Competitive football is back, as the Premier League kicked into action this weekend, I caught up with a few of Touchline Views guest bloggers – Dan Cooper, Daniel Speller, Jack Duignan, Joe Moran and Jordan Grant to give their predictions for the season ahead.
This season’s Premier League title race is predicted to be the most exciting yet (where have we heard that before?); it could well be a five horse race – so, who is your winner?
Dan Cooper: Manchester United will win it comfortably – Just too much strength in depth. Chelsea’s squad wasn’t good enough last season – and it doesn’t look to be improving, as well as the fact they have an inexperienced manager. City just aren’t there yet, they’re going to face many more problems with their mercenary players deciding they don’t like Manchester or the management.
Daniel Speller: Manchester United
Jack Duignan: Manchester United to win it. Strong all over the pitch. Great strength in depth.
Joe Moran: Manchester United won the title by nine points last year, and with their astute signings and key experience again at their disposal this time around, I expect them to come out on top again
Jordan Grant: I’m backing Manchester United to get their 20th league title. The additions of Phil Jones, David De Gea and Ashley Young add youth and flair to an already stacked squad; couple this with the inevitable development of Javier Hernandez and I think the red half of Manchester will be celebrating victory at the end of this upcoming Premier League season.
Top Four – who are you four teams?
DC: Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and….(Arsenal will be lucky to get 5th, bottlers).
DS: Manchester United – Added to last season’s title winning side and could add further still with the supposedly imminent arrival of Wesley Snejider. Quality in abundance you’d have to be crazy not to put United in your Top 2 this season. With noisy neighbours City still looking to buy themselves the League I think it’ll be a close run thing with their Manchester counterparts but they should just edge it. Away form however has to improve.
Man City – Even with the likely departure of Tevez, City have improved last season’s squad dramatically. The arrivals of Clichy, Aguero and Savic are impressive to say the least. They are however inconsistent and when I watch them I certainly get the impression that they are still playing as individuals rather than as a unit. If they get that sorted then I can see them winning the league, until then they will have to settle for second place.
Chelsea – Even with no major signing/signings Chelsea still have a very good squad. Inconsistent throughout the whole of last season they do need to improve. The imminent arrival of Lukaku will add strength to attacking options (Anelka, Drogba, Torres, Sturridge & Kalou) but injury to Essien leaves their midfield looking weak. With names such as Modric, Moutinho and Neymar being floated around Stamford Bridge I think we will see a few more big names join Chelsea before the window closes. However a lack of depth in defence and a midfield without Essien worries me and that’s why I’ve got Chelsea to finish 3rd this season.
Liverpool – With the squad ever improving and Dalglish at the helm I think it will be a good year for Liverpool fans. The arrivals of Adam and Henderson add depth to an already impressive midfield and the return of Aquilani from a season long loan at Juventus strengthens the side even further. Downing and Enrique add quality down the left and with Andy Carroll now fit he and Suarez will be able to form a strong partnership. The race for 4th will be a close run thing between Arsenal and Liverpool however I’ve got a feeling that the Reds will just nick 4th spot.
JD: 1st Manchester United, 2nd Chelsea, 3rd Manchester City (Mancini will be sacked by February) and 4th Arsenal.
JM: It won’t be easy though (for Manchester United), as I do think both Chelsea, and neighbours, Manchester City will both improve upon last year’s campaigns. For second place, it will be extremely tight, but with my sky blue tinted specs, I expect City to be runners up.
However, fourth place is well up for grabs, after Arsenal have admitted defeat in their quest to keep hold of star players, Cesc Fabregas, who is finally off to Barcelona after years of speculation. Meanwhile, his midfield partner, Samir Nasri heads to big spending rivals, Manchester City. The blow to Arsenal is huge, but it will soon be devastating as it’s likely the strenuous campaign will affect their efforts to finish fourth.
I expect Liverpool to replace Arsenal in the top four, after their £100m spending spree which has seen players such as Suarez, Carroll, Adam and Downing sign for the club.
