It is that time again. The newest edition of the best league in the world. Fans have been poring over fixture lists for months and tomorrow motorways across the country will be littered with hopeful, anxious and optimistic fans. But what can they expect? While the Premier League doesn’t quite compare with the Championship in terms of unexpected events, it does remains hard to predict; here at Nouse we thought we may as well give it a go.
Winners – A genuine two-horse race. It was fairly tight last year and had the fixture list thrown up a tougher final fixture for Ancelotti’s Chelsea it may all have been very different. Chelsea were very impressive, winning their first ever league and FA Cup double, and seemed to sail through the season relatively un-fussed. They scored a superb 2.71 goals a game and yet haven’t perhaps received the plaudits they deserve. Man Utd are always going to be in with a shout and it would be a very brave man that wrote off Sir Alex Ferguson and for that reason my winner has to be Man Utd.
Rest of the top four – Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool. The title race will go down to the wire but Chelsea will be forced to settle for second. Pundits will comment that had Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech all not refused to play for Chelsea because of alleged affairs between their partners and other members of the playing squad, then they may have pipped the eventual winners. Arsenal will play some fantastic football, winning a lot of games very comfortably, but when Cesc Fabregas/Robin van Persie/Marouane Chamakh/Jack Wilshere/insert name of any Arsenal player has his leg broken against Stoke they will lost their momentum and end up in third place. Old Woy at Liverpool will somehow work his magic and fight off the challenge of Man City and Spurs, with Roberto ‘scarf for a neck’ Mancini getting the sack in the process.
Relegation zone – Wigan, West Bromwich Albion, Blackpool. Wigan are one of those sides that will always face the threat of relegation. Roberto Martinez is a good manager but he’s not a miracle worker and one of these days the Latics will surely face the drop. Titus Bramble has often been derided but he is a very good centre-back and he will be missed. They look weak and are already reliant on messrs N’Zogbia and McCarthy. A lack of goals will also be telling. The name Roberto seems to be a bad-luck charm this season as West Bromwich Albion also look set to struggle. Their summer signings have been less than inspirational and once again their problem will probably be up-front. I wouldn’t worry too much if I was a Baggies fan though, I’m sure they’ll be back in 2012-2013. Finally, Blackpool as a club are resigned to relegation so I see no reason to predict anything other than a swift return to the Championship, although Ian Holloway will be worth his weight in gold. They have just realised the season is about to start and have made five quick signings; three of them unknown, one of them is Marlon Harewood and the other one, Bolton’s Chris Basham, will do a decent job for them. One win at home against a big club would make their season.
Golden Boot – Fernando Torres. He struggled in the World Cup but once his hair, seemingly the source of all his powers, grows back he will be amongst the goals again. If he can stay fit he is guaranteed to find the back of the net more often than not and hopefully a revitalised Liverpool side will be able to provide him with ample service. The usual suspects of Rooney and Drogba will push him all the way but the fact that on their side there are other players that can score goals will count against them, as Torres will be forced to share the burden of Liverpool’s expectations with just one other man.
Surprise Package – Aston Villa, in a bad way. Seasons of continual gradual progression have come to an abrupt end with the departure of Martin O’Neill. O’Neill wasn’t perfect but there aren’t any available managers out there who are better than him. They have some very good players but also have some average players and the loss of James Milner will be massive. Many Villa fans will tell you that Milner carried them last year; Friedel is getting on a bit, Cuellar isn’t a full-back, Collins and Dunne aren’t the best partnership in the world – especially when the ball is on the floor – and their other full-back Steven Warnock is average. The strike-force is hit-and-miss and with only the artistry of Ashley Young to provide any attacking impetus they may very well be looking at a season of mid-table mediocrity.
Winners – This could be the most competitive season of Premier League football since the league’s inception. With no side that is clearly superior and a group of resurgent teams flush with confidence and cash, expect to see it go down to the final weeks. Despite it being close I still think one of the usual suspects will take it. Manchester United look like a youthful well organised side and should have just too much for the others.
Rest of the top four – Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool. Four places for Champions League qualification is simply not enough for the amount of English sides that now harbour ambitions of playing European football. The traditional “Big Four” will want in but City, Spurs, Villa and even Everton will also think they could sneak it. I think Roy Hodgson will restore the status quo and guide Liverpool back to fourth after making some shrewd signings.
