The Barclays Premier League kicks off tomorrow and after a temporary hiatus during “silly season”, It’s All in the Game is back to cover all the action over the next ten months.
As is customary in the run up to the big kick-off, I’ll be beginning this season’s coverage with a brief predictions piece (which you’re in the midst of reading). Last year’s predictions (as ever) proved to be hit and miss. We were spot on with our claim the Southampton would surprise a lot of people by having a great season, for example. However we were plum wrong about City being able to retain their title. It’s debatable whether this year’s efforts will prove to be more or less accurate than those which came before, but that’s not going to stop us from having a bash anyway.
The season ahead promises to be one of the most open for the best part of two decades. Why? Quite simply, it’s because of the managerial change at Old Trafford. Managers come and managers go, but Alex Ferguson’s retirement combined with the appointment of David Moyes is the most significant change of the modern football era (in England), and could ultimately prove to have a profound effect on the race for the title for years to come.
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that David Moyes is not the right man for the job, and that as a joint consequence of losing Ferguson, and replacing him with Moyes, Manchester United will struggle. Of course everything is relative, and the transfer window is still open so things could change, however at this stage it seems to me that United will have to fight for the top four much harder than they’ve ever had to since the dawn of the Premier League era.
Let’s not forget that Moyes, in ten years at Everton, never won a trophy, never beat a top four side away from home, and never won at Anfield. Never! That’s pretty shoddy for an Everton boss. He’ll take time to adapt to being in the spotlight, but he’d need to start doing that soon, because his comments on Rooney were tactless and heavy handed to say the least and he faces a job on to keep the striker that he so famously fell out with at Everton.
The rest of the challengers for the top six will be the usual suspects. Mourinho’s return, will at least remind Chelsea fans of who they really are, but will all be rosy between Roman and Jose? I can’t see it being plain sailing. “The happy one” will be worth a few points to Chelsea’s overall total, however a lack of real improvement (at this stage) in terms of first team personnel, and continuing worries both in the central midfield and striking departments should see them fall short of winning the title.
Manchester City, on the other hand, have added quality to their squad both in terms of playing staff – Jovetic, Negredo, Jesus Navas – and in replacing Mancini with Mauricio Pelligrini. City have the strongest squad and a manager who’s tactically aware, cunning and hugely respected by the players that he’s worked with. They are, definitely, my favourites to win the league.
Tottenham and Arsenal are two clubs whose seasons’ could be very much determined by their transfer windows’. Tottenham have strengthened well -Soldado, Paulinho,Chadli – and look to be intent on gunning for the Champions’ League; if they manage to keep Gareth Bale, they might just make it. They still face the possibility of losing Bale though, and if that happens they could very well find themselves sorely lacking in the creativity department. Add to that the stark contrast between their form with and without Bale last year, coupled with the number of points he won them with last gasp goals/assists, and a case can easily made for Tottenham to drop back without him.
Their North London rivals have had a shocking window. Reportedly in for Higuain, Bernard, Luis Gustavo, and of course Luis Suarez, the Gunners have bagged none of their main targets and have only signed Yaya Sanogo from Ligue 1. Gooners are irate, particularly with Wenger’s apparent lack of desire to go out and secure improvements to a squad which performed to a level greater than the sum of its parts in the second half of last season. Arsenal will drop out of the top four this season unless at least two first team players are added. In truth, their entire back five could do with being upgraded.
Liverpool look an interesting proposition this season. Brendan Rodgers and his staff acted very early in the window to bring in four players, who each add to the squad in their own way. Luis Alberto’s technique and creativity, Aspas’s unpredictability and sharpness over the first five yards, Mignolet’s one on one prowess and Kolo Toure’s experience, organisational skills and winning mentality, all augment a squad which has also been successfully trimmed of it’s less productive players – Shelvey, Carroll, Downing, Spearing.
First eleven players have proved harder to land, with the Reds losing out to Dortmund in a bid to land Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and being unable to prize Diego Costa from, Champions’ League outfit, Athletico Madrid. However, Luis Suarez appears to be staying put, in what will be a massive boost for Brendan Rodgers, and the club’s chances of attaining a top four spot this year. Liverpool only lost twice in 16 games at the back end of last season, with Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge starring. Keeping those two fit will be vital, but if this can be achieved and the pair replicate the form they displayed last year, a top four spot is certainly within reach.
