Without doubt, the coming season is going to be the most difficult ever in terms of predicting who will be in the Champions League spots next May. Manchester City and Liverpool have both strengthened over the summer. Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are both clinging on to key players and Manchester United and Chelsea look as strong as ever. For these reasons, it is difficult to anticipate which of these six teams will come out on top in both the race for the title and the battle for Champions League Places.
This summer has not been great for Arsene Wenger. Two key players, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas seem to want out, with Fabregas on Barcelona’s radar as he has been for the past few years and Nasri in demand from both of the Manchester clubs. Arsene Wenger is knowingly risking Nasri leaving on a free transfer if the Frenchman has the patience to wait until next summer. It would not be a complete disaster for Arsenal to lose either of these players as they have shown plenty of times that they can cope without Fabregas and Nasri has only had spells of influence in an Arsenal shirt. However, yet again, Arsene Wenger’s refusal to invest in players may well prove to be their downfall this time as with only Gervinho coming in to the club so far, Arsenal will have the same squad as last season but maybe without two of their biggest names and the squad of last season was not good enough to compete until the end. With their biggest rivals strengthening, the title looks out of reach before the season has begun. Another fruitless season for the Gunners may well see more and more fans losing patience with Arsene Wenger and should Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League in this most competitive of seasons, perhaps Wenger will lose favour with the board too.
Andre Villas-Boas is yet to show the Chelsea fans his tactics as he has used various combinations in pre-season. Chelsea’s squad is not getting any younger but it does not seem to be losing any talent. Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba are all still at the top of their game and can fire Chelsea to success again. A fully fit and firing Fernando Torres can give Chelsea the edge over their rivals but the question still remains over Torres. Chelsea will start the season with a similar squad to the one that finished last season with only a few young players joining the squad including Barcelona B’s Oriol Romeu and Sao Paulo starlet Lucas Piazon and this is not necessarily negative for Chelsea as they have plenty of young players waiting to come through in the likes of Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta and Daniel Sturridge. Chelsea’s future looks bright, however I think that this season may well be a transitional one with the new manager, youngsters and the old guard coming towards the end of their glorious careers. On their day, Chelsea can beat any team in the league and I think they will be safely inside the top four at the end of the season.
Liverpool have spent two seasons on the fringes of the top six but appear revitalised under Kenny Dalglish and the new owners. Positive moves in the transfer market for Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson have given Liverpool a bit more strength in depth. January signings Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll will also have the opportunity to form a partnership that is exciting Liverpool fans who have genuine optimism for the first time since the second place finish in 2009. I think Liverpool have strengthened in the right areas and one or two more signings before the close of the transfer window may be needed but the foundation is there for a successful season. If Liverpool can start well, in contrast to the past two seasons, there is no reason why they can’t force their way into the reckoning. Steven Gerrard will not be so heavily relied upon this season and for that reason, I think he will shine for the Reds and have his best season in a few years should his injury problems subside early on. Another thing that will work to Liverpool’s advantage is the lack of fixtures due to failing to qualify for any European competition last season which should mean the squad is not tired during the run in.
Roberto Mancini and Manchester City have been very conservative in the transfer market by their normal standards but experienced left back Gael Clichy and world class forward Sergio Aguero will add a lot to an already star studded squad. Carlos Tevez clearly wants to leave Manchester City and they have ample strikers should he do so. However, if Tevez does remain at City then surely the strike force of Tevez and Aguero would be one of the best the Premier League has seen and fire City towards the title. Manchester City have a balance of creativity and muscle which Arsenal and Spurs don’t have. They have David Silva, Aguero and Tevez to score the goals and they have Nigel De Jong, Yaya Toure, Micah Richards who are strong and hard to break down. City have a strong squad with a lot of strength in depth and they can compete with anyone else in the Premier League. Even if this is not City’s season, their time will come in the next year or two. With players such as Dzeko, Milner, Bellamy and Adebayor not automatically in Roberto Mancini’s plans, it shows how rich City’s resources are and I predict a good season for the blue half of Manchester as they make their bow in the Champions League.
Even when Manchester United lose Van Der Sar, Scholes and Gary Neville, the squad still looks like it can compete with any other. Sir Alex Ferguson has built a team that you expect to win any time they play. The signing of Ashley Young could prove to be inspired by Sir Alex as Young has the potential to shine for the Red Devils. Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov can all be prolific and are all completely different to one another which gives United options up front. Evra, Vidic and Ferdinand are part of one of Europe’s best defences and they have back up with the likes of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who are two of the most promising defenders in Britain. United are going to be difficult to beat again this year as they always are and with Sir Alex Ferguson not ruling out signing a Scholes replacement, players such as Modric and Sneijder have been mentioned and either of those would prove a magnificent addition. United have not only lost Van Der Sar, Scholes and Neville but also a few minor contributors who are useful back up such as Wes Brown and John O’Shea and Darron Gibson is transfer listed so one minor thing may be a lack of depth if United sustain any injuries as they aim for their twentieth title.
Tottenham have been flirting with the top four in the past couple of seasons, in and out until the end. This year however, I think the top four will elude them. They have, in my opinion, the best midfield in the Premier League in Lennon-Modric-Van Der Vaart and Bale but they are let down defensively and up front. Corluka and Assou-Ekotto are good but not of the highest standard. Gallas is tempramental and Ledley King is injury prone. Up front, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko are not prolific and Jermain Defoe had a poor season last season by his own high-scoring standards. Spurs have not bolstered their squad- Brad Friedel aside- from the squad which failed to qualify for the top four last season and although there is plenty of time left in the window, it looks more likely that Spurs will lose a key player in Modric than sign any important players but you never know what Harry Redknapp has in store when it comes to deadline day. Although Spurs have a talented squad, I think that they drop points at home too often to teams at the other end of the league and that ultimately will cost them.
Whatever the outcome of the 2011/12 season you can be sure that there will be plenty of mouth watering fixtures and twists and turns which will add to the drama and hopefully lead to another riveting season in the Barclays Premier League.
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