You might remember the good folk at BackPageFootball.com putting their reputations on the line with their World Cup predictions back in June. Well many have returned for a second go, with a few new faces joining in as well as the Premiership comes under the microscope.
1. Who will win the title?
Neil Sherwin: Chelsea. The top two from last year are still the ones to beat and I think Chelsea have a better squad now that Essien has returned. United’s signings will take time to find their feet so they could count against them early on.
Kevin Coleman: I’ve been somewhat controversial for going against the grain and picking Arsenal to win the league, but I see some people have agreed with me. With such a talented squad, it’s more than capable of going all the way and winning it out, but as recent years show hard luck with injuries have stopped them from doing that. Last year, in my opinion, they would’ve gone all the way had it not been for van Persie’s injury early on, before Fabregas’ near the end and the resulting string of losses. With Marouane Chamakh looking lively in pre-season, and the rest with a point to prove, they can do it.
Ciaran O’Raghallaigh: Chelsea
Neil Ahern: Manchester United
Ed Diggins: Manchester United. I have to say, I knew deep down that United would not win the league last season. I have different expectations this year, United cannot possibly have the amount of bad luck that went against them last season as regards Injuries and poor decisions in big games. Nani looks like he finally looks like fulfilling his potential, and I have big expectations also of Berbatov. I think Rooney will not be as effective as last year, but others like Hernandez and Macheda can also have a huge influence. I feel Chelsea will take steps back with the players who have left them and I don’t think they have as strong a squad as last season. They have signed Ramires and may sign one or 2 more, but I feel that they are a team in slight decline and will not be as strong as last season. Arsenal need strengthening and I don’t think they will push as hard as last season and could indeed struggle to make the top 4. Liverpool and City will be stronger than last season and both could take over from Spurs and Arsenal in the top 4. Eitherway, this will be the best title race in years.
Gavin Reilly: Blackpool. Eh, no. I reckon if the World Cup has anything to do with it, the fact that United had a few extra weeks off with their World Cup contingent being eliminated early, but to be perfectly honest – even as a United fan – I can’t see Chelsea not having the strength in depth to keep going across the season and get over the line, however ungracefully it might end up being.
Eamonn Power: Much like last year, this one is very difficult to call. None of the top three have strengthened significantly and each seems confident that they can withstand the assault from those below them without serious investment once again. Man City will push hard and if they get off to a good start with their new additions gelling early then who knows what the limit of their potential is? If they are there or thereabouts in January they will more than enough cash to add more quality if required. To me however, it seems like a car crash waiting to happen. I’d be surprised if Mancini can maintain squad harmony to the levels required to make a championship push. If forced to pick, I’ll grudgingly say Chelsea, although I hope I’m wrong.
Chris Mann: The obvious answer is, of course, Chelsea, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say Arsenal. Providing Fabregas and Van Persie stay fit and the new centre-back pairing settles quickly I think Wenger’s team has more than enough quality to finish top of the pile come May.
Chris Nee: I can’t see past Chelsea. Carlo Ancelotti seems to have adjusted well to the rhythm and culture of the Premier League and his side deservedly won the title last season. Ominously, they seemed largely unstoppable and their slip-ups came when they really weren’t expected. If they can cut out that sloppiness then the teams around them will face a tough task. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arsenal came second.
David Bevan: Chelsea. It’s difficult to learn anything from the pre-season period these days. Neither Chelsea nor Manchester United have done an awful lot in the transfer market and the World Cup has eaten away preparation time for the majority of key players. Manchester City still look more like a marketing experiment than a cohesive football team but Mancini may get them close. When the current transfer news stories (Fabregas, Mascherano etc) die down, Chelsea will still be the team to beat. Individually, many of their players had to cope with a lot of criticism last season but, as a team, they will overpower most opposition sides with a minimum of fuss.
Kevyn Doran: It’s hard to look past Chelsea. Despite a number of high scoring maulings of lesser sides, they never looked at the very top of their game. I feel they could hit that peak in Ancelotti’s second season in charge, and that will be a big problem for the rest of the league. I expect them to have a comfortable lead by Christmas, and to lead the way from there on in.
2. Who will be relegated?
NS: Blackpool are pretty much gone before they even begin. The squad is too small and their refusal to go over their salary cap, despite being good business sense, won’t help them attract the quality needed to survive. West Brom seem to be the perennial yo-yo club and I think they’ll be back playing Championship football in 2011. The other place could end up being a bit of a lottery with Bolton and Wolves two of the contenders for the final spot. I’ll go for the latter to lose out.
KC: Blackpool, unfortunately, because I enjoy Iain Holloway, but their squad is poor and it’ll be a one season-er for them. West Brom, the Premier League’s yo-yo team, will go down again and the third spot is open to a number of clubs – a toss up between Bolton and Wigan, but I hope the former.
CO’R: Blackpool, West Brom, Wolves.
NA: Blackpool, West Brom, Bolton.
