Joy Sports EPL preview: Same top four expected to dominate 2015-16 charge

first_imgThe Joy Sports team continues its previews of the Barclays Premier League season with its series of features. In this edition, Kuuku Gyan expects little to change at the top end of the table come May.–The Community Shield is rarely a reliable gauge to anything–as Arsenal proved last season by cruising to a 3-0 win over Manchester City then winning only two of its opening eight games of the season–but what was apparent on Sunday was how many of the doubts that have been expressed about Chelsea’s capacity to retain its title were played out.Jose Mourinho’s side looked sluggish–perhaps simply behind Arsenal in terms of physical preparation, with a view to peaking later in the season and so heading off the spring fatigue it suffered last season–raising key questions about the depth of the squad.Arsenal, meanwhile, was sharp and eager, having apparently carried over the form of the end of last season into the beginning of this (but then again we’ve said that before).Manchester United has been the most active of the top clubs in the transfer market, but, while there’s little doubting the logic of most of its dealings–bolstering a troublesome midfield area and offloading a number of players who were of questionable value to the club–there have to be doubts as to whether after such upheaval it can find form quickly. Manchester City, meanwhile, appears to be playing a waiting game, treading water for a season before the long-anticipated revolution and blood-letting begins.There is a clear top six in English football, but it subdivides into those with genuine title aspirations and those who are merely looking to qualify for the Champions League. Last season the subdivision was rapid, and, once Manchester United had got its act together, there were three clear groups: the two title contenders (although City’s challenge disappeared in the new year after an excellent December), the two other Champions League qualifiers and the other two.This season, it looks as though the split may be two-way: A clutch of four with genuine title aspirations, then Liverpool and Tottenham hoping one of the big four slips up so it can grab the final Champions League qualifying slot.There has been a divide further down the league as well. It used to be the case that 13 of the 20 clubs went into each season looking to do little more than avoid relegation, but that has perhaps now changed, with a fairly evident bottom six. That means the emergence of a middle-class–the likes of Southampton, Swansea and Stoke–who, hopefully, will be emboldened to take the domestic cups seriously and, perhaps, mount a real challenge for Europa League qualification.Three major questionsIs Chelsea’s squad deep enough?If Diego Costa’s hamstrings are as fragile as they still appear to be, can Chelsea cope with just Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao as back-up? Neither convinced in the Community Shield: Remy had 10 touches in the first half and was offside four times, while Falcao gave no indication of having rediscovered the acceleration he lost when he injured his knee in January last year. And given how exhausted Chelsea looked towards the end of last season, might it not need an additional midfielder to ease the burden on Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas?What is Liverpool’s approach?Out, for the second season running, goes a major attacking player, Raheem Sterling following Luis Suarez from Anfield to a much wealthier club.And so, for a second season running, there has to be a recalculation and, after numerous transfer failings, another wave of new players to fit in. The biggest summer signing has been Christian Benteke, signed from Aston Villa for £32 million. He has a fine goal-scoring record, but his aerial ability suggests Brendan Rodgers may be plotting another change of style. City last season looked jaded, lacking the hunger (again) to defend its title. When that happened in 2012-13, it led to the departure of Roberto Mancini as coach and there was a widespread expectation that this summer would see similar renewal, either by axing Manuel Pellegrini or with a major overhaul of the playing staff.As it is, Pellegrini remains in his post and the only two major new arrivals have been Sterling and Fabian Delph. Rumors continue to circulate that Pep Guardiola will be appointed the club’s manager next summer.–Follow Joy Sports on Twitter: @Joy997FM. Our hashtag is #JoySportslast_img read more