KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON: That Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea are the main contenders to win the Premier League is no surprise. It could have been predicted this time last year. What could not have been predicted is that all three would be under new management.
David Moyes has succeeded unique Sir Alex Ferguson at United, the calming Manuel Pellegrini has replaced hyperactive Roberto Mancini at City and the Special One is back in place of Rafa Benitez in west London.
Hence the curiosity factor is not only in which order they will share the top three places next May. Further fascination surrounds how Moyes copes with the pressure of impossible expectation, whether Pellegrini can bring a settled style to Eastlands . . . and whether a happy, refreshed Jose Mourinho can turn the clock back to the days when he steered the Blues to two league titles, one FA Cup and two League Cups.
The trio open up in conveniently staggered fashion: United launch their title defence with an awkward visit to Swansea on Saturday evening while Sunday sees Chelsea host promoted Hull and, on Monday, City welcome Newcastle to Eastlands.
City are the bookmakers’ favourites. This owes much to their status as transfer market winners after splashing £90m on Spanish forwards Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo, Montenegrin Stevan Jovetic and Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho.
By contrast frustrated United have failed to bring in anyone – after vain pursuits of Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas – and thus remain resolute in refusing to sell unsettled Wayne Rooney to Chelsea.
Behind the top three are the hopeful three: Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool. These are the main contestants for the all-important, barrier-breaking fourth spot which offers entry into the Champions League and allied access to the elite end of the transfer market.
Arsenal fans continue to fret over manager Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to spend any of the £70m transfer fund at his disposal. Just as Chelsea put all their eggs in the Rooney basket so Arsenal have held out for Luis Suarez. However, even the Uruguayan has now accepted that Liverpool will not be selling him to anyone this year.
Tottenham have already spent half of the £90m they expect to harvest from Real Madrid for Gareth Bale, notably on Spain striker Roberto Soldado and Brazil’s Confed Cup-winning midfielder Paulinho.
Further down the league every club has a different tale of intrigue and interest.
A new-club challenge faces two other managers in Roberto Martinez (ex-Wigan) at Everton and Mark Hughes (ex-QPR) at Stoke while Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa will expect to avoid another scuffle to avoid relegation. That is likely to be the priority concern for promoted Cardiff, Hull and Crystal Palace.
** Goal-line technology would have been brought into use 31 times in the Premier League last season had it been in operation.
That claim has been made by Richard Scudamore, the league’s chief executive, ahead of the introduction of its ‘Goal Decision System’ across all matches this season.
The Hawkeye system – the company was preferred to the German Cairos – had its first run-out in a British competitive club match at Wembley last Sunday in the FA Community Shield. Manchester United did not need its help to defeat FA Cup holders Wigan 2:0.
Scudamore said: “It’s taken a lot of time and effort and money since 2006 but we’ve got here at last and it’s very exciting. It makes a very quick decision, in less than a second. If there were any doubt we wouldn’t be using it at all.
“There are seven cameras focused on each goal, and it’s a very quick decision – within a second all the officials will know. It’s very simple: the ball either will, or won’t, be over the line. There were 31 incidents last year that could have benefited from this technology. It’s been rigorously tested and I’m very confident it will work.”
Greg Dyke, new chairman of the Football Association, thinks it is only a matter of time before technology is applied to offside, penalty decisions etc.
England is an appropriate stage for the league launch of goal-line technology: it was Frank Lampard’s phantom goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup which shocked FIFA president Sepp Blatter into changing his mind about its need.
. . . BUT ALSO:
** For the first time since it sparked the Premier TV revolution in terms of coverage and cash, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky – British Sky Broadcasting – has a serious rival in BT Sport.
British Telecom is the company which evolved out of the old, monopolistic telephone service. The internet service revolution opened it up to competition from Sky, Orange, Vodafone, etc in terms of the lucrative broadband provision to homes and businesses.
Hence BT is fighting back by taking on Sky on its own territory: TV football. It has built the “largest TV sport studio in Europe” in the media centre of the London 2012 Olympic Park and aims to succeed where ITV Digital, Setanta and ESPN all failed.
BT has lured half a dozen star TV presenters from other channels amid a £1bn investment. This includes paying £738m for 38 Premier League matches a season for the next three years. Unlike pay-TV Sky, BT is offering free viewing to all customers who already have – or sign up to – a 12-month contract for BT broadband telephone services.
It also has the rights to domestic rugby, WTA Tour tennis, the FA Cup and a host of overseas football leagues. But not, ironically, the possible destination of its big-name ‘ambassador’ Gareth Bale since Spanish football remains on Sky.
Sky still has the majority of live matches (116) and has added newly-retired ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher to an analyst team led by the outstanding Gary Neville.
BBC retains the popular Match of the Day highlights show on Saturday nights.