Friday, 23 August 2013

Premier League preview: Manchester United retains favouritism in post-Ferguson era

The English Premier League delivers on so many levels but this season will see the biggest in its 22-year history when the competition kicks off on Saturday night.

Photo: Andrew Yates, AFP

The largest television deal, the widest audiences, and a league without Alex Ferguson beckons for football fans in 2013-14.

This will be the first Premier League campaign without him. All eyes will be fixed on Manchester United's new manager, David Moyes, as he imprints his own style on one of the world's most recognisable sporting brands.

With no big signing to date, he may opt for a wait-and-see approach before reaching for the chequebook.

United is favourite again, but this year will share the honours with cross-town rival Manchester City and London-based Chelsea as realistic prospects for the title.

North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will continue to push their claims for a top-four berth and the large financial reward that comes with a Champions League qualification.

The main off-season topic of conversation is the transfer battles for two of the game's most influential players: Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale.

Liverpool's star striker Suarez is never too far from the spotlight (usually for the wrong reasons) and wants out of the Anfield club.

Reds manager Brendan Rogers is adamant the club will not sell the Uruguay national, but a toxic and discontent-playing group may loom if his dream of playing in the Champions League is not realised.

The Gareth Bale-Tottenham signature drama continues to bubble with Spanish giants Real Madrid now baulking at the huge transfer fee of 86.7 million pounds ($146 million) that would make the Welshman the most expensive signing in world football.

The test for Spurs is what talent they secure to replace a midfield player who delivered 21 goals last season.

An equally busy conversation for fans centres on the league's cellar dwellers - the teams hoping to avoid relegation.

Relegation is by no means the death of a club, as it pockets a healthy "parachute" sweetener in the vicinity of 48 million pounds ($81 million) over four years.

The clubs firming as favourites for the disappointing return to the English Championship are newly-promoted Crystal Palace, Hull City and Cardiff City.

Other contenders Sunderland and Norwich City have endured a healthy summer reshuffle of their playing squads.

Both sides will find the going a little tougher this season as they try to maintain a healthy balance between youth and experience.

International talent on display ahead of World Cup
Photo: Pierre-Pillippe Marcou, AFP

The international talent on display in the Premier League promises to be a perfect precursor to next June's World Cup in Brazil.

Jesus Navas (Manchester City) is one player to watch. The blue-eyed Spanish international from Sevilla has a wealth of experience and trophy success and will add an extra dimension to City's attacking flair and speed.

If given the chance, West Brom's Diego Lugano - the ageless Uruguayan captain - will strengthen the Baggies' defence and could make life difficult for teams visiting The Hawthorns.

Liverpool's Iago Aspas joins the Reds from Spanish League side Celta Vigo. His speed and ability to find space alongside the redoubtable Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling will add a further sting to Liverpool's attack this season.

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