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Next EPL season could be most unpredictable ever

May 20, 2013

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Get ready for the Premier League like you’ve never seen it before.

No Alex Ferguson. No Roberto Mancini. The expected return of Jose Mourinho. The likely influx of more world-class players on the back of a bumper new TV deal. Two Welsh teams for the first time.

Don’t forget the introduction of goal line technology, either.

The English season only finished on Sunday, yet fans across the globe are already counting down the days to Aug. 17 — when the next campaign begins — with a mixture of excitement, trepidation and intrigue.

Much of the buzz has been sparked by Ferguson’s decision to step down as Manchester United manager after nearly 27 years. That one decision has grabbed the attention of the world over the past two weeks and its reverberations will be keenly felt next season, and beyond.

To many, it signals the end of United’s stranglehold on English football dating back 20 years. The future of the Premier League may have been thrown wide open.

Come August, four of this season’s top six — United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton — will have newly appointed managers in the wake of an unprecedented amount of high-profile coaching upheaval in May.

“I was with the chief executive of Liverpool at our reserve game the other night and he told me that Brendan Rodgers, who has not been in the job a year, is the 30th longest-serving manager in the country,” Ferguson said last week. “That’s incredible.”

With David Moyes taking control of United, Mourinho set for Chelsea and Manuel Pellegrini — a coach largely unknown to English audiences — heavily tipped for the City hot seat, there will be a new dynamic at the top of the world’s most-watched league. Arsenal cannot be discounted, with the club benefiting from a string of new, lucrative commercial deals and the club once again in the Champions League, while Liverpool and Tottenham appear to be on an upward curve under the forward-thinking stewardship of Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas.

It is anyone’s guess what will happen next season — and the gurus in the Premier League’s marketing department must be licking their lips in delight.

In Villas-Boas’ opinion, it could be time for Chelsea to reassert its dominance under Mourinho, who won back-to-back league titles in his first spell at the club from 2004-07.

“Chelsea next season will absolutely be the team to beat, bearing in mind the manager change and the manager that we expect to come in,” the Portuguese coach said. “Plus, they will be strengthening an already very good squad.”

The likelihood of Mourinho returning to Stamford Bridge is dividing opinion, though.

Some feel it is a perfect match, a union that shouldn’t have been broken up in the first place. Frank Lampard and Petr Cech have already spoken out in favor of the return of the “Special One,” giving an adrenalin shot to the team and the fans after the turbulent — if ultimately successful — tenure of Rafa Benitez.

“With him at the helm, we are going to give it a great go,” Lampard said.

Others say Mourinho has lost his magic after what he has described as his “worst” season as a coach in the trophyless year at Real Madrid. Also, can his relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who sacked Mourinho six years ago, be repaired? Whatever happens, it will be an entertaining ride under Mourinho.

It will be no less fascinating to see how Moyes gets on at United.

Ferguson has urged fans to get behind his fellow Scot but what will be the reaction if United loses its opening two games? How quickly will Moyes be able to gain the respect of his players? Can Ferguson hold himself back from meddling in team affairs from his position up in the director’s box?

“He will have his own ideas and that’s good,” Ferguson has predicted. “He will be fine.”

Moyes will have to act quickly to sort out the futures of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand this summer and maybe sign the world-class playmaker many United fans have been craving for years, with Paul Scholes having retired and the team’s central midfield still lacking creativity at times.

With Ferguson gone, there hasn’t been such uncertainty swirling around Old Trafford since the late 1980s and opponents will be keen to seize on it.

Particularly Man City, which will be desperate to reclaim the Premier League trophy from its neighbor and rediscover the consistency and attacking spark that was lost in the final 12 months of Mancini’s 3 ½-year reign.

City demonstrated in the way it beat United 2-1 away in the derby last month that, on its day, there is no better team in England. And with Mancini gone, the likelihood is that the cracks which reportedly developed in the squad in recent months should heal.

Is Pellegrini the man to restore City’s fortunes, though? He has never coached in the Premier League and was overwhelmed by all the egos in Real Madrid’s squad during his one season at the Spanish giant in 2009-10. Yet, his record at Villarreal and Malaga, his current club, is impressive and has been hailed for his skills in man-management.

It is another appointment that could go either way, adding to the intrigue next season.

There should be plenty of new faces among the playing squads, too, with the transfer kitties of clubs boosted by a 70 percent increase in TV revenues announced last summer and taking effect from the start of next season. The financial pull of the Premier League has never been so strong, especially with many top clubs in Spain and Italy still suffering from the impact of the economic downturn.

The recently completed Premier League campaign had one of the most anticlimactic finishes in years, but Ferguson has just ensured that the new season won’t be short of excitement.

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