Less than 48 hours to go and here we go again. Making predictions for the season ahead is a mug’s game. Following a world cup, it’s far too early to tell how quickly players will find their form and teams will gel. So am I just opening up myself to ridicule? Perhaps, but I’m going to have a go anyway.
So let’s dive straight in at the deep end. Who is going to win the league in 2010/2011? It’s difficult to see past Chelsea but after unbridled success last season, cracks have started to appear in pre-season culminating in a lacklustre performance in the Community Shield. We all know, however, that pre-season is not a pre-cursor for the season ahead and the fixture gods have thrown out a very straightforward first 6 games giving them a chance to play themselves into form. On this basis, I expect them to edge it, but it will be close.
Hot on their heels will be Man United. Some experts have been quick to jump on the bandwagon that the empire is crumbling under massive debts. This is partly true. United don’t appear as solvent as they were and seemingly can’t compete for the best players at any price. The irrepressible Fergie doesn’t know when he’s beaten though does he. The scouts appear to have pulled a rabbit out of the hat with Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandez. He looks a player. The new baby faced assassin maybe. There hasn’t been this much excitement over a player at Old Trafford for a few years now and he already looks a snip at £7m. Holding onto Vidic is a major coup and should not be under-stated. However there is something lacking and it’s in midfield. There remains an over-reliance on the golden generation of Giggs and Scholes. In the pressure games, there is no midfielder in the current squad who can take the game by the scruff of the neck the way Roy Keane used to. Chelsea have Lampard. Liverpool have Gerrard. Arsenal have Fabregas. United need a playmaker and Ozil would fit the bill but will the funds be released to secure him?
What of Liverpool? There’s a frisson of excitement on Merseyside. Hanging onto Gerrard and Torres is an achievement given their morose expressions at the end of last season. The ‘turning point’ appears to be the signing of Joe Cole. A little too much is being made of this. He’s better than Messi apparently. Don’t get me wrong I think he could be an inspired signing - although he has much to prove as £90k a week is hardly a free transfer – and he will make them a more potent attacking force but the messiah he is not. If Mascherano leaves, as looks likely, their midfield may lack bite and expose them at the back where Carragher is simply not the leader he was. Gerrard proved for England last night that he is most effective as an attacking force. Will accommodating Cole actually negate his influence for Liverpool where his understanding with Torres is their most effective weapon. I expect them to challenge for the top 4 and if they can keep their key players fit, might well challenge for more than that, free from the shackles of a European Cup campaign.
And what of Man City? I have to admit I simply have no idea. They could be title challengers or also-rans. The players could gel or some could get tired of playing second fiddle. Championship winning teams need stability. There needs to be a strong core. Their squad might look impressive on paper but is that enough? Robinho, their marquee signing has fallen out of favour. Bellamy, arguably their star performer alongside Tevez last season, won’t make the final 25 this season. I could be wrong but I think it will be a seismic task to build a team ethic that will be sustained throughout the whole season. They need to make a strong start and the fixture gods have not been kind. Watch this space.
At the other end of the table, Blackpool are relegation certainties. They look so ill equipped to compete at this level, it might be Christmas before they secure their first win. I expect them to challenge for the lowest ever points tally in the Premier League.
West Brom will struggle too. They will play attractive football and that will be their downfall. The classic yo yo club.
The final spot is less obvious. The other promoted club Newcastle will do ok. They should be good enough at home to survive. Wolves and Wigan may be the main candidates. They did just enough last season but maybe not this time.
Here are some of my tips for players to watch this season.
My first is Michael Essien who is Chelsea’s most effective performer on his day. He will feel like a new signing. He is exactly the type of player who can lift a club. A great box to box midfielder and could well make the difference this season.
Next is Marouane Chamakh. Arsenal have lacked an out and out centre forward for a few seasons, a finisher. He should give them more cutting edge.
Joe Cole. Will he flourish or has he been over-hyped. Can he live with the weight of expectation? Robbie Keane couldn’t.
Adam Johnson – City’s most effective signing apart from Tevez. Certainly their biggest bargain. With so many others to compete with, will he get a chance to push on? One of the most intelligent crossers of the ball.
Carlos Tevez. Great first season, much to the displeasure of the other half of Manchester. Rumours City paid nearly £50m for him. Is City just a stepping stone or will he feel loved enough to spur them to glory?
And finally Javier “Chicarito” Hernandez. Even at 21, he looks like breaking into the first team and scoring a lot of goals. Will take some of the burden off Rooney and could be crucial in the title challenge.
I’m probably way off the mark, and only time will tell. Enjoy the season folks.