As the final days count down to the start of the new Premier League season, I thought it would be a good time to cast an eye across what's been happening at other Premier League clubs this summer. As there's a lot of information to shift through, I've broken down the Premier League into four categories of which I'm sure you'll recognize - title contenders, European challengers, mid table sides and relegation fodder - and you can expect to see all of the teams covered as we publish a new category every day in the run up to the first game of the new season.
The fight at the top was as close as it could have possibly been last season, with Sergio Aguero, as I'm sure you'll all aware, scored the title-winning goal three minutes and twenty seconds into stoppage time. His goal meant Manchester City won the title for the first time in forty-four years. The champions have taken the window as an opportunity to reflect on what they achieved rather than make wholesale changes, but that's understandable seeing as City have the most talented squad in the Premier League and only a few glaring weaknesses.
It was actually only hours before Sunday's Community Shield that City made their first significant move, signing Everton's Jack Rodwell for a fee of £12 million. This was unusual in that there was no indication of a press of such a move potentially taking place, and it's also unusual in that Rodwell, for all his excellent athletic ability, hasn't really shown enough to warrant a move to the best side in the division. I'd guess that there are two big motivations behind this move: firstly, Rodwell as a homegrown player will be useful in City's plan for their 25-man squad going forward and secondly, he is fairly versatile, providing cover at centre back, an area where City perhaps need reinforcements most (underlined by their approach for Liverpool's Daniel Agger).
Otherwise, City's summer has been fairly quiet, and they should easily be the team to beat in England this year. There were confirmed rumours of a pursuit for want away striker Robin Van Persie: but this seemed greedy on the Mancurians' part, and it seems Mancini and I both agree that we shouldn't expect to see much more traction on this deal.
A place where we might instead see some movement from the Dutchman is the other side of Manchester, where Sir Alex Ferguson is looking to guide his side back to the top of the table, having had title no.20 snatched away in the dying minutes of last season. United's first major move was to bring in Crewe's Nick Powell for £4 million, and while the youngster played striker for his previous club, there are indications that United are looking to play him in a central midfield role, although at his age I wouldn't expect him to have a seismic impact on their title challenge. One player who could is Shinji Kagawa, who signed from Borussia Dortmund for £18 million pounds, a move which in my eyes was an excellent pickup. The Japanese is an excellent technical footballer with superb intelligence and awareness, constantly finding space between the lines of midfield and attack in order to craft devastating passes. His versatility should see him fill in an important role in what I'd predict to be a more fluid United attack, where Wayne Rooney will presumably move back to his traditional centre forward role in order to accommodate the plethora of attacking midfield talent. There have been little rumours on the central midfield front for United, which seems a big concern from a supporters point of view. Carrick, Scholes, Cleverely and Andersen are all very good footballers, but they're not up to the standard of the top players in the division, and it's an area United constantly struggles in when it comes to the big games. They also seem to have a weakness in both full back positions having loaned Fabio to Queens Park Rangers (and sent Park there too), and barring a late surge in the window, I wouldn't expect them to improve on where they finished last year.
Also of note in terms of Manchester United is the flotation of the club on the stock market, which has seen a stiff reaction from supporters, most notably the backlash against Ferguson after he was accused of being one of the ‘beneficiaries' of a shared income scheme.
Finally, outside of Manchester there is really only one place that could feasibly see a surge for the title, and that's London. You should know all about Chelsea's summer so far (if you don't, Stephen's preview is an excellent place to start), but there is another club in London that could possibly challenge, and that's Arsenal. It really does seem like we say this every year (and I think they're still a long way off being a genuine chance) but just to please the guys at The Short Fuse we'll count Arsenal in as a title contender.
They've had a rather productive window, sealing the deals on three signings well ahead of their usual schedule, but they've also had to deal with another saga embroiling the captain, as Robin Van Persie wants to win trophies and can't see that happening at Arsenal (don't worry Robin, I can't either), thus the Dutch striker has refused to sign a new contract at the Emirates.
Wenger's response to this has been atypical: he's redesigned his side's attack, meaning that Van Persie's inevitable departure won't be as a huge blow as was losing Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last year. He's brought in three established internationals, each offering different abilities and thus providing a platform upon which Arsenal can lessen their reliance on Van Persie. Podolski can play on the wing and up front offering a new cutting edge, Giroud is a traditional target man in the mould of classic no.9's while Cazorla, the most exciting of the three, is a creative talent that has been missing from Arsenal since Fabregas's departure. Arsenal will be a far more dynamic and exciting attacking unit this year, but that can't disguise the glaring faults in the backline, where Wenger's insistence on a high line constantly leaves his defenders exposed. The side lacks options in the full back positions, and while Alex Song is a fine footballer, he can't cover for all of their deficiencies. While the attack has seen significant changes, without similar investment in the defence Arsenal will for my money continue to leak goals (although, in fairness, the promotion of Steve Bould to assistant manager may go a long way to correcting Arsenal's long held flaw).
You can find excellent coverage of all the sides we've covered here today on the SBNation network, and be sure to visit We Ain't Got No History tomorrow for a roundup of the European challengers as we count down to an exciting new Premier League season.
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