Right, the new Premiership season kicks off at 3pm. My Fantasy Football team is all ready to kick the bejesus out of all those armchair centurions who know jack shit about football (http://www.premierleague.com/page/Home/ - let me know if you have a league in which I can destroy you as well). And where would we be without the regulation commentary on the riders and runners the morning before kick off. Here’s my take on things ahead of Liverpool levelling United in the most number of league trophies won…!
Arsenal – It would be churlish to suggest that if, as expected, Fabregas and Nasri both leave the Gunners that Arsenal are finished. After all, Wenger does have a habit of finding and nurturing precocious young talent and getting them to play football (neat triangles, wonderful movement, etc) better than any other manager in the Premiership. But losing two world class players and regular match winners is likely to hurt any ambition Arsenal have for glory this season. If Wenger can re-invest in defence by bringing targets like Gary Cahill or Phil Jags to the club it would at least shore up their one consistent failing of last season – letting Newcastle score four against them!. In addition, with the likes of Van Persie, Wilshere, Walcott and Arshavin they’re not totally starved of quality. A season of transition, but the likes of Liverpool, Spurs and Everton will look to pounce and take the opportunity to wrestle a regular Big Cup berth off of them. Beware the wounded animal though.
Aston Villa – The loss of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing will be well felt, although the signing of a quality winger in Charles N’Zogbia should be enough to provide Darren Bent the quality service that’s made him one of the most consistent Premiership goal-scorers in recent seasons. Perhaps the real key to Villa’s season is how rusty Shay Given is in goal following a year of bench-warming at City. At his best, he’ll save at least two certain goals per game, but a long time questions whether he remains the best keeper in the Premiership? New manager McLeish has made astute signings, although the strength in depth of the squad suggests they may entertain a relegation battle come next May. And McLeish isn’t very good at those…
Blackburn Rovers – Did anyone else notice Blackburn at all last season? I found them strangely ‘meh’, so haven’t really given them any attention this pre-season. Would it be unfair of me to suggest relegation contenders, despite a lack of knowledge?
Bolton Wanderers – Owen Coyle knows his stuff and has somehow moved away from the Sam Allardyce school of wanky ‘kick them up in the air’ football usually associated with Bolton and has actually transformed them into a decent footballing outfit. The return of Daniel Sturridge to Chelsea following an excellent loan spell is likely to hurt, as is the loss of Lee Chung-yong’s creative influence to a broken leg pre-season and if Gary Cahill is tempted away it would be a further influential gap to fill. But if Coyle can somehow attempt Shaun Wright-Phillips away from his City bench-warming duties, then alongside other shrewd deals (Chris Eagles from Burnley) they should remain a decent mid-table outfit. Plus, there’s always the Kevin Davies affect to terrorise opposing defences.
Chelsea – New manager, new football ideals, same old ageing squad. Whilst things rapidly change at Chelsea, nothing really changes at Chelsea. Despite the ageing squad they still have quality throughout, which makes up for the lack of fresh blood into the ranks. Stingy defending will be their chief weapon and in Terry, Cole and Luiz there are few stingier. Yet Premiership ambitions will really be determined on the formation Villas-Boas employs and how to include Drogba and Torres in the same team, if at all. If Villas-Boas fails to convince Torres that he was once world class, Daniel Sturridge’s return from an excellent loan spell at Bolton could prove decisive. Not the time for fitting square pegs in round holes up front, but does Villas-Boas have the bottle to defy his overlord by playing on form rather than on name? Challengers no doubt, but the chairman/manager relationship could derail any charge.
Everton – The toffees will succeed purely because of manager David Moyes (next United manager, anybody?) Despite the lack of a transfer kitty he inspires his team of decent professionals to go out and get the job done. If Saha can remain fit and provide a regular goal threat and they can keep hold of Phil Jags I wouldn’t be surprised if Everton were challenging for a Big Cup spot come the end of the season. Unless they have an utterly wanky start as they did last season!
Fulham – One of the strangest managerial decisions of recent Premiership memory is Mark Hughes leaving Fulham after 11 months, despite having relative success in maintaining Fulham as a decent Premiership team. Little has changed since Martin Jol’s arrival, the squad looking pretty similar to the one that nice uncle Roy left in Hughes’ capable hands, so you would expect them to maintain that mid-table feeling. Might be ageing slightly in some key positions (Murphy, Duff) but should get the goals needed from the likes of Zamora, Dempsey, Johnson and Dembele. Would be nice if they could go on another good run in Europe (so I can get tickets to watch)!
Liverpool – With Statler and Waldorf finally removed, a chairman that wants to invest in the team rather than needing to repay hideous amounts of debt and the return of the King, Liverpool might actually do something this season. Everything seems in place. Strength in depth (Adam to replace the eternally knacked Gerrard) despite the English player tax, a proper left back in Enrique, wingers to feed Carroll, Aquilani on form and showing the potential that he could be just like Xavi Alonso and some genuine world class players (Suarez, Reina, Kuyt) I’d expect a proper title challenge let alone a charge for fourth and a Big Cup spot. Much will depend on away form and making Anfield a fortress like the tail end of last season showed. Kenny knows his stuff, but enduring a long, hard season burdened with expectation will be very different to turning fortunes around mid-season. Suarez for player of the season though…
Man City – Unlike Jose Mourinho, who knew what to do when Roman Abromovich gave him a shitload of cash to spunk on the best footballer players in the world, Roberto Mancini doesn’t seem to have a plan (or a clue) what to do with his benefactors billions. Mourinho spent wisely on a small squad of (expensive) players to build a team he could fit around Terry and Lampard, which met with immediate success. Mancini on the other-hand has brought in so many players, at hideous expense, but can he really get these individuals to play as a team? Especially with Mancini’s negative ‘back and sideways’ yawn inducing football approach that will stifle some of the best players in the world. And you wonder why talismanic player Carlos Tevez has been attempting to escape Stalag Carrington all summer. Real Madrid underachieved massively during their Galatico period. I can’t help thinking that despite the number of World Class players, City are capable of going the same way. Still, worth a watch just to see what maniacal loon Mario Balotelli will get up to this season and what Rio Ferdinand’s first challenge on Super Mario will look like!
