The 2012/13 Premier League season is finally here - and so too is Icons' season preview, in handy A-Z format. Here's everything you need to know...
A is for Arsenal
Six years without silverware and stripped of their talisman, the Gunners go into the 2012/13 campaign with questions to answer. Have Arsenal evolved into a selling club? How can a team progress when each summer they offload their best players to their fiercest rivals? A year to the day of former captain Cesc Fabregas’ move to Barcelona, the club announced the sale of Robin van Persie to Manchester United, a man accountable for 39% of their goals last time around, causing some factions of the Emirates faithful to worry about their prospects for the new season. But it’s not all doom and gloom – ready to step into the boots of their erstwhile captain is German striker Lukas Podolski and at £12 million Spanish import Santi Cazorla could prove to be the signing of the summer.
B is for Balotelli
The Manchester City eccentric has injected a welcome sense of the unpredictable into English football since arriving in the Premier League two years ago, but in Euro 2012 showed a class and precision in front of goal as headline worthy as his antics off the pitch. Blues fans will be hoping Balotelli can reproduce the goal-scoring histrionics of his brilliant performance in Italy’s semi-final with Germany on a weekly basis as the club look to retain their Championship crown. Has he finally matured beyond the temperament that saw him sent off three times during the last campaign, or will there be more of the erratic behaviour that so tested the patience of boss Roberto Mancini last season? One thing’s for sure – with Balotelli, there’s always fireworks.
C is for Champions League
As ever, the Champions League stands a glistening prize for Premier League clubs. Not just for those with the resources to win it, but for those who saw Newcastle come tantalisingly close to qualification last season, who know the huge financial boost it could provide, who believe maybe, just maybe they could sneak in themselves. If Swansea replicate their last season’s winter form, what’s to stop them mounting a charge for the top four? Could Brendan Rogers’ new dawn at Liverpool inspire a return to the tournament they won so few years ago? With Arsenal weakened by the loss of Robin van Persie and Spurs’ Luka Modric departing for Real Madrid, who’s to say how that top four could look come the end of the season.
D is for derby day
Nothing brings out the best – and worst – in players like a derby. Last season we saw local rivalries fiercely contested on the pitch, from Spurs’ 5-2 defeat at the hands of Arsenal to – of course – Manchester City’s 6-1 drubbing of fellow title chasers United. This campaign should be no different. Spurs return to the Emirates seeking revenge on 17 November, Sunderland take on Newcastle on 21 October while all eyes will be on Loftus Road on 15 September as Chelsea face Queens Park Rangers, a fixture that last season ended in criminal charges being brought against Blues captain John Terry for alleged racist remarks made to Hoops defender Anton Ferdinand. The first Manchester derby of the season, meanwhile, beckons on 8 December.
E is for expectations
A number of big name players go into the 2012/13 campaign knowing that for them, this season is make-or-break. Liverpool forward Andy Carroll has yet to show more than brief glimpses of the quality that prompted the club to shell out £35 million for him last year and pressure will be mounting to deliver, whether he continues at Anfield or, as expected, is off-loaded at a cut price. Also looking to recover from a difficult season will be Fernando Torres whose clutch of silverware from last season – a unique treble of Champions League, European Championship and FA cup winner’s medals – will be of little consolation to a player of the utmost professionalism who knows he has yet to show his true class for his new club.
F is for Ferguson
The irascible Scot enters his 26th year as manager of Manchester United with a lot to prove after his team fell at the final hurdle in last season’s title race. Traditionally, Ferguson has bounced back from such campaigns with emphatic force and true to form he’s bought big this summer in a bid to reclaim the Championship from Manchester City. But will it be enough? Even with the additions of Robin van Persie, Chilean striker Angelo Hernandez and Kagawa, the Red Devils lack a central player capable of controlling and dictating a game, and their fiercest rivals City will have momentum and belief on their side after lifting their first league title in 44 years. But if history’s taught us anything, it’s to never bet against Sir Alex Ferguson.
