark contrast to England’s Norman Wisdom-trapped-in-revolving-door antics. Yet the English League still fascinates. It is one of football’s most stubborn tropes: best league in the world. But is it?
The smarter English clubs moved quickly and recruited from that swathe of players who breathe the air one notch less rarified than the elite who now ping-pong between Madrid, Barcelona and Munich. And Manchester United coughed up a fortune for a Weetabix-faced 18-year-old lard-arse who got to take two throw-ins against Costa Rica. English clubs may be tripping over wads of folding, but the A-listers still don’t want to slum it in leafy Cheshire or Knightsbridge.
So Liverpool said ta-ra to the beaversome Suarez and look set to embrace brooding box-of-frogs-mad Mario Ballotelli. There will be goals in amongst the mayhem. But the mayhem is guaranteed. Dejan Lovren will thrive in England and the two Spanish defenders, Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno, won’t embarrass themselves. Brendan Rodgers has done well, but with Champions League games in midweek, he’ll have to juggle a bit more than last year. And I don’t mean his missus. They’ll finish second.
Alexis Sanchez lifts Arsenal but there’s still a Khedira-shaped hole in their midfield. They’re still ballerinas down a coal mine, are Arsenal. They will consolidate this season: fourth at best.
Chelsea finally have their goal beast in Diego Costa and I have a feeling they’ll harry Man City and have the most success in Europe. But God is good ... maybe Stamford Bridge will be fracked for gas. Everton will simmer nicely and I expect Spurs to get in the way.
Manchester United may well zoom up to sixth this season. Poor Louis van Gaal has inherited a lumpen squad of limited talent and worse still, little appetite for battle. Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher’s best football is behind them. Ashley Young, Tom Cleverly and Chris Smalling fail on every level, and poor Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj think twice about passing to them. You can see it.
If I don’t see someone of the stature of Mats Hummels, Xavi Alonso or Raphaël Varane putting their pen to a contract before the deadline, then van Gaal will have to work miracles just to keep the thing alive until the January transfer-window. This team has no sergeants for the kids to look to. I foresee beatings before the Dutchman can really roll up his sleeves and fix it.
City ought to retain this vaunted and much admired league, but we should remind ourselves that the intensity and integrity of the domestic game is but pig-iron compared to the molten gold now forged in Spain. Enjoy your football.
City still the team to beat