Wednesday, 10 August 2011
It was the Community Shield on Sunday, and what a game it was. Regardless of the result however, the match signalled one very important thing - that the new Premier League season is just days away. Exciting, huh?
So allow me to now subdue all that excitement by giving you my Premier League Guide - a quick look at every team before a predicted table which will be thought up off the top of my head. I started writing this on August 8th, finished it on August 10th. The transfer deadline closes at the end of the month. Bear that in mind when I ponder why Chelsea/Arsenal etc haven't signed a midfielder/defender etc yet.
ARSENAL - How long can this continue? For the Gunners last season, it was the same old story - good football, big attendances, stylish players, mental fragility, lack of leaders, a player pining for La Rambla, poor goalkeeper, poor centre halves, stressed manager.
You'd cry if you didn't laugh. Has one game EVER summed up a team as much as Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal did? The really funny thing is that EVERYONE outside of The Emirates know what they need - A goalkeeper. A hard as nails centre half. A spiteful bastard in the middle of the pitch. A miracle to keep Robin van Persie fit.
They'll be Top 4. They'll play, at times, sensational football. They'll blow away teams lower down the league. They'll not win a sausage. Again. How much longer?
ASTON VILLA - When a manager is appointed whom the home crowd instantly dislike, it's very VERY difficult for the man in charge to get them on board and win them round. Alex McLeish has a real job on his hands at Villa, you feel. The Villa fanbase just don't do "solid, steady, defensive" - the things that McLeish preached at their neighbours - and would it surprise anyone if he was sacked 3/4 into the season with the team languishing in about 14th? They won't go down, and N'Zogbia is a nice replacement for Ashley Young, but Villa fans shouldn't get their hopes up.
BLACKBURN ROVERS - As I said to my father the other day: "Blackburn. Now there's a team who are going down." Because they are, aren't they? There's no argument I can make for them staying up, to be honest. Who's going to score their goals? Their forward options:
Nick Blackman. Who? Mauro Formica. Who? David Goodwillie. Who? David Hoilett. Promising, but still raw. Nikola Kalinic. Really? Jason Roberts. Meh. Ruben Rochina. WHO?
When you combine their weak squad with their inexperienced and no-name manager, and then mix all that in with their laughable owners, I can't see anything else than the drop. And once they go, you fear they won't be back for a while.
BOLTON WANDERERS - This is a big season for Bolton. With an ambitious, confident and enthusiastic young manager at the helm, they could push on and improve on their 14th place of last season. OR they can go back to being over-reliant on the thuggery of Kevin Davies for their goals and continue being...well...decent, but not exactly scintillating. Their football now is a million miles away from the nonsense dreamt up by Gary Megson though, and that should be applauded. They'll be fine.
CHELSEA - 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd. That's Chelsea over the past five seasons, so you know what you get with them. They have the leaders and the toughness that Arsenal lack, and their first XI is still powerful, strong and on their day dominant. But the squad is ageing, and let's not even mention the Torres headache. Can they win the league? They can, but you feel the answer to that question boils down to the senior players and their relationship with the new manager, Andre Villas-Boas. Their home form however means they are still a lock for the Top 3.
EVERTON - How long can this continue? Everton are absolutely skint, a fact which can be used as evidence when extolling the virtues of their manager David Moyes. What more can he do at the club? Nothing - certainly nothing with the current ownership in charge. Bill Kenwright is a good man, and a good owner, but he can't cope with the money that's thrown around the league nowadays. Midtable is where they will be, probably after a slow start.
FULHAM - "What on Earth happened with Mark Hughes?" is the thing that springs to mind with Fulham. Before his strange exit, Fulham were being Fulham - strong at home, poor away from home, playing nice football and generally being everyone's second-favourite Premier League team. Martin Jol should carry that on, but you get the feeling an awful lot rests on Bobby Zamora's shoulders.
LIVERPOOL - I have to talk about them? I do. Hmmph. Well, they massively overpaid for Jordan Henderson, and Charlie Adam is SHITE. Luis Suarez is top quality, but how tired will he be after a lengthy Copa America? They'll score more than last season - look out for the Downing/Carroll combination - but their defence is susceptible. How much longer does Jamie Carragher have left? Top 4? Possible, but I'd bet on 5th being their final position.
MANCHESTER city - They're getting noisier, let's not pretend otherwise, but the key question is this - can
city win the league under Roberto Mancini? On the outside, he's the calm and elegant Italian, but you can tell that inside he's unsure where to turn. Great job, great squad, but the pressure and the nonsense that goes with it must be a nightmare for him. And that's just Mario Balotelli.
Going back to the question - they've got a great chance, and you can't help thinking that a league title will be theirs sooner rather than later. But this season? So much depends on Carlos Tevez - not just his goals, but his workrate up front. If he stays, they'll get close. Real close.
THE GREATEST FOOTBALL CLUB IN THE WORLD - Wesley Sneijder.
Good, that's his name out of the way. What a shame that an excellent pre-season for the 19-times champions has been eclipsed by the torturous, endless "will he, won't he" W.S. saga. It's got to the stage now where whatever the outcome, just get it over with already. It is exhausting, and thoroughly dull.
Whether he comes or not, the size of Sir Alex's squad does pose a few questions. Where does Danny Welbeck play? Who starts on the flanks? Tom Cleverley - what do you do with him? Kiko Macheda? Michael Owen? Where does Phil Jones play? What about Dimitar Berbatov, for Gods sake. He was top scorer last season! Who starts as #1 goalkeeper? Why the hell is Darron Gibson still here?
