After another successful summer of sport in which we saw Britain and Ireland beat the Australians at rugby, where we saw England beat the Australians at cricket and watching the British number one win Wimbledon, it’s time to fill that gaping weekend-sized hole! Yes Premier League football is back, allowing the football lovers among us to rejoice as we settle down to watch another 9 months of drama and controversy which only the world’s greatest sport can provide. It’s that time of the year in which people try and predict how the season will go for their team, here is my effort at predicting the table, including a brief paragraph attempting to justify my selections.
1st. Manchester City:
The change of manager from the unpopular Robero Mancini to Manuel Pellegrini will have something of a galvaninisng impact on City I feel. There is also the fact that some of the more controversial figures from the club have been moved on, particularly Carlos Tevez. I feel we will see something of a more professional City side this year, without all of the off-field baggage which came with players like Tevez and Mario Balotelli, I feel we will see a more focused and driven City. A City determined to wash away last season’s failures.
It’s the return of the Special One, and I for one am glad to see him back. Top flight football has suffered from a distinct lack of characters in the past few years. Yes, he does have an arrogant streak, but he has the track record to back it up. I can’t see Chelsea winning the league under Mourinho’s first season back, simply because I feel the upheaval at City will provide too great a challenge, but it will be close. I can see Chelsea winning silverware this season, could even do a double? But no league title for the Special One this year
3rd. Manchester United:
Well, the beginning of the post-Ferguson era, and its down to David Moyes to carry the torch. It has been a long held opinion of mine that the current United side is not one of their all-time great sides, being driven to dominate through a world class manager. It will be interesting to see how much of United’s success is actually down to the players rather than SAF. I know it’s dangerous to write off a side full of title winning know-how, but without any fresh blood, I can’t see United winning it this year, or at least not winning as comfortably as they did last year, although I reckon it will be close between the top 4 this season.
White Hart Lane has been a hotbed of activity this summer. With Roberto Soldado, Nader Chacli, Etienne Capoue and Paulinho coming in, and perhaps even more significantly, Gareth Bale has not left. I feel that this bout of strengthening is enough to mount a serious assault on the top four, then again, Tottenham are perennially unlucky when it comes to the Champions League, but I just think this year will be their year, especially if Bale commits to the Spurs’ cause for another year.
With the speculation about Luis Suarez dying down now, and it looks as if the mercurial Uruguayan is set to stay at Anfield, I can see Liverpool edging closer to the top four. I can’t see them breaking Champions League, unless it’s at the expense of a United side in decline, but I can’t see that decline being so dramatic. The key for me between who emerges as Tottenham’s main rivals for the top four lies in Luis Suarez. If he leaves for the Emirates, then you can swap 5th and 6th place around.
It may seem unusual putting a side who have consistently finished in the top four for the last 15 years, or somewhere around that time, down in sixth, However, my reasoning is as follows. Whilst the Gunners have an undoubtedly talented team, all the teams in and around them have strengthened significantly. Whereas Arsenal, with their significant lack of transfer activity could suffer from stagnation. Targets such as Gonazalo Higuain, Luis Gustavo, Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney have never materialized as actual signings. This stagnation will cost Arsenal dearly in terms of the Champions League race.
Another new era dawns at Goodison Park, as Roberto Martinez takes the reigns over from David Moyes. I can’t see a whole lot of change happening at Goodison, Martinez’s teams play good, attractive football. Martinez will not take Everton to the next level yet, in my opinion.
I’m a big fan of what Norwich have been doing over the summer, signings such as Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Leroy Fer and Gary Hooper have added some genuine quality to Chris Hughton’s Norwich side. Provided they can keep these players fit and on good form, I think Norwich could be one of the surprise packages of the season.
.Here is my pick for the other surprise package of the season. It’s been busy over the river at the SOS, with almost an entire new first team being signed. Of course we’ve seen this happen before during the days of Steve Bruce, but I think that Paolo Di Canio and his infinitely more competent (than ours) Director of Football, Roberto Di Fanti are too intellegent in the tranfer market to sign players of equal ineptitude to the ones they already have. A front five of Fletcher, Altidore, Sessegnon, Giaccherini and Johnson is a mouthwatering prospect for the Mackems. It can also be guaranteed that Di Canio will make them one of the fittest, and hardest working squads in the league.
