The 2013/14 Premier League Season looks set to be one of the closest and most unpredictable in its history. In particular, many analysts are divided on the eventual outcome at the top end of the table, as the season marks new eras at both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, and Everton. However, the increasing competitiveness of the Premier League has meant that England’s top flight is now equally as competitive at all levels, and for all clubs involved.
This has had particular repercussions for the old guard of the Premiership, that is the more established clubs of the top division. Long gone is the assumption that fixtures against newly promoted teams are a guaranteed three points. The days of an out of depth, newly promoted Derby County scrambling together a measly one win and 11 points from their 38 games seem a million years ago, now that we see the likes of Swansea, Norwich, and Stoke holding their own in the top flight.
More and more of the traditionally established clubs are finding themselves being pushed to the limit by the improvement of the promoted teams. The end of the 2011/12 season saw long term Premier League participants Bolton and Blackburn relegated. Aston Villa found themselves in the thick of the relegation battle for the majority of last season, while even Newcastle, who were widely applauded for their 5th place finish in 2011/12, found themselves battling to ensure an unthinkable second relegation in four years did not occur.
So with recent history showing good omens for the newcomers, and with the new additions for the 2013/14 season being no stranger to the Premier League themselves, it could be yet another successful season for the promoted sides.
In what was a successful year for Welsh sport, Cardiff City’s achievement should not be undervalued. They finally stormed into the Premier League as champions after years of near misses, finishing eight points clear at the top and never really looking like being denied their debut season in the Premier League. The Bluebirds’ long and arduous path to the Premier League alone should prove more than enough motivation for the upcoming season, as they will not want to surrender their place easily.
Malky Mackay’s men must begin their Premiership adventure with the same professional and solid manner that saw them thrive in last season’s Championship. Despite scoring 72 goals last season, Cardiff’s top goalscorers (Heidar Helguson, Peter Whittingham, and Aron Gunarsson) amassed just 8 league goals. Fraizer Campbell and Craig Noone were also just behind them at 7.
So there were a number of players contributing goals, rather than just the one target man which the team came to rely on, which is a mind-set that could prove beneficial in the top flight. Their impressive defense, in particular club captain and last year’s “Player of the Year” Mark Hudson, must also remain on top form to maximize their hopes of a successful season.
The Welsh outfit must also not become blinded by their overall comfortable route to the Premier League last season. They must cast their minds and remember how Brian McDermott’s Reading stormed back to the top flight after taking the Championship title following a devastating run of form. Yet the Royals were the only promoted team in last season’s Premiership to be relegated, as both Southampton and West Ham enjoyed successful campaigns.
Mackay and the Cardiff faithful must not become too attached to the promotion team (a common error with promoted teams across all formats of the game) and realize the squad must be strengthened. More activity in the transfer window should be expected in the build-up to their opening fixture. Though with the vastly experienced local hero Craig Bellamy on board and one of the most promising looking managers in the country at the helm, a sturdy beginning to their Premier League venture would come as no shock.
Fans must have wondered if they had seen the last of both Steve Bruce and Hull City in the Premier League. After Bruce was relieved of his duties at Sunderland in November 2011 following a poor run of form, it seemed his time as a Premier League coach was past. City’s ability to compete in the top flight was also brought into question following their last dismal stint.
In 2009, they survived their debut season in the Premiership despite a miserable run of form which saw them win just one game in 22 league matches. They never fully found their feet and were relegated the following season. However, a strong season has seen the Tigers rewarded with a second chance at the top flight after fighting off the challenge of an impressive and free scoring Watford. Like Cardiff, there was no stand out goalscorer as the workload was shared throughout the team, with the veteran Robert Koren being the top scorer with 9 goals.
While Hull will likely be looking to Koren and Sone Aluko to build on their goals from last season, the loan signing of former Swansea hit-man Danny Graham adds a touch of top flight experience to the frontline. New arrivals such as Curtis Davies and former Scotland international Allan McGregor have also strengthened their already impressive defence, which was key to their success last season.
Although Bruce’s disappointing departure from Sunderland struck a blow to his Premier League credentials, he has surprised many by leading Hull to the top flight in his first full season in charge. He will need every bit of his experience to ensure Hull stay afloat next season, although a good balance of experienced heads and newcomers to the top flight such as Aluko and George Boyd in the squad could also prove vital.
You have never quite seen it all with Ian Holloway. Like Bruce, just when you thought you had seen the last of him in the top flight, suddenly he has another chance to prove himself. It was almost the perfect way for Palace to secure promotion in the play-off final, as veteran Kevin Phillips’ extra time penalty proved the difference in a tense game against Watford, who had impressed all season.
The victory came three years after Holloway’s play-off final win with Blackpool. Similarly with Hull, the Eagles will also be hoping their next stint in the Premier League will be more successful than their previous spell. The South London side did not even survive one season following their play-off success in May 2004, as they were relegated by just one point the following year.
A lot of talk in the build-up to their opening game will undoubtedly be how they will cope without young superstar Wilfred Zaha, who has left for Manchester United. Zaha was hugely influential in Palace’s success last season and signed off in style with a “Man of the Match” performance in the play-off final win over Watford. However, Zaha’s departure should not eclipse the fact that Palace still have a strong squad. They possess the Championship’s top scorer last season in Glenn Murray and of course the vastly experienced Kevin Phillips, who can still pose a threat even at the age of 40.
They have added a good mix of youth and experience so far in the summer transfer window. As well as securing Phillips and Jerome Thomas, they have also taken a slight risk on the youngster Dwight Gayle. The striker, who was playing for League Two side Dagenham & Redbridge this time last year, attracted much praise after scoring 13 goals for relegated Peterborough United in last season’s Championship. Playing for Palace in the Premier League is a big step for Gayle to take, but he has reliable and well-traveled players around him to learn from and share the workload.
It does seem Palace will need to strengthen their defense to improve their chances of survival, as they had the worst defensive record of any of the top six last season which could have proved costly. Seeing as this was also a problem for Holloway’s Blackpool three seasons ago, it is not an error that the manager will be keen to repeat.