Premier League Outlook: Final Third

OFFICIAL 2/3rd PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW

Now that the Premier League season is about 2/3rds of the way through, the picture is beginning to clear up. Upon the season’s kickoff, most pundits figured it would be a Manchester battle for the title, and that’s exactly where we stand again today. Man City, the defending champions, have enjoyed a spell of successful football in December and January, but still trail the pace-setters Man United by 7 points. While the January transfer window comes to a close, there are only a few moves that will drastically shape the final layout of the league table. So we can really begin to assess what each team can do in their last 14 games

At this point in the season, clubs have different goals: to win the Premier League, qualify for a European spot, make the top half of the table, or to just stay afloat. Each result is crucial, and to some, holding on for draws is good enough, while for others, it could be the different between holding a trophy and coming home empty handed. Here’s how I see things playing out the rest of the way.

Prediction: Final Standings

Place Club Points
1 Manchester United 88
2 Manchester City 83
3 Tottenham 67
4 Chelsea 66
5 Everton 62
6 Arsenal 57
7 Liverpool 56
8 Sunderland 52
9 Swansea 51
10 Stoke City 45
11 West Brom 43
12 West Ham 42
13 Fulham 41
14 Norwich 38
15 Newcastle 36
16 Southampton 33
17 Reading 32
18 Aston Villa 30
19 Wigan 29
20 QPR 24

Quick Assessment:

Top 4: Man United have been improving defensively since Nemanja Vidic’s return, which could be the thing that gets them over the mountain. City’s recent form (5 straight victories) has them keeping pace with their cross-town rivals, and could really put pressure on the Red Devils with continued success leading up to the Manchester derby on April 6. Tottenham Hotspur started the season a bit slow, but AVB now has them hitting their stride. With Chelsea seemingly unable to make their minds up about who they can beat on a given day, Spurs could surprise a few people and pip Chelsea for the 3rd automatic Champions League spot.

Europa League: Everton should be hailed for a marvelous performance; to make the top 4 would be a dream, but even a top 5 finish is impressive for David Moyes. I just don’t see Arsenal clawing back up into the top 4 this season, they’re W1-D2-L4 against teams ahead of them in the table this season and aren’t picking up points with enough consistency. Liverpool should consider things a success as well. Although Brendon Rodgers has had a tumultuous first year at Anfield, their offensive performances are improving, and Luis Suarez has enjoyed his best PL campaign to date.

Mid-Table: Swansea have had a magical run, and deserve praise for what will likely be a top half finish. Perhaps even more praise could go to Martin O’Neill who may be in the process of saving his job and his club. Sunderland was just 2 points above the drop zone last month, but the crafty gaffer has finally turned the tides. West Brom spent a good portion of the year in the top 4, but are now sinking fast. They’re likely safe from the drop though. Stoke City’s once heralded defense has been leaking like a sieve. Can Tony Pulis get them back to their stingy ways?

Relegation Zone: Aston Villa are sitting in the drop zone for the first time this season, but it’s fitting considering they boast the worst Goal Differential in the League. I’m amazed this hasn’t yet cost Paul Lambert his job. My pick for drop zone survivalists is Reading. They’ve lost just one of their last 6 matches, and seem to be repeating their late season run of good form. Wigan and QPR, to me, are both finished, as they continually get outplayed by teams in similar positions, and haven’t shown much grit in the last month or two. Newcastle and Southampton both look to have enough quality to stay afloat.

Redknapp signed on for the impossible job. As you can tell… he’s super excited

Advertisements

EURO 2012 Group Summaries + Predictions

So begins the EURO! The World Cup is still the iconic sporting event that rallies countries together and leaves footy fans in awe when the miracles unfold in the knockout stages. Late injury time goals and last gasp saves are the things we cling to when watching two titans battle it out on the pitch… but all of these things are more frequent than just once every 4 years. The EURO provides a ton of action every 2 years in between World Cups, as well as the majority of the big soccer stars  on the planet; only Messi, Neymar, and a few others will be absent this June/July.

