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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Premier League Predictions 10/11

And so, with the start of the Premier League season almost upon us, it is time for me to stick my neck out on the block and say who I think will shine this year, and who, well, won't. Many more knowledgeable followers of the game than myself have made confident predictions in September, only to end up wiping the egg from their faces the following May. Like anyone who predicted Liverpool for the title last year, for example. Consequently I've tried to stick to gut feelings rather than over-thinking things, although there is some method in my madness, I promise. But enough talk. Here goes:

1st - Manchester United
In my mind the Premier League title race will remain a Manchester United or Chelsea affair this season, although Arsenal will be closer on points than last year, since both the sides ahead of them haven't really strengthened significantly in the transfer market. United get the nod - just - because they have slightly more options up front and a better defence. Also, the hunger to reclaim the trophy they lost last year and to eclipse Liverpool's 18 title wins should give them the mental edge.

2nd - Chelsea
For the last 3 or 4 years, the main obstacle to Chelsea's success has been their own complacency. This is borne out by the fact that despite beating Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool home and away in the league last year, Chelsea stumbled over the line in the title race, having lost against Wigan and drawn with Birmingham, Blackburn, Hull and West Ham on their travels. A settled side, with the strongest midfield in English football and a formidable home record, they will push United close but ultimately come up short. A real threat for the Champions League, though.

3rd - Arsenal
Will the potential finally be fulfilled? Not this year. Even with Fabregas staying and Koscielny and Chamakh looking like astute signings, the Gunners first XI is simply not good enough to win the Premier League, unless both of the sides ahead of them mess up. That situation nearly came about last year, but every time the top two let Arsenal back into contention, the North Londoners orchestrated their own downfall (Wigan's epic comeback comes to mind.) They have too much class for the chasing pack, but I fear Arsene Wenger will once again find himself banging his head against that glass ceiling. Their best hope of a trophy remains in the cup competitions, but only if they take them seriously.

4th - Manchester City
Another summer of frivolous spending has seen City assemble a squad of almost insane strength in depth. Obviously under new regulations they can only register 25 first-teamers, so we will likely see numerous departures from Eastlands before the close of the transfer window. Regardless of whether James Milner and Mario Balotelli are on that final list, the Citizens will undoubtedly embark upon this season considerably stronger than the last. With Mancini's pragmatic tactical approach and their goalkeeping options City may prove tough to score against, whilst their quality up front should overwhelm most sides. I expect some inconsistent results early on as the new additions bed in, but they will finish strongly and pip Liverpool and Spurs for fourth spot.

5th - Liverpool
Gerrard, Torres and co. cannot be any worse than they were last season. Fact. The astute appointment of Roy Hodgson has transformed the atmosphere at Anfield, and the addition of Joe Cole is an inspired move which will certainly lessen the creative burden on Liverpool's talismanic captain. I also expect Hodgson to get more out of underachievers in the squad, such as Babel, Lucas and Aquilani. They will undoubtedly be better this year, but the recent injury problems of the likes of Torres and Cole are a worry, and I believe Manchester City's superior squad depth will tell in the race for the last Champions League place.

6th - Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs were the story of the Premier League last year, finally ditching their inconsistency and pipping City to fourth place. In doing so they secured a coveted opportunity to play Champions League football this season. But last year's reward will be this year's curse. Spurs will not want to be embarrassed in Europe's premier club competition, and I can see their league form suffering as a result of the effort they expend in midweek. The lack of new recruits this summer is also a worry (although there is time for this to change). There will not be many points separating these three teams, but I expect Tottenham to ultimately come up short against a vastly strengthened City and resurgent Liverpool.

7th - Everton
Were it not for a disastrous start last term - a mixture of injuries, bad form and the bad taste left by the Joleon Lescott transfer - Everton's strong finish would have seen them well in contention for fourth spot. There is no question that David Moyes has done a fantastic job with the limited resources at his disposal, and that with a settled team boasting both established, determined pros and promising youngsters, his side are a match for anyone on their day. However, Everton's attacking options are not exactly overwhelming: Yakubu appears to have lost a lot of confidence, Louis Saha shows no signs of getting over his injury problems, and Jermaine Beckford is unproven at Premier League level. Academy products will likely supplement the forward ranks, but lack of goals may well do for Everton in the end.

8th - Aston Villa
The departure of Martin O'Neill is a huge blow. The Northern Irishman had built a skilled, if limited, side who were organised and difficult to play against. His departure is a clear sign that costs are going to be cut at Villa Park, and it remains to be seen just how many of O'Neill's former stars will follow him through the exit door. Whoever the new manager is, with tighter budget restrictions and a lack of fresh investment, it is almost impossible to see how Aston Villa will be able to threaten the top four. They remain top-half certainties with the personnel at their disposal, but that's it.

9th - Fulham
Some Fulham fans may well feel distinctly underwhelmed by the prospect of mid-table obscurity after last year's European adventure, but make no mistake, consolidation would represent success in the first year of Mark Hughes' quest to fill the sizable boots left behind by Roy Hodgson. The Welshman, who had his big opportunity at Manchester City ruined by the ruthless ambition of the club's wealthy ownership, is nevertheless a very competent Premier League manager, who has worked wonders on limited resources before at Blackburn. There will be no repeat of the excitement of last year, but Fulham will be fine.

10th - Blackburn Rovers
In my view, any one of five teams could sneak into the top half by finishing 10th this season. I have plumped for Blackburn because, in addition to the fact that Sam Allardyce is an experienced Premier League operator who makes his teams hard to beat, their squad is a little bit stronger than those of their rivals. Rovers' already solid defence should be boosted by the promising Phil Jones, whilst in attack, highly-rated Croatian Nikola Kalinic and on-loan Mame Biram Diouf should provide enough goals to ensure that Big Sam's men repeat last season's 10th place finish.

