As Premier League preview pieces come in thick and fast from the newspapers, blogs and forums, a pretty clear is trend emerging from this excess of available predictions; the 2014-15 title race will be between Chelsea and Man City.
Arsenal are more serious contenders than many are giving them credit for, but there are some obvious deficiencies in their squad (at the moment) which leave them a relatively distant 3rd on paper. Liverpool meanwhile will struggle to overachieve they way did last season and will most likely fight for 4th place with Louis Van Gaal’s reenergised Man Utd team, as he manages a much needed transitional campaign.
The key question then, with regards to analysing Chelsea’s title hopes is how do we compare to last season’s champions? Manuel Pellegrini’s side ultimately were worthy winners, having been consistently very good for the last 2/3rds of the season. A feeling lingers though, that rather than being a vintage, league winning side, City were simply the least flawed of a poor bunch of teams and were fortunate for Chelsea and Liverpool having thrown away so many easy points in the last few rounds. This season, that won’t be enough. The standard of the top seven clubs looks to have roundly improved and there will be some genuinely good sides competing for first place. This year the title will have to be earned, rather than simply ‘not thrown away’.
A common cliché is that you have to move forward to stand still in the PL, an adage City were found guilty of ignoring two years ago. After winning their first league in 44 years, they signed Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia, Maicon, Scott Sinclair and Matija Nastasic, adding squad depth but failing in any way to improve the starting XI. And it feels like they’ve done something similar this time around. Bacary Sagna and Willy Caballero are good players but will probably be back ups to Zabaleta and Hart. Likewise, Fernando and Frank Lampard offer something different but are hardly a step up from Fernandinho, who had an excellent debut season.
Retaining the PL is not easy. This century, the only two teams to have done so are Cristiano Ronaldo’s Man Utd and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, who added Michael Essien and Hernan Crespo to an already dominant side in 2005. City aren’t as good as either of those teams, whilst the only signing they’ve made who will probably improve the team is French defender Eliaquim Mangala, who is a definite step up from Martin Demichelis, but £32m is a hugely flattering fee.
It may be reasonably argued that City don’t need any real kind of transformation – with the squad more accustomed to the manager’s methods and with the best players all still in their prime, at their best they should still comfortably be the most dangerous attacking team in the country. Regardless of that being the case, for some reason their squad just doesn’t appear as daunting on paper as it did this time last year. Yaya Toure is in his thirties now and has allowed serious questions to be raised over his commitment with these stupid birthday cake stories. Aguero and Jovetic are wonderful attackers but are perpetually injured. Joe Hart has regressed fairly consistently for two years and may not handle competition from Wily Caballero in a positive way, whilst Vincent Kompany, though one of the very few world class centre halves in Europe, was culpable for more soft goals conceded last year than perhaps some realise.
Fears that the club might fail to kick on this year won’t have been helped by a poor pre-season either, capped by an absolutely abysmal performance in the Community Shield on Sunday. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal, they gave one of the most apathetic displays I’ve ever seen (even in a pre-season game) as some of the players looked shockingly unfit and uninterested. The fact that hardly anyone seemed bothered also just gave the impression of a side that have been far too overconfident/worryingly laid back in their preparation.
Supporters would point out that, compared to Arsenal, they were missing far more important first team players, especially in defence, but it should still concern them just how poor their second string looked; there’s another, more pressing issue with this City squad that would be beginning to worry me also – the fact that more and more, it looks to be comprised predominantly of players who’ve been enticed to the club by purely financial motives. A few years ago, while they were making their initial big investments in the squad, money was the only thing they had to attract big names, but the problem is that very quickly, this can lead to culture where a number of your top players, have no emotional attachment to club at all.
This might sound a bit rich being written on Chelsea blog, but to our credit, throughout all of the glory years, we had a solid core of players, fronted by Terry and Lampard who loved the club and were proud to represent it – an attitude that rubbed off on big name signings like Drogba, Cech and Ashley Cole. Compare these players to City’s star men and it doesn’t reflect particularly well on the Manchester Club. Yaya Toure we know wanted to leave this summer, Sergio Aguero most likely wouldn’t have any second thoughts about going to Real Madrid. And maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think David Silva would be too sad if City accepted a bid from Barcelona either.
I think we’ve overtaken City this year and I think we should be title favourites. But not because we have a superior defence, or a better goalkeeper, or because we’re better at set pieces (even though we are) but because of what Filipe Luis said this week about his integration into the side:
“You can tell that the players are all friends with one another, and that has helped me to adapt here. I had a very good reception and everyone is very modest. I am crazy about being able to play in the Premier League. “England is the ideal place for me – and Chelsea is the best team”.
We have everything we need this season to become Champions and most importantly, we’ve got a united and motivated squad of players ready to compete together and to win for the club, as well as for themselves. City will remain the yardstick by which all other teams assess themselves, but as of right now, I’m convinced we’ve got the beating of them this time around.