JG: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. City will be strong but the squad will need to gel quickly in order to surpass United. Chelsea have also made some good acquisitions, but I don’t believe that they will be able to make an impact sufficient to stop Manchester City from jumping ahead of them in the league table. I think Liverpool’s transfer dealings will help them get back into the Champions League but it won’t be enough to put a dent in the Manchester United armour.
Relegation, which three clubs will drop out of the top flight?
DC: Norwich, Swansea, Blackburn
DS: 18th Newcastle – Perhaps a controversial choice but poor morale and friction between the players and the board during pre-season could prove costly. Impressive signings in Demba Ba, Marveaux and Cabaye along with the return from injury of Ben Arfa adds style to the side. Carroll has not yet been replaced and if Ba ends up injured then striking options will be worryingly thin. I hope I’m wrong as the squad has the potential to be Top 10 however it all depends on whether or not the new signings can link together and board/player relations are improved.
19th Swansea – With Swansea being a notoriously difficult place to go and play I think their home form against the teams in the bottom half of the league will be impressive, however I think the Top 10 and definitely the Top 6 will be too strong for them and could see themselves quickly returning to the Championship. Improvements to the side have been made but whether they are enough to keep them in the top flight I do not know.
20th Norwich – Signing’s have been made but whether they are Premiership class I do not know. They will need to get off to a good start and realistically have six points out of their first fifteen to stand a chance of staying up. Home form will need to be good and will need to impress away against the Big Guns. Hate to say it but I can see them being this year’s whipping boys and I hope I’m proved wrong.
JD: Newcastle, Swansea, QPR
JM: I predict that Wigan, Swansea and QPR will go down. Wigan have let star player Charles N’Zogbia leave for Alex McLeish’s Villa, and not replaced him, leaving a massive hole, as if you take Charles goals and assists out of the side last year, Wigan would have been relegated.
Swansea have not made full use of their £60m kitty, and not invested in too many Premier League quality players. Some of the players present in the Swansea side played for the Welsh club when they were in League 2, such as Gary Monk, and Leon Britton. It makes for a pleasant story, but if they’re serious about staying up, another class of player needs to be drafted in.
Also, the Swans type of play is a cause for concern. They play excellent, fluent football, and are enthusiastic to get forward, but we’ve seen this before, haven’t we? Last year Blackpool were brave, but they are now in the Championship.
Along with Swansea, I don’t think QPR have made full use of their unbelievably rich owners. The main triumph for the London club is keeping hold on to the brilliant Adel Taarabt. He will make a big difference, but throughout the side you wonder if any of them players could walk in to an established Premier League side, which is the aim for the promoted clubs. For me, they are the three clubs who will be relegated.
JG: Swansea, QPR and Wolves. Swansea have signed a few established Championship players; unfortunately for the Jack Army the Premier League is obviously a big step up and I don’t believe that Danny Graham and Leroy Lita can fire them above the drop zone. The loss of influential midfielder Darren Pratley to Bolton may also hold dim consequences. Likewise, QPR have added some support for Adel Taarabt, but Jay Bothroyd’s scoring record leaves something to be desired outside of his spell with Cardiff City, and who’s to say that injury-prone Kieron Dyer can produce the goods? Wolves have made moves to tighten up the defence, but goals win games, and if the service to Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcheris not adequate, then they may return to the Championship.
The sack race – which manager will be first to be given the heave ho?
DC: Steve Kean
DS: We all know that failure to win a major trophy be it the Champions League or the Premier League will see an end of Andre Villas Boas’s reign at Chelsea. With them (at the time of writing) failing to bring in any big name players and their squad aging I honestly don’t think that they will win any major honours this season. Neil Warnock could find himself out of the door at QPR if early results do not go their way with the board behind his being reputedly harsh. Also I think it Aston Villa have a poor season then Alex McLeish will more than likely see himself in the job centre come the end of campaign with him not being the post popular choice with fans to start with he’s already at a disadvantage. However if I had to choose out of the three then I’d have to say I think it’ll be Neil Warnock who’s handed his P45 first.
