The English Premier League returns for its 25th season on the 13th of August 2016, with a new name and new logo. For the first time since 1992, the top-tier football league in England will not have a title sponsor.
“From next season we will move away from title sponsorship and the competition will be known simply as the Premier League, a decision which provided the opportunity to consider how we wanted to present ourselves as an organization and competition,” Premier League Managing Director, Richard Masters.
The decision shows the league’s desire to follow major American sports leagues like the NBA and NFL, who present ‘sponsorless’ brands. I was never a fan of the sponsored Barclay’s Premier League brand and always referred to the league as the English Premier League. I think this is a refreshing change, and now that I think about it, none of the top leagues across Europe have title sponsors.
New name, new logo and new rules. The Premier League has decided to “improve behavior across the game” by tasking “the Professional Game Match Officials (PGMO) to take a stronger position and action towards unacceptable participant conduct.”
If only the league could see that, these same officials are a part of the problem. Year in, year out, the teams (and fans) have to endure controversial refereeing decisions and missed calls. The players and managers are not allowed to voice any negative opinions of the referees, and they are not held accountable for their incorrect decisions. Imagine having a job where your boss views you as infallible, and you are paid handsomely regardless of your performance? Don’t get me wrong, I welcome the new rules and agree that action was needed to curb the bad behavior of players during games. However, if these rules are open to referee interpretation and not applied consistently across the game, then it will just lead to more controversial decisions and bad behavior on the field.
Starting next season the following incidents of bad behavior will result in the following sanctions.
Dissent towards match officials
Yellow cards will be issued to players who:
- Show visibly disrespectful behavior to any match official
- Respond aggressively to decisions
- Confront an official face to face
- Run towards an official to contest a decision
Offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures towards match officials
Red cards will be issued to players who confront match officials and use offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures towards them.
Physical contact with match officials
- A yellow card for physical contact with any match official in a non-aggressive manner (e.g. an inquisitive approach to grab the official’s attention).
- A red card for physical contact with match officials in an aggressive or confrontational manner.
Surrounding match officials
- A yellow card for at least one player when two or more from a team surround a match official.
- The FA will continue to sanction teams when they surround match officials.
With that said, what else can we expect for the upcoming season? Like the old cliché, “expect the unexpected.” I think the Premier League is the
best football league most watched football league because of its unpredictability and its entertainment value. Take last season; nobody expected Leicester City to finish in the Top Four much less winning the league. I predicted that they would have gotten relegated, but the Foxes had other plans. They will start this season as defending champions. With Champions League football to contend with and the possibility of losing key players in the transfer market, A Top Seven position is likely for Leicester City.
The Manchester teams have new coaches in Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) and Jose Mourinho (Manchester United). As if the teams’ rivalry wasn’t enough, the coaches will be renewing their personal rivalry from their time in the Spanish League. Manchester United and Jose Mourinho were linked from the moment Chelsea sacked him. Even though Louis Van Gaal was still the manager at the club, it was believed that the Dutchman had no chance of staying on as manager once Mourinho became available. Mourinho returns to the Premier League with a chip on his shoulder. Last season Mourinho’s antics had Chelsea hovering above the relegation zone before Roman Abramovich unceremoniously dismissed him. Mourinho will have ‘King Zlatan’ to aid him in his quest to conquer the Premier League and return Manchester United to their former glory. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mourinho ‘s track record of winning the league with whichever clubs they represent, I would not be surprised if United were champions come May.
Manchester City confirmed Pep Guardiola as their new manager last season while Manuel Pellegrini was still in charge of the club. The decision left me scratching my head, and I firmly believe it played a part in the team’s fourth-placed finish last season. Guardiola enters the Premier League as the savior of Manchester City. He is the one charged with righting the wrongs for The Citizens that saw them finish outside the Top Three for the first time since the 2009-2010 season. Guardiola is another manager that regularly wins where ever he goes. He did it at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but those teams were arguably the best teams in their leagues at the time. He will be given all the pieces he needs to guarantee a title challenge this season, and anything except a Top Two finish would be a failure. The Champions League will also be a priority for The Citizens.
It would be difficult and near impossible for Chelsea to do any worse than their tenth place finish last season. As mentioned earlier in this post, Mourinho was sacked by Abramovich after an extended run of poor results and internal turmoil at the club. Chelsea has a new coach in the Italian, Antonio Conte. Expectations are high at Stamford Bridge as the champions of two seasons ago enter this campaign feeling like last season was just a blip in their recent Premier League domination. With virtually the same team that won the league in 2015, a passionate new coach, no European matches and a point to prove; this Chelsea team will be challenging for the title. Top Three is a reasonable expectation.
Arsenal comes into this campaign the same as they have done in most campaigns in the last decade; Knowing that they are just a few quality signings away from winning the Premier League. Arsene Wenger has played the role of team accountant far better than he has played the role of team manager in the last couple of seasons. His refusal to spend (overspend) in the transfer market has blighted his team’s chances of winning the league over and over again. He has been a dedicated servant of the club and has transformed the team into a household name by playing attractive football. However, his refusal to step aside has done the club a disservice in the eyes of several fans. Last season, I highlighted in a post how the league was tailored made for Arsenal, but in usual Arsenal fashion, they were not victorious. This season should not be any different and as usual, they will finish in the Top Four.
How do you finish third in a two-horse race? Tottenham has the answer. In the final week of the previous campaign, the North London team and ‘Cinderella team’ Leicester City were embroiled in a heated title race. When the dust had settled Leicester City were champions, Arsenal second and Tottenham third. I want to believe that Tottenham learned something from that campaign and will push on this season and challenge for the title. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen, some of the teams that finished below them last season have gotten considerably better, and they also have to contend with Champions League football. As such I expect them to finish in the Top Six.
What can I say about Liverpool? Their 8th placed finish last season ensured that they would not have to contend with the ‘distraction‘ of European football. Jurgen Klopp took Liverpool to two cup finals and should have won a trophy, but it wasn’t in the cards. Klopp was appointed last season after Brendan Rodgers was sacked. This season will be his first full season in charge of the club. Nevertheless, having been under the German’s charge for less than a year, Liverpool have shown real glimpses of things to come. Klopp has made it clear he wants his team to play full-throttle attacking and pressing football and Liverpool’s transfer activity suggests they are making the moves to achieve those objectives. It is too soon to see the full effects of Klopp’s German engineering on this Liverpool team. However, they will improve on last season and finish in the Top Five.
Check back for my Premier League Predictions.