Eleven things to look out for this season
1. 3-5-2 is the new 4-3-3
This season’s must-have tactical look involves three cultured centre-backs, a packed midfield and a nifty playmaker. It’s an effective set-up, if the players get it, and if the wing-backs are tireless. Pioneered by Carlos Bilardo’s 1986 Argentina, it was tried by Liverpool and Hull last season, and is likely to be rolled out at a string of clubs this season, including Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, Ronald Koeman’s Southampton, Alan Irvine’s West Brom and Harry Redknapp’s QPR.
Vanishing spray and a ball revolution
Last month the Premier League seemed cool on vanishing spray’s star role in Brazil. But now they’ve ordered 2 000 cans. Also new this season: an official Nike ball, the Ordem, made of 45% synthetic leather and 55% PR fluff. “The Nike Ordem, featuring Nike Aerow Trac grooves, is emblazoned with Nike RaDaR (rapid decision and response) technology.” That means it has a pattern. Yours for £95.
3. QPR reining it in
Clubs embracing/ignoring/finding a way round the spirit of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play will be a talking point. Again. Among the sides to watch are Queens Park Rangers, who lost £65.4-million in 2013 while paying Bobby Zamora £70 000 a week. So far this summer they’ve spent £14-million, with just 22 days left before Harry Redknapp’s favourite day, transfer deadline day. “We’re not looking to splash loads of cash,” says Harry. Elsewhere, Liverpool, who posted a £49.8-million loss last year, put that right by selling Luis Suárez for £75-million – then spent £87-million on new talent.
4. Paul Scholes vs the Nevilles
Among the early posturing in this season’s battle for best United Kingdom broadcaster status: the BBC reacting to Sky’s Gary Neville success by hiring Phil Neville; BT reacting to the new Neville axis by hiring Paul Scholes; and Sky responding to BT having last season’s biggest studio by building a bigger one – home to their new, rebranded Sky Sports News HQ channel. Sky’s £2.3-billion bought them 116 live games this season; BT paid £758-million for their 38.
5. Managers rowing with touchline doctors
This is likely to be a reliable new sideshow. Last season’s incident involving Spurs manager André Villas-Boas sending Hugo Lloris back on after the keeper lost consciousness was called “irresponsible and cavalier” by a brain injury charity, and prompted this season’s new guidance. The rules mean club doctors, not managers, will take final decisions on whether players can carry on after a head injury. They’ll be backed by an additional “tunnel” doctor, using TV replays to judge the severity of incidents.
6. Is LVG the new Fergie? Or the new Moyes?
Van Gaal’s Sir Alex tendencies are clear enough, including his press conference technique – LVG matching Ferguson’s “Yous lot are idiots” with his own “Am I so smart or are you so stupid?”. He has the United righteousness that David Moyes lacked, along with an edgy, qualified charm, zero tolerance on nonsense and a Mourinho-like ability to draw the spotlight off his players. The signs from the United States tour were good.
7. A hard-to-call sack race
The odds on first manager out are tight: it’s not all about Sam Allardyce. Paul Lambert could be gone after a bad Villa start or a good Villa takeover; Mauricio Pochettino knows AVB was out by Christmas; and one more touchline headbutt would do for Alan Pardew. Also on the edge: Ronald Koeman, whose involuntary Southampton makeover needs to click quickly, Leicester’s Nigel Pearson, Swansea’s Garry Monk, Redknapp at QPR and West Brom wildcard Alan Irvine.
8. The best of Brazil 2014
Real Madrid may have landed the summer’s big star, but plenty of other talent has made it into Premier League squads. Arsenal have three of the best in Chile’s Alexis Sánchez, Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell and the Colombia keeper David Ospina. Among the others: West Ham’s £12-million Ecuador forward Enner Valencia; Everton’s Bosnia and Herzegovina midfielder Muhamed Besic and Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku; Liverpool’s Croatia defender Dejan Lovren and Belgium youngster Divock Origi; Chelsea’s £32-million Spain flop Diego Costa; Newcastle’s Dutch defender Daryl Janmaat; Swansea’s Ecuador winger Jefferson Montero; Villa’s Swiss defender Philippe Senderos – signed to partner Ron Vlaar from the Netherlands; and West Brom’s Costa Rican Cristian Gamboa and Australian Jason Davidson.
9. Tense English players trying to justify their fees
£23-million Adam Lallana and £31.5-million Luke Shaw can expect waste-of-money chants on day one, come what may. It’s been another summer of hyper-inflated fees for England’s finest – Jack Rodwell joining Sunderland for £10-million after making seven league starts in two years; Calum Chambers joining Arsenal for £16-million on the strength of a 22-game career; and Hull spending £8-million on Jake Livermore. “There’s the problem,” says Steve Bruce. “You can identify a young English lad, but then you can get one from overseas instead for half the price.”
10. How long will Villa hold it together?
The early frontrunners as 2014-15’s official crisis club start with a want-away owner who can’t find a buyer; with Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak injured; and with Roy Keane shadowing an unpopular manager he’s tipped to replace. Paul Lambert says Keane is an upbeat influence at a club where two coaches were sacked last season amid an internal investigation. “People shouldn’t get caught up with claims that Roy Keane is an aggressive person,” says Lambert. “He’s actually really positive.”
11. Choice new third kits
The ones to watch out for: Arsenal’s blue stripes with lime-green piping, and Liverpool’s black and grey with red sash – a worthy successor to 2013’s purple, white and black number with mismatched socks. Brendan Rodgers says the design will help his side to “look and feel formidable”; the PR says it’s “distinctive and fresh” with a “nostalgic essence”. The best new kit launch came from Spanish Segunda B side Cultural Leonesa: a new 90th anniversary tuxedo top. Their club shop upped an initial order of 1 000 shirts to 5 000 after it went viral online. “We did not expect such success.” – © Guardian News & Media 2014