We all miss Football when the season finishes and in odd ending years where there are no major tournaments we miss it even more. Last we had the Euro’s and then a big distraction in the fantastic Olympics that bought so much joy to the nation. This year we have had some more big British success in the break from football, the Lions winning down under, the Ashes, Justin Rose winning a major, Chris Froome winning the Tour de France and of course Andy Murray winning a certain tennis tournament in a certain borough of London (it made a paper or two), even Lewis Hamilton got round to winning a Grand Prix. Despite all that quality sport there is still a massive hole in our lives when there is no football. Well that is no longer the case.
I write this as it just turns 3pm on a Saturday afternoon and the Football league season is about to fully kick-off. The brand new Premiership is now only two weeks away and the excitement levels are getting higher and higher.
Personally at the end of last season I thought the transfer window would be absolutely manic with all the big teams in the Premiership looking to improve their squads. This season looks like being one of the most open seasons in the history of the Premiership, although many thought that last year and it turned into a procession. That seems unlikely this year. There is no Sir Alex for the first time in what seems like forever. City and Chelsea surely must do better than last year. Arsenal haven’t lost any key players so they should be able to get off to a better start than the last two years. Then there is the, so far, interesting state of the transfer window so far. Man United only have a unknown right back, Arsenal have a young talented prospect (no change there I guess), Chelsea have added a couple but not a really big name. It’s Man City that have been the biggest spenders unsurprisingly but none of their four signings can be considered world class.
So with this all in mind where does every Premiership stand two weeks away from the start of the season? Well here are my thoughts. I’ll start with the first ten clubs and then finish with the next ten in another post.
There was all that talk of big money and linked with some massive names and as it stands it’s been the same old Arsenal. Well with that said at least they have kept hold of all their key players and for all the doom and gloom that came at the start of last season there were good positives at the end of it. The back four finished the season in good form and Koscielny was starting to look like the real deal at the back. There maybe some question marks about their goalkeepers but I think Szczesny is worth sticking with.
Judging by the players Arsenal have been tracking it seems that Wenger is looking for a top draw striker to finally replace RVP. Giroud had a decent season but Wenger seems to think he isn’t a championship winning striker. Higuain would have been a really good fit for Arsenal and any striker of his quality would love linking up their two little gems Wilshere and Cazorla. It seems incredible that Wenger wouldn’t go that little bit higher to make sure he got his man. Now they are tracking Suarez but you have the feeling that unless Suarez forces Liverpool into selling him Arsenal won’t stump up the £50+ million they need to. In that case no big striker signing for Arsenal but a bigger worry is if they don’t sign a midfield enforcer they won’t be pushing on from last year. Wenger seems to put too much faith in Diaby, who is a very good player simply can’t play enough games to justify that faith. As it stands it looks like another battle for 4th and with Wenger at the helm and Wilshere fit all season you would probably back them to get 4th.
What on earth did Paul Lambert say to Christian Benteke? I have only seen that level of co-operation in 24 when they bad guy has kidnapped someone close to Jack Bauer! Whatever was said it has been a massive success for Villa. I’m 100% sure they would go down if they sold Bentekers and now they can probably look to a nice safe 12-15 finish. The goals he scored last season kept Villa up, plain and simple. If he played for any of the three teams that went down they would have stayed up as well. That amount of goals from one player is close to priceless and keeping him is a massive boost for the club. Paul Lambert did a fantastic job keeping Villa up and even got them playing some decent football for the first time in a while. I don’t expect them to be in the relegation battle this season although they could probably done with getting another experienced defender in but it’s clear that Lambert is working on a tight budget. Lambert is building a project there and barring bad injuries he should be in for a more comfortable season
The Bluebirds with the red kit and dragon on their badge should be in for a tough year. Their Welsh rivals have shown a blueprint for stepping up from the Championship and doing well in the Premiership but I don’t see Cardiff having anywhere near enough quality to survive. There doesn’t seem to be a lame duck in the Premiership from last year so it will be really tough for all three clubs that came up to survive. They have made two big signings for a newly promoted club and we have to wait and see what kind of impact their striker can have. I’m not sure about Steven Caulker and I’m not surprised Spurs were willing to let him go. The biggest thing in his favour is he is still only 21 and has lots of time to get better but he has taken a really big gamble in moving to Cardiff. I don’t think Craig Bellamy will have much of an impact for them this season but that won’t be down to lack of effort. Their best hope is having a strong home record because I don’t think the squad has the quality needed in this Premiership. I can only see them going down this year.