11th - Sunderland
The Black Cats also look to have strengthened over the summer. Ghana's World Cup stalwart John Mensah has rejoined on loan, and whilst Titus Bramble has been cast as a figure of fun for a number of high-profile mistakes over the years, his spell at Wigan appeared to prove that Steve Bruce gets the best out of him. Further up the park, Paraguayan playmaker Christian Riveros should add a little guile to an otherwise workmanlike midfield. Sunderland appear a little short up front following the departure of Kenwyne Jones to Stoke, but I would expect at least one striker to arrive at the Stadium of Light before the end of August, and they already possess a proven Premier League goalscorer in Darren Bent.

12th - Stoke City
Stoke's qualities remain as obvious as ever, and I expect them to be no less successful this term. A strong, organised and physical side, what Tony Pulis' men lack in technical ability they make up for in commitment. The Potters' physical presence up front will be further enhanced by the arrival of Kenwyne Jones from Sunderland, and they will doubtless remain a formidable challenge at home.

13th - Birmingham City
Alex McLeish did a fantastic job in guiding Birmingham City to a top half finish last season, and whilst a repeat this time out is not inconceivable, it is unlikely. The Blues have lost one of their star performers of last year in Joe Hart, but Ben Foster is a more than capable replacement, and Nikola Zigic should offer another, more vertical, option up front. Almost certain to finish in the bottom half, but have enough about them to avoid the relegation scrap.

14th - West Ham United
The Hammers had a difficult season last year, with a prolonged flirtation with relegation set against a backdrop of boardroom instability and interference. Summer investment has ensured that new boss Avram Grant heads into the new season with a far more balanced side. Known Premier League quantities such as Tal Ben Haim, Frederic Piquionne and Thomas Hitzlsperger have been brought in alongside more exotic talents such as Mexico's Pablo Barrera and Miralem Sulejmani. All of this means that West Ham should escape the relegation dogfight with ease, and even entertain a little along the way, as long as Messrs Gold and Sullivan keep their noses out of the dressing room.

15th - Bolton Wanderers
Owen Coyle's decision to leave Burnley for Bolton last year ultimately proved wise, if a little heartless. His Bolton side always looked too good to go down, and that should be the case again. Arsene Wenger's unwillingness to allow Jack Wilshere back on loan is a blow, but Martin Petrov could become one of the signings of the season if they can keep him fit.

16th- Wigan Athletic
Wigan are a predictor's nightmare. Last season's slayers of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool at home, they also finished with the worst goal difference in the league, having lost 9-1 at White Hart Lane, 8-0 at Stamford Bridge, and 4-0 at Fratton Park. When they have a good day, they invariably have a very good day, but when they have a bad one, well...it seems that Roberto Martinez's side simply have not learned the art of damage limitation. If the lesson remains unheeded this term, they could be in trouble, but the Latics look to have enough going forward to keep them up. Charles N'Zogbia's continued presence is crucial though.

17th - Newcastle Utd
Optimistic Magpies fans hoping for a swift return to former glories may have to wait a while. Its going to be a long, hard season for Newcastle, but one which I believe will eventually guarantee their presence in England's top flight for another year. The likes of Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll may have won the Championship at a canter, but the going will be much tougher this time around. The signing of Dan Gosling, one of Everton's most prized youngsters, was a considerable coup, and Sol Campbell will marshall the defence well. Most of the squad already possess Premier League experience, and so if Newcastle can make St James' Park a fortress, they will be fine.

18th - West Bromwich Albion
The Baggies have become the Premier League's yoyo team in recent seasons: too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League. Its going to be close between them and Newcastle for that coveted 17th spot, but I think the St James' Park atmosphere might just make the difference. Roberto Di Matteo's men play good football, but will have to show a defensive resiliency in order to beat the drop. Their most important player this season will surely be Scott Carson. If he fulfils his considerable potential, Albion might just prove me wrong.

19th - Wolverhampton Wanderers
Its not looking good for Wolves. There has been a deafening silence surrounding the Molineux throughout this summer's transfer window, and the lack of investment is likely to prove costly. Firstly, its difficult to see where the goals are going to come from. Mick McCarthy's men scored the least goals of anyone in the top flight last year, and unless a new striker comes in, its unlikely the situation will change. Kevin Doyle does not provide the goal return to match his admirable work ethic, whilst Sylvain Ebanks-Blake has not adjusted to Premier League as hoped. Good home form is essential if they are to have any chance.

20th - Blackpool
The torrent of goodwill directed at Blackpool following their fairytale promotion to the top-flight was astounding, and only the most hard-hearted of men would begrudge one of the oldest clubs in the land an extended stay in the Premier League. But fans of the Seasiders would be well advised to enjoy this season to the full, as another is unlikely to be afforded them. They are short on Premier League quality and experience, and their lack of profile makes it hard to see this problem being remedied before the close of the transfer window. Fan's favourite Charlie Adam will again play a key role in any successes they do have, and the quirky, dry wit of manager Ian Holloway should ensure that they win over plenty of neutrals along the way, but the Championship is already beckoning.

So there you have it. Those are my predictions, and I'm sticking to them. If anyone disagrees, as many of you probably will, then please let me know, as I would appreciate hearing your views.

1 comment:

  1. Nice work, blackburn finishing tenth would however signify the death of football, even if they do have dioufaldinho.