IT’S back! The intensity, the excitement, the thrills and the sheer euphoria of the English Premier League resumes today.
Being a Man Utd fan, last season was a nightmare, to put it mildly. The pain of missing out on Europe altogether was too much to bear. Not forgetting the torture of getting all those messages after every defeat from my colleagues, friends and even my 11-year-old nephew!
Yes, good riddance David Moyes and welcome Dutch master Louis van Gaal. There will be a resurgence under van Gaal, I have no doubt. Man Utd have invested heavily in Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera but in my opinion van Gaal is a more important scoop for the Red Devils.
There is now genuine optimism among fans, players and pundits following the appointment of the Dutchman. Fresh from taking the Netherlands to the World Cup semi-finals, van Gaal is a no-nonsense, top-class manager who brings with him bags of experience, trophy hauls and a reputation that demands immediate respect.
Nemanja Vidic, Alexander Buttner, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Federico Macheda have all left the club. Nani, Anderson, Marouane Fellaini, Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernandez are strongly rumoured to also be on the way out of Old Trafford.
It shows that van Gaal means business and if long-term targets, Juventus’s Arturo Vidal, Sporting Lisbon’s Marcos Rojo and Ajax’s Daley Blind can be captured before transfer deadline day, then I see no reason why we cannot challenge for the EPL title this season.
The Red Devils have had a very successful pre-season in the United States with a change of system and a new playing style implemented by the no-nonsense new manager. With wins over Real Madrid, Liverpool, Roma, Inter Milan and a morale boosting debut win at Old Trafford for van Gaal in midweek over Valencia, the winning mentality is back and the hunger of the players is obvious.
Man Utd could not have asked for a more easier start to life under van Gaal when the fixtures list was revealed last month. Opening ties against Swansea today, Sunderland, Burnley, QPR, Leicester and West Ham in that order are the perfect platform for them to make a statement of intent and make the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal sit up and take notice.
As for their rivals for the title, I am tipping Chelsea to come good, especially having bought well during the summer. The Blues look strong in every department and Jose Mourinho will be eager to prove his critics wrong after a trophy-barren season last term.
For Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal troops, the signing of Alexis Sanchez and the improvement expected from Mesut Ozil gives hope of a first title since 2004. They spent large chunks of last season without Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott and based on last week’s performance against Man City in the Charity Shield, you can bet that they will give it a good go this season.
As for Suarez-less Liverpool, it would be hard for them to repeat last seasons fantastic achievements especially with Champions League football back at Anfield after four years. But in youngsters Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and new recruits Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren, Liverpool will surely have enough firepower to challenge for the title.
Defending champions Man City will find it hard to defend the title they snatched away from Liverpool at the tail-end of last season. Nevertheless, with key players Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Sergio Aguero and the highly rated Eliaquim Mangala in their ranks, I expect City to be firing on all cylinders.
Manuel Pellegrini won the title in his first season in England so why not van Gaal?
No doubt there is a huge gap to bridge from last season, having finished a lowly seventh. But if we can buy a world class midfielder, a proven defender and if newly appointed captain Wayne Rooney maintains his excellent form in pre-season, then who is to say that Man Utd won’t be celebrating their 21st title in English football come May next year.