Back, but this time in blue … Cesc Fabregas during the pre-season match between Chelsea and Real Sociedad.EPL preview: Costa gives Mourinho’s Chelsea the edge
1. Can Van Gaal rejuvenate Manchester United?
The biggest issue facing the Red Devils delves deeper than just the man in charge but questions the quality of the squad itself. Louis van Gaal’s activity in the transfer window tells us the roster is no longer strong enough to compete with the club’s rivals. Marouane Fellaini and Javier Hernandez were told they were surplus to requirements, and Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra chose to walk before they were pushed. The club’s aggressive approach for players such as Arturo Vidal, Angel Di Maria and Daley Blind showswith a willingness to break transfer records. Van Gaal may struggle at first but expect a strong finish if he signs his targets.
2. Will Fabregas, now back in London, prove the difference at Chelsea?
The diminutive Spaniard is already a proven success in English football and returns a better player after two seasons in La Liga. He is not afraid to work hard off the ball – a must for coach Jose Mourinho – and his end product matches his creativity. He will do well in South London, but it is his partnership with striker Diego Costa that will be the most crucial aspect of his role. Chelsea lacked consistent firepower last season, in part due to their forwards and also the service from midfield. Fabregas will forge a link between both roles and is as much a signing for Costa as he is for Mourinho. If he combines with his Spanish teammate, Chelsea will challenge for the title.
3. Can Jedinak keep the Eagles flying?
Second year blues looks the most likely outcome for Crystal Palace, who have been dealt a blow on the eve of the new season with manager Tony Pulis parting ways by mutual consent. Disagreement over the club’s transfer deals led to the departure and has destabilised its season before it began. The onus on Jedinak to unite the players has never been greater and the combative midfielder has been there before. He will find solace in the turnaround last season but it won’t be easy to repeat.
4. Is Pochettino the man to finally fulfil Spurs’ potential?
Tottenham have been quiet in the transfer window, which suggests the signing of coach Mauricio Pochettino is an attempt to bring the potential out of last year’s failed investments. Argentine Erik Lamela and Spanish striker Roberto Soldado did little to live up to their reputation in their first year and it is hoped Pochettino’s experience of bringing out the best in minnows such as Southampton and Espanyol will change that.
5. Have Manchester City done enough in the off season to go back-to-back?
The champions were dealt a blow with the introduction of the financial fair play laws that restricted their activity in the transfer window. Nevertheless, they found the cash for defenders Bacary Sagna and Eliaquim Mangala. Titles are built on the back line so it makes sense to bolster the defence.Their transfer activity can be seen as a show of faith in the already impressive artillery up front and a five-year contract renewal for Sergio Aguero gives him a stable platform for a stellar season.
6. Is Alexis Sanchez the man to get the Gunners firing?
Few players arrive in the EPL carrying the weight of so much expectation as the Chilean forward. If there is such a thing as an “Arsenal player”, Sanchez is that. He is agile, small and best with the ball at his feet but not the most reliable in front of goal. He had a great return last year at Barcelona but his rotation from the wing to striker hasn’t aided his consistency over the years, especially at Udinese. Arsene Wenger though has a good track record of converting wingers into goal scorers and can cite Thierry Henry as his best project. Sanchez has all the capabilities of being the weapon the Gunners have long needed.
7. Have Liverpool invested wisely enough to mount another title run?
Luis Suarez is gone, leaving Liverpool’s attack far less menacing but more stable and diverse. The Reds brought in Rickie Lambert to add another dimension to their forward line, and strengthened their width with Adam Lallana and former Benfica star, Lazar Markovic. Another Saint, Dejan Lovren, steadies their back line and one more striker is on their shopping list. If they don’t sign a star forward, however, this squad looks very much like a challenger for the top four rather than the title.
8. Who will fall into the relegation battle?
As experienced last season, the EPL has balanced out in the mid to lower table to such an extent that the trap door can remain open for many teams come round 38. The three promoted teams, QPR, Leicester and Burnley will probably struggle to break free from the bottom, and West Ham, Swansea, West Brom and Southampton might experience difficult campaigns.
9. Who will provide the outside challenge?
The best from the pack look to be Everton, Newcastle and Tottenham. Everton have retained two of their stars from last year who were on loan, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku, but keeping them at Goodison drained the bulk of their funds. By contrast, Tottenham have had a quiet transfer market but the appointment of Pochettino is clearly aimed at bringing out the best of what is already at their disposal. Newcastle struggled after the sale of Yohan Cabaye and believe they have found a replacement in Remy Cabella. One final dark horse may be Stoke City, who have gone under the radar.
10. Which of the promoted teams will fare the best?
It has been 10 years since Leicester were in the EPL and although they return as winners of the championship, that counts for little at the top level. The Foxes will look to David Nugent to again spearhead their attack. Burnley have kept hold of goal-scoring partners Sam Vokes and Danny Ings but again neither have much experience in the EPL. The best chance of survival is presented by QPR, who have a wealth of experience. Coached by Harry Redknapp and with a squad including Rio Ferdinand, Mauricio Isla, Loic Remy and rising star Charlie Austin, the Rangers will fancy their chances of avoiding the relegation fight.
11. What next for Southampton?
The Saints look set to experience the curse of rapid success, compounded by no clear strategy in the transfer market. Their impressive strides back into the EPL resulted in the sale of five first-team players. Gone are the likes of Luke Shaw, Lallana, Lambert and Lovren along with Pochettino. In their place come a host of personnel untested in England. Ronald Koeman is the new man in the dugout and unless he can use his massive budget to bring in some late quality additions, he will oversee a significant slide down the table.
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