No rest for the sports fan in England. After the high that was the Olympic Games in London, the English Premier League is set to start their season over the weekend, with every team involved in fixtures. It will be difficult to duplicate last season’s thrilling climax, as Manchester City ended its 44 year title drought on the last second of action. Since then, many changes afoot. So what is there to expect? Here are my predictions on how the table will turn out at seasons’ end.
1. Manchester City
The current title holders from the blue side of Manchester are looking for a repeat performance of last season. And it could very well happen. City have many attacking options, featuring the likes of Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, David Silva and Roque Santa Cruz, all of whom can find the back of the net with aplomb. With Joe Hart as a sturdy last line of defence, City no longer have to deal with a 44 year drought hanging over their heads. The pressure will be on them to repeat, but they will be difficult to beat.
2. Manchester United
2012 was a lost season for Man U. No trophies to speak of made Sir Alex Ferguson a motivated manager. Sir Alex is going for the title yet again, plucking forward Robin Van Persie on a transfer from Arsenal. The Dutch striker is expected to join Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez as the attacking threats for the Red Devils. The signing of Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund is expected to strengthen the midfield for United. The one sticking point for United could be old legs. Ferguson still relies on the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand. None of whom are exactly young. Some of the young guns will have to step up and show Ferguson he can trust them. Otherwise, United could be on the outside of the title yet again.
The defending European title holders are braced to take a run at the EPL title this season. But they will have to do so without their best player from last season. Striker Didier Drogba left the West London side to ply his trade in China. While Drogba was a force for the Blues, his departure marks an opening for Fernando Torres to shine. The Spanish striker won the Golden Boot at Euro 2012 and his hoping to carry over that form into the upcoming season. Chelsea also signed Brazilian midfielder Oscar in the offseason, hoping to add some spark in the midfield. Chelsea are a solid side, but a league title is doubtful this season.
4. Newcastle United
The surprise team of 2011-12, Newcastle United are poised to make a run for a top 4 placing, and a berth in next season’s Champions League. A pair of Senegal Internationals paced the Magpies to a fifth place finish last season, and bigger things are expected from Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba. French midfielder Hartem Ben Arfa is the talisman of the club, and he may be the next star for Newcastle. While a title is highly unlikely, a top 4 placing is very realistic for this club on the rise.
5. Tottenham Hotspur
A club always on the precipice but never quite reaching the apex. Spurs will struggle to reach the top 4 this season. Spurs had no choice but to sell midfielder Luka Modric to Spanish giants Real Madrid in the offseason. Modric was Spurs best player last season and the Serbian midfielder is a magician in the middle of the park. Winger Gareth Bale is looking to shake off injury woes and have a productive season in 2012-13. Scott Parker and Rafael van der Vaart can be brilliant yet they can be frustrating midfielders. However the back is shaky and that means no Champions League spot for Spurs.
The Gunners are constantly in the mix, but never breakthrough. Arsene Wenger’s club always seems to lack that certain panache that the big clubs have. With the recent transfer of Robin Van Persie to Manchester Unite, Wenger will have to turn elsewhere for goals. Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be asked to fill the void left by Van Persie. Arsenal are poised for a downfall and this looks like the year that could happen.
Team turmoil. As usual there is plenty of pressure on Merseyside but the rabid fans at the Kop will have to curb the expectations this season. Striker Luis Suarez returns despite the controversy of his racism charge last season. New manager Brendan Rogers is trying to find a compliment to Suarez up front. Andy Carroll hasn’t hit his stride at Liverpool and could be on his way out. Steven Gerrard is trying for one last run at glory but he needs better support from Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson in the midfield. Don’t see much improvement from Liverpool this season.
The “other” Merseyside team is always a tough puzzle to figure out. No one gets more out of his team than manager David Moyes does from his Toffees. Moyes is the best manager in the Premier League, despite a dearth of talent. Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic had an excellent Euro 2012 campaign despite Croatia not advancing past the Group Stage. Jelavic is expected to lead Everton into a top 10 finish.
9. Stoke City
Stoke City got off to a fantastic start last season, before stumbling at the midway point and not recovering. The denizens of Britannia Stadium are hoping for a top 10 placing and perhaps a shot at the Europa League next season. Gangly striker Peter Crouch is a force up front for The Potters. Winger Jermaine Pennant is a key contributor for Stoke as well. If everything falls into place, Stoke City have a reasonable shot at the Europa League this season.
The pride of Craven Cottage had a solid season last year and are hoping for bigger and better things. American midfielder Clint Dempsey had an outstanding season for The Cottagers, notching 17 goals for Fulham in league play. Fulham did suffer a blow as Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak went to Reading on a transfer, leaving a void up front. More will be expected from Bryan Ruiz and Mahamadou Diarra for Fulham to challenge for a spot in the Europa League.
