So tomorrow it’s back. The sports monster that sweeps everything else aside once it gets going. More money sloshing around than ever, now BT Sport has arrived on the scene. It has been a great summer of sport again, after the magnificence of 2012, with Wiggin’s Tour de France, the Olympics and Paralympics, and more besides. This summer we’ve had Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, England winning the Ashes in cricket, Chris Froome winning the Tour de France, a great British Open golf tournament with Phil Mickelson winning brilliantly with a surge on the last day, the Lions winning in Australia, and just this week, Mo Farrah winning the 5,000m and 10,000m double at the athletics World Championships. But the monster will quickly devour our memories and have us hanging on every result, debating the decisions, wondering if/when Rooney goes to Chelsea, Suarez to Arsenal, Bale to Real Madrid, before the transfer deadline.
We’ll be drooling in front of Sky Sports, or BT, or the BBC highlights. Unable to resist. The summer but a hazy memory. The rugby will compete – I’ll be back at Quins, cheering them on – but there is no way of resisting the Premier League football. You must succumb.
So the very least I can do is make some predictions. Here’s my first: the top four will be the same as last season. It finished: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal. This season I’m going for this order:
2. Man City
3. Man Utd
How boring! But I just can’t see any of the other teams breaking into that four. Tottenham could, if they held on to Bale, but he is as good as gone. Spurs have already bought ambitiously – Soldado will score a lot of goals – but I can’t see how it will do much more than keep them where they are. Likewise Liverpool. If they hold on to Suarez and he’s happy, they could threaten Arsenal. But in the end I think they’ll falter… again.
Within the four, it is exciting. Three have new managers: only Arsenal have the manager from last season, good old Arsene. And they have the same squad as well. So far they have brought in one young French player and that’s it. They’ve bid for Suarez, but that is looking unlikely to come to fruition now. The team will improve, and if Wilshere stays fit, I think they could challenge for higher than fourth. But it’s likely that the old defensive vulnerabilities will remain, unless they get a good defensive midfielder before the close of the window and another centre back. Most likely Wenger will buy another wide attacker with potential, to add to his collection.
Man Utd are now managed by David Moyes. His main job so far has been trying to keep Wayne Rooney, who is in another massive sulk. The team is obviously high quality and knows how to win the league. But it hasn’t been improved so far, whereas Chelsea and Man City have. Three attempts to land Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona have failed – thank God! It was bad enough seeing RVP in a United shirt. Seeing Cesc in one would be intolerable. Moyes did a superb job at Everton, although he never won anything. Can he cope with Utd? I would say yes, but there may be a transitional season. He has already started whinging about the hard fixtures at the start. Getting excuses in early?
Man City have bought better than anybody, and bought early. Fernandinho, Jovetic, Navas, Negredo. Their attack will be awesome. Their new manager, Manuel Pellegrini, is hugely respected in Spain and committed to attacking football. They will be fun to watch. One question: what will they do if Kompany gets injured? They are short on centre back cover. That may be rectified before the window closes. But the defensive doubts, plus just a bit of a question about whether Pellegrini will adapt to the Premier League, is why I have put them second. I could easily put them first.
Which leaves Chelsea. A strong team already, improved by the addition of German international Andre Schurrle and the return of Belgian striker Lukaku, from loan to West Brom. But far more important is the return of Jose Mourinho as manager. He is the best, isn’t he? In which case, I think he’ll take the excellent raw materials at Chelsea and turn them into the supreme team again. Could be wrong, but I just can’t bet against them.
And so what of my own favourites, West Ham? We ended up a very creditable tenth last season, on return to the Premier League. There hasn’t been much transfer activity, although quite a lot of money has been spent. The big man, Andy Carroll, has been signed permanently from Liverpool, for £15m – a massive sum for West Ham. And to ensure that the crossses are landed on his head, Stewart Downing has been signed, also from Liverpool, for £5-6m. For an established England international, that is a bargain. Whether we need him when we already have Matt Jarvis, Joe Cole and Matt Taylor, I don’t know. But Downing will bring new quality to the team, so I trust Big Sam’s judgement.
We have also signed Radzvan Rat, the captain of Romania, a left back. The sub editors will have fun with his name. I’m sure he’ll be a success. He’s a multi-linguist and spent a day in the office selling season tickets recently. Shows he’s rounded and grounded. Let’s also hope he’s good at football!
It will be hard for the Hammers to improve much on last season’s position, with such strong competition around them. I’m going to stay optimistic, though, and say we’ll advance to eighth.
Surprise success of the season? I’m going to punt for Norwich. They have shown some intriguing ambition in their signings. Two Dutch internationals, Fer and van Wolfswinkel. Englishman, Gary Hooper from Celtic, who scored plenty of goals in Scotland. A solid defender, Olsson, from Blackburn. Young English player Nathan Redmond, who starred for the U-21s when they thrashed Scotland 6-0 this week.
The only prediction which I know will be right is that hardly any of these predictions will be right. But it will be engrossing to see how it all pans out.
So engrossing that if England fail to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, we’ll hardly notice…