It is finally upon us. After a summer of insane and mediocre transfers, a summer when the US Men’s National Team nearly pulled of the biggest soccer upset in South Africa and a summer when I saw in the flesh 2009’s most successful football club play in a windy stadium off the San Francisco bay, the Barclay’s English Premier league is almost underway (may have already started by the time this massive post is finished).
This season so far is shaping up to be one of the more interesting seasons in a long time. With the best footballer in the English game moving over seas to Spain, and an influx of Middle Eastern wealth flooding the transfer market, there are many new aspects of the league that must be address. Through out the season I’ll try my best to opine about those aspects, but for today I just want to lay down my season predictions. The past 2 seasons I’ve been correct in deciding the title winner, always going for my boyhood team of Manchester United, who have succeeded in creating a 3 peat for the title glory. This year United is going for that record breaking 4 in a row. As we all know, United is a team that likes to break records, but ultimately failed to do so last May when they went for back to back Champions League glory but instead were dominated by a much better FC Barcelona club. I can’t fault Barcelona, their incredible midfield just bullied United’s and the tough call in the early part of the game really deflated United’s confidence. (That tough call being what should have been a straight red for Pique taking down Rooney in a goal scoring opportunity and last man situation). But I digress. We’ll have plenty of other posts to discuss the on-goings of Champions League, once again this is about the Premier League title.
So, let’s start with the 3 Relegated teams and work our way down (but really up) to the eventual champions:
20: Portsmouth: I hate to say this about a team I actually started to enjoy last season, especially near the end where they were desperately trying to avoid relegation and dealing with Harry Redknapp leaving them high and dry when he went to Tottenham. This season though, they are dealing with major financial issues and there is no end in sight on whether a new owner will come in. Sulaiman al-Fahim’s take over just seems like a giant bluff to me, and I just don’t see it happening. The result being, that Pompey have had to sell a lot of the quality players and Peter Crouch for financial stability so they just don’t look like a team that can score goals. They still have David James, but now a less tested back line with Sol Campbell gone. I can see this team being stuck in the bottom 3 for the whole season, or at least from September until the end. It’ll be sad to see Pompey go down, because I’m not sure if they are a club that can get back up especially with such a crummy stadium. The fans are top class though.
19: Hull City: I’m going out on a limb here, because I’ve so far picked 2 Premier League teams from the previous season to drop down, rather going with the Championship sides that came up (most of whom always go back down). Yet last year, of the 3 promoted sides, it was only West Brom which did get relegated, so maybe this limb is a nice long strong one. Hull City was the darling team of the first half of the season, and I think that really got into Phil Brown’s head. They completely free fell in the 2nd half, and if the season was 1 or 2 weeks longer they surely would have had the drop. It looks like though, they’ll have the sophomore syndrome and drop down this year. I put them at 19 basically because I think teams this year will know how to play them better and they won’t get the rapid first half start. Also the fact that Phil Brown has not brought in any proven quality to the team must be a little disheartening for Tiger fans. As an US Men’s National team, I’m glad that Jozy Altidore is being loaned out and I hope he gets a good run out, though in all honesty, I think Altidore would do better on a Championship side. He’s one step closer to that by being at Hull, but in a World Cup year, Altidore needs consistent playing time. I could be wrong though, Phil Brown might stay clean shaven, wear respectable clothes and whip this team into shape and avoid the drop.
18: Birmingham City: The only promoted team I see dropping back down this season. Though they were just up 2 years ago, I don’t think the team has made any drastic changes that will allow them to do anything special this time around. Birmingham City have some quality players, but top quality for the Championship and below average for the Premier League. Alex McLeish will have his boys playing tough and hard, but with the top of the table even stronger this season, I just don’t see them getting enough draws and points from away matches this season. Even McLeish understands that they don’t have the right types of players to succeed, and with the way Scotland is headed under Burley, McLeish might already be thinking about going back to managing that international side. He figures he has a better chance of getting Scotland into the World Cup than keeping Birmingham City up in the Premier League. It’ll be a tough time in deed.