The Black Cats are hoping for better things this season. After signing defenders Wes Brown and John O’Shea from Manchester United last season, Sunderland were picked by some experts to place a spot in the Europa League. However, Sunderland were one of the more disappointing teams in the EPL, so Sunderland decided to make another move. Signing striker Luis Saha is a big gamble for Sunderland. Saha is productive, when healthy. Problem is Saha hasn’t been healthy that much the last few seasons. Manager Martin O’Neill may be forced to tinker with his lineup if Saha’s injury woes continue. If that is the case, Sunderland won’t be in contention for the Europa League.
12. Norwich City
The Canaries were a pleasant surprise last season after being promoted to the Premier League in 2011. The Canaries are a stringent foe to opponents, playing a disciplined, firm style of football. Striker Grant Holt firmly established himself as a player to watch in the EPL, scoring 15 times for the Canaries last season. More is demanded from Canadian striker Simeon Jackson, who only found the back of the net 3 times in League play. Jackson was given an extension in hopes of repaying Norwich’s faith in him. Norwich will be a solid team and could sneak into the top 10 this season.
Newly promoted Reading made a big splash in the offseason, luring Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak away from Fulham on a transfer. Irish striker Noel Hunt and Jamaican midfielder Jobi McAnuff are players to watch this season for Reading, who should stay up in the Premier League this season.
14. West Bromwich Albion
The Baggies have been flirting with relegation the last few seasons, but should have enough to stay in the top flight of English football. WBA are hoping that Romelu Lukaku can live up to his potential. The Belgian striker was loaned from Chelsea to West Brom in hopes to expedite his career. Chris Bunt and Shane Long are players to watch for the Baggies. West Brom will be fighting to stay out of relegation all season, and should stay above water this season.
Southampton returns to the Premier League for the first time since 2005 with hopes to stay in top flight football in the future. The leadership of Dean Hammond was vital for Southampton’s promotion, and it will be vital for The Saints survival in the Premier League. Striker Rickie Lambert will be one to watch this season. Lambert netted 31 goals in Championship play last season and is a force up front for Southampton. The Saints will be fighting to stay up this season, and Hammond and Lambert should keep Southampton in the Premier League next season.
16. Queens Park Rangers
The West London side barely survived the relegation battle last season, and are most likely will be fighting relegation again this season. QPR made an intelligent decision by letting troubled Joey Barton go to Marseille on a transfer. Barton is beyond troubled. He’s a thug who doesn’t deserve to be on any roster and will be Marseille’s problem this season. There is quality on this side, led by Shaun Wright-Phillips, Djibril Cisse and defender Jose Boswinga. Loftus Road should see Premier League football next season.
17. Swansea City
Big changes for the only Welsh entry in the Premier League. None bigger than manager Brendan Rogers leaving for Liverpool to take the manager’s job. Former Danish international Michael Laudraup was named new manager of Swansea and is hoping to build on last year’s season. Striker Danny Graham is hoping for more than 12 goals for the Swans this season. Midfielder Scott Sinclair is the talisman for Swansea. Expect Swansea to fight to stay out of the relegation zone all season.
18. Aston Villa
Not too long ago, Aston Villa were in a battle for a Champions League spot. Now, Villa is fighting for its Premier League survival. Chairman Randy Lerner’s financial issues have plagued the club the last couple of seasons, and the consequences could be dire. Striker Darren Bent can provide goals for Villa, but whispers abound that he may ask for a transfer midseason. Midfielder Stephen Ireland was Villa’s best player last season but has a reputation to cause trouble when it is not needed. With the finances in doubt, Aston Villa could be taking a tumble out of the Premier League.
19. Wigan Athletic
The Latics barely survived relegation, defeating Blackburn Rovers 1-0 in the penultimate game of the season. They will need to do more this season, if they intend to stay in top flight football next season. A lack of goals nearly sunk Wigan into the second tier and manager Roberto Martinez isn’t sure where the goals will be coming from this season. Franco Di Santo, Victor Moses and Jordi Gomez will all have to be more precise on their attacks to the goal this season. It will be very tough for Wigan to stay up this season.
20. West Ham United
After a year’s hiatus, the Hammers return to the Premier League, but don’t expect their stay to last too long. West Ham will be moving to the renovated and downsized Olympic Stadium next season, but in order for their new home to see Premier League action will require a miracle. Carlton Cole will be asked to supply the offence, as his 14 goals led the Hammers last season. Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te will also be asked to find the back of the net for West Ham. Expect the stay in the top flight to be short for the Hammers.
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