At the start of last season I thought Chelsea would be right up there challenging for the title. I thought their summer signings were fantastic and on the back of a truly unlikely Champions League win they would be hard to stop. Then some similar problems came to the fore and they fell to far behind and yes they had a hard Champions League group they did make a bit of a mess of that. I don’t see winning the Europa league as much as a success for a team of their calibre and Jose seems to think the same. Speaking of Mourinho how is “the happy one” going to do second time round at Chelsea. They say in football never go back but after the way things ended at Madrid it seems like Mourinho was looking for some love. The fans love him (and Essien is a little to enamoured with him!) but what are the other ex players going to make of him? Cole and Lampard still seem to be playing well enough to get good game time but what about the arch celebration crasher John Terry? It seems from the outside that he holds a lot of power so will there be a problem if he isn’t first choice which is possible?
Transfer wise Chelsea have been reasonable quiet for a club bankrolled by a billionaire but the action I’ve seen of Schurrle he looks a decent player even if I have no idea how to pronounce his name. As for their attempts to sign Wayne Rooney, If Mourinho plays the same system he did at Madrid I would say that Torres is better suited to that lone striker role than Rooney. For me Rooney operates best playing off another striker but Chelsea already have Mata to do that and he was top class last season. When Rooney plays up front alone he will still score goals but he doesn’t seem as effective than when playing in the “hole”. It will be interesting to see what Chelsea do on that front as its gone a little quiet. I imagine the next move is up to Rooney. As for Chelsea this season I expect them to be right up their challenging this season but I don’t think it will be their year. One thing is for sure they won’t win the Europa league this season!
I think Crystal Palace are going to be in the same boat as Cardiff. It’s often hard when you get promoted to the Premiership through the play-offs and add to that the fact they have lost their best player, in Zaha, and their top scorer last season, in the injured Glenn Murray. Looking at their transfer activity it suggests that they have one eye on being back in the Championship next season. They look remarkably like Blackpool when they were in the Premiership and Ian Holloway almost pulled it off then. Even in a couple of short years the standard of the Premiership has increased and I just don’t see how this Palace squad and the gung-ho tactics of “Ollie” will survive. One thing is for sure the Palace fans will make a real racket and will give any other clubs fans a real go for their money. I think they will go down last year but they should be in good shape when they do return to the Championship.
This is a new dawn at Everton. These can be exciting times at a club and nowadays it’s very rare for a new manager to come into such a good set up. Everton have been the ultimate over achievers in the last five years. If it wasn’t for Russian and Sheikh billionaires they surely would have had a few more cracks at Champions League football. I think a lot of people have a soft spot for Everton because they are really fighting hard against considerable financial heavyweights. One to eleven they have a really good line-up that can match a lot of teams. I think the strikers they have brought in can really add some goals to the team and if they keep Fellaini and Baines then they can be up there pushing for European football again. With players like Pienaar and Mirallas to go along with a very solid defensive unit Martinez has no real excuse for the club to go backwards. I think they will finish 6th or 7th but they may be able to close the gap to the top five this season if they can find some more goals. Martinez got a good reputation at Wigan for playing good football but a lot of the time it wasn’t very penetrative but now at Everton he has a lot of talented attacking players and it also helps to have a Barcelona player kicking around in the squad.
Fulham are another team that have had a quiet time in the transfer market. They have a new owner and as with the majority of new owners you have to wait and see how good for the club they are going to be. Shahid Khan also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team and they are tied into playing a game at Wembley for the next four years so there is an obvious liking of the English market from Khan. You hope for Fulham that he doesn’t just see Fulham as a way to make him some money and promote his American interest in this country.
Last season Fulham had a good solid team put together capped off with the mercurial talents of Dimitar Berbatov. In Martin Jol they have a decent manager who is doing a good job at keeping Fulham in a comfortable position. They have added a couple of new faces and got a very talented keeper in. Whilst they probably won’t make the top half of the table they should be in for a safe year. One area they may struggle with is the lack of numbers in defence. It looks like Riise could be on his way and they are already pretty short at the back. If Hangeland picks up an injury they could be drawn into the relegation picture. Injuries withstanding it looks like Fulham will have a safe unremarkable year.
