We are moments away from the start of the European football season. I must pick the teams that will win the Spanish La Liga and the Barclays Premier League.
To start with, I do not need any consultation to determine the team that will top the La Liga this season. Easily the best and most exciting football team in the world this past decade remains the team to beat in Spain. All Barca fans can take my word for it and go to sleep.
It is the English premiership that requires that I consult with the oracle. When you look at history and add to that the juggling and shuffling of players that have taken place in the BPL these past few weeks since the last season ended one requires a lot of ‘fasting and prayer’ to work out the direction in which the pendulum of victory would swing.
So, I am standing by the crystal ball and peering through its misty lenses.
I see the faint outlines of some familiar colours emerging slowly. I am thinking.
The 2015/2016 Barclays Premier League will be another intriguing experience. The managers have set the stage with rather unusual rhetoric this time around. For the first time they all seem to have dumped diplomatic modesty and are openly declaring their intention and ambition to win the league trophy this season – Mourinho, Pellegrini, Wenger and even Van Gaal!
They all seem to have woken up to Jose Mourinho’s mind game, ‘pretending’ to be one thing and doing another. He applied it on his return to the premiership two seasons ago only for everyone to watch in consternation as he almost snatched victory from Manchester City FC at the tail end of the season.
The era of diplomatic nicety between managers may be over. There will be no love lost this season with so many jobs at stake. I foresee a war of words off the field and a close, fierce contest on it.
I have not experienced a pre-season quite like this with the very careful and meticulous selection process of players by the few clubs that continue to seriously contest for the league trophy season after season – the same four or five clubs!
The character of the wheeling and dealing in players this pre-season by the clubs reveals very strategic thinking – investment only in a few players that will play critical roles, fill the weak gaps in the teams from last season and make the clubs serious contenders for the title.
Except for Liverpool FC that appear somehow subdued in the pre-season the others have only injected a few key players into last season’s squad as a general strategy.
Even as my crystal ball continues to reveal its content I can make a simple basic prediction – there won’t be any ‘tsunami’ this season as money will continue to rule the game! Only the richest clubs can and will win the premiership. They shall continue their stranglehold by adopting the simple but expensive strategy of buying up the best and most experienced players from around Europe and South America, add to them a spice of Africans and head for the top!
As Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger, would readily testify the days of winning the premiership with young or homegrown players may be over.
Even he has been forced to modify his philosophy in the past two seasons, carefully balancing his love for young talent with the injection of some expensive and ready-made players, a departure from his previous financial prudence and academy-philosophy that failed to earn Arsenal FC the league in 13 attempts.
Arsenal FC appear to be happy with their team towards the end of the last season. So they have kept the core of that team and bought a very experienced goalkeeper in Petr Cech to strengthen the defense.
On paper and from the results of their pre-season matches Arsenal FC appear more solid particularly with the return and recovery of Walcott and Ozil.
On the strength of team work and stability the Gunners look like a possible winner this season.
Manchester United FC
Manchester United FC are performing a major re-engineering of their team. The team still does not still have a discernible character reminiscent of the era under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Van Gaal has bought wisely and prudently, mostly consolidating the defense with Argentina’s Sergio Romero in goal, Italy’s rock-solid defender Matteo Damian and the pair of Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin to create a new midfield.
It will be a new and much stronger team this season but might not have coalesced enough to win the premiership!
Manchester City FC
Manchester City FC are still wondering how they lost steam and direction down the final stretch last season. In that state of mind they have done only modest injection of big talent into the team.
They are putting their hopes on Liverpool’s Rashid Sterling. Quick, and inventive with his dribbles, no doubt, but, surely, his presence would not make the big difference Manchester City requires to re-ignite the fire and spirit that won them the title two seasons ago.
No, they do not look likely champions this season.
Chelsea FC are the team to watch simply because of the presence of Mourinho. There is something about the man that confounds all. His would be the team to beat again. Whilst keeping fate with the players that saw him win the premiership in the last season, he is reinforcing it with the most unlikely player – Radamel Falcao, whose performance in Manchester United colours last season was a disaster. But Mourinho knows what he is doing.
Falcao’s poor run last season was simply because he was recovering from a debilitating knee injury that sidelined him for the last World Cup. For some players, coming back from such an injury is a psychological challenge that takes a long period.
Mourinho’s gamble is that should this mercurial striker, one of the best in the world when he is fit and in form, recover fully and pair up with Eden Hazard, a future candidate for best player in the world, the pair could turn out to be not only a nightmare for Manchester United FC but for the rest of the premiership clubs this season.
Mourinho is not disrupting the equilibrium in his team. He has brought in Brazil’s midfielder Nathan and Nigeria’s Victor Moses to beef up his attacking options.
With Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC must be serious contenders to retain their crown.
Liverpool FC have been very busy this pre-season. They have invested in 6 players with Roberto Firmino the young Brazilian midfielder and Belgium and Aston Villa’s forward Christian Benteke as their biggest buys.
They do not look anywhere near title contenders with this and other modest injection of mostly regular English players. Into the near future? Yes. In 2015/2016? Probably not!
The Oracle Speaks
Still waiting for the lenses of my crystal ball to clear up so that the oracle can reveal its content, I can see some inscription emerging.
It is becoming clearer. I can start to make out the words.
It reads: ‘”the Oracle wishes you all a terrific 2015/2016 season”.