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armchair centre back :: is the premier league going to be boring this year?

and somehow the glasses stayed on
well, we all knew that it was going to be difficult to top last year, what with the cinderella story of leicester, the battle to the wire with tottenham hotspur, chelsea's epic meltdown and the ousting of their antichrist manager jose mourinho, the bumbling and stumbling of manchester united, the struggle between northern rivals newcastle and sunderland to stay in the nation's top league... basically, yes, this year was always going to be boring.

and over the summer, it became obvious that the powers that be, or at least the powers that be rich, were going to do whatever they could to make sure everything stayed nice and predictable. the two manchesters and chelsea opened their pocketbooks wide and almost literally threw money at their problems, signing players at such a speed that i'm not even sure who all they bought. manchester united made the first €100 million signing in paul pogba, which was kind of news except that everyone was spending so much money, it barely registered. even arsenal spent over £80 million. arsenal spent money.

so with all those new players, it pretty much has to be interesting, right? well, shit, it turns out that the players are so interesting that people are hardly talking about them. because this year, the hotness is managers. it's like someone organised this entire season around the theme of making #wengerout arsenal fans feel even worse about their lives.

but does all this movement mean that things will be not boring? the two manchesters and chelsea have thus far reaped the rewards of spending, which is exactly what you'd expect. leicester have struggled to regain their fine form, which is exactly what you'd expect. arsenal have an important player injured [aaron ramsey] which, sadly, is exactly what you'd expect. four matches into the season and things look unsurprisingly unsurprising. oh, the ennui of it all...

however, based on what i've seen thus far, i have compiled a small list of things i think could happen that would be decidedly not boring:

the scariest part is that he's still hot
1. hull city could stay in the premier league. no sooner had the team booked their return to the top flight when they seemed to have the sporting equivalent of a simultaneous four-tire blowout. literally every pundit's predictions said that they were headed straight back down to the championship, except that they started the season by beating leicester and then [sobs] swansea. they've since registered a loss [to manchester united, which should really only count as half a loss, given the difference in budgets] and a draw, which is a better start than most teams have made. oh, and did i mention that they don't have a manager? that's right. probably the most un-boring thing about their start has been that they don't have someone manning the ship. they have a caretaker, but basically he's just making sure they practice and show up for the games on time. i'm not saying they'll pull it together over the course of the season, but it would be kind of hilarious, in the year of the superstar manager, to see a team do well without one.

2. liverpool could just keep doing whatever they're doing. they've beaten arsenal and leicester and they've lost to minnows burnley. there's been a celebratory piggyback ride. they have a newly expanded stadium and a newly signed striker in sadio mane who's off to an almost literally flying start. defender dejan lovren somehow sustained an injury in training that's left him looking like an ill-fated character in a lucio fulci movie i hope that someone thought to install seat belts in those new chairs at anfield, because i don't think jurgen klopp even knows how to be boring.

3. manchester city could realise they're a team. for the last several years, whether they've done well or faltered, the thing that's been shockingly evident about the citizens is that they look like a bunch of players scraped together for some sort of all-star team. this year, they seem a bit different and earlier today, against their crosstown rivals united, they looked really different. whatever the media-anointed best manager in the world pep guardiola has been doing with them, it seems like they actually like each other for once. and people who like each other have a tendency to play well together. with the amount they spend on wages, it's not surprising that they're winning, but watching them this morning in the derby, it seemed like they were winning differently than they used to.

4. arsenal could miss qualifying for the champions league. sorry, gooners [and i count myself among you], it's true. if you consider the fact that both manchesters and chelsea look like they're just going to steamroll over everyone except each other, thus locking down the top three spots, that leaves just one place for everyone else to fight for in order to get into the champions league. one of the greatest defenses of arsène wenger has been that while their rivals have gone up and down like some sort of muscular, money-encrusted yo-yo, they've held steady, losing the premier league title but qualifying to get into the champions league every year. but this year, expect some of the other teams to put up a hell of a fight. arsenal have balanced on the head of a pin for the last few years, benefiting from the fact that at least one of their big rivals [or, in the case of last year, all of them] had a shitty season. take that away from them and they're on very thin ice.

at least come to the games, so we can see you.
5. jose mourinho could get fired for the second season in a row. of course, there is one path to champion's league glory that didn't seem open until this morning, which is that manchester united might not be that shit hot after all. it's very early to say this, because they've been decisive in their wins thus far, but their loss this morning sent mourinho on one of his tantrums, blaming everyone other than himself. the fact is that no one likes him when he does that, but he gets away with it when he's winning. but, in the season of the epic manager, he's not as likely to win and, with the money he's spent, his team better damn well go the rest of the season without conceding a goal.

6. everton could be a surprise package. if the last few seasons have taught us fans anything, it's that we underestimate manager ronald koeman at our peril. the man worked miracles with a southampton team that was routinely raided for their outstanding players and everton, the oldest club in england [how can there be only one oldest club? who were they playing before the second oldest club came along? -ed.], is able to offer him a bigger budget and basically all the control he wants. his capture of wales and now former swansea captain ashley williams [weeps bitterly into beer] is a genius move for a team that's struggled with defense, and it's also just a wee bit of a poke in the eye to the big-name managers that none of them noticed that williams might be available. the fact that he managed to keep striker romelu lukaku, who was being scouted by the best teams in the world, from leaving says a lot about how he's viewed by players. he might not be a marquee managerial signing, but it's quite possible that by the end of the season, they'll be calling themselves "cleverton" for having landed him.

7. a manager is going to murder an official on the pitch. we've already seen stoke manager mark hughes get sent off, and he's far from the hottest temper around. but the combination of the money at stake, the egos of the men in charge, the tougher rules about arguing with the refs mean it's only a matter of time before one of those gentlemen on the touchline blows a gasket and decides that if they're getting sent off, they're going to make sure they really earn it. if it were to be really shocking, the murderer would have to be nicest man in the world claudio ranieri, but my money is on dead-eyed chelsea manager antonio conte.

no way is the recipient of that stare still breathing.

so yes, right now it looks like the league is just the usual parade of perfectly sculpted bodies and breathtaking goals, which is so very, very boring, and the teams you would expect to win everything are winning everything, which is even boringer. [spellcheck is accepting "boringer" as a word. abandon the language ship. -ed.] but not all is lost. there can still be little surprises. we can hope.

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