Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Prediction time

Gareth can't believe I said Derby would stay up

The barren summer months are coming to end - another thrilling season of two-thirds down the table mediocrity is almost upon us. I made some predictions this time last year that were somewhat patchy - my faith in Derby County was utterly preposterous. However, its nice to see the circus up the road did not disappoint.

Undeterred, I'm bravely taking a stab at how the next ten months will unfold in the crazy, roller-coaster world of the Premier League:

1 Chelsea (2nd last season) After an underwhelming interlude from Avram Grant, Chelsea have opted for another outspoken presence in the dugout. Scolari's squad has unparalleled depth. If Carvalho stays fit to marshal the defence and Bosingwa performs consistently enough to keep Essien in midfield, it could be a long time until we see John Terry blubbing for our amusement again.

2 Manchester United (1) Its hard to see the double winners dropping far of the pace despite a summer dogged by the most tedious transfer saga since, er, last year. Nevertheless, they only just edged out Chelsea last year despite the autumnal shambles at Stamford Bridge. It'll be considerably harder this time round.

3 Liverpool (4) Rafa Benitez has never put together a convincing title challenge at Anfield and thats unlikely to change this year despite investing a slightly perplexing £20m in Robbie Keane. The midfield lacks the creativity and width of the very best teams meaning they often drop points against sturdy but limited opposition. Their challenge will be in tatters by the time the leaves change colour, just like last year and the year before...

4 Arsenal (3) It could be a trying year for Arsene Wenger, a man who seems to have grown into the belief that winning trophies is a bit too vulgar for his tastes. The midfield looks barren although Flamini will be a more significant absence than Hleb - Arsenal should be able find another amusement arcade to deposit out wide and shoot twice a season easily enough. There's enough talent to do much better than 4th in this team, as was shown for much of last year, but the suspicion that they lack the necessary mental fortitude remains.

5 Portsmouth (9) Droopy has splurged a healthy chunk of last season's FA Cup bounty on Peter Crouch, who he correctly acknowledges as a triffic, triffic player. How much progress Pompey make rests on how Crouchy links up with Defoe-y. James and Campbell provide a very solid base and Krancjar and Diarra add a sprinkling of class to midfield.

6 Aston Villa (6) Poor old Martin O'Neill has not had much of a summer. His holiday in the Alps was spent next to Alan Shearer, who spent a solid month spouting inanities, his modesty barely concealed by gonad-hugging shiny trousers. He then returns home to the ball-aching tedium of the Gareth Barry saga. It seems safe to assume that Barry will finally leave although Steve Sidwell should form a respectable midfield partnership with Nigel Reo-Coker. Villa could still have a job on moving up the table as O'Neill had little spare time to strengthen the weaker areas of his squad. Despite a total dearth of full-backs, he's only just got round to giving Luke Young the gladeye.

7 Tottenham (11)
It wouldn't be this time of the year without talk of revolution at White Hart Lane. Juande Ramos has replaced several members of last year's entertainingly madcap outfit. Several fringe players have been offloaded, largely to Sunderland. There is the potential to push back towards the fifth place Spurs claimed in 2005 and 2006. However, with Keane gone, Berbatov's future uncertain and a defence reliant on the fitness of King and Woodgate, there is also plenty of scope for problems.

8 Manchester City (9) After a very peculiar 2007/08, its hard to judge how Mark Hughes will fare in his first campaign in the employment of the Premier League's most popular deposed dictator. He's spent a healthy chunk of Thaksin's legitimately acquired cash on the Brazilian striker Jo. If he and the returning Valeri Bojinov can provide a more potent goal threat than Vassell and Mpenza then City could improve on last year. Drawing some consistency out of Elano and retaining the services of Vedran Corluka would help too.

9 Everton (5) Its been a turbulent summer at Goodison. David Moyes has held off signing his new contract in an attempt to prize more funds out of the board without success. The Toffees have lost a chief executive and almost all their central midfielders without any significant recruitment. With Andy Johnson almost out of the door, the pressure on Yakubu to deliver will increase. That all too familiar transfer request could be winging its way on Moyes' desk sooner than he thought.

10 West Ham (10) The Hammers were calcified in tenth place from sometime around October last year and its unlikely they'll move very far. There's been no significant alterations to the playing staff. Despite the rumours of belt-tightening, Alan Curbishley won't be deviating far from his trademark mid-table finish.

11 Newcastle (12) Whether it was Joey Barton's imprisonment, Sam Allardyce's managerial reign, an 11-1 aggregate thumping from Man U or just Alan Smith, Newcastle never seem far from humiliating themselves. Its hard to believe it'll take too long this year. Surely an emotional Keegan resignation is on the cards sooner rather than later?

12 Boro (13) Better than last year - but not much.

13 Sunderland (15)
Roy Keane's expensively assumbled collection of Irishmen and Spurs reserves should avoid the bottom three comfortably enough. Still, its hard to identify where the class or creativity to break out of the confines of lower mid-table is going to come from.

14 Blackburn (7)
It doesn't look too promising for Rovers. Paul Ince did a sterling job for the evil overlords of Milton Keynes but he hasn't made the most convincing start - Robbie Fowler on a free is unlikely to reverse the damage caused by the loss of a manager and arguably the team's two best players in Friedel and Bentley. Roque Santa Cruz needs to maintain last season's form, particularly if Benni McCarthy does likewise.

15 Fulham (17) After last season's freakish escape, Roy Hodgson has gone for quantity more than quality in his attempt to stave off "wewegation". Jimmy Bullard revitalised the Cottagers in the closing weeks while we know well enough that Schwarzer is a safe pair of hands for a mid-table team. Its hard to see Hodgson's side escaping too far from the bottom three.

16 Wigan (14) Steve Bruce has a mixed reputation as a boss after an inconsistent time at Birmingham and a history of dugout sluttiness. He did, however, galvanise a side tanking horribly under Chris Hutchings and fully deserves a spotter's badge for the acquisition of Wilson Palacios. Wigan should be OK but their summer signings and Emile Heskey's fitness record mean its unlikely they'll break out of the division's bottom quarter.

17 West Brom (P) Tony Mowbray has made an impressive start to his managerial career, creating fluent attacking sides at Hibs and West Brom. Although doubts persist about the defence, the Baggies should have enough firepower to give themselves a chance of survival.

18 Hull (P) Hull's rise through the divisions has been rapid. However, its hard to be optimistic about their chances of making their stay in the top flight permanent. George Boateng showed last year that he remains fiercely committed even if his powers are undeniably on the wane. In Myhill and Turner, Hull do have players who could step up another level. However, they haven't replaced Frazer Campbell and its unlikely they'll be able to score enough goals.

19 Bolton (16) Gary Megson has never been the most convincing manager and his decision to spend much of the Anelka bounty on Johan Elmander is curious to say the least. Another long hard season is in store.

20 Stoke (P) The new Derby. Nowhere near good enough.

FA Cup
Manchester United
Carling Cup Chelsea

No comments: