With the Premier League a week away, I took the time to analyze each club and pit them against their opening day opponents on paper and preparation.
|Chelsea – Having retained Drogba and Terry, The Blues should be fairly comfortable in terms of preparation here and retain pride in the fact that they’re the only one of the top four not to lose a key player. New signings were few and far between but regardless of whether Zhirkov is fit or not, a newly reborn Malouda will more than suffice. I fully expect Chelsea to win this one by at least two goals thus laying foundations for a serious title challenge.
Plus points: Strong squad with quality and depth, Terry’s stay should boost fan morale.
Doubts: Ancelotti’s willingness to learn from Scolari’s mistakes, Petr Cech’s form.
|V||Hull City – Phil’s men slumped significantly after Christmas and never mind finding a win, they couldn’t find their own arses in the bathtub I’m afraid. I fear for Phil Brown’s men this season. Without a genuine goalscorer I can see second season syndrome condemning The Tigers. As for Stamford Bridge I can see Chelsea scoring early and winning easily. Sorry Hull fans! Try and look on the bright side though, relegation will mean you wont have to endure Phil’s singing at the end of the season
Plus Points: Other teams are bad enough to be down there with them so they shouldn’t be too far adrift, they’ll always have a fighting chance with Michael Turner in the squad and a fit Jimmy Bullard will add to that.
Doubts: Where to start, we can only hope that for their sake there’s no more on-field ear bashings at the interval.
|Aston Villa – O’ Neill will be keen to get off to a good start here against a side that Villa have found it difficult to beat at home in the past. No Gareth Barry, No Martin Laursen. Hmm… I detect a problem. I can’t see Habib Baye being a fantastic replacement but rather a panic buy. A full pre season will have done Gabby Agbonlahor no harm and Villains will be hoping he’s put his bad second half to 08/09 behind him. I think that this side got found out in the second half of the season, O Neill’s dependency on direct football aimed at target man John Carew combined with injury layoffs destroyed what looked at first an incredibly promising season. However, I write off Martin O’Neill at my peril. They should start with a win and be there or there abouts in a European place come May.
Plus Points: Their motto is ‘Prepared’ and O’Neill should at least retain a top half finish. Fabian Delph looks very promising too.
Doubts: How much will they miss Garreth Barry? Will they be as solid at the back as they have been in previous seasons?
|V||Wigan – A new manager and now Valencia has departed which makes the number of key players to leave Wigan this year three. Rumours that Lee Cattermole may soon follow won’t please the Latics faithful either. Roberto Martinez may find that life up a division can turn on you pretty quickly. I expect Wigan to struggle this season but they may steal a point at Villa Park.
Plus Points: Premier League experience may keep their head above water.
Doubts: Overall lack of quality.
|Blackburn – Big Sam will have his Rovers as dogged and tough to beat as ever but will look for more this time out – from the likes of Pedersen for creativity – to lift them from the mid table mire. His first full season in charge should be a good one and I reckon Blackburn may be a dark horse this year, expect top 10 if they can get their strikers into good form. I can also see them picking up at least a point here against their rich visitors.
Plus Points: Big Sam has had a full pre season with his side and held on to the powerhouse Samba, and the addition of Kacinic.
Doubts: Can they score enough goals to compete seriously for Europe?
|V||Man City – Where to even begin? They aim to change the face of the Premier League and they aim to do it this season. Hell, Mark Hughes’ job and reputation as a manager depends on it. I for one find it tough to believe he is still in a job. His active pursuit of a top class central defender while he still has Richard Dunne in the fold bewilders me, but there is no doubt they will be at least pushing the top four this season. Blackburn is never an easy place to go and they may struggle here.
Plus Points: Talent to burn, money to fix problems in January.
Doubts: A bad start would lead to unbelievable pressure on the players and manager, can they handle it?
|Bolton – New signings Zat Knight and Sean Davis will definitely benefit Wanderers this season provided both can keep injury-free. A more consistent Elmander should also see them clear of any real relegation battle. Too good to go down but I can’t really see them pushing the top ten. Mid Table at best – and should get off to a good start here.
Plus Points: Decent business done and still have a world class goalkeeper who shows no signs of dis-improving.
Doubts: Lack of genuine creativity and flair in the side.
|V||Sunderland – Steve Bruce has spent big this summer and will have a job on his hands living up to the big expectations of the crowd at the Stadium of Light. Lorik Cana will impress in midfield but Sunderland’s defensive problems are still glaring. He will aim to provide some cover for them in a defensive midfield role. A partnership of Bent and Jones will have Sunderland fans licking their lips but I think they would have been better off signing Djibril Cisse on a full time basis. Like their hosts on the opening day, should be safe but may struggle to move into the upper half of the table.
Plus Points: Stability with a good top-flight manager.
Doubts: It’s Sunderland, associated with Relegation since 1996.
|Portsmouth – Fratton Park may not be such a cheerful place this season. The board has admitted they still need to sell before they can buy but realistically they haven’t too many left to sell. Defoe and Crouch have followed Redknapp to Spurs and Distin may well be on his way out too. They’ll do well to survive this season.
Plus Points: Fantastic supporters who’ll always be behind the team and still possess a fine goalkeeper which I feel they’ll need.
Doubts: They keep selling their best assets, there’s a sinking ship on Pompey Pier.
|V||Fulham – After last season’s record finish, Roy’s boys kick off at the venue that they saved their Premier League status at a couple of seasons back. Their poor form on their travels may hinder them this time around but expect another decent return from the Cottagers. Hangeland staying would be a bonus and we’d all love to see a fully fit Stephen Kelly.