But there's one other issue on my mind. I have to whisper this very quietly, as he's hugely popular - but Patrice Evra had a really poor season last year, an issue that wasn't really helped by the nonsense in the French camp at the World Cup, and then Sir Alex's desire to play him as much as possible. I'd love to see Fabio get more games at left-back this year, if only to give Paddy some sodding rest.
Chances this season? United go in as favourites, and it'd take a brave man to bet against them all the time Sir Alex is at the helm. If they improve their away form, they will be celebrating title #20 next May.
NEWCASTLE UNITED - To be perfectly honest, I don't have a clue with this one. I really don't. Most of the time I'm pretty certain that Newcastle United themselves don't really know what's going on at Newcastle United. They finished 12th last season, which was a fabulous effort, but you do wonder if they can get close to repeating that this time around. Amongst all the silliness however, there's some decent players. Hatem Ben Arfa is highly skilful, Yohan Cabaye has done well in France, Jose Enrique is one of the league's underrated players. The problem is that regardless of the squad, madness is always just round the corner at St James Park. Will letting Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton go come back to haunt them?
NORWICH CITY - Back to back promotions see Norwich back in the Premier League, a rise masterminded by promising manager Paul Lambert. Can they survive? It's going to be very, very difficult - you can't help thinking that they're totally reliant on Grant Holt for their goals, and their squad doesn't read very impressively on paper. Urged on by a strong home support, they might....might....just do it.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS - Ah, and it's a welcome return to Neil "Colin" Warnock back to the Premier League. Haven't we missed him?
Would it be unfair to pin all their hopes on Adel Taarabt staying? Perhaps, but it's clear that he's the stand out talent in that squad. Last season QPR were strong defensively and they'll need to continue that in the top division, particularly as you can't see DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd scoring a bucketful of goals. Whatever you think about him, Warnock is a canny operator, and his rapport with his players goes a long way. It should be eventful.
STOKE CITY - Sigh. For the past three years I've hoped and prayed that the rugby team will get relegated, but alas, nothing has been doing. So, this season, I'm going to confidently predict they'll be mid-table in the hope of a jinx.
What can we expect this season then? Dare I suggest it will be a lot of oohing and ahhing over someone throwing a football a long way? An over-reliance on set pieces? The centre halves hoofing the ball upto Kenwyne Jones at every available second? Thuggery from Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shawcross?
Maybe Stoke City will surprise me. Maybe they'll play like Brazil 1970, and if they do then I'll be the first to applaud them. I shan't be holding my breath though.
SUNDERLAND - Now here's a funny one. On paper, everything looks very rosy for the Mackems - they've improved their league position year on year for the past three seasons, they've just signed players with excellent experience such as John O'Shea and Wes Brown and have tempted promising young players such as Connor Wickham to join the club. But after the exit of Darren Bent, Sunderland went on a dangerously bad run, not winning a single league game in February and March and damaging fatally their quest for Europe which had looked good at Christmas.
Steve Bruce is a good manager, who's made good signings. They'll be fine, certainly, but how high can they go?
SWANSEA CITY - Is it lazy to call them "the new Blackpool"? It is, but you can't help doing it, as there's so many similarities between them. Looking through their squad, the stand out name is Danny Graham, the £3.5m signing who was so highly rated at Watford. It's a big ask for him to keep them in the division, however. Don't be surprised if Swansea are Top 6 after 10 games, top half at Christmas, bottom three in May.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR - Harry? Harry, are you there? What's going on? It's August 10th and you've signed three players, two of which were on free transfers. What's happened to the "fackin' wheeler dealer" you pretend you're not?
Tottenham still have a Top 6 squad, and without the distraction of the Champions League they look well placed to challenge once again for the Top 4. Can they do it, though? At the time of writing, you wonder if they have the firepower to do so. They may have to settle for 6th.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION - Well done Jeremy Peace. In possibly the boldest move of last season, the chairman of the Midlands club decided that although they weren't in the relegation zone, Roberto di Matteo's brand of football was too open and too risky for staying in the league which is so financially crucial. He gambled, and he got it right. The appointment of Roy Hodgson was a masterstroke, and Roy will keep things very stable there this season as well.
WIGAN ATHLETIC - On the field, the Premier League need more teams like Wigan - teams ran by bright young managers who demand good football and an emphasis on flair. Off the field, Wigan Athletic are the last team the Premier League wants. It's a rugby town - always has been, always will be - and you wonder just what exactly is needed to get more people attending games at the DW Stadium.
It's really difficult to know what to predict with Wigan. They've survived - just - the last two seasons, which suggests that they'll be in trouble again. But Roberto Martinez wants a Top 10 finish, and they're a side who can get on a hot streak and boast a dangerous striker in Hugo Rodallega. For Wigan, it could be going down to the last day of the season again.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS - You know what you get with a Mick McCarthy side. They'll battle, they'll compete, they'll be a tough opponent in their backyard, and they'll have a splash of quality, but not much. They beat Manchester United, Manchester city and Chelsea last season, so they're no mugs, and in Matt Jarvis, Kevin Doyle and Jamie O'Hara they do have some good players. Roger Johnson is a big signing for them, although you do wonder if they overpaid when splashing out £7m on the tall defender. I think they'll stay up, but you wonder how much further McCarthy can take them.
1 Manchester United
2 Manchester city
11 Aston Villa
13 West Bromwich Albion
14 Newcastle United
15 Wolverhampton Wanderers
16 Wigan Athletic