As the 20th English Premier League season kicks off, the excitement is already at a boiling point. Every fan believes this could be his club’s year, but in reality only three teams have a legitimate shot at the title, in my opinion. Another three clubs have a shot at the final Champions League position, and everyone else is fighting for mid table mediocrity, or relegation. While everyone loves predicting the new boys to always go back down, over the past decade only 13 of the 30 promoted sides returned to the second division the next season, contrary to popular opinion or memory.
Here is how the season will stack up, as I see it.
#20: QUEENS PARK RANGERS: (Last season’s finish: 1st in the Championship) With very little in the way of additional support for their return to the top flight, the “richest club in the world” seems to be going at this season on the cheap. The manager, the always annoying even when entertaining Neil Warnock, seems to be at odds with his owners, and this could get ugly quick. Look for QPR to be relegated by February.
#19: WIGAN: (Last season’s finish: 16th) Roberto Martinez is easily one of the most likable managers in the EPL. He wants his teams to play the right way, and has a fantastic relationship with his owner. That’s where the good feelings for this Wigan team end. With very little in the way of additions coming in, while losing midfield wonders Tom Cleverly and Charles N’Zogbia, this is not a team improved from last season’s finish near relegation. Though I would love them to stay up, I feel relegation will be a late season heartbreak. On the bright side, I expect Martinez to remain with the club even if they fall into the Championship.
#18: SWANSEA: (Last season’s finish: 3rd in the Championship) The Welsh wonders are coming into the EPL, and looking to play football. A team built around pace on the flanks and tippy tappy passing in the midfield, they just may be a little too out-manned in the top flight. Swansea could very well be this season’s Blackpool, surprising us with results early, before falling apart when it matters most. Look for Swansea to just miss sticking around for another season.
#17: NORWICH CITY: (Last season’s finish: 2nd in the Championship) Yet another side that doesn’t seem keen on spending their way to a second season in the top flight, Norwich could very well be a club to watch this season, possibly built for this level more than their former Championship counterparts. The schedule may be difficult for the new boys, and the months of December and April will tell the tale of their season. If home form is consistent, Norwich just may stick around another season.
#16: BLACKBURN: (Last season’s finish: 15th) Steve Kean and the owners Venkes are in charge for their first full season (if either last the season) and things at Blackburn seem to still be rather unstable. The owners, while trumpeting attacking football and impact players like Ronaldinho or David Beckham (neither arrived or even considered it, from what we know), the financial backing appears to be dramatically lacking, even if players could be convinced to join the club. While Steve Kean seems to be top man on most people’s “first to get the sack” list, Blackburn currently has just enough talent to stay up, above the dregs of the EPL. Could they go down? Yes. Would Big Sam and I be happy if they did? Of course. But alas, I think they will scrounge up just enough points to remain. Should players like Christopher Samba leave, then all bets are off.
#15: NEWCASTLE: (Last season’s finish: 12th) Another candidate for the sack, also in his first full season, Alan Pardew has become the manager of little France. (Or PSG without the money, as I like to call them.) This summer’s transfer policy has seemed to be “buy if it’s French, sell if it’s aging and English”, as captain Kevin Nolan has left the club, Joey Barton appears to be for the off on a free, and only portions of the Andy Carroll money has been spent. Will the new players gel? Is Pardew the man to lead them? Newcastle could be in for a dramatic season. Neither relegation nor mid-table mediocrity would be beyond them.
#14: WOLVES: (Last season’s finish: 17th) Just avoiding relegation last season, Wolves may be in for a decent time this go round. Holding onto players like Matt Jarvis was the start, and the additions of O’Hara, de Vries, and Johnson have solidified a team that played well against the big clubs, but struggled against their fellow minnows. I look for Mick McCarthy to turn it around this season, and suspect Wolves may be a surprise package, sitting comfortably as next season’s relegation battle really heats up.
#13: FULHAM: (Last season’s finish: 8th) Mark Hughes is out, and the man the club originally wanted – Martin Jol – is in as manager. An aging squad yet to be truly freshened, Fulham have already been busy in Europa League qualifying. While they have more than enough quality to ever fear relegation, this could be a difficult season for the club. American fans are always interested in Fulham due to American Clint Dempsey being part of the squad, but my gut tells me this will be a year of struggle for Fulham, and Dempsey may not be there next season.
#12: WEST BROM: (Last season’s finish: 11th) A club many thought was heading for relegation under Roberto Di Mateo was resurrected under Roy Hodgson last season. A solid club, bolstered by the additions of Ben Foster and the return of Zoltan Gera, look for WBA to hold steady in the mid table, possibly even flirting with Europe for a time. In the end, I see WBA holding steady.
#11: BOLTON: (Last season’s finish: 14th) While it would be easy to predict a big season for Owen Coyle’s men, injury could be what keeps them from breaking into the top half of the table. With key contributor, American Stuart Holden, still missing due to his late season leg break, Bolton was also rocked by the long-term injuries to Mears and Lee. The creative spark plug may be missing for a while for Bolton, and bettering their previous finish should be seen as a good season.
#10: STOKE: (Last season’s finish: 13th) Each season Stoke gets a little bit more comfortable in the EPL. Each season they deploy long throws and tough tackles, but also try to play a little bit more football than the previous season. With another season under their belt and possible additions still to be made to the team, I believe Stoke have become a solid team. Always difficult to beat, they may flirt with Europe, but just miss out this season, becoming the team that is the divider between the best, and the rest.