So those are the relegated teams. Now onto the teams that will be fighting relegation and will be fighting it most of the season.
17: Burnley: A surprise club to make it up this season, but one that seems to be on the right track to barely keeping up. Though their preseason form has been dreadful, I think losing all of their games including to pub sides, they have some quality players and a terrific coach in Owen Coyle. I may also have a soft spot for the team because they have a couple former Manchester United players. They are getting quality players in the places that matter, midfield. With Steven Fletcher coming in as a striker, Burnley has addressed their biggest issue, and that is scoring goals. Burnley could be the Stoke City of this year (though I mean Stoke City will naturally be the Stoke City of this season), in that they won’t play beautiful fantastic attacking football, but they’ll get stuck in, throw their weight around and get the odd draw here and there that will keep them up, and for a team that hasn’t been in the Premiership in ages and haven’t won a trophy in 49 years, that will be fantastic.
16: Stoke City: Speaking of Stoke. It seems that the boys that defied the odds and didn’t go back down are going to be trying to defy those odds once more. This time their players will have a bit more experience and Tony Pullis I’m sure will keep pulling tricks out of his baseball cap he keeps wearing during games. Sometimes I feel like that cap is like the play card for NFL head coaches. He just writes successful set pieces and formations on the bill and looks up whenever he needs a new idea. What ever it is, it worked last season and he’s hoping as well all as the Stoke City fans that it works again. Stoke will once again have the fortune of playing in a league where there many clubs that have major problems with one thing or another, and ultimately it’ll be Tony Pullis and his ability to keep the team playing the way they know how to play that keeps this team successful.
15: Wolverhampton Wanderers: This was my team in the Championship, I’ve been somewhat following Wolves ever since Denis Irwin and Paul Ince went over to play for them. As an Irish fan I also have a soft spot for Mick McCarthy, even though he had a bust up with Keano and ultimately killed the chances of Ireland back in 2002. Any ways, his last spell in the Premiership was disastrous when he managed Sunderland to the poorest performance in the top flight up until Derby 2 years ago. I think this time he has learned his lesson, and the fact that Wolves dominated the Championship last year means that this team is ready for the challenge. McCathy has also brought in some great signings that will help him fulfill his dream of staying up. Kevin Doyle from Reading has that premier league experience, and the Wolves know how to score. It’ll be up to their other signings on whether or not they’ll be able to stop shipping goals and stopping 2-1 games from becoming 2-2 games. I think they’ll be able to do it, but a rough start might make or break this team and that mentality might be tested, something that McCarthy has shown in the past could be troublesome for Wolves fan. It’ll be nice also to see another team form the North West of England, besides the two Manchesters and Liverpools. Well I guess there is also this next team too:
14: Wigan: I had the biggest soft spot for Wigan when Brucey was still the manager, but now that he’s moved onto Sunderland, I have no qualms about seeing Wigan do poorly or not. They are an establish side now in the Premier League and thanks to Steve Bruce’s wise transfer policy has actually put them in a good position to compete. Problem is, can Roberto Martinez continue on that success and more importantly build upon it? They have some very capable players, but no one flashy and stylish. With Antonia Valencia now at Manchester United (thank you Brucey), they don’t have any real attacking prowess. It’s going to be up to King, Scotland to help out their only remaining top class goal scorer, Rodallega. The loss of Lee Cattermole was the worse thing possible, but there’s still 2 weeks left and a bunch of players from Swansea that Martinez can poach, but will they be quality enough? Martinez seems like a manager this is going to keep pushing this team, let’s hope that it’s away from relegation and closer to the middle of the pack.
Middle of the pack. Teams that are just happy to be in Premier League and not in the relegation zones. Many of these teams do have aspirations of making it into Europe, but until something drastically changes, they’ll settle for middle of the table with maybe a nice domestic cup run.
