As the new season is getting under way and the transfer window is now closed, perhaps it’s a good time during this international break to look at the Premier League campaign ahead. More specifically, the race for fourth, and the coveted final UEFA Champions League spot.
It is likely that the top two in the Premier League will be Chelsea and Manchester United again this year, with Arsenal finishing a respectable third. So when considering the race for the final UEFA Champions League spot, four teams look to be in contention: Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton. This is a comment on each clubs potential to challenge, with the aim of making an assessment of who is in the best position to finish fourth.
Some may also want to consider Aston Villa also. And that this point has some validity. They should not be discounted completely. However, Villa are now in a cycle of transition. The squad has not been greatly strengthened from that of last season, and some players you feel may no longer have their heart with the Villains or the right focus, and when considering the strength of the other four clubs they have to overcome to finish fourth, it looks like difficult task. But not by any means an impossible one. A top seven finish and/or Europa League qualification should be considered a good return for a difficult season, and hopefully they can continue their progress in the seasons to come.
After finishing fourth last season, Tottenham will have the belief that they might not have had at the start of last season. They have done it once – they will now believe they can do it again. The squad has good strength in depth, quality and options all over the pitch. Also, providing they are doing reasonably well both at home and in Europe, come January Tottenham should be able to strengthen the squad even further.
This strength becomes important when we consider the Champions League. It could quite easily have a negative impact on their league form, and after two years with no European football, Tottenham now have to adjust to a more congested football and travel schedule once again. ‘Spurs must learn, and learn quickly, how to be able to win league games that follow Champions League nights, especially European away games. More games like Wigan will surely follow if they cannot adapt – points Tottenham can ill afford to drop in a tight race.
When considering Manchester City, the first thing to mention is that they also have a very strong squad, filled with experienced internationals. This strength is brought sharply into focus when considering City are only in the UEFA Europa League this season – a competition largely irrelevant to them. They can afford to concentrate solely on the league, which is a major advantage they and Liverpool have over ‘Spurs.
With their endless financial power, they like Tottenham will be able to strengthen even further in January. However, the sheer size of the City squad already in terms of top quality players creates its own problem: keeping everybody happy, especially those not in the twenty five. It could be a full time job in itself for Roberto Mancini, especially if a number of players begin to no longer see their future at Eastlands. Distractions the manager can ill afford in a season where real and significant progress is the prerequisite.
Mancini himself is also a major concern: does he know, and will he, can he, ever know his best eleven? Can he maintain harmony and high morale in a squad of twenty five players who will legitimately all think they should be playing every week? Also, come December, with the January window on the horizon, will he even be there if City don’t look nailed on for a Champions League finish? There is a realistic possibility that Mancini will not be City’s only manager this season.
Turning the attention to Liverpool, the first thing to consider is their experience. Liverpool much more so than any of the other contenders, know what it takes to finish in the top four in the Premier League. Roy Hodgson is one of the most experienced managers in European football – He has seen it all before, and is one of the best man-managers and tacticians in the league. He will be able to unite the squad, make sure everybody knows exactly what they need to do, and give them a common purpose, making sure they are competitive like every Liverpool team should be.
In Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, Liverpool have potentially forty to fifty goals a season. However, as has been said many times before, Liverpool’s success depends on them being fit for the majority of the campaign. That being said, even two world class players such as these, and Hodgson’s organisational skills cannot fully compensate for the deficiencies in quality and depth in the Liverpool squad. The ownership issue and the resulting lack of major finance to be able to compete with Manchester City and even Tottenham in the transfer market is also a major concern.
Overall however I expect an at times difficult, but progressive season for Liverpool.
And finally, we take the short trip across Stanley park to Goodison, and assess Everton. An outsider for the top four? Certainly, but not by much.
They have in my opinion one of the best managers in British football, and David Moyes’ side will be difficult to beat, as they have always been, but the quality of their play and squad has improved steadily over the last two seasons. Moyes has delivered Everton into the top four before, and he can do so again. However, I feel Everton will need to keep the majority of their squad fit all season to have a chance of another fourth place. Their lack of numbers compared to City and Tottenham, and the proneness of major players in their squad to injury may scupper their chances.
I can see Everton finishing above one of the other three contenders, maybe even two of them, but three seems like to much for them to do this season. The good thing for Everton fans is the squad will continue to develop, and the stability of the club can allow it to develop steadily within its means and become a major force once again in time.
When taken all together, the potential problems ‘Spurs face this season are all smaller and more manageable than those of their rivals. Their squad is more settled than City’s and has more depth of quality than Liverpool’s and Everton’s. Tottenham also have the finance and Champions League with which continue to strengthen further. After these considerations, I have to conclude that Tottenham are the best equipped to finish fourth this season.
My predicted top seven at the end of the season:
- Manchester United
- Manchester City
I would like to see other people’s views on the race for fourth, I will try to respond to all comments posted.
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