Although soccer never seems to end, the most watched domestic soccer league in the world will start its season on Saturday. The English Premier League will begin its season on the weekend with its many storylines and dramatic events.
As per usual Manchester United are the defending champions but with a couple of new contenders and some old ones falling off, this should be an interesting season. With that in mind here are my picks for this season.
1. Manchester United. Despite all the changes that all teams go through, the one constant are the Red Devils. Sir Alex Ferguson has guided United to more league titles than any other club and I’m picking them to win their 20th championship. However it won’t be easy. The reliable John O’Shea departed for Sunderland on a transfer. Paul Scholes and Edwin Van Der Sar retired. And Ryan Giggs offseason resembled a tawdry soap opera. Still United have strengths. Chicharito, Wayne Rooney and Nani are superb up front and provide plenty of offence. Ji-Sung Park might be the most underrated midfielder on the planet. Team Captain Nemjana Vidic is a sturdy defender. In other words. Its Man U’s title to lose.
2. Liverpool. Things are looking up on Merseyside. While the Reds haven’t won a league title since 1990, this year could be their best shot. Led by the brilliant Luis Suarez and the lanky Andy Carroll up front, the Reds possess a dynamic centre forward combination. With Dirk Kuyt working his socks off on the wing, Maxi patrolling the midfield, and a healthy Steven Gerrard, Liverpool are poised to make a run for the title. The back four though is a question mark. Glen Johnson has never been the answer at right back and is constantly being run by opposing wingers. If Liverpool can shore up the back-end, they have a chance to overtake Man U. It won’t be easy.
3. Manchester City. The Sky Blues continued their spending spree by adding Argentian Sergio Aguero in the offseason. City is loaded up front with Emmanuel Adebayor, Mario Balotelli, and Roque Santa Cruz providing offence. However it s their defending that is a question mark. I’m not sold on Gael Clichy and Wayne Bridge is a year older. City isn’t balanced enough to win a title, but will be in the Champions League for a second consecutive season.
4. Chelsea. OK I’ll say it. The Blues need to bring back Jose Mourinho as their manager. The West London side had their greatest success when the “Special One” was roaming the sidelines. Since Mourinho was dismissed, Chelsea have won only 1 title while Man U have won 3 titles. Chelsea still have ability. Didier Drogba is one of the premier strikers in the world while David Luiz was a terrific pick up last season. But the signing of Fernando Torres turned out to be a disaster. El Nino was injured most of the time and when he was healthy, contributed very little to the Blues attack. I see Chelsea barely qualifying for Champions League but don’t see them as title contenders.
5. Tottenham Hotspurs. It was a season of highs and lows for Tottenham. The highs came in the Champions League as Spurs provided a thrilling 3-1 victory over Inter Milan and knocking out AC Milan in the first knockout stage. The lows were not qualifying for Champions League this season and losses to Blackpool and Wigan. Gareth Bale, Rafael Van Der Vaart and Roman Pavlyuchenko are all top-notch talent. Harry Redknapp is a quality manager. But Spurs aren’t consistent enough to put them in the top 4.
6. Arsenal. Oh Arsene Wenger. For trying to put together the perfect football team, you have put together anything but. Sure Jack Wilshire, Robin Van Persie, and Theo Walcott when healthy are excellent players. But can you keep Cesc Fabregas when Spanish giants Barcelona are calling? On top of that the Gunners aren’t physical enough to challenge the big boys of the EPL. This is a make or break year for Wenger. If the Gunners don’t qualify for Europe, the stylish Frenchman may be looking for work this time next year. The heat is on.
7. Sunderland. I see this team being one of the most improves sides in England. Picking up John O’Shea and Wes Brown from the Manchester United roster were inspiring moves. And young striker Connor Wickham is poised for a breakthrough season. But it might be too much for a 21-year-old to supply all the goals. Sunderland won’t be easy to play against, but don’t have enough firepower to beat the big teams.
8. Everton. The Toffees are never easy to play against, but never do enough to make a run at the top four. Expect more of the same. Louis Saha is still a quality forward. Phil Neville is still a physical presence. But the Toffees are still stuck in the same place they usually are. Win the games they supposed to. Lose against the big boys.
9. Bolton Wanderers. While they are a solid Premier League side, Bolton are quite anonymous in reality. Gary Cahill is a solid defender, and Kevin Davies is a quality striker. The rest of the team is comprised of men who will scrap and claw for every inch of the pitch. Good enough to be top half of the table.
10. Fulham. The denizens of Craven Cottage have enjoyed moderate success and it is looking like more of the same. A solid midfield led by American International Clint Dempsey is the strength of this West London side. While they won’t contend for the title, Fulham will provide stiff opposition for any side.
11. Stoke City. Led by Jamaican striker Ricardo Fuller, Stoke have the ability to score plenty of goals. But stopping them is another matter. A shaky back four has hurt Stoke over the years. If they don’t shore up the defence, Stoke could plummet further down the table.
12. Newcastle United. The Tyneside squad are going through major upheaval and it might show on the table. The departure of Andy Carroll last January really hurt the club’s offence. The uncertainty of Joey Barton and where he will play will not help out the Magpies. Still striker Shola Ameobi should keep Newcastle in the Premiership. A future superstar Ameobi is a player to watch. Still I don’t see Newcastle cracking the top 10.
13. Blackburn Rovers. I’m not really sure what to make of Rovers. It’s surprising this club won the title in 1995. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them relegated but I think they will stay up. Australian midfielder Brett Emerton is a player I’ve always liked and his versatility and character. Rovers will stay up but will have to fight for every point.
14. West Bromwich Albion. For a team that has bounced back and forth between the top flight and a tier below, WBA is looking to stay in the Premier League for a long time. If striker Ishmael Miller can stay healthy for a full season, the Baggies have a good chance of staying in the EPL next season.
15. Wigan Athletic. The Latics barely survived relegation last season and will have to scratch and claw for every point once again. Ben Watson is a fine midfielder and Chris Kirkland is a quality keeper. However if Wigan slips up they could easily get relegated.
16. Queen’s Park Rangers. For the first time since 1996, QPR are finally playing top flight English football. With the additions of midfield Kieron Dyer, and the striker tandem of DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd, the Three Lions are poised to stay in the EPL. I think they will.
17. Wolves. Having battled tooth and nail to stay in the EPL you can’t deny the determination of Mick McCarthy’s side. They will have to retain their battling spirit to remain in the top flight. Striker Steven Fletcher paces the attack. When he’s on his game he is difficult to contain. However he doesn’t have much support. The talent may be lacking but the sheer will keeps Wolves in the top flight…but just barely.
18. Aston Villa. Oh how the might have fallen. As recently as 2 years ago, Villa were considered a threat to crack the top 4 and qualify for the Champions League. But the problems that have beset owner Randy Lerner have decimated the squad. Stephen Ireland and Darren Bent are still worthy performers, but their futures are very uncertain. Manager Alex McLeish is hoping to keep his team away from the distractions but I feel after last year’s downfall, Villa will go down this season.
19. Norwich City. The Canaries return to the EPL for the first time since 2005, but will struggle to stay in the top flight. Striker Simeon Jackson will lead the attack. He did find the net 13 times last season and he will be a welcome addition to the Premiership. But the Canaries just don’t have the depth to compete in the Premier League.
20. Swansea City. Swansea has already made history as they are the first Welsh side to be promoted to the Premiership. However their stay won’t last long as Swansea just don’t have the firepower or depth to avoid relegation back to the Championship.
This has all the trapping of being a terrific EPL season. Let the games begin!