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Friday, 15 August 2008

Premiership predictions 08/09

It’s been raining cats and dogs, energy prices have been soaring and the country is on the brink of a recession, but never mind the football season’s back and this weekend welcomes the return of the Premiership.

Football fans up and down the country are at fever pitch as they expect great things from their clubs this season. Manchester United will be looking to retain their Premiership crown but Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal will be desperate to topple them from their throne. But could one of the chasing pack – Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur or FA Cup winners Portsmouth – even break into the top four?

Away from the top of the table, the Premiership welcomes West Brom – again – Stoke City and Hull City. The Potters are back in the top flight for the first time in 23 years while Hull grace the country’s elite league for the first time in their history. Stoke and Hull are being tipped to be this season’s Derby County but could they shock everyone by doing a Wigan or Reading of recent years?

Elsewhere, can Wigan, Bolton, Fulham and Middlesbrough improve on their recent showings? Can Alan Curbishley, Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Kevin Keegan triumph over adversity? Can David Moyes keep Everton in the top six? I don’t have the answers but I do know that we’re all set for another action-packed season in the Barclays Premiership.

Now I don’t claim to be a fortune teller but as it’s the start of the season, and everyone has their own view on who will finish where, I thought I’d assess each club and predict what the table will look like come May 2009.

Chelsea

Chelsea have a new manager in Big Phil Scolari, they’ve added Deco and Bosingwa to their squad and Frank Lampard has decided to commit his future to the club. They are also being linked with Real Madrid’s Brazilian ace Robinho. It seems a far cry away from that heartbreaking May night in Moscow. John Terry and co will still be hurting from that penalty shootout and I believe that pain will fire them on to success this season. They have big name players in every area of the park and proven internationals on the bench. They are easily the strongest outfit in the Premiership and if Robinho does make the move to Stamford Bridge I can’t see anyone catching them.

Manchester United

Sir Alex Ferguson loves to win and he will be drumming it into the players that he wants to win everything this season. The Red Devils achieved the Premiership and Champions League double last season, but as the former Aberdeen boss will tell his troops: “That was last year, I want to win them again this year.” However, having had to fend off Real Madrid’s constant interest in Ronaldo, Fergie has so far been unable to add to his squad. He has been linked with Berbatov, Henry and Villa and something must be concluded before the transfer window closes. If they add a new striker then Chelsea will have to go some to beat them. But much will depend on Ronaldo’s mindset once he comes back from injury. Does he really want to be at Old Trafford and can he keep up his unbelievable form of the past two season?

Arsenal

The Gunners surprised a lot of people last season by leading the way for most of the season, however injuries and key decisions went against them and they lost their way. Many have tipped them to struggle this season but I don’t buy that. Sure, losing Hleb, Gilberto and Flamini is going to be a huge blow, but Wenger has faith in his fearless and hungry youngsters and who am I to argue with the French master? If Wenger can keep his main players fit then there’s no way the Gunners will slip out of the top four. Joe Cole recently said that he expects Arsenal to close the gap on the top two this season and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gunners did give Chelsea and United a real fight. A trophy though would definitely keep the wolves from Wenger’s door.

Liverpool

It’s been 18 years since Liverpool last won the league title and Rafa Benitez knows that that run has to come to a run sooner rather than later. Unfortunately I can’t see the Reds offering a sustained title challenge as long as Benitez swops his starting XI every week. Benitez has shuffled his pack letting the likes of Crouch, Kewell, Riise and Carson go in order to bring in Robbie Keane, Dossena, Ngog and Degen. Liverpool will be praying that Keane and Torres can hit it off but displays so far have been disappointing. Steven Gerrard and Torres will be the main men to watch again, but having seen them struggle against Standard Liege I have a feeling that this could be Rafa’s last year at Anfield.

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs are tipped to challenge the top four every year but although I’ll think they’ll do well this season I think the best they can hope for this season is fifth. They finished 30 points behind Liverpool last season and that’s an awful lot of points to make up when you’ve just sold one of your best strikers – Robbie Keane – to them and Dimitar Berbatov is still being linked with a move to Old Trafford. Darren Bent has been scoring for fun in pre-season but can he continue that form? Luka Modric, Dos Santos and David Bentley should have the fans out of their seats but unless Ramos signs another striker – Arshavin perhaps – then they could struggle. However I do believe they’ll close the gap on the top four and seal fifth place.

Aston Villa

Despite being an analysis at Euro 2008 and having to cope with the Gareth Barry “will he, won’t he” debacle, Martin O’Neill has been made a number of moves in the transfer market. Brad Friedel, Carlos Cuellar, Steve Sidwell, Luke Young and Nicky Shorey are all fantastic bits of business and they will undoubtedly strengthen the squad at Villa Park. Olof Mellberg will be missed but Curtis Davies should be adequate cover for the big Swede. Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor have the pace to beat defenders and big John Carew will provide the height and power in attack. And the fact that it looks like Gareth Barry will be staying means that the Villains – strong at the back, creative and hard in the middle of the park and deadly up front – could be the ones to watch this season.

Portsmouth

The FA Cup winners have potentially the deadliest English frontline in the Premiership and Harry Redknapp would love to see Crouch and Defoe hit it off. European football is bound to have an effect on their league performance but there is enough class at the club to ensure that they remain in the top 10. Some believe they could even challenge the top four but I believe it may be a season or two too soon for that. David James will be crucial to their fortunes yet again.

West Ham United

The Hammers suffered a horrendous list of injuries last season yet still finished 10th. Alan Curbishley has been cautious in the transfer market opting for youth rather than experience in hope that his injury hit stars can finally start to earn their corn. Bellamy and Ashton would be a great partnership if both can stay fit. And despite his recent outburst over pay I think Robert Green will be a safe pair of hands again. Some pundits have tipped the Hammers to struggle but I believe the Irons have more than enough to challenge for a place in Europe.

Middlesbrough

This will be Gareth Southgate’s third season at the helm at the Riverside and many feel that it’s time he delivered a top 10 finish. They ended last season on fire with an 8-1 thrashing of Manchester City and the fans will be hoping that they are firing on all cylinders this season. Mido is in much better shape and Tuncay and Aliadiere should have a better understanding of each other’s game, not forgetting Afonso Alvez who will be desperate to shoot the Boro up the table. On their day they can beat anyone. Some consistency would see the Boro back in the top 10 easily.

Manchester City

What has Mark Hughes got himself into? He had an easy life at Blackburn Rovers and the full backing of the board. At City there’s a new revelation about his current boss Mr Shinawatra every other day. Hughes has publicly committed himself to the club and he has proved that he can succeed under adverse conditions so City should be spared a relegation fight. Retaining the services of Richard Dunne was a great bit of business. There are question marks over whether Jo can cut it in the Premiership but City fans will be ready for another rollercoaster ride regardless.

Everton

The Toffees tend to have one good season followed by one bad one. Last year they managed two good seasons in a row which leads me to believe that they are going to struggle badly this time round. They’ve lost Andy Johnson and Lee Carsley and have so far been thwarted in their efforts to bring in anyone. If they can arrange a deal for Portuguese midfielder Moutinho then they will remain in the top 10 but at the moment I can see a big drop for David Moyes’s men. Has Moyes taking the club as far as he can?

Fulham

Roy Hodgson’s men defied the critics last year by avoiding the drop on the final day of the season and I’ve got a strong feeling that they have learnt from their past mistakes. The former Blackburn boss has spent wisely in the summer and the new strike partnership of Zamora and Andy Johnson could be lethal. With Mark Schwarzer keeping guard in between the sticks and Zoltan Gera supplying the ammunition for the front two it should be a stress-free season for the Fulham faithful.

Sunderland

The Black Cats’ main objective last season was to stay in the Premiership and thanks to their home form they managed to do so quite comfortably. Roy Keane has strengthened his squad with a number of experienced Premiership players and much will rest on the heads of Diouf and Malbranque. I expect Sunderland to consolidate their place in the top flight this season but if they can take their home form on the road with them and score more goals a top 10 finish isn’t beyond them. However they must find the target more often or they could easily go the other way.