Plus Points: Tight at the back, wont concede many goals – and very tough to beat at home.
Doubts: Still struggle away from Craven Cottage and their squad may struggle later on should they progress in Europe.
|Stoke City – The surprise of last season will be out to avoid the drop from the off. Signings haven’t happened yet and Tony Pulis was making no secret of his frustrations this week. I expect to see them thrusted into a dogfight but I think they’ll survive. They were fabulous last season at the Brittania Stadium and if they can turn it into a similar fortress then they should be okay this season.
Plus Points: Will never give up a fight, fantastic at home.
Doubts: May struggle having not strengthened.
|V||Burnley – The Playoff winners will be every one’s tip (Including my own) to go straight back down this season. Coyle’s free flowing football deservedly got them promoted but I cannot see any evidence to suggest that they will be able to stay in the Premier League this season. Chris McCann will be one to watch. May go down and come back up stronger next time.
Plus Points: Nothing to lose, underdogs everywhere they’ll play.
Doubts: Simply one: are they ready for the Premier League?
|Wolves – The pack are back in town and out to avoid a second straight drop back down to the Championship. I’m excited by their first day fixture and I expect to see goals. Mick McCarthy has always tried to play football the correct way and he’ll be hoping that Ebanks-Blake can make the step up. Kevin Doyle will relish another go at the big time as well. They have a real chance of staying up.
Plus Points: Natural goalscorer in their side as well as good, technical footballers.
Doubts: May struggle defensively.
|V||West Ham – The Hammers won praise from many last season for giving the youth a chance at Upton Park – and they only just fell short of a Europa League spot. This season may prove tougher for them with others spending the required funds to progress. Zola is not blessed with a big squad but with the kind of football they play, the goal will never be far away. Robert Green will be out to claim England’s No.1 jersey and I expect him to do so, an added boost for West Ham.
Plus Points: Their style of play is sure to win them plaudits and points, they have potential that’s for sure.
Doubts: You’ll get nowhere with kids they say. Not entirely true but will they get far enough?
|Everton – Another frustrating summer for Toffees fans but they’ve held on to what they’ve got, so far anyway. When Arteta and Yakubu return in September they’ll be like brand new signings and with Jo, Vaughan and Saha bolstering their forward options, Everton will always have a goalscoring threat. David Moyes will hope to add to his squad though with a full fixture list on the horizon – but money is sparse.
Plus Points: Arguably the best manager in the league who seems to love proving his team’s critics wrong. They boast a togetherness that is second to none.
Doubts: A threadbare squad with a few injury-prone players may struggle to keep in touch this season.
|V||Arsenal – Tipped by many to be the one to make way for Man City in the top four this season and Arsene Wenger is yet to spend a dime of the money he received for Adebayor and Toure. Reluctant to spend, his side showed us in the Emirates Cup that it might not be as necessary as we all think. Fabregas is still there and if he stays fit them the sky is the limit.
Plus points: Young players who just keep improving and Arshavin… need I say anymore about him?
Doubts: Lacking muscle and have lost their longest serving player. He has to spend, doesn’t he?
|Man Utd – With the Ronaldo saga put to bed at last, a new number 7 will be hoping to win the hearts of the United fans this season. Owen and Rooney potentially could split the Golden Boot between them this season if they can stay fit as the holders go for an unprecedented fourth consecutive Premier League crown. They begin the season lacking in defensive options but should have too much for the new boys this time around. Other new addition Antonio Valencia has big boots to fill. Will he be a Ronaldo or a Djemba-Djemba?
Plus Points: They’re Manchester United.
Doubts: Anderson and Carrick were destroyed against Barcelona and I feel the Champions could do with a central midfielder. This may hinder their attempt to retain.
|V||Birmingham – Back at the first time of asking, Alex McLeish’s side have strengthened significantly for their third spell in the top flight. Scott Dann signed from Coventry and McLeish should know a good defender when he sees one. I think they’ll do okay this season but expect to see them in and around the bottom six. They will have their work cut out but well capable of survival. Old Trafford may be a bridge too far for City at the weekend.
Plus Points: Have reinforced and will have learnt from past mistakes. McLeish is smart enough to do so.
Doubts: Still need a left back and may lack a regular goalscorer.
|Tottenham – “Nine games, two points, one hero”. Harry steered the sinking Spurs ship around well last time out but didn’t he just know it? With the money spent he surely has to be aiming to qualify for Europe this time. Something tells me we may see them re-appearing at Wembley again in February but that may hinge on the state of their defence. Sébastien Bassong has joined from Newcastle but with Woodgate, Dawson and King injured there may be vulnerability there that their first visitors can exploit. Spurs fans can rest assured in the knowledge that they do have four right-backs in Hutton, Chimbonda, Corluka and Naughton.
Plus Points: Quality to burn up front as well as no European distractions.
Doubts: Spurs fans will be worried about the fitness of their central defenders. Expectation is very high at the Lane too.
|V||Liverpool – Rafa’s Reds embark on a mission to prevent Sir Alex from taking their title of most league wins in England without their normal playmaker who too is off to join the Madrid revolution. Glen Johnson will add another dimension to a side that only lost two games last time out and this fixture was one of them. A lot will hinge on their ability to break down the brick walls that teams set up at Anfield.
Plus Points: Possess two of the greatest players in the world.
Doubts: Often depend on those two to come to their rescue. Injury to either may hinder any title ambitions