Dejan Louvran and Victor Wanyama are the only two players brought into St Mary’s by Mauricio Pochettino thus far, two signings which will add plenty more steel to the spine of the team. Judging by his recent contribution in the recent Home Nations derby, it seems Rickie Lambert hasn’t lost his scoring touch and I can see the Saints carrying their improving form under Pochettino into this new season, dead on mid-table for Southampton.
Swansea had a great season last time out, winning the League Cup, subsequently leading them to Europe, and landed themselves a top-half finish. As has been the case with English sides in the Europa League, I can see Swansea’s league form taking a dip, although thanks to their clever summer recruitment, I can’t see this dip being threatening to their place in the league. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Swansea retain the league cup either.
12th. Newcastle United
It’s been a typically strange pre-season here on Tyneside. The only signing which seems to have got the fans pulses racing has been the return of Joe Kinnear as director of football (and that’s through anger rather than excitement). Rumours have been plentiful over the summer as well, with players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubeymang, Wilfred Bony, Darren Bent, Bafetimbi Gomis etc. linked with us, all of which never materialized in an actual signing. However, I feel we do have a competitive first 18 players, and providing we can keep them all reasonably fit throughout most of the season, plus the lack of European competition, we’ll be just fine!
Finally, after years struggling against promotion under Dave Jones, Malky Mackay has finally steered Cardiff up through the attic door and into the Premiership. Cardiff are the best backed out of the three promoted teams in terms of finances, which has been shown through Mackay’s dealings in the transfer window, breaking the clubs transfer record three times with the signings of Andreas Cornelius, Steven Caulker and Gary Medel, Cardiff will be absolutely fine this season and I’m also slightly looking forward to the Welsh derbys.
15th. West Ham:
Under Sam Allardyce, West Ham are guaranteed to be a solid Premier League team.
16th. Aston Villa:
Villa struggled for the largest part of last season, I don’t think they’ll have it so tough next season, thanks to their ability to hold onto Christian Benteke, the young players will also feel the benefit from playing the majority of last season.
Fulham have recruited well in the close season, today completing the signing of Newcastle-target Darren Bent. They have a few handy players, with the likes of Bent, Ruiz and of course Berbatov. That quality should just be enough to keep them afloat, but I reckon it will be nip and tuck.
18th. Hull City:
Steve Bruce is back in the top flight, it will be interesting to see how his Hull City team get on. For me this season will be very much like the last in terms of the bottom half. It’s such a tight one to call this year, any team in the bottom 6 or 7 could go down. I feel Hull will just be dragged under, but under Bruce, I think they’ll put up a hell of a fight.
19th. Crystal Palace:
Ian Holloway’s second coming in the Premier League, whilst Holloway has brought in some good experience and he has brought in some quality in terms of Chamakh. One thing however struck me as I noticed the players Holloway has brought in, they are all attacking players. Holloway’s attacking philosophy has not changed since his Blackpool days, and whilst there are those who say that attacking in the best form of defense, and whilst I like that Holloway is setting up to have a go at teams, there is the danger of the defensive frailties which existed during his Blackpool days. Palace will be a fun team to watch but I again think they will go the way of Blackpool, which is a shame.
20th. Stoke City
It seems strange putting a usually solid Premier League team up for relegation. However with the departure of long-serving boss Tony Pulis, it could trigger a case of trying to change the playing style far too quickly, aiming for a more offensive game plan, potentially undermining the defensive solidity which Stoke owe their success to. Whilst I am glad to see the back of Pulis and his crushingly boring style of play, the appointment of Hughes represents somewhat of a gamble. Whilst Mark Hughes was once the manager who led Blackburn Rovers to the dizzy heights of 5th place, he is also the manager who had QPR perennially fighting relegation. The situation at Stoke could go either way to be honest, but I have a feeling that this season will be the end of the Potters’ stay in the League.
Come January I’ll have a look at how my predictions have held up and do a mid-term report card.