[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/218273185″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]It’s back. The thing that gets us through Mondays, fills our weekends and carries us on an emotional roller-coaster every year, the Premier League season begins tomorrow. Just like I did last year, I’m now going to predict how the season will unfold, giving you the perfect opportunity to get some #numbers come May when almost all of it is spectacularly incorrect, such is the nature of the Premier League.
The Big Boys
Chelsea haven’t exactly improved their squad this window, nor have they had an impressive pre-season but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Except, it is a little broke. There are flaws in the team. Drogba out, Falcao in, Cech out, Begović in, one could argue is two downgrades. Can Falcao really be relied upon to do a job in Costa’s absence when the inevitable hamstring injuries come? I doubt it. Despite convincingly winning the league last season, there is room for improvement. The defence needs a bit of a reshuffle, in my opinion. Cahill isn’t good enough to start, a new full back needs to come in after Filipe Luis’ return to Atléti only a year after joining. Mourinho’s defensive system works, Matić is strong protection, however there are flaws which could have been addressed but weren’t, such as the lack of a second physical presence in midfield. We often see Matić being dragged out of position and the hole in front of the defence being exploited. They should retain their title, but that right side could be exposed defensively. Their formidable attack can take apart any team and with Hazard always improving, they should have little trouble winning the league for the second year running. Prediction: 1st.
They say there are three things certain in life; death, taxes and Arsenal qualifying for the Champions League. The team synonymous with finishing fourth are capable of doing more, like they did last season. They are still a top class forward away from a genuine title challenge, but this is the best squad they’ve had in years. The addition of Cech in goal, bringing stability to the back line behind the best central defence partnership in the league, will improve the team hugely. Neither Szczesney nor Ospina were convincing last season. Ramsey, Özil and Oxlade Chamberlain all played well in pre-season. Those three with Alexis Sánchez could be a deadly quadrant this season if they all stay mostly injury free. Spirits are high, the quality is there, they just need to be consistent and there’s no reason why they can’t come 2nd.
Last year I slightly overestimated Manchester City with regards to how well they would play, they still managed 2nd. They didn’t show the same togetherness and hunger that Chelsea did. That, with Vincent Kompany’s transformation into Phil Jones on MD and Yaya Touré becoming more and more sluggish lead to a disappointing campaign in which they couldn’t retain their 13/14 title. This summer they’ve bought quite well. Raheem Sterling will be a breath of fresh air in attack for City fans, saving them the depressing task of watching Jesús Navas every week. Delph is an underwhelming signing for a club of City’s finances and ambitions but he will do some of Yaya’s donkey work which should benefit the team hugely. Central defence still needs a makeover but they will be a force, especially if they sign De Bruyne. Prediction: 3rd.
A few weeks ago it seemed United were having a great window. The additions of midfield men Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger with the arrivals of Memphis Depay and Matteo Darmian are all good signings. Doubts remain over Schweinsteiger’s fitness but his leadership and quality were a bargain at less than £15m. However, the departure of Ángel di María, with whom things just didn’t work out, fan favourite Rafael being sold on the cheap, the De Gea saga still not over, no signs of another back up striker coming in and no centre back either mean the summer hasn’t gone as well as it could have. Ideally, they should have brought in Otamendi, sorted the GK situation, signed Pedro and perhaps another creative midfielder to replace di María and signed a back up striker before the first game but as we’ve learned, Louis van Gaal doesn’t like to do things logically. Many ins and outs and seemingly a change back to 4-2-3-1 don’t fill me with confidence for United’s season but the new midfielders will have a big impact, I think. Prediction: 4th, again. Maybe a cup.