Looking further down the table, Everton could slip back a few places as Roberto Martinez attempts to adapt their style with much the same squad that Moyes had at his disposal. Don’t get me wrong, I think Martinez will do well there long term, it may just get worse before it gets better though.
Southampton and Swansea should see their stock rise even higher. Both have good managers who employ a philosophy which is ideally suited to the Premier League as it is now, and both have made what look to be shrewd signings in strengthening their squads. The top eight or nine should contain both of these clubs without a problem.
Villa are a club back on the rise too, as the second half of last season showed. Lambert stuck with his youngsters, and they’ll be all the better and stronger for having come through last season’s travails bloodied, but still standing. Lambert’s style of football reaps rewards and, if Benteke and Weimann reproduce their form as a partnership, Villa will be in the top 12.
West Brom could consolidate their position in the top half this year, after some more canny wheeling and dealing by Steve Clarke during the summer so far. Vydra (loan) and Anelka are both decent signings, and should go a long way towards replacing Lukaku’s goals, while the Premier League is all to aware of the defensive prowess of a Clarke eleven.
Norwich and Sunderland are two teams that won’t fare to badly. Chris Hughton’s investment has been sizeable and, on the face of it, sensible. Toivonen, Fer and van Wolfswinkel are all respected on the continent and should add a little flair and a lot more goals to an already solid outfit. At Sunderland, Paolo di Canio’s sheer strength of will and force of character will push Sunderland up the table in my opinion. Sunderland is a club whose players have been riddled with complacency and a sense of entitlement over several years under different managers. Under Di Canio, that is no more, and I expect to see a leaner, meaner, hungrier and much more committed Sunderland this year.
So, on to the strugglers, and there will be a few. Newcastle, under Pardew, have had their trip to the stars, and it’s been all downhill from there. Last year’s scattergun transfer policy in January succeeded in netting one or two Premier League quality players at the most. They have too many players with no connection to the club, and without the requisite commitment to grind out results as a club like Newcastle must. Add to that, the one dimensional nature of Pardew’s tactics, the boardroom insanity, and the speed with which the home crowd turns on its own, and you have a recipe for disaster. The Magpies might not go down, but they’ll definitely be in the shake up again.
Fulham, Stoke and West Ham could also be in for a very long season. Fulham are notoriously bad away from home and have a pretty poor defensive record. However, Martin Jol has largely failed to strengthen in this area, choosing instead to add luxury players such as Taraabt to other luxury players such as Berbatov and Ruiz. Darren Bent can add goals, quite a few at his best, however it’s been the best part of two seasons since he’s been anywhere near that. Stekelenburg has arrived from Roma to replace Schwarzer but he’s likely going to have to reach heights he failed to scale in the eternal city, as Fulham are likely be awful without the ball.
This is the year, for me, that hoofball and physicality will no longer be shown to work in the Premier League, and not before time either. The reason being, that more and more teams are adopting a much more continental approach to the game, relying on quick inter-play and movement, rather than the rugby league tactics employed by the more traditional and cynical of top flight managers (mentioning no names). For this reason, I can see West Ham, Stoke and Hull suffering, and while I think Hull will go down, I fancy Stoke and West Ham to make up part of the bottom six.
Relegation this year looks like a foregone conclusion. Hull will go down. Firstly; for the reasons stated in the previous paragraph, secondly; because they don’t have enough goals in the side, and finally; because none of Steve Bruce’s new signings are up to producing the standard of football required for the Premier League on a consistent basis – Huddlestone & Curtis Davies being prime examples.
Palace will also go down. This is a certainty for me because Ian Holloway sides, despite being loads of fun to watch, cannot defend for toffee, and I don’t see that changing. And yes, my third candidate for the drop is Cardiff. Another newly promoted team, and another team that doesn’t score enough goals and will rely too heavily on its home form. Cardiff have added some quality, Medel for example but, for me, its their goal-scoring which will let them down. They might escape, but only if Newcastle, Stoke or West Ham do particularly badly.
There we have them, the team predictions for the 2013/14 season as foreseen by It’s All in the Game. All that remains is to do some individual predictions now. Golden Boot – Daniel Sturridge. Player of The Year – Juan Mata. Young Player of the Year- Phillipe Coutinho. Most Assists – Juan Mata, Manager of the Year – Mauricio Pelligrini, Golden Glove – Petr Cech.
With all that said and done, join us in looking forward to the new season, and get behind your team no matter what the season brings!
Mourinho Image by Ronnie Macdonald. Coutinho image by Dean Jones