Now fans of the Championship may think I don’t rate the division but I do I really do. With that said though Hull will complete the triple relegation of the three promoted teams. They may have changed their name but what they really needed to do was change their playing squad and quite frankly they haven’t done enough to have a chance to stay up. Hull did a fantastic job of getting promoted and they will get a great big payday out of it and a year of Premiership football but that is all they will get. They will not be able to score enough goals and they will struggle to keep clean sheets. The equation is simple if you can’t score and you can’t keep clean sheets you can’t get enough points to stay up. Their best plan for the season is to enjoy it as much as they can bank the load of money they will get and build a stronger squad for a return to the Premiership.
Whilst on the face of things Liverpool look like they are having a troublesome Summer they have actually done some good business at the start of the Summer and could argue that whatever happens with Luis Suarez they will be better off. If they keep Suarez they will have kept 30 goals from last season and those goals will be vital in the hunt for European football. If he leaves they will get £40+ million and they really could use that money as the squad looks to be a long way behind the clubs above them. I’m not sure they have improved by replacing Reina with Mignolet but he has age on his side so long term it could pay off. They haven’t done enough to strengthen their defence and that could be an area they struggle to catch the top 4 teams. Their new signings look like long term buys and it will be interesting to see how they settle in. Coutinho settled in very quickly and he could be one to watch this season. They have made a policy to buy young talent but you can run the risk of that talent turning out like Hendersen or Shelvey. If a couple of the signings turn into good players then it does become worth the risk.
It was finally good to see Liverpool stand up to Suarez and finally speak out against him. In the previous seasons they went too far out of their way to speak up for their stand out player. It was a sign of how far this club has fallen that they would stand up for a player who has done some disgusting things instead of stand up to him and risk losing him. When you stand up for a person like this you run the risk that he will throw it back in your face and now he is. That said I think he will still be a Liverpool player come September but might well end up in Madrid in January if Bale stays at Spurs.
I think Liverpool will do a little better than last year but are still behind Spurs in the race for Champions League. They will have a great battle with Everton for 6th and I think they might just edge that battle.
Now whether you like it or not when Sheikh Moansour brought Manchester City he changed the landscape of world football. Personally I don’t agree with billionaire owners at clubs. If your club makes lots of money then you can spend money but City were an average Premiership team until Moansour rolled into town. With the financial backing City have, last season was a disaster. With the money they have to spend and the players they had already brought there is no way they should not win the league every season. It seemed that Mancini had to go and despite being popular with the fans he seemed to make a lot of enemies at the club. That’s all good and well when you are winning trophies but as soon as that stops happening you are in trouble. Pellegrini is an interesting choice for manager. He doesn’t have any Premiership experience and not a load of Champions League experience either. He does like his teams to play good football and that might make City better watch then they were for long periods under Mancini. Their new signings are interesting as well. None of them are established footballing “superstars” but they all have the potential to be. I think Navas adds the most to the side and finally gives them an out and out winger. They are back to having 4 strikers and it’s yet to be seen how many he will play at one time. If he had a front 4 with Silva, Navas, Aguero and say Negredo with Toure and Fernandinho in the centre of midfield they should be scoring lots of goals. They let a few more goals in at crucial times then you would expect from City so they will need to find that balance between the array of attacking talent they have and the need to help the back 4 out.
Manchester City have to be right up there with the favourites for the title. I think them winning the title will come down to how the new manager and the new signings settle in. The Champions League will be a very interesting sub plot to their season. They had a tough group last season but compare their budget with that of Ajax and Dortmund and they should have got out of that group. They will comfortably reach the knockout stages this season but then it will be see interesting to see how far they can make it in the knockouts. If they finish the season without a trophy again does Pellegrini get the sack? Well we know what Roman would do!
Okay that’s the first ten teams done with. Come back and see what I reckon for the remaining ten. Comments are welcome and encouraged, if you agree or disagree it doesn’t matter, Football is all about opinions so I want to hear yours as well. Just remember mine are always correct!