13: Bolton Wanderers: Gary Megson’s men finished 13th last year, and I don’t really see them doing any better or any worse. They’ve been one of the teams most quiet during this transfer season, mostly because of Real Madrid and Manchester City inflating the prices of all players by like 10 mil dollars, something that a smallish club like Bolton cannot deal with. But with the likes of Kevin Davies, Sean Davis, Gary Cahill and Mark Davies (gotta lot of Davies) they have veteran premier league players that now how to grind out the season, get the important draws and the easy wins. It is a stable team, and just as long as they continue to haunt the likes of Arsenal, I’m happy for them.
12: Blackburn Rovers: With Big Sam at the helm for the full year, I think Rovers have a better turn around. Though they had to give up some top players, specifically Roque Santa Cruz, they have a lot of great players around. I would not be surprised if they finished in the top half of the table, but for right now I have them sitting at 12th, 3 spots better than last year when Paul Ince had them headed for relegation. With the addition of Di Santo as a forward from Chelsea (on loan), Rovers can still put on a great offensive show, unlucky for the fans, that’s not Big Sam’s MO. I also forgot that Rovers are found near the Manchester, so well, whatever. Rovers could definitely jump over the next few teams depending upon fixtures and injuries, but for now I’m playing it safe at 12.
11: Sunderland: Steve Bruce’s new team looks like a middle of the table force to be reckoned with, but The Black Cats have also been a team with a lot of hype and upside but seems to never live up to it, so a near dead middle of the table standing seems like a perfect fit. Sunderland should be a team I could really support after United just because of all the Irish and Manchester United ties the team has. From a personal stand point I hope that Fraizer Campbell does well, I’m sorry to see him leave United, but he’s been with the reserves for so long it was time for him to see if he has the quality to be a top footballer in England. Brucey will be a fantastic manager for the team and has so far used his smart transfer policies to help keep Sunderland a strong team and one that can really build upon the future. The only sad thing about this season is that Sunderland won’t have Newcastle to play in a big Tyne-Wear derby, but I bet not one Sunderland fan is much worried about that. I know both Bruce and Niall Quinn would like to see Sunderland in the top half the table, but they have a good thing going and with patience could be a staple of Premier League football for years to come.
Top Half of the tables. Teams that don’t really worry about relegation and may be more concerned about making into Europe, which now is set at 6th place or better.
10: West Ham United: The Zola effect was amazing last year. All the issues with the Carlos Tevez suit, financial ruinings of the owners and the fact that their main striker was Craig Bellamy was all calmly washed away by every Englishman’s favorite Italian, Giancarlo Zola. This year can only get better right? Well with my predictions they actually take 1 step back. The talk of Europe was very much in the mind of all Iron’s fans, but this year they should be prepared for a tougher battle with the teams around them. Zola for the most part was able to keep a lot of the players he wanted, but he still has to deal with financial issues and as of right now his only options are taking players on loan and who have small salaries. This could all change if a capable suitor comes in and buys the club, but not everyone can be as lucky as Manchester City. (I can’t believe I just wrote that line, I may have to take a moment to throw up). The addition of Julien Faubert on a permanent basis was a giant coup for the Italian, especially since it seemed for certain that Celtic was going to get their man. Any truth in Gudjohnsen from Barcelona or Luci Toni from Bayern Munich coming over on a loan would really make this fantastic team to watch even more fantastic. I know a certain Iron’s fan that would go crazy of the prospect of having either big target men throwing around their weight. In the long run it’ll also help Carlton Cole, their permanent big man striker, develop into a larger treat (goal wise, not size wise, he’s already too massive). England fans may be even rooting for that to happen, as a proper Cole and Rooney partnership would be perfect for the World Cup. Think of Cole as a younger Heskey. There are 2 more weeks in the transfer market, so anything is possible. What I am certain of, is that barring any crazy financial crash, West Ham will not have to worry about being in the bottom half of the table. They’ll be focusing on inching ever closer to Europe, where Zola really did shine.
