An explosive start to the 2014 World Cup has whet the appetite for another top flight campaign which is set to feature even more of the game's brightest talents
By Richard Jolly
Some might call it a case of bad timing. The most exciting World Cup for decades isn't even a week old and the Premier League is attempting to reclaim the spotlight. Forget about Brazil, here come Burnley. Ignore Lionel Messi, it's time for Leicester City.
And yet in another respect, the release of the 2014-15 fixture list is ideally timed. There have rarely been more eloquent advertisements for the beautiful game than the last 17 matches. From the World Cup to the world's most exciting league: football should move on seamlessly. Fans' withdrawal symptoms should only last a month. Then they can get their footballing fix again.
Perhaps, in the final reckoning, this World Cup will be deemed the scene-setter for the domestic campaign. The first warning shot, the first sign that champions can be dethroned in spectacular style, was fired in Salvador. Holland's extraordinary 5-1 thrashing of Spain served to whet Old Trafford appetites for a new era.
|MAN CITY LATEST
|13/8||Man City are 13/8 with William Hill to retain the title next season|
They are golden boys chasing the Golden Boot, but it won't be a straight shootout. Not with Manchester City's resident smiling assassin, Sergio Aguero, Chelsea's aggressive addition to the goalscoring ranks, the forthcoming signing Diego Costa or maybe even Mario Balotelli.
Costa is just one sign that money will be spent and stars acquired. Chelsea might undergo a £100 million makeover. They are already able to recall Thibaut Courtois, perhaps the world's best goalkeeper. They have signed Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal icon and United target turned Mourinho man.
Fabregas' return to the Emirates Stadium will be one of the stand-out fixtures on the list. So, too, the games against United, pitting Mourinho against his mentor Van Gaal.
Given their recent history of being decisive, exciting affairs, the Manchester derbies will be pencilled in as highlights. After United's historic lows against their local rivals, and their incredible return of no points from a possible 18 against City, Liverpool and Everton, Merseyside-Manchester meetings will be worth watching.
So, too, the North London derbies as Mauricio Pochettino tries to achieve what 10 previous Tottenham managers couldn't do and finish above Arsenal. Liverpool and Everton, meanwhile, staged two enthralling encounters with their neighbours. The 3-3 and the 4-0 promise sensational sequels.
Then there are the other games that acquire extra interest value because of last season. Think of Liverpool against City and Chelsea, following the unexpected events of the title race, or Arsenal's trips to the Etihad, Anfield and Stamford Bridge, where they conceded a combined total of 17 goals last season.
Remember the visitors who won at Old Trafford – West Brom, Everton, Newcastle – and wonder if lightning can strike twice. Consider that even the safest home win in the world can suddenly become an historic defeat; Mourinho's decade-long unbeaten league run at Stamford Bridge was ended by bottom-of-the-table Sunderland.
It is a reminder that the drama can come anywhere, anytime, anyhow. There are matches that don't leap off a fixture list which nevertheless become classics: who thought Portsmouth against Reading in 2007 would finish 7-4, for instance?
Today, the eye will be caught by more obviously glamorous games: by the day the expensive signings, many unearthed at the World Cup, will debut, the first clash of the heavyweights, the traditional Boxing Day and New Year's Day extravaganzas and by the potential title-decider that is bound to be programmed into the final few weeks.
Aided by the surge few saw coming from Liverpool, the title race was compelling, coruscating stuff. It was a major reason why the 2013-14 Premier League campaign was arguably the best yet. The 2014-15 season might just be even better.