#9: SUNDERLAND: (Last season’s finish: 10th) Things have been changing in the Northeast. Steve Bruce has brought in many fresh faces, looking to change the spirit and mentality in the dressing room, an attempt to change the usual mid-season malaise that always seems to strike Bruce’s men. Key additions this off season look to steady the ship in Brown, O’Shea, Gardner, and Larsson, and possibly even propel it forward in Vaughn and Wickham. With another season of spending to please Bruce, he may be on the hot seat. If he doesn’t start competing, he very well could be out of a job. I believe the mentality has changed just enough for this to be a positive top half finish for Sunderland.
#8: EVERTON: (Last season’s finish: 7th) Everton still have a very talented manager in David Moyes. They also have a solid veteran playing staff. The only real problem with Everton is the one that always exists… they are broke. Bill Kenwright loves the club and wants them to succeed, but he doesn’t have the cash to make it happen. Between the players (including American Tim Howard) and manager, Everton should be expected to put up a good fight, but still don’t have the fresh injection of talent they need to seriously compete for the top 4.
#7: ASTON VILLA: (Last season’s finish: 9th) With new manager Alex McLeish coming in to take the helm after last season’s relegation with hated cross town rivals Birmingham, Aston Villa need to hit the ground running, or the crowds bad will for the new gaffer could force the hand of owner Randy Lerner well before he ever could have imagined. Losing Friedel, Downing, and Young, Villa bolstered their deficiencies by bringing in Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia. With basically a similar team to last season, N’Zogbia and Bent will be looked to for goals to send the team into European places. I expect Given to be a very busy boy between the sticks, and I could see Villa finishing anywhere from 6th to 14th. My hopes for the American owner made me go for the positive outcome.
#6: TOTTENHAM: (Last season’s finish: 5th) This off-season Spurs have looked very stagnant. No big players coming in, and so far no big players going out, unless Chelsea can persuade them to sell Modric before the transfer window ends. I have always been suspect of the skills of Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, and feel this season will be a massive test for him. While those around them have spent this summer, Spurs look to hold on and improve while doing nothing. If Tottenham are even in the Champions League conversation come March, let alone April, I will be stunned. Everton, Villa, Sunderland, and Stoke all could even knock them out of Europa league places.
#5: ARSENAL: (Last season’s finish: 4th) With Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri looking for the Arsenal exit, yet another season without a trophy is all but a certainty for Arsene Wenger’s men. With a central defender possibly on the way if Cesc and/or Nasri leave, are Arsenal built to win the title, or just flatter to deceive and fall apart in the same old ways yet again? To me, Wenger sees the game a certain way, and his stubborn attitude has taken a man that used to be a cutting edge great manager, and turned him into just another quality manager who doesn’t have enough mental strength left in him to will his team to trophies. I expect Arsenal to fight hard on all fronts, and win nothing yet again.
#4: LIVERPOOL: (Last season’s finish: 6th) As much as it pains me to say it, the one team which can jump back into the top 4 while knocking Arsenal out is Liverpool. While Kenny Dalglish has overpaid for his midfield additions while failing to add a quality center back, he also has transformed the mentality at Liverpool. With a plethora of midfield players and the up front tandem of Carroll and Suarez ready for their first full season of battle, Liverpool should provide attacking flair and excitement this season. At times they may flirt with the title, or even with mid table, but in the end I believe they have just enough to make it back to the Champions League thanks to the fact that they have no European football to distract or tire them this season. Owner John Henry expects it, and if “King Kenny” wants to keep his job, he better deliver.
#3: MANCHESTER CITY: (Last season’s finish: 3rd) With the addition of Argentinian wunderkind Sergio Aguero, Man City may be the most talented group of players in the EPL, if not the world. The problem, too many attitudes, too many unhappy players looking for more playing time to match their massive pay packets, and the added distraction of Champions League football. If City should add Samir Nasri before the transfer window closes, I would bump their final position up to #2, and I believe they will be in the title hunt down to the wire, but in the end I don’t trust their players’ mentality or their manager’s tactical strength enough for them to win the title this season.
#2: CHELSEA: (Last season’s finish: 2nd) This season Chelsea has added touches of youth, in their players and manager, but will it be enough to win a title they failed to reach last season? I for one don’t think so. The veteran leadership and talent of the squad tell me they will be in the fight until the bitter end, and the new manager bounce Chelsea always seems to get (Mourinho, Ancelotti) on the road to the title could be in effect, but in the end I believe the talent is just a step too slow, and a year too old. Chelsea should have enough to hold off Man City, but not enough to take the league.
#1: MANCHESTER UNITED: (Last season’s finish: 1st) While I believe it is bad luck to pick my club to take the title (I normally pick Chelsea), this season I can’t see how United doesn’t fend off all challengers yet again. The departures of Edwin van der Sar, John O’Shea, Wes Brown, and Paul Scholes will be difficult to deal with, but the additions of David De Gea, Ashley Young, and Phil Jones, as well as the returns of Tom Cleverly and Danny Welbeck should make up for it. With a plethora of options in every department, United’s weak point will be the goal keeping position, where the very young De Gea and the veteran Lindegaard will battle to hold down the big gloves left by van der Sar. With plenty of fresh legs to supplement the veterans’ aspirations, most pundits can’t seem to pick anyone but United. I for one expect a close battle down to the final few fixtures, where United should lift their 20th title at the end of the 20th EPL season.
While we know who the top 6 will be without much effort or debate, the battles for mid table and relegation places will be amazing to watch this season. Look for my predictions to look foolish 1 month in, genius 6 months in, and foolish again in May. I hope you enjoy the season, and you enjoyed my season predictions. This is how the season will unfold, as I see it.
Until next time, enjoy the glorious football.