ED: Wigan are a terrible team, they are definitely going down. Wolves will be there also come May, and then its either Blackpool or West Brom, I am going to go for Blackpool. West Ham could also be in huge trouble, but I think they will survive. I would like to see Stoke go down, but I think they will just about scrape it and stay up. Their home form is impressive and that will save them. I am sure a lot of people will tip Newcastle, but I think they will comfortably avoid relegation.
GR: Blackpool without doubt, West Brom, and West Ham who’ll be at the end of a real ding-dong with Stoke.
EP: Blackpool: So far this summer: One player in, six players out. For a squad already low on real quality a record points low is very, very possible. I doubt they’ll care though; the phrase “happy to be here” was made for Ian Holloway and his charges this season. On a side note, It’s admirable that they are not trying to break the bank in a desperate attempt for “success”. Wigan: Been threading water and doing little else for the last few seasons. Beginning this season with the least quality in their squad for years. A tough nine months awaits. West Brom: The perennial yo-yo club to find themselves out of their depth once more. Boing-Boing.
CM: Almost certainly Blackpool, but other than The Tangerines it’s fairly tricky to call. West Brom are a perennial yo-yo team but I think they’ve got a real chance of staying up under Roberto Di Matteo’s stewardship. Wolves and Wigan could be in trouble if they don’t get off to good starts.
CN: Blackpool have to be favourites for the drop, unfortunately. Ian Holloway’s dedication to entertaining football makes for good viewing but can only lead to him being poached by another club if it works or getting Blackpool relegated himself if it doesn’t. The other two spots are very competitive, I think. Blackburn could be at risk, and second season syndrome might be enough to do for Wolves with two experienced Premier League sides joining Blackpool in the top flight this season. Mick McCarthy will certainly have a battle on his hands.
DB: I wonder if anyone will play a wildcard and neglect to pick Blackpool? As things stand, their team is weaker than it was last season – and even then, they overachieved on a massive scale. Just can’t see it happening for the Tangerines, regardless of how predictable it is to doom them. Will also pick West Brom and Wolves. Not planning on visiting the Black Country any time soon anyway. I wonder if anyone will play a wildcard and neglect to pick Blackpool? As things stand, their team is weaker than it was last season – and even then, they overachieved on a massive scale. Just can’t see it happening for the Tangerines, regardless of how predictable it is to doom them. Will also pick West Brom and Wolves. Not planning on visiting the Black Country any time soon anyway.
KD: Blackpool – nowhere near enough quality. I genuinely fear for them next season. They could do even worse than Derby a few years ago. West Ham – I like Avram Grant, but I dont think theres enough strength in depth, and if they lose Scott Parker – they’re in trouble. Finally, West Brom, just because they seem to enjoy more ups and downs than anyone.
3. Which team’s performances will exceed expectations?
NS: West Ham United. They have a great manager in Grant and the new signings will add plenty to what isn’t too bad a squad as it is. Felipe Caicedo and Carlton Cole could be a potent strikeforce with plenty of power and pace, and I look forward to seeing Tomas Hitzlsperger’s left peg in full swing again.
KC: West Ham will really improve under Avram Grant, and jump from their 17th finish last season. Liverpool should improve somewhat under Roy – especially if the takeover rumour is wrapped up by the season’s beginning and any behind-the-scenes confusion and turmoil is put, finally, to bed. I think Wolves too will have a decent season, and avoid a relegation dogfight.
CO’R: Manchester City
NA: Newcastle United
ED: I am going to go different here and not pick anybody. I don’t think anybody will exceed expectations this year. There are huge expectations of the big 4 every year and this is now a big six so to speak. Villa will flatter to deceive and fight with everton for 7th place. The normal players like Blackburn, Fulham, Stoke, Sunderland and Bolton will make up the middle section and then the other seven teams I mentioned above will be in the bottom seven or so, though I expect perhaps Newcastle to finish about 10th.
GR: Tottenham’s, but only in the Champions League where they’ll secure a QF berth for all four English teams (though none will win). Newcastle will do well in their first season back and probably be in with an outside shout for a Europa League spot come the end of the year.
EP: West Ham. Avram Grant’s influence at a club shouldn’t be underestimated. An extremely composed and tactically astute coach who can quickly stamp his influence on a squad. If(and it’s a big if) the boardroom can keep things together so that the club’s only focus is on the pitch then I can see them comfortably securing a top half finish with a push for a European spot a possibility. Given the doomsday warnings written about Liverpool at the end of last season, the work that Hodgson has done this summer along with impending takeover means they also deserve a mention in this section. A Top 4 spot is once again a realistic possibility. With Javier Mascherano the only big
name likely to sling his hook, it seems the Anfield club have weathered a major storm remarkably well.
CM: Possibly Bolton. Owen Coyle’s an intelligent manager and he’s got some good players at his disposal down at The Reebok. I’m fully expecting The Trotters to improve on last season’s 14th place and make a concerted push for the top eight/ten.