So what to expect in this years quest for the European Championship? a whole lotta goals, I think. Offense is up across the continent now, perhaps because of a good number of defensive injuries to some notable players. Spain and Germany’s defense has conceded an unusual number of goals in recent games. On the flip side, teams like France and Sweden seem to be finding their scoring touch. Let us go group by group and breakdown the teams who could be playing into the advanced stages of the competition

GROUP A:
I think we can all agree, this is the weakest group of the tournament. Poland’s automatic qualification as a Pot #1 team waters down the competition, but groups them with a team that scored one goal last Euro (Greece) and another who looks fondly back at their prime which is now passed (Czech Repub). That leaves Russia, one of the darlings of Euro 2008, but a recently troubled team who have seen some of their stars show their age and run into a string of poor performances. For Russia, they have really struggled against weaker opponents lately, and face teams like Poland who will look to showcase their scoring abilities in front of their home crowds.

Who will advance from the Group: Russia, Poland

Player to watch in Group A: Robert Lewandowski

GROUP B:
We all know by now that this is the Group of Death. Now that’s out of the way… who exactly looks best suited to top the toughest group in the EURO? From most accounts it’s either the Dutch or the Germans. Both teams have finished an agonizing second place to Spain in recent tournaments. The Dutch look to avenge the loss in extra time of the World Cup Final, and their team is still stacked, boasting a potent attack that scored 6 goals in a friendly on Saturday. The Germans are tournament favorites in their own right, with a confident side full of many players ready avenge a loss in last month’s Champions League final. Let’s not fail to mention the steady Danish side who causes issues with many favored sides they play. Finally, what to make of Portugal? The pressure lies squarely on Ronaldo’s shoulders as he captains a side that has underperformed in recent tournaments. The offense is there, but a suspect defense is their main issue with such strong offensive opponents in this group.

Who will advance from the Group: Netherlands, Germany

Player to watch in Group B: Christiano Ronaldo

GROUP C:
In what looks to be a two team group, all may not be what it seems. Italy is on the heels of a match fixing scandal, while thier form on the pitch has left much to be desired. Spain will likely run away with this group, but can we stop to remember that the only man seemingly able to score in South Africa was David Villa (injured for this year’s EURO)? Ireland has been playing solid football lately, and can probably secure advancement with a couple of steely performances and a stingy defense. Meanwhile, Croatia is no stranger to making surprising runs at major tournaments (WC 1998, Euro 2008) and can do so again this year if they capitilize on playing teams not clicking on all cyclinders at the moment

Who will advance from the Group: Spain, Ireland

Player to watch in Group C: Fernando Torres

GROUP D:
While the English team clearly gets the most press out of all the teams in Group D, they clearly have the odds stacked against them. While this isn’t the group of death, there is a shortage of easy fixtures across the board. France could prove to be a dark horse in this tournament, with Laurent Blanc whipping his team into shape as of late. The Swedes could contend as well, as a team that’s been together for a while, and has lots of weapons to choose from, most notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ukraine is pegged to finish last, but never count out a team playing on home soil. England’s mass of injuries doesn’t help much either. I’ll bet Wayne Rooney rues the day he got sent off, and thus suspended, for quite some time to come.

Who will advance from the Group: France, Sweden

Player to watch in Group D: Franck Ribery

So where does that leave us? See the mock up of the knockout stage below:

As you can See I like Netherlands over France in the final. Tough knocking out Germany in the semis, but there’s results like this in every tournament. Off to the games. ENJOY!

EURO 2012 Lineups – all 16 teams

I’ve taken the time to put together some projected line-ups for the 16 countries participating in the upcoming EURO 2012. Now just 1 day away, the buzz is reaching a fevered pitch, and people will soon sit down across the globe to catch some of the best football the world has to offer.

Quick note, these are not confirmed line-ups, just very likely formations and the players I expect to see on their teams’ starting XI this week. A few adjustments for injuries have already been made, but there are always some players that wont be able to shake off knocks this season. That being said this info is a compilation of each teams history based on recent trends and squads fielded. Enjoy!

GROUP A

POLAND

GREECE

RUSSIA

CZECH REPUBLIC

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

GROUP B

Netherlands

Denmark

Germany

Portugal

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

GROUP C

ITALY

SPAIN

IRELAND

CROATIA

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

GROUP D

ENGLAND

FRANCE

UKRAINE

SWEDEN

SO that’s that, feel free to go ahead an make your fantasy team lineups now. Lots of great players to choose from

Cheers!

Red Title Blow

It’s official. Nemanja Vidic will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured cruciate ligament. Sir Alex Ferguson and United officials confirmed during a press conference that the Serbian Centerback will not be available for the rest of their title chase this year.