Newcastle United

I have lots of respect for Kevin Keegan as a player, manager and as a man and I wish him all the best in turning around the fortunes of this massive club, but unless he is given money to spend I fear it’ll be another bleak season at St James’ Park.  If Owen, Viduka, Martins and Duff can stay fit then they may be able to surprise a few pundits but that’s a big if considering their recent history. The best thing that could happen at Newcastle would be for Ashley to sell up and allow Keegan to work his magic. However, I can’t see the Toon fans having too much to get excited about, especially with an opening day fixture against their old foes Manchester United at Old Trafford to contend with.

Blackburn Rovers

Following in the footsteps of Mark Hughes is going to be a hard ask but if anyone can succeed in such a role it is Paul Ince. He saved Macclesfield from the drop and guided MK Dons to promotion in his first season there. The loss of David Bentley and Brad Friedel won’t help his cause but he’s so far managed to keep hold of Roque Santa Cruz and sign England shot stopper Paul Robinson, who is looking to regain his confidence and his place back in Fabio Capello’s starting line up. I think, given time, Ince will do a good job at Ewood Park, but this season could be a huge learning curve for him and must be given the support of the fans, players and board.

Bolton Wanderers

The Trotters only retained their Premiership status by a point last season but many fans believe that Gary Megson can take them back to the top half of the table. No pressure there then! He’s bought wisely and you can rest assured that Bolton will be as in-your-face as ever. They have a decent opening run of fixtures and if they can make a winning start then they will enjoy a comfortable season. A lot of pressure rests on the shoulders of new striker Johan Elmander.

West Bromwich Albion

The Baggies are back for another crack at life in the Premiership and they are definitely the pick of the newly promoted teams to stay up. Tony Mowbray’s sides love to play quick, attacking football and this approach will be much more suited to the Premiership than the Championship. Mowbray has been busy in the transfer market tying up permanent deals for Bednar and Moore while attracting Scott Carson, Cech, Meite and Zuiverloon to the club. However, allowing the experienced trio of Phillips, Zoltan Gera and Albrechtsen leave could come back to haunt them.

Wigan Athletic

Like Bolton Wanderers last season, they seemed doomed following poor starts under their respective number twos who became number the boss. However, Steve Bruce arrived, has been backed all the way by Dave Whelan, and guided them to safety. Wigan have defied the critics every season since they arrived in the Premiership but I just get a feeling that things are going to go against them this season and that they are really going to struggle. I don’t know why. I mean, Lee Catermole, Oliver Kapo and Daniel de Ridder are all decent enough players and will provide the Latics with more steel while the pace of Valencia will trouble defences, as will Heskey’s brute force. But there’s just something there that makes me think they will go down – now watch them finish in the top 10 just to spite me!

Stoke City

Tony Pulis produced his magic in getting Stoke City promoted but he’s going to have to pull an even bigger rabbit out of the hat if the Potters are to survive this season. Nobody will relish going to the Britannia Stadium jam packed with 20,000+ passionate Stokies but if they can demonstrate the togetherness that they showed last season you never know. If Dave Kitson can find the back of the net regularly they may have a chance. I’d love to see all three of the promoted clubs stay up but I just think that over the course of the season their inexperience will prove too costly.

Hull City

Phil Brown’s Tigers are being tipped to be this season’s equivalent to Derby County. I think they are going to find it incredibly tough and probably won’t survive, but they’ve got way more bite and determination about them than the Rams ever did. Brown has boosted his squad with players who have tasted life in the Premiership – Boateng, Geovanni, Tony Warner and Anthony Gardener. Their influence will be key in their fight for survival. Like Stoke, I’d love to see them do well but I think they may be one season wonders.

CHELSEA

MANCHESTER UNITED

ARSENAL

LIVERPOOL

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

ASTON VILLA

PORTSMOUTH

WEST HAM UNITED

MIDDLESBROUGH

MANCHESTER CITY

EVERTON

FULHAM

SUNDERLAND

NEWCASTLE UNITED

BLACKBURN ROVERS

BOLTON

WEST BROM

WIGAN ATHLETIC

STOKE CITY

HULL CITY

Well, that’s what I think. Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear from you.

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