JD: Neil Warnock. Everything and anything will happen at QPR this season. The board don’t have a clue. Desperate season ahead.
JM: I think the first manager to be handed their P45 will be Steve Kean of Blackburn Rovers. The Venky’s have transformed the once proud club to a complete laughing stock, confirmed by the infamous chicken consuming advert, although I don’t think David Dunn was complaining.
Blackburn have turned in to a very unstable club, and I sense all is not well there. The owners in my opinion do not understand the English game enough, and have handed Kean some impossible tasks, which will lead to his sacking.
JG: Steve Kean of Blackburn Rovers could easily be the first to face the axe. Although owners Venky’s have given Kean their backing, they have displayed their ruthless ways in mercilessly sacking popular boss Sam Allardyce, and if Kean does not start producing the goods, he will be gone by Christmas.
Premier League golden boot for 2011/12
DC: Tough one… Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez
DS: This is a tricky one, Hernandez caught everyone by surprise at Manchester United last season and if he is favoured ahead of Berbatov and is Rooney’s regular striking partner then he will be up there. Suarez I feel will be up there along with Bent if Aston Villa have a good season. If he regains his form and stays injury free, then I think Torres will be up there too. If I had to stick my neck on the line I’d go for Hernandez, fantastic talent and bound to improve.
JD: El Nino. Fernando Torres.
JM: It is with a great amount of regret that I predict a certain Wayne Rooney will take the golden boot this season. With a restful summer, and a full pre-season under his belt, he can start from the very off, an opportunity not granted to him last year, after successive injuries sustained in the World Cup stemmed his league form.
Wayne is also entering his prime. Last year we saw him adapt to a new role, and towards the end of the season he mastered it. This helped United lift the Premier League trophy, something I expect him to do this time around, scoring a lot of important goals for the club.
JG: Wayne Rooney
Which team/which player will be this season’s surprise package?
DC: Team – Sunderland. Some absolutely cracking signings, with a quality manager who has been down on his luck with injuries etc. I think this is their year. They will definitely improve on 10th last season, I can see them pushing for the top 8 all the way.
Player – It’s has to be Tom Cleverley. We saw glimpses of what he is capable of last season at Wigan, but he was mainly deployed on the wing and was surrounded by average players. He will be given all the support he needs this season and will flourish as a central midfielder at United. Let’s just hope he gets the games he deserves. We all saw what happened with Smalling and Hernandez last season, they were given their chances and they certainly took them.
DS: Player – If he can keep his cool and get along with his team mates and manager then I think Balotelli has the potential to be one of the if not the players/player of the season. A huge talent and a very raw one at that but I feel that if he’s given regular games alongside a regular starting partner then we will eventually see his true capabilities. Undoubted skill, flair and physicality it’s whether he learns to harness his talent rather than waste it. I hope it’s the previous and he proves his critics wrong why? Because I haven’t been this excited about a player since Cristiano Ronaldo and we all know how he turned out…
Team – Under the guidance of Roy Hodgson at the end of last season West Brom were very impressive. Odemwingie and Tchoyi were inspired signings and had a very good first season in the Premier League. If they get off to a good start and are consistent thorough the season then Top 10 maybe even Top 8 is a very realistic target for them. Causes for concern have been improved with the arrival of Ben Foster on a season’s long loan from Birmingham. I’m even going to go as far as to earmark them as potential League Cup winners, yeah why not; I’m feeling lucky, punk.
JD: Player: Ashley Young. Have a feeling he could be the PFA player of the year. Expect big things from him at United.
Team: Sunderland. Great experience signed in Brown and O’Shea. Europa League finish looks likely.
JG: Team: Norwich – Under Paul Lambert’s leadership, the Canaries will be able to survive the drop, and maybe even push on for a Top 13 finish.
Player: Edin Dzeko – Dzeko undoubtedly has class, and in my opinion just needed time to adjust to the frantic pace of the Premier League. I think 15 PL goals is entirely possible.
No doubt we’ll be reviewing these predictions at a later date….