G is for goal line technology
After years of debate, FIFA have finally sanctioned an “exploration” into how goal line technology would function in football. The new technology could be introduced to the Premier League as early as January according to reports and aims to alleviate pressure on match day officials whose calls have become more and more scrutinised since the advent of slow motion replays and the likes. However, even with goal line technology, the controversy over refereeing decisions is unlikely to quieten down with diving and simulation an increasingly prevalent part of the Premier League game.
H is for hashtag
Social media, while celebrated for bringing the game closer to the fans, has caused its fair share of trouble for a number of Premier League performers. Carlton Cole was hit with a £20,000 fine after xenophobic comments appeared on his Twitter page. Rio Ferdinand has been fined £45,000 for his infamous “choc ice” tweet about Ashley Cole, which was deemed to have had racist connotations. With more and more players taking to the social media platform, who’ll be the first to land themselves in hot water this year with an ill-advised tweet or Facebook status?
I is for injuries
Are players getting enough protection from referees? This question was posed by a number of Premier League managers last season and seems destined crop up again this season as the game continues to take on a new physical dimension thanks to the emergence of muscular teams like Stoke. This year should also see the return of Jack Wilshire, who has yet to stage a comeback from an injury suffered thirteen months ago, as well as Nemanja Vidic. What affect those two players, so important for the respective Arsenal and Manchester United, might have on this year’s title race, only time will tell.
J is for January transfer window
Let’s face it, the summer window is drawn out and boring. Transfer sagas rumble on until they reach their inevitable foregone conclusions. Coaches have plenty of time to reflect on the successes and failures of the season gone and begin to bring in players at an agonisingly slow pace, which Sky Sports News then attempts to make sound exciting - “This just in! Van Persie has boarded a bus to Manchester! They’re driving up the M2 now! Oh no, they’re stuck in road works!” The January window on the other hand is frantic. Clubs who have underperformed are under pressure to find a quick solution to their team’s ailing season. Prices boom. Anything seems possible.
K is for the Kop
Another difficult season behind them, there’s a sense among Kopites that this campaign could be a pivotal one for Liverpool. In Brendan Rogers, they have a manager versed in the free-flowing footballing philosophy that delighted fans during the club’s ‘70s heyday. In new recruit Joe Allen and academy alumnus Raheem Sterling they have young starlets in the making. In £11 million signing Fabio Borini they have a talented attacking foil for star forward Luis Suarez. On paper at least, if Rogers can team his team fit and in form, Europe beckons. The alternative is, for Liverpool fans, after seasons of decline, almost unthinkable.
L is for Lawrenson and Lineker
One of the most interested transfers of the summer went almost without anyone noticing – in fact, it wasn’t even a player. Lee Dixon’s move from the BBC punditry team to ITV, where he’ll join the divisive Adrian Chiles, is a big one because it marks what many people perceive to be a continuing decline in BBC football coverage. Its Match of the Day programme is suggested to have grown tired and stagnant, its pundits – Mark Lawrenson, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer – drab in comparison to their counterparts at ITV and Sky. But with Harry Redknapp recently signed up by the Beeb, this could be the year they turn it all around.
M is for Mancini
The Italian engineered a famous first Premier League trophy win for Manchester City but won’t be resting on his laurels as the new season approaches – certainly not with his employers, who after investing the best part of £1 billion into the club will want more of the same success, both in Europe and on the domestic front. Mancini has kept a low profile in this summer’s transfer market, making only one signing – Everton’s Jack Rodwell – as the club strives to balance its books with the FIFA Financial Fair Play Rules soon to be implemented. City’s first title in 44 years was seen by many in the game as Fergie’s loss rather than Mancini’s gain (the Reds capitulated upon an 11 point advantage with weeks to go). Mancini is likely want to not only win this season, but win in a way which leaves no doubt about his tactical acumen.
N is for never say never
Big upsets. Beach balls. Balotelli. The Premier League has proven itself fantastically unpredictable over the last few years. Don’t rule anything out happening this time around…
O is for old timers
This season is likely to be the last for some of the Premier League’s most longstanding names. Manchester United mainstays Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are expected to bow out having defied the laws of ageing to the brink of their forties. Questions will also be asked of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Time is running out on the Chelsea midfielder’s contract with just one year remaining and the club yet to offer the 34-year-old an extension, while Gerrard at 32, nagged by injuries over the past few seasons, cannot be expected to play the combustive midfield dynamo role for much longer. The 2012/13 season could be these Premier League icons’ swansong.