Relegation zone – Blackpool, West Bromwich Albion, Blackburn. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that Blackpool will head back down, I would imagine with the lowest points total in Premier League history. They are a poor side and it will be shown up by the Big Boys. West Brom will also struggle and will probably join their former Championship couterparts. I think Newcastle will stay up but it could be a long year for Blackburn whose shocking lack of investment in the transfer window could spell the end of their time in the league.
Golden Boot – If Robin Van Persie stays injury free for a concerted period of time then he could be a good bet to win the golden boot. The Dutchman is consistent when in an Arsenal shirt but is seemingly always susceptible to injury. A good showing at the World Cup in a system that didn’t really suit him will have boosted his confidence.
Surprise Package – Everton. David Moyes had horrendous luck with injuries last year that effectively ended Everton’s season before Christmas. They still put a good run together late on with all their players back, and with a full complement to pick from from the off they pose a danger to any side.
Winners – The league is Chelsea’s to lose this season, a settled squad of experienced players and a much more streamlined squad missing expensive hangers-on should expect to retain the title. The squad is full of players at the peak of their careers and in Anelka, Drogba and Lampard they always have someone capable of scoring goals. Bosingwa, Terry, Alex and Cole is by far the best defence in the league and if they can sort out their set-piece defending they won’t concede many. Their record against big teams last season was unbeatable and Stamford Bridge should continue to be the proverbial fortress.
Rest of the top four – Manchester City, Arsenal, Man Utd. With a squad that could put out two teams and have both finish in the top ten, Manchester City’s strength in depth means they should have a Champions league place in the bag this season. Having kept hold of Cesc Fabregas, and with the signings of Maraoune Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal have a stronger squad than last season and should easily secure a top four position; third place last season will be difficult to improve on however. Finally Man Utd will eke out the final champions league place to save the club from requiring an IMF bailout, Rooney’s goals being even more important this season and a lot will be expected of new signing Fernandez
Relegation zone – Blackpool, West Bromwich Albion, Wigan. Blackpool are one of the most surprising teams to be promoted to the premier league, but also the most underprepared in recent seasons. Reports have described how their chief (only) scout has only left Britain once to scout a player and it has taken until August for the players to be paid their promotion bonuses. Seamus Coleman and DJ Campbell, two stars from last season, won’t be returning to Bloomfield road and a wage ceiling of 10k a week is providing Ian Holloway with difficulty in bringing in experienced Premier League personnel. Blackpool are all too reliant on midfield wizard Charlie Adam and veteran Jason Euell and it’s highly unlikely they’ll be extending their stay in the Premier League.
Perennial yo-yo side West Brom have gone for their tried and tested method of pinning their hopes on the promoted squad and giving their manager only limited funds with which to bring new players in. Roberto di Matteo will continue were Tony Mowbray left off and carry on playing the fluid, passing football which saw them relegated in 2009. Their first eight games include trips to Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United and home fixtures against Spurs and Sunderland making it unlikely they’ll have a strong start to the season. Relegation beckons.
Roberto Martinez has bravely tried to bring some continental flair to the mill town of Wigan, with pints of sangria and paella pies the order of the day at the Stadio el DW. Last season the team attempted to transform itself from the long ball merchants of the Heskey days, to a slick passing side centred around the likes of Jordi Gomez (a name that just screams ‘get it on the deck’) and Hendry Thomas. Unfortunately, a ploughed field of a home pitch, a woeful away record and a defence as watertight as Rob Green’s long barrier meant they ended the season with a -42 Goal difference and just 36 points. With the teams around them having strengthened significantly this season, expect Wigan’s six year premier league stay to come to an end
Golden Boot – Wayne Rooney. After giving himself the summer off from football (including a lovely four week jaunt to South Africa), Rooney will be back with all guns blazing for the start of the new season. Able to feed off the silky passing of Scholes and Giggs for another season, he will have something of a point to prove after a terrible World Cup and it will take more than a few boos to stop him
Surprise package – Stoke. New signing, the battering ram-like forward Kenwyne Jones will add some much needed energy to the Stoke attack and provide them with yet another target for Delap’s long throws. Pulis still has money to spend and if they can add a creative midfielder to their ranks they’ll be set in all departments. An excellent home record last season should carry on this season and if they can find their feet on the road, a top ten finish beckons for the Potters.