Man United – United will be there or there abouts come the end of the season, every season, until Sir Alex decides to call it a day. Scholes may have retired and deadwood like Obertan and John O’Shea shifted on to make way for new blood like Smalling, Phil Jones and Cleverly, but with a strike force of Rooney, Hernandez, Berbatov and Owen being fed by Nani, Valencia and quality signing Ashley Young they will maintain the belief that they will always score one more goal than everyone else. United’s weakness is the lack of an effective water carrier (even when Fletcher is fit) and Evra seemed strangely out of sorts last season and that’s perhaps where the opposition can best hurt them, yet it goes without saying a challenge for their 20th league title is the surest of sure things.
Norwich – Paul Lambert (one of Scotland’s last great footy players alongside John Collins) has done a terrific job in securing Norwich back-to-back promotions. But are they equipped to stay up? Unlikely. Will be a long hard season for the Canaries!
Newcastle – The easy route to relegation in five easy steps! Sell your star striker for £35 million. Promise your manager that funds from the sale will be made available to rebuild the squad in the next transfer window. Continue to sell your best players (Kevin Nolan would rather play in the Championship than for a Premiership team with limited ambition). Provide limited funds for new players. Bring in Gabriel Obertan! Newcastle will be lucky if they’re not involved in a relegation battle this season.
Q.P.R – Out of the three teams promoted Q.P.R are the most likely to remain in the Premiership next season. Warnock is an old head at this football lark and some shrewd signings, particularly snatching up Jay Boothroyd from Cardiff, and doing his utmost to keep creative playmaker Adel Taarabat, show signs of intent that he doesn’t want Q.P.R to be a one season wonder. But the squad is small and any significant injuries (hello, Kieron Dyer) could spell disaster…
Stoke – The home advantage will likely see Stoke perform as well as they have done in recent seasons. The likes of Huth and Jones will always cause trouble at set pieces and throw-ins and in Etheridge and Pennant they have real quality on the wings to deliver decent ball into the box. The signings of Matthew Upson and Jonathan Woodgate seem a little odd, particularly as one is permanently knacked. Where exactly are they going to fit in with Shawcross and Huth being more than competent at centre-back? Yet the added strength in depth may prove beneficial. Competently mid-table.
Sunderland – Steve Bruce has been a busy bee in the summer transfer market, perhaps in response to the calls for his head by supporters following a dismal second half to last season. But for the quality of Connor Wickham and Craig Gardner he’s had to balance it out with some chaff in the signing of Wes Clown. Clown and Bramble in defence; Premiership strikers must be thinking their in goal-scoring heaven! Bruce will have to hope that Asomah Gyan and Kieran Richardson are on top form at the other end to balance out the goals conceded ratio. And does anyone know if Bruce has purchased a new magic sponge to resolve last season’s injury blight? (Please don’t be any good at Anfield today, pretty please)!!
Swansea – Who? Sorry, completely facetious I know. Apart from them beating Cardiff to promotion (that likely created more than a few chuckles in South Wales) I really know nothing about them. Looking forward to finding out more though, and hopefully they can be a refreshing breath of fresh air as Blackpool were last season (albeit without comedy genius Ian Holloway in charge – Brendan Rodgers seems a little more serious).
Spurs - Despite their Champions League ambitions it’s strange that ‘Arry hasn’t delved into the transfer market this summer to bolster a squad given the poisoned chalice that is Europa League monkey tennis. Perhaps the fire-fighting he’s been doing to prevent Modric leaving for Chelsea has been keeping him a little too pre-occupied! Still, if ‘Arry has managed to convince Modric to stay, then alongside Bale and Van der Vaart he has three players of different class that can make a real difference, although the lack of a consistent goal-scorer and Gomez’s teflon gloves remain a worry. Sandro might be the player to watch - the water-carrier that the likes of Chelsea and United could both do with. Will challenge for a Big Cup spot.
West Bromwich Albion – Whilst nice uncle Roy’s long ball game utterly destroyed Liverpool’s ‘football’ players last season, at Brom he finds himself once again amongst a team of hard-workers with a hint of quality here and there that are enthused by such a tactic. Uncle Roy will get the most out of his players, Odemwingie and Long will score the goals that keep them in the Premiership and Chris Brunt will bang in the odd 30-yarder. No random Scandinavians signed yet though, which is a shame.
Wigan – Another relegation battle looms, especially with the loss of N’Zogbia to Villa. But I like Roberto Martinez and for that matter think they’ll manage a decent fight of it as with last season.
Wolves – One of the spirited performers last season alongside Blackpool. Will hope to have it a little easier this season and with the quality of the new Premiership arrivals their experience should see them safe again this year despite the obligatory relegation battle.
West Ham United – Oh! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha….