Are the Special One's Chelsea really the favourites, who will fill the Sir Alex Ferguson void, can goalline technology actually make a difference, and who will be this year's surprise package?
By Peter Fraser, Adam Bate & Alex Dunn
Last Updated: 16/08/13 3:19pm
Who are the favourites?
Manchester United may be the defending champions but the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and their failure to sign a big-money signing in the summer has seen many write off the Old Trafford club.
Chelsea are hoping Jose Mourinho can prove to be the 'Special One II' (more about that here) but is his influence alone enough to return the title to Stamford Bridge. Arsenal will no doubt play pretty football but will likely again prove just a little bit lightweight. Andre Villas-Boas and his always entertaining scientific terminology in post-match press conferences have the potential to break into the top four after last season's choke but the title will be out of reach.
Despite Manuel Pellegrini having never won a league in Europe, it is Manchester City who look like the major force after a £90million summer spending spree on a frightening array of attacking talent. Add that to a squad of players who already have the know-how of winning the title in 2012 and they look very tough to beat.
Who will be the boss?
In a post-Ferguson era, it has been dubbed the year of the manager. But who can become the Premier League's new master coach? It makes your head spin. There have been so many changes in dugouts around the country this summer that the Premier League this season comes with a brilliantly head-scratching element of uncertainty.
David Moyes, Mourinho and Pellegrini are among the three new/returning bosses at the top three clubs but who can become the man to fill the dominant void of Ferguson?
There is also the issue of Roberto Martinez at Everton. Will Brendan Rodgers show progress in his Liverpool evolution? Can Arsene Wenger return Arsenal to a major force? Will Mark Hughes restore his reputation at Stoke City? Are Paolo Di Canio' Sunderland's bound for ticker tape or train wreck? Will Steve Clarke and Michael Laudrup suffer from second season syndrome? Can Alan Pardew and Joe Kinnear prove a happy marriage at Newcastle United? Keep your eyes on the touchlines.
Will goalline technology make a difference?
Welcome to the brave new world. This season sees the introduction of the Goal Decision System (GDS) with the aim of ensuring correct calls on goalline matters. Hawk-Eye might not have ended controversy in cricket but the experts insist the role here is different.
"It's not going to have the game-changing effect it has had on tennis and cricket," admitted Hawk-Eye inventor Dr Paul Hawkins after witnessing the debut of GDS at the FA Community Shield last weekend.
That is certainly true in the sense that the system would have corrected just three howlers in last season's Premier League. But if a team gets the benefit of the system on the opening day of the Premier League season then they might just disagree about its significance.
Will familiarity breed contempt?
It says much about modern football that if the fella opposite you on the train is looking glum he's probably a Manchester United supporter. Despite winning the title at a cantor in Fergie's swansong several bookies have Moyes' men as third favourites and it's all to do with transfers, or more pertinently, a lack thereof. That Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal will need to make up 11, 14 and 15-point deficits respectively is apparently by-the-by.
An obsession with what's going on off the field rather than what's actually occurring on it is hardly a modern phenomenon but in a culture saturated by an all-encompassing predilection for all-things transfers, it's easy to forget that regardless of how many signings a club makes you can only still only play with 11 on a Saturday.
Moyes has made no secret of his desire to add a couple of new faces before the window closes and if he's to ever exorcise the spectre of Sir Alex that will likely haunt his every decision this season, he needs to demonstrate an eye for a player. The Scot is wily enough to be aware that there are pockets of United supporters already shifting uncomfortably in their seats after doomed bids for Thiago and Cesc Fabregas.
Whether the sole addition of Wilfried Zaha, who was signed by the club in January, will be enough to prevent the natives from getting restless if United get off to a slow start will be one of the more intriguing of the early season sub-plots. It seems, for many, only a "marquee" signing will do.
As for Arsenal fans...we're hearing Thierry might be free in January.
Who are the dark horses?
There is always one team who make a mockery of all those pre-season predictions and leave pundits feeling a little bit foolish. But who will it be in 2013/14?
Southampton have been spent big on Dejan Lovren and Victor Wanyama to mean they could be one to watch. Mauricio Pochettino's high-tempo pressing game was already highly effective and, now with a full pre-season behind him and new England hero Rickie Lambert scoring the goals, there is surely scope to see the full-fat version this season.
Of the three promoted teams it is Cardiff City who are being tipped to make the best fist of survival and a trip to West Ham United at the weekend offers a good indication of where they stand. Malky Mackay also looks to have made a couple of shrewd additions in Chilean midfielder Gary Medel, England international centre-back Steven Caulker and Danish striker Andreas Cornelius. Can they click?
Norwich look like they have enjoyed a brilliant summer in the transfer market and have the potential to surpass expectations. Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper have added some serious firepower and manager Chris Hughton looks like he wants to revert to the attacking style he preferred before last season's poor start. Can Hooper live up to his reputation and score goals to justify his World Cup ambitions? If he can, Norwich could be ready for an excellent campaign.
Can we forget about Rooney, Bale and Suarez?
Whether you love or loathe a summer transfer saga, there has been no escaping Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale or Luis Suarez. Not a day has passed over the past couple of months without at least one of the trio making a headline. But, come this weekend's big kick-off, all three may not be involved. Manchester United's Rooney, despite playing in England's win over Scotland, is considered unfit, Tottenham's Bale missed Wales' draw with Republic of Ireland due to injury, and Liverpool's Suarez has six games of his Football Association ban left to serve. What will we write about...?
Who should I be betting on?
Tottenham to win & Soldado to score - 11/8. It's never nice to write a team off without a ball being kicked, but Crystal Palace look doomed from the off. If anything they are weaker since securing promotion, with last season's Championship top scorer Glenn Murray out until the New Year and Wilfried Zaha have departed for Manchester United.
Plenty will point to Gareth Bale's absence for Spurs amid his seemingly inevitable move to Real Madrid, but Andre Villas-Boas has strengthened well in the transfer window. While Paulinho, Nacer Chadli and Etienne Capoue are all much-needed reinforcements, it is Roberto Soldado who really stands out.
Spurs' dependence on Bale was largely due to the inability from anyone else to score freely, something the Spaniard is plenty capable of doing, having netted 24 times for Valencia last season. With spot-kick duties already assumed during pre-season, Soldado is proving a popular pick with our punters in the goalscorer markets, with his odds on being the Premier League top goalscorer being backed in from 33/1 to 16/1. Expect to see a new Spurs hero assume his role live on Sky Sports HD 1 on Sunday and make a few quid from it in the process.
Courtesy of Opta...
44 - Chelsea have won a total of 44 points from the opening day fixtures in the Premier League era; more than any other side. Blistering.- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 16, 2013
3 - Fabrizio Ravanelli is the only player to score a hat-trick in his first ever Premier League appearance (Aug 1996). Impact.- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 7, 2013
3 - Three of the five PL goals Man Utd scored in the opening 5 minutes of games last season came from Robin van Persie. Quickfire.- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 30, 2013