9: Tottenham Hotspur: It has been an interesting off season for ‘Arry Redknap and the Spurs. They seem to be linked with everybody but don’t seem to have anything to really show for it, well except for one very tall and skinny striker. It still seems they have a couple extra forwards they don’t need, Robbie Keane being one of them, and lack of true quality in the defense. Picking up Bassong doesn’t really help. I see the Spurs dropping a place this year just on the sheer fact that Magic Harry is not a boy wizard, but rather a very old manager that deals better with back room handling of players than on the pitch managing. Yes Harry brought Spurs out of the bottom 3 and into the top 8 in half a season, and many were wondering what would have happened if he had been there from day one. Well this season we’re going to find out and to the dismay of many Spurs fan, I think they’ll be left very disappointed, but then again they are Spurs fans so they always feel disappointed. The teams in this group though are all very close, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I completely messed up the standing here on out until we reach the top 4.
8: Fulham: To many, Fulham making Europe last year was a complete and utter shocker. It was easy to see why, since only 12 months prior Fulham barely escaped relegation by a single point on the last day of the season. Roy Hudgson has really turned the team around. So far this off season they’ve already moved up through the qualifying rounds of the Europa league and have added some pretty unknown, but apparently crafty players in. Bjørn Helge Riise should be an interesting player to see this year. Maybe he’ll score some own goals and follow in his older brother’s footsteps. The real issue though is to get Bobby Zamora and Clint Dempsey to score some more goals. Both players seem to be full of skill and quality up until the final touch, Dempsey coming off the wing isn’t really there to score goals, but as an American fan I really want to see him take over games. Fulham can’t completely rely on Nevland and Andy Johnson to get all the goals, especially with their injury issues. So because of that I have Fulham dropping a place and missing out on Europe. This of course could all be moot, because Fulham could go on a fantastic run and win the Europa League and therefore qualify for the Champions League. Billy the Badger would be quite pleased with that I imagine.
Europe and breaking into the Big 4. These teams feel like they are so close to that gold mine that is the Champions League and the stature that comes with being in the top four. Last year it almost seemed like the Big 4 was going to breached, but one team started too slow and the other just ran out of gas. This year could finally be the year.
7: Aston Villa: I hate putting these guys right here, but I have to. Their off season has been pretty unremarkable and most of the time rumors about transfers are about players leaving rather than coming in. Martin O’Neill has done a fantastic job for the team and Randy Lerner has been a fabulous owner, but this off season has been a mad house especially with Manchester City creating so much inflation. They had to pay the over for Stewart Downing and his bad knee, though the silver lining is that they’ll have James Milner for a full season and they added Fabian Delph from Leeds, but you still get a feeling that they are missing some key players. Any other year and O’Neill could have possibly added good depth to the team that might have enabled them to maintain their pace and pip Arsenal for 4th place. This year though, and only due to outside forces, the club is going to feel a big step back. In reality that step back might only be the 1 place from 6th to 7th, but the fact that Villa could almost feel that rich European soil on a Champions League night makes dropping one place feel like being relegated. I know I’m betting against Martin O’Neill and I shouldn’t do that, but maybe I’m doing it just so I can be proven wrong and I can be completely happy it about come next May.
6: Everton: This was a tough one, but you can’t under estimate Moyes. He’s so far been able to keep many teams away form his prize assets and if he can survive that until the close of the transfer window, he should be able to do well with his very small team. The other key is getting Mikel Arteta back and to have Jo continue on his run of form from last year when he came over on loan. Everton had a lot of bad luck last season which was surprising when you figure they finished in 5th. They had no out and out striker for most of the season all because of injuries and lack of players. This year if Yakubu and Louis Saha can stay fit, they’ll have no issues with scoring goals (a big ask). This can also allow Fellaini, the human Red card, to deal more in the middle to help out Arteta and Cahill. They still have an aging midfield and back line, but that just means they are dependable and capable. This could of course all go up in smoke if they lose Lescott and can’t get either Steven Taylor or Matthew Upson as a replacement. David Moyes is a smart manager, one that I wouldn’t mind taking over for Sir Alex in a few years time. As of right now, I have Everton being leaped over by that upstart and oldest rival to my team, Manchester City. Billionaire Boys Club as I shall refer to them from now on.