So what’s the impact you ask? Huge is the first word that comes to mind. Ferguson will now have to rely on the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Johnny Evans… yes the same Johnny Evans that single-handedly cost United their 6-1 thrashing at the hands of League leaders Man City a few weeks back. Vidic is a towering presence at Old Trafford, and the likes of Rio Ferdinand, who himself could go down with injury at any moment, is United’s only experienced central defender remaining. The Reds will depend on his veteran leadership, and pray he too can stay of the medic’s table.

Fans praying for more Fergie magic

One quote that will surely give United fans an ulcer is that from Fergie this morning. “I thought Rio had his best game of season on Wednesday. His experience will be vital.” A defender, who surrendered two crucial goals in the team’s most important game of the year, had his best game of the season?!?! Certainly won’t help the fans sleep better at night.

To add injury to insult, United host a slew of other absentees at the other end of the pitch. Berbatov, Chicharito, and Michael Owen will all be unavailable for at least the next week, with the latter two missing upwards of a month. Throw in knocks to Tom Cleverly, Anderson, and both da Silva twins. The retirement of Paul Scholes seems to hurt more and more as the months play out.

Phil Jones will be crucial from here on out

The question will soon become. Will Fergie buy this January to offset some of his shortcomings? He has a history of defending his squad, no matter how young, but it’s starting to seem as though a few injuries can really hurt, especially when you’re 5 points off the title lead, and already out of the Champions League.

This has been one of the darkest weeks at Old Trafford in recent memory, perhaps all-time. United fans are begging for a spirited win against Wolves this weekend, and who could blame them. Carling Cup = gone (at home), Champions League = gone, Captain = gone too. Not looking very good in the red half of Manchester.

Champions League Draw

Breaking news…

The 2011/12 UEFA Champions League draw has just wrapped up. Check out the match-ups, and see if your club has hopes for advancing to the knockout stages:

Group A: Bayern Munich, Villarreal, Manchester City, Napoli

Fergie will use this as an opportunity to give his youngsters some Euro experience, and to pick up some delicious chocolates

Group B: Internazionale, CSKA Moscow, Lille, Trabzonspor

Group C: Manchester United, Benfica, FC Basel,  Otelul Galati

Group D: Real Madrid, Lyon, Ajax, Dinamo Zagreb

Group E: Chelsea, Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen, Genk

Group F: Arsenal, Marseille, Olympiacos, Borussia Dortmund

Group G: Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St Petersburg, APOEL

Group H: Barcelona, AC Milan, BATE Borisov, Viktoria Plzen

Barca are favorites again, but will have to face 7-time champs AC Milan first

All in all, it looks like a tale of two cities for one city… Manchester that is. United drew likely the easiest lot with zero teams from other major European leagues. Man City on the other hand ended up with three very strong teams, and is already being labelled as the “group of death”.

Cesc Finally Gone… What awaits Wenger?

What else could go wrong at the Emirates? After all of the transfer speculation swirling throughout the tumultuous summer, Arsenal finally kicked off on Saturday. They did so with a bang, but not quite the same bang as Man City. The bang I speak of is that involving some ugly incidents that will likely leave Alex Song and Gervinho missing the team’s next few matches. Joey Barton did little to improve his reputation, but at least Newcastle came away with a point, and Arsenal was left wondering how even more drama ensued.

Feel free to print this picture out and burn it Gunners fans

With the Cesc saga finally behind them, Arsenal now looks to move forward towards a new horizon. The only problem is that their path to glory has many question marks, and even more obstacles.  It’s almost as if Arsene Wenger has signed fans up for a large-scale re-enactment of the Oregon Trail. Jack Wilshere is sick with measles (ankle), Van Persie suffered from a snakebite (suspended), Rosicky has dysentery (groin), and Gervinho recently came down with typhoid (3 match PL ban). Not to leave out Nasri who just decided that Wenger’s hunting skills weren’t up to snuff, so he bailed on the wagon altogether, bad-mouthing the fans on the way back to town.

Thank God Mary doesn't play for Arsenal

Many Arsenal fans believe Wenger can fix the broken wagon wheel, by signing a few players. Mata, Jadson, Samba, and Dann are all names being rumored. But so far, the only thing Arsene has done is bought another Ox (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, see what I did there?). It is certainly a frustrating time if you’re a Gooner. With the Champions League spot in the balance and the squad uncertainty still looming, some are wondering if the worst is still to come. Arsenal could quash some of these fears by taking the first leg from Udinese, but there’s still a wide river waiting up ahead for Wenger’s Wagon of Worries.