P is for promotion
Southampton, Reading and West Ham might have earned themselves places in this season’s Premier League – but that was the easy bit, and staying up is a far harder task. Last season’s newcomers all managed to avoid a drop back down to the Championship for the first time in memory, and these teams will have to pull out all the stops to maintain Premier League status. West Ham come equipped with Ricardo Vaz Te, while Southampton will be relying on Rickie Lambert, top scorer in their Championship-winning season.
Q is for quality
Make no mistake about it – last season was one of the most thrilling in Premier League history, the thrills and spills of the two Manchester teams’ pursuit of the title going right down to the wire. Fans will be hoping for as entertaining a campaign this time around. Looking at some of the new signings to have been made this summer, competition is set to be fierce, with five credible title challengers: Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. Buckle your seat belts…
R is for reckoning
This year’s day of reckoning – the last day of the season, when the winners will be separated from the losers, when the relegation candidates make one final stand for survival – falls on Sunday 19 May.
S is for Spurs
Hopes are high among the White Hart Lane faithful as the new season looms. New manager Andre Villas-Boas may have had a troubled spell at Chelsea, but fans are willing to believe dressing room egos and the club’s notoriously demanding owner Roman Abramovich played a part in his short tenure as manager there. The hirsute coach has bought wisely, bringing in talented Gylfi Sigurdsson, who impressed last season on loan at Swansea, and moved dead weight from the club – a deal for want-away midfielder Luka Modric is expected to be struck with Real Madrid before the transfer window closes.
T is for Teeside
Teeside has become the site of some fantastic football over the past three years. Newcastle have grown into a dynamic, entertaining team, the triumvirate of Hatem Ben Arfa, Djibril Cisse and Demba Ba going forward up there with the best attacking options in the league. On the other side of town, Martin O’Neil has begun turning Sunderland into formidable opponents, their second half of the season performances last campaign appearing to signal a new era at the Stadium of Light. Just how far can this region’s footballing renaissance go? This season, we’ll begin to find out.
U is for under-21s
The FA has recently confirmed the creation of an Under-21 Premier League, aiming to bridge the gap between academies and clubs’ first teams for up-and-coming players. Each team will play at least twice at their club’s main ground and TV rights are currently being contested. It means more football and a way for fans to get an earlier glimpse of the players who’ll be adorning the backs of their shirts in years to come.
V is for van Persie
Eyebrows were arched at news of Robin van Persie’s transfer to Manchester United this summer. £24 million for a player with a history of injury complaints and no sell-on value is something of a risk on Sir Alex Ferguson’s part, but one that speaks of the regard van Persie is held in. The 29-year-old was nothing short of scintillating last season, winning the Golden Boot with 30 Premier League goals. If he can spark up a winning chemistry with new striking partners Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, there’ll be no stopping Ferguson’s men.
W is for Wembley
Don’t forget the FA Cup and League Cup, now known as the Capital One Cup after its long running sponsorship deal with Carling came to an end this summer. For many clubs, the clubs who linger around the mid-table mark, clubs like Everton and Fulham, these competitions offer the possibility of a date at Wembley and some silverware – they many have the reserves or quality of players to sustain a charge for European qualification places across a whole season, but with a little cup magic and a bit of luck, who’s to say where a cup run could lead?
X is for Xabi Alonso
The Real Madrid defensive midfielder has told coach Jose Mourinho he doesn't intend to extend his contract which expires next summer. This has raised the very real possibility among Liverpool fans that Alonso, now 31 and still a vocal supporter of the club, may return to Anfield in January.
Y is for young blood
Which unknowns will be transformed into Icons this year? Last year saw the emergence of Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling is tipped for big things this time around. Who’ll be making their names this season with performances beyond their years? We’re looking forward to finding out…
Z is for zero days left
The day has finally come! The Premier League 2012/13 season kicks off tomorrow and like you, we’ll be glued to our screens watching all the action as the season progresses, so stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook pages for football chat direct from the Icons office, home of the best signed sporting memorabilia around.