Liverpool have bought well with the hefty fee received in exchange for Raheem Sterling. Firmino is a great signing who ought to take the league by storm with his compatriot, Coutinho. Milner is a good acquisition, however he and Henderson are very similar in style and I can see Rodgers struggling to find a winning formula with them both starting in CM, which is the main reason Milner went there. Clyne will be a huge upgrade on Johnson, Joe Gomez looked promising in pre-season, but the rumours of Lovren coming back in at LCB ahead of Sakho are a concern. Lovren was poor last season, Skrtel wasn’t much better. If that partnership is rekindled, I cannot see much success coming from it. After a season of rotating Sterling out of position as a number 9, Lambert and Borini due to Sturridge’s injury problems and Balotelli’s lack of integration, they signed Christian Benteke. I have my doubts over how well he will play, given that he is more similar to Balotelli and Lambert in style – neither of whom have had great Liverpool careers – than Suarez and Sturridge – who thrived under Rodgers. But he has shown his quality at Villa and I think with Milner, Firmino, Lallana and Coutinho supplying him with service, he should do the business and bag many goals. If Sturridge returns and they can play together, even better. Prediction: 5th
Spurs will be Spurs again. Toby Alderweireld will slot in alongside his national teammate Jan Vertonghen in defence, an upgrade on Fazio, Kaboul and Chiriches, but a distinct lack of attacking signings is a concern. Neither Lamela nor Chadli have come close to replicating anything near to what Bale gave the team. Levy needed to add more quality to the attacking midfield. They have been chasing Yannick Bolasie but it seems they’ll be priced out by Crystal Palace. Understandable given the winger’s unique style of play and importance to his current team. They may struggle if they don’t bring in another central midfielder too, after the departures of Paulinho and Capoue there is a lack of depth. If Kane proves not to be a one season wonder, his goals should carry them to a top 6 finish. Prediction: 6th.
Southampton, Swansea, Palace, Everton, Stoke and maybe West Ham will fill the mid-table positions. It’s hard to say how well Cedric will replace Clyne for Saints, but Southampton’s scouting system is evidently fantastic, so let’s assume he’s good. There’s no reason to think they won’t keep progressing under young and innovative coach Garry Monk. Southampton and Swansea will finish 7th and 8th respectively, I think. Just below will be Everton, Palace and Stoke. Everton have had two disappointing seasons under Martinez, finishing much lower than what’s expected of a club of their stature. The permanent capture of Deulofeu and John Stones staying at the club are big boosts for the Toffees who will be looking to climb back up to the top 7, but I doubt they’ll manage better than 9th or 8th.
Palace should build on their excellent 14/15 campaign, turned around by the arrival of club legend Alan Pardew. They have strengthened hugely. Patrick Bamford and Connor Wickham have come in to lead the line, Bacary Sako has come in to add goals from wide, Alex McCarthy has come in to add depth in goal and last but by no means least, Yohan Cabaye. The Frenchman will add class and creativity to Palace’s midfield. After he passed Palace off the pitch in December 2013, the Eagles fans will hope that their new number 7 can help them to control more matches and create more chances. Prediction: 10th again.
Stoke have lost Nzonzi who was a huge presence for them in central midfield, but they have added some quality in attack in former Barça winger Ibrahim Affelay, who will replace Victor Moses after his return to Chelsea. Affelay will join Bojan and Muniesa in the ex-Barça contingent at Stoke which sometimes makes it look as though Mark Hughes is playing Career Mode on Fifa 12, but it seems to be working. They’re striving to shed the hoof-ball tag which Tony Pulis’ of play created with these signings and more attractive, attacking, Barça style of play. Prediction: 11th.
Two teams in the bottom half who we can safely predict won’t go down are West Ham and Newcastle. Dimitri Payet at West Ham and Wijnaldum at Newcastle should fire their respective teams to a comfortable finish but I doubt either will climb into the top half. Every other team could potentially go down.
Norwich, Watford and Bournemouth have come up, and while they would appear favourites to be relegated, it’s never the case. Bournemouth have made great acquisitions in Atsu and Gradel. The latter should inject goals from the wing. They have a young and hungry coach who will want to prove himself to the world and overcome the odds, so I would hesitate before writing them off. Watford have also made good signings – Capoue, Behrami and Italian veteran Diamanti will bolster the midfield and their star striker from the past few seasons, Troy Deeney should fire them to safety.
Norwich won the play-off final convincingly, scoring two in the first half. Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond fired them to promotion last season, but their squad is not the strongest and I think they’re likely to go back down. And to be frank I hope they do, that third kit is atrocious.
Other clubs in danger are Sunderland, West Brom, Villa and Leicester. The Foxes’ great escape last season was spectacular and with new coach Claudio Ranieri, they will be trying to build on that and solidify their Premier League status. But they will struggle, again, and they’re one of my teams to go down. The other two are Sunderland and Norwich. I don’t think the signing of Yann M’Vila will be enough to keep Sunderland up; their defence is worryingly bad. Defoe’s goals will give them a chance, though. West Brom will survive I reckon, Pulis has never been relegated after all. If they can get Berahino and Lambert playing well together, they should be comfortable. Another narrow escape for Villa is on the cards. They lost Benteke and Delph, but Sherwood has invested the money to strengthen the squad with the likes of Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew coming in. The reshuffle will mean time is needed for the squad to gel, but they have the ability to stay up.
By Reuben Pinder.
Follow Reuben on Twitter @MarcoReubs