Premier League kicks off
LONDON— England’s major soccer championship, the Premier League, starts this weekend. With its matches being most watched all over the world, it is looked upon as the most important league. Most of its clubs, with rich owners, have again spent a lot of money to bring top stars from other countries, but it does not have the really top players, like Messi, Neymar, Luis Suárez, Bale and Iniesta who are in Spain with Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Among the novelties is the introduction of the vanishing spray used by referees to stop attackers and defenders moving forward in free kicks near goal which was used for the first time in this year’s World Cup. Apart from the Premier League, it will also be introduced in the German Bundesliga this season. The spray was invented in Argentina and has been used in that country’s championship for years. It certainly took European countries a long time to introduce this useful aid for referees and if they had not seen it in the World Cup, it might have taken longer.
Also, they have only just realized the gravity of concussion in sport because more has been written about it — also in this column years ago — and the NFL (American Football’s National Football League) is due to pay out a large amount after a court case started by players. A doctor will have to be present at each Premier League match to decide whether a concussed player can carry on playing or not.
Fans are seriously protesting about ticket prices and were organizing a march on the Premier League and Football League headquarters. Clubs receive so much money from sponsors and TV that they should benefit their loyal fans. Only one Premier Division club (Newcastle United) have slightly reduced prices. Seven have frozen prices and others have increased with Arsenal charging over 2,000 pounds (around 28,000 pesos) for season tickets for the first time.
There are a few more Argentine players such as former international goalkeeper Willy Caballero (who went straight into the first team for last Sunday’s Community Shield match between the league champions and cup winners) and Bruno Zuculini at Manchester City which now has four from the country in its squad. Newcastle United made seven new signings, including Facundo Ferreyra on whom their low scoring team is relying on goals. Mauro Zárate joined West Ham.
FA Cup winners Arsenal, spending more money than last year on new signings (including Chile’s Alexis Sánchez), are reckoned to have their strongest attack in years and should follow up their 3-0 Community Shield victory over league champions Manchester City with a good season in which they have qualified for the European competition for the 17th straight time. Their long-serving manager Arsene Wenger believes that the European Football Union’s (UEFA) Fair Play Rules (PFR) have levelled competition and given them a better chance as Arsenal has more financial power than others.
Manchester City are one of the clubs which have been sanctioned under PFR rules for spending more than their income and must enter European competition with a squad of only 21 players. New York City and Melbourne City have the same owner and Frank Lampard, just transferred by Chelsea to New York, has now been loaned to Manchester City who need five home-grown players in the squad. This move is being investigated. City’s Argentine international defender Pablo Zabaleta collected the most yellow cards in the division last season—11.
Manchester City are a bit weak in front, specially with Sergio Agüero’s frequent injuries. The club doctor says his muscles are twice the size than when he played in Spain and his body can- not cope. Yet the Argentine international scored 28 goals in 34 matches last season and has just being given a new five-year contract at 210,000 pounds (almost three million pesos) per week.
At Manchester United, new Dutch World Cup coach Louis van Gaal is changing tactics and predicts they will not at first be successful, but the players disagree and pre-season warmup results seem to back them up. Van Gaal is playing 3-4-1-2 in attack and 5-3-2 or 3-5-2 in defence, but historians say no team has ever won the title with a three-men defence.
Other big spenders are Liverpool with the high transfer fee obtained for Luis Suárez from Real Madrid and at press time they were negotiating for a ninth leading player from abroad. At Tottenham Hotspur, Argentine Erik Lamela was a disappointment last season but he looks like improving under new coach and countryman Mauricio Pochettino. Chelsea look good again with stars Cesc Fabregas and goal-scorer Diego Costa from Spain. All three clubs look like top-4 candidates.
Southampton finished eighth and played good soccer under Pochettino last season with what looked like a modest team. He left for Tottenham and half a dozen key men left, also to further their careers at bigger clubs. There is, of course, no guarantee that they will do well at another club with different tactics and not the good teamwork achieved at Southampton which now look like relegation candidates.
In the Second Division (Championship), Blackpool began the season last weekend with only 10 professionals signed due to disagreements between the coach (José Riga) and owner. Riga says he needs 10 more players before the end of the transfer window and is not optimistic that he will find anybody worthwhile. Blackpool look like relegation candidates.