The English Premier League kicks off on August 13. Get the lowdown
Time Out Bahrain staff
1 Chelsea’s new manager At just 33 years of age, André Villas-Boas’s move to Chelsea is the most expensive for a manager ever at BD8.05 million. It’s his track record at FC Porto that justifies the price tag – he is the youngest manager ever to win a European title – and also for Chelsea to free him from his contract there. But the change was needed, as Chelsea’s uneven performance last season under Carlo Ancelotti even brought their Champions League place into question. The team eventually finished second, but 52-year-old Ancelotti had already struck a nerve and was sacked – within two hours of the final game at Everton. With Villas-Boas also having worked as assistant to former Chelsea legend Jose Mourinho, maybe the club is hoping for a return to those glory years.
2 Ashley Young at Man Utd Ashley Young’s move from Aston Villa to Manchester United is said to have cost the defending league champions around BD9.73 million. Young finished as joint top-goalscorer for Villa last season, and currently stands out on the England squad as one of the few players with drive or flair. For manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Young is part of ‘the New Man U’, and the attempt to rebuild the team after the retirement of key players Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. With a talent for scoring himself, or playing wide to strikers like Rooney, expect plenty of goals here.
3 Man City’s bigger workload Following a cash injection from Abu Dhabi and the acquisition of many top players, Manchester City’s form has improved greatly over the last few years – enough for them to finish last season in third place, win the FA Cup, and secure themselves a place in the Champions League for the first time ever. After years of struggling in lower leagues, this is the best Man City has been since the 1970s – the last FA Cup win was 1969. But this will be a new experience for the team, with a Champions League game midweek and the Premier League at the weekend. It could be a real test.
4 The return of QPR Queens Park Rangers return to the Premier League this year for the first time in 15 years, but will they stay there? The main question bugging fans seems to be if the club co-owners – sixth-richest man in the world Lakshmi Mittal and F1 head honcho Bernie Ecclestone – actually put serious money into the team. Perhaps they are waiting for the transfer window mid-season, and if it looks like QPR will stay up then maybe they will spend. However, Bernie’s seeming lack of interest doesn’t help: ‘When I do go to football, I leave at half-time. By then you can see which way it’s going. If you asked me to name five on our team, I couldn’t.’ Will either do well or go straight back down.
5 Liverpool’s attempted comeback Several years ago, it was impossible to think about the Premier League top four without mentioning Liverpool. Last season, after a summer avoiding bankruptcy, the team began poorly, ending up third from bottom after seven games. A mid-season manager change, bringing back Kenny Dalglish, and some serious spending – BD21.3 million on Andy Carroll, BD13.9 million on Luis Suárez – meant ending the season in seventh. But what now? Can they really compete for a top-four place again when most of the teams in those spots have deeper pockets, and what does that mean for Dalglish if they can’t?
6 The all-new Sunderland Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has bought nine new players this summer – almost enough for an entire team. Acquisitions include former Man United defenders Wes Brown and John O’Shea, so the result should be a more experienced, better performance all round, and it definitely seems to have instilled confidence so far. Our favourite signing is 20-year-old South Korean striker Ji Dong-Won, who celebrated his arrival to the Premier League at a press conference by shouting: ‘I want to meet Wayne Rooney!’
7 A reformed Torres Fernando Torres joined the Premier League in the 2007-08 season and instantly made his mark for Liverpool, with the Spanish international quickly becoming the team’s top goalscorer. But injury followed, a few other setbacks, and last January he joined Chelsea for a rumoured BD30.4 million – and then nothing. His first goal for Chelsea came in April, ending 903 minutes of Torres playing time without a goal. He’ll have rested over the summer and tended to his injuries – will he be this season’s top goalscorer?
8 Wenger’s tactics Or not, as the case may be. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s strategy over the past few seasons has been to buy players young and bring them through – a high-possession style, but every year it looks promising and wins nothing. At the time of press, it looked like key players Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were set to leave, which will surely disappoint fans – especially when they are already looking at the most expensive season and single-match tickets in the league this year. Arsenal needs to up its defence and fare better against stronger teams – it could be Wenger’s last season if they do nothing.
9 Man United’s new goalkeeper Another high profile signing for Manchester United this season is its goalkeeper – Spaniard David de Gea. His transfer fee is the second-highest for a goalkeeper ever, said to be around BD10.34 million. He is highly rated, but still only 20 years old and yet to win a cap for his country. ‘We identified him quite a while back as one we should go for,’ said manager Sir Alex Ferguson, helping to reassure fans. ‘He’s young, very quick, has good composure, and is an outstanding replacement for Van de Sar.’ But 20 is still young for a goalkeeper – exactly how old was he when he was identified?
10 The opening schedule Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish was the first to voice his frustration over the start of the new season, and the fact that it begins less than 72 hours after a round of international friendlies takes place midweek. ‘Clubs are doing their best to bring in good players, and that means they are international players,’ he told reporters, adding that members of his first team would probably get a call up, with only a short recovery time before the Premier League starts. We’ve listed the opening weekend schedule here, with regional broadcast times.
Saturday, August 13 5pm Blackburn v Wolves 5pm Fulham v Aston Villa 5pm Liverpool v Sunderland 5pm QPR v Bolton 5pm Tottenham v Everton 5pm Wigan Athletic v Norwich City 7.30pm Newcastle v Arsenal
Sunday, August 14 3.30pm Stoke City v Chelsea 6pm West Brom v Man Utd
Where to watch You’ll have to wait until after Ramadan to catch a game in town, but these are our favourite sporting venues: Champs at the Best Western Hotel, Juffair (17 827 600); JJ’s at Al Bustan Hotel, Adliya (17 742 323); Sherlock Holmes at the Gulf Hotel, Adliya (17 713 000); Shift 7 at the Elite Resort & Spa, Sheikh Hamad Causeway (17 313 333); Tracks at the Crowne Plaza Bahrain, Diplomatic Area (17 531 122); Warbler at the Ramee Baisan Hotel, Hoora (17 290 600).
Maradona in the Middle East Not the English Premier League, but that fact that the Argentinian legend has signed on to coach Dubai’s Al Wasl club should definitely throw a bit of media attention this way. As displayed at the last World Cup, Diego Maradona sees no harm in injecting a bit of craziness from the sidelines, and we wonder not just how the team will perform under him, but how long it will be before his antics get him deported.