CN: If the expectation of Stoke isn’t for them to settle comfortably in mid-table, I’ll say Stoke. Their style of play is sometimes abrasive and irritates the more sensitive Premier League fans but if they actually took the time to watch the Potters instead of absorbing Sky’s propaganda they’d know that they can play some very quick passing football too. I’ll also be keeping an eye on West Ham, a club that shares with its manager a desire to prove a point or two.
DB: Tough category. The only team that leaps out at me is West Ham, who should finish comfortably in mid-table with Avram Grant in charge. Thomas Hitzlsperger is a good signing and they will be pretty muscular up front if they pair Frederic Piquionne with Carlton Cole. It’s a formula which has worked well for Stoke.
4. Who will be the Player of the Year?
NS: Carlos Tevez was unlucky to lose out last season and if he can repeat his 09/10 form then he will be right up there with a shout, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wayne Rooney or Frank Lampard win if their side is crowned champions.
KC: That’s a tough one. I don’t think Rooney or Drogba will have the season’s they did last year. I can see the likes of Carlos Tevez, Robin van Persie, Fernando Torres and Michael Essien all having good seasons for their sides, but I expect Cesc Fabregas to be in incredible form for Arsenal if he can stay fit. So Cesc.
CO’R: David Silva
NA: Shay Given
ED: Impossible to call really, its been Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Giggs, Rooney the last 4 years, this year could be anybody. I really cant pick anybody, this is the hardest of all to predict. At a random guess, I will pick somebody like Nigel De Jong but that’s just picking a random name really, nobody stands out in my opinion.
GR: James Milner. It will be one of those years.
EP: Wayne Rooney’s miraculous revival from World Cup obscurity to be completed in front of an audience of his peers in late April. Failing this, Cesc Fabregas to remain at Arsenal and play his way out of his contract by giving his all once more to the point where Arsenal fans see it as inhumane to keep him from his fulfilling his dreams any longer.
CM: I have a gut feeling that Fernando Torres is going to have a superb season, not that gut feelings actually mean anything. If Robin Van Persie avoids injury then he could be in the mix too, it’s about time his individual talent was recognised.
CN: Andrey Arshavin. If Arsenal are to do well, Arshavin could be pivotal. He’s one of the Premier League’s exceptional players on his day and it could be a big season for him. Although isn’t it about time a defender won this?
DB: Carlos Tevez. Manchester City have signed some hard-working, defensively-minded players who will do Tevez’s dirty work for him and he should be able to concentrate on goalscoring – plain and simple. Would expect Tevez to get over 30 this season and City to go close to the title. It also helps that he is a player widely admired for good old-fashioned passion and workrate in addition to his raw talent.
KD: Frank Lampard. It’s a very safe choice, but he makes Chelsea tick and look great statistically too. If they win the title like I say, he must be a favourite.
5. Who will finish as top goalscorer?
NS: I’d like to say Torres because I think he the best striker in the league but injury prowness will again be a factor in his season. Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez will be there or there abouts, and there’s always a Carlton Cole or Darren Bent in the mix. Keep an eye out for Jermaine Defoe as well if Spurs get another good run going. I’ll go for Tevez right now though.
KC: Like I mentioned above, I don’t expect neither Drogba nor Rooney to run rampant like they did last year, but they will score a couple of goals so they’ll be within a shout of this award. If Torres can stay fit, he’ll be amongst the top scorers, and then you have players like Carlos Tevez, Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe and van Persie. With the new training regimes in place at Liverpool with the sport science staff that have been hired, and fresh after confirming his future for another year – Torres will be top scorer if he can stay fit.
CO’R: Didier Drogba
NA: Carlos Tevez
ED: Drogba has got to be the favourite here, the man is an animal. I can’t see Rooney hitting 26 again this year and i also cannot see Darran Bent and Tevez getting anywhere near what they got this year. Torres is of course another favourite, however, how he will be injury wise is the key, he may miss the first four or five games and is bound to miss four or five more, so its hard to tell with him. Nobody else stands out really as capable of hitting 20 plus goals which is what the bar is.
GR: I can’t see past either Rooney or Drogba again and I think, on the virtue that I believe Chelsea will keep hold of the title, that Drogba will do just about enough. I can see Rooney’s goalscoring burden being more shared between himself, Hernandez, Owen (for the four
he’ll manage) and Macheda this year. And who knows, Berbatov might not make a holy show of himself either.
EP: Wayne Rooney. Back amongst his own and with Alex Ferguson firmly lifting the pressure of his shoulders I expect Rooney to quickly rediscover the form of last season and conclusively banish the ghosts of South Africa, at least until the next time he dons the Three Lions.
CM: Torres, Drogba, or, providing Sunderland don’t implode half-way through the season again, Darren Bent.
CN: I always think this is a really tough question because it’s so reliant upon player remaining injury-free and getting support from their teams. With that in mind, I’m going to punt it: Didier Drogba.
DB: Carlos Tevez.
KD: Again, Drogba is the safe bet. I’d go for Torres or Rooney but there’s always questions about their long term durability over the course of a season. Carlos Tevez should run them all close too.
Keep an eye out for Part 2, coming your way tomorrow!