5: Billionaire Boys Club (BBC): I can’t give Mark Huges and the BBC (wait this could get confusing), the nod in the big four this time around, even though they have a ridiculous team. I mean most teams have problems fielding 2 out and out strikers, and the BBC have like 7! At first I considered this all a big joke, but then Sparky started to make some smart plays, particular with the defense. If he can get Lescott or Upson to partner up with Toure, Micah Richards and Wayne Bridge, then what was once a laughable back four can become quite good, especially with Shay Given between the sticks. Then when you start to look at the midfield, with Stephen Ireland, Nigel De Jong, Money Bags Barry, Michael Johnson, and SWP you stop and think about things for a moment. Actually as I start to think about things more, I could easily see BBC get into the top 4 and pip Arsenal. Crap, I really don’t want to change my mind right now. So let’s see, the reason they aren’t going to get into the top four is because, well, because of Sparky, the man in charge. It’ll be up to Sparky to get all these ego and millionaires playing proper footy to win games. It would just be as easy for a manager to sit back and let the talent do the rest and rely on individual skill, but the best managers know how to get players to play together and to play a certain way towards a goal. That’s probably why the Big Four is till the Big Four because of that fact. So the pressure is completely on Mark Hughes and Manches..er.. BBC to live up to the hype and expectations. As a United fan, I really hope they crash and burn, but being a realist that would only make the owners of City doing something even crazier, like maybe bring over Fabio Capello or The Special One himself. I’d rather they just keep finishing in 4th. This does bring up a good point though, what would be considered a failed season for City? I would have to imagine it isn’t breaking into the Top 4 and making Champions League. Then again, maybe they are arrogant enough to think that not winning the title this year is a failure. Once again, come May we’ll see. (By January we’ll see if Sparky is still with the team).
The Big Four. Nothing new here, but you have a feeling this is the last year for that.
4: Arsenal: My head is telling me this is all wrong. Arsenal nearly dropped out of the top four last year and this off season they have gotten worse rather than better. A team that desires silverware but continues to fall short due to lack of depth just got, well, shallower. The Gooner nation will soon turn on the Professor, especially if Wenger can’t keep Cesc from going to Barcelona by the end of August. Like O’Neill, Wenger has always been an intelligent buyer and seller (and this is coming from a die hard United fan), and you can’t blame him for his style of football, it is quite nice to watch, but it seems like it’s time to change things up and get things going. We don’t know if Wenger himself is responsible for the transfer policies this summer, or if it’s the issue with the Arsenal board and the lack of funds due to the economic slow down. What I do know is that Arsenal has a long uphill battle this year and with Adebayor and Toure gone and the injuries to key players already, it seems like the battle started back in June. It would be sad to see Arsenal drop out the big four, but only because then I’d have to see the like of Mancher… dammit!, BBC there. In reality for me it is all lose-lose. For Arsenal fans, it could just be another trophy-less season and a step down from Champions League competition.
3. Liverpool: The less I say about Liverpool the better. They really messed up last season, they should have won the league but thanks to Rafa and his stupidity they gave away the ball and let United pip in an extra time goal (this actually didn’t happen, Liverpool destroyed United in both fixtures. I was trying to use an appropriate metaphor for Liverpool’s collapse at the end of last season). As a United fan I never want to see Rafa leave the club, because of him, I never really have to worry about Liverpool winning. This off season has been brutal for the club, whether it was the issue with the American owners and getting new funding, the fact that Steven Gerrard assaulted a bloke and got away with it or the fact that Liverpool’s best and healthiest player last year was sold to Real Madrid and replaced by an Italian in a wheel chair that played slightly more games than Michael Owen in the same time period. But don’t worry Liverpool fans, you have Glen Johnson as your right back, the same Glen Johnson that got worked over and over again by Arjen Robben the Dutch boys this past Wednesday. The likes of Torres and Gerrard make this team still too good to drop any lower than 3rd. With Ronaldo gone, Torres is hands down the best player in the league. He just needs to stay fit for more of the season (but really I don’t want that to happen).
Okay I’m taking a break.
2. Chelsea: Yeah I had to take a lunch to really mull this one over. I mean United lost Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo. The former being a real hit to the gut, but the latter having more significance to the title hopes for United (more on that later though). Chelsea on the other hand didn’t lose any players, and in fact got a great midfielder in Yuri Zhirkov. The biggest thing for Chelsea is that they have a manager that has shown success on the club level. Everything points to it being Chelsea’s year except for one thing, Roman Abramovich. Since day one, Abramovich has wanted a Champions League trophy. It was in the Champions League that he fell in love with soccer, and so his ultimate goal is to reach that trophy. 2 years ago he was close when Chelsea met Manchester United in the final only to lose in penalties (thank you again John Terry). Last year Chelsea didn’t make the final, due to some dubious referring. In hind sight I would have rather Chelsea make the final because United would have probably won it again. Any ways, this year Abramovich brought in Carlo Ancelotti, winner of 2 Champions League titles and Roman is hoping that Chelsea can make it it a hat trick for the Italian. In this pursuit, the Premier League title may be sacrificed leaving the door open for United to walk in and snatch the 4th in a row. In any case it is going to be a closer race than last year or the year before, both of which was very close in deed.
1. Manchester United: Yes United lost Tevez and CR9, but they still are reigning champs and they still have Sir Alex Ferguson and an army of players ready to fill roles and do what is necessary to win. Sir Alex and United have done this time and time again. A team is built, they win a bunch of trophies, they sell a lot of shirts and then they take a few years to transition. The only real change this time is that United in the past choose to make those transitions, whether it was selling David Beckham or Ruud or releasing Roy Keane, it always seemed to be on United’s term. This time around they were forced by CR9 to sell and it came on the same summer where Real Madrid and Manchse… DAMMIT!, BBC decided to go bat-shit crazy in the transfer market. Worse was that United also lost Tevez, but that’s it! CR9 and Tevez are both gone, but people seem to forget that United still has Wayne Rooney and will have a another year of a more adapted Dimitar Berbatov. For giggles, United threw in Michael Owen for fun and then went into their huge reserve and youth team to bring up Federico Macheda, Zoran Tosic (best United name), Darren Gibson, as well as Danny Welbeck to sit on a bench and provide sparks (similar to back in 1996 with Becks, Scholes and the Nevilles). Buys from 3 years ago are ready to prove their worth in Anderson and Nani, and you can’t forget about the old boys Giggs and Scholes that will give you some quality during those games that don’t require great skill but sheer determination (Stoke, Bolton, Birmingham), saving the best for best (Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal). The midfield still has the likes of Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, and Ji Sung Park all capable players who on a good day could change games. With the addition of Antonio Valencia as an out and out winger, United can continue to play wide with intricate passes. Best of all, United isn’t even finished, there’s still 2 weeks to go and the likes of Franck Ribery and Sergio Aguero are being linked with the Red Devils. Most importantly of all, United’s defense was the key to last years success and that defense is still in tact, though a little wobbly right now with injuries. Rio Ferdinand (if he can stop playing Media Mogul), Vida, Brown and Evra command a great back line, with the likes of Rafael, Johnny Evans and Johnny O’Shea giving them cover. Then there’s Neville and Hargreaves, both of which any United fan would love to see just combine their legs so that one of them has at last 1 healthy pair, but if either comes back (mostly Hargreaves) that’ll be an added boost. United is still a deep and strong team, one that for the last 3 years have played in nearly 60 games each season and are well aware of how to win a league title. The difference this time is that they don’t have a person that strikes fear into the heart of every full back or keeper, well unless Sir Alex Ferguson is able to get on the pitch to give them all they hair dryer treatment, but I think the FA will frown upon that.
So there you have, that’s my complete prediction. I’ll have an updated one by time the transfer window ends, since then we’ll have better understanding of the teams, but this is my gut feeling for the upcoming season. It’s going to be close, which means it should be pretty exciting and fantastic.
So, come on United! Let’s make it
My gooner friend just pointed out the fact that if the #12 on United plays a lot of games, then there is no chance of United getting the 12th trophy. This coming from a guy who’s goal keeper looks like this.