Some Arsenal fans wish Wenger had passed on the new Ox and opted for more ammunition... pun intended

The river holds consecutive games against Liverpool and Man United, so it looks like Arsenal can’t take the Ferry… they’re going to have to ford the river. If they’re lucky, the Gunners could squeak across to the other side without anyone drowning. In a literal sense, Arsenal fans will be happy with a draw from each game, and no more injuries or suspensions. Their squad seems thin right now, but the main reason this condition exists is because Wenger hasn’t shown much in the way of playing time for fringe players.

Wenger will undoubtedly be forced to start introducing some of the younger players if he loses his remaining unsettled attackers, Nasri and Bendtner. If the first game of the season showed us anything, it’s that the defense may be better off than originally thought; the inability to score could be creeping into the minds of fans, however. Let’s take a look at who may be poised for upcoming roles in the Arsenal attack:

Aaron Ramsey– has already been selected as Fabregas’ replacement. Though he’s not the same player, Ramsey has shown promise filling that role over the past few seasons.

Emmanuel Frimpong–  played 15 minutes against Newcastle, and seemed very intense in hunting down the ball. His energy could be useful in sparking the team on the pitch

Joel Campbell– likely too young for Wenger, but injuries up front could thrust the young Costa Rican into the line-up.

Rio Miyachi– the crafty Japanese forward could be a sleeper this year. If he gets on the pitch and impresses, he could very well nab Arshavin’s starting role.

So despite thieves stealing the Gunners’ oxen, and the medical staff running out of provisions, Arsenal will still likely finish towards the top of the table. No matter how the game plays out for Arsenal, the fans will also remain. But an unsuccessful wagon adventure could leave Wenger falling short of his Manifest Destiny come next season…  Champions League play.

Premier League Transfer Time

See, he's already used to wearing the Sky Blues

With the signing of Sergio Aguero, Man City have yet again added to the lunacy that is their strike force; they’ve still got Tevez, Dzeko, Balotelli, Adebayor, Santa Cruz and Craig Bellamy on their roster. Elsewhere, Charles N’Zogbia is undergoing a medical at Aston Villa… So who is is left to talk about in the Premier League? Plenty says Whitsport:

Here’s a quick wrap-up of the major signings thus far:

Arsenal: Gervinho (Lille)
Aston Villa: Shay Given (Man City), Charles N’Zogbia (Wigan)
Fulham: John Arne Riise (Roma)
Liverpool: Charlie Adam (Blackpool), Stewart Downing (AVilla), Jordan Henderson (Sunderland)
Man Utd: Ashley Young (AVilla), Phil Jones (Blackburn) David De Gea (Atletico Madrid)
Man City: Gael Clichy (Arsenal), Stefan Savic (Partizan Belgrade)
Newcastle: Demba Ba (West Ham)
Norwich: David Vaughan (Everton)
Stoke: Jonathan Woodgate (Spurs)
Sunderland: Seb Larsson (Birmingham), John O’Shea (Man Utd), Craig Gardner (Birmingham), Connor Wickham (Ipswich)
Spurs: Brad Friedel (AVilla)
Wolves: Jamie O’Hara (Spurs), Roger Johnson (Birmingham)

Staying in the PL, Charlie Adam headlines several big moves for the Reds

Now let’s look ahead to who’s left out there… that is, which players are thought to be “on the market”. Several players already seem to have a home at a new location, while others have no idea where they’ll be playing next season. All in all, things seem to change with each week, but that’s what keeps us interested all summer long. Mind you all of this is purely blind insight and straight up guessing, but let’s allow speculation to reign supreme!

Christopher Samba – Blackburn – massive central defender who can strike fear into the hearts of opposing players, on offense and defense
Whitsport Destination: Arsenal

Cesc Fabregas – Arsenal – the Gunner captain has been seeking a move back to Barca for several years now…
Whitsport Destination: Barcelona (finally)

Carlos Tevez – Man City – the little Argentinian led tke Citizens in scoring last year, but is outspoken in his desire to leave
Whitsport Destination: Juventus

Neymar – Santos – the young Brazilian has been turning heads recently, and will surely command top dollar
Whitsport Destination: Chelsea (2012)

Wesley Sneijder – Inter – the versatile Dutch midfielder was seen as a great replacement for Paul Scholes at Man united
Whitsport Destination: Inter (stays put)

Luka Modric – Spurs – the in-demand midfielder has already had several bids tabled for his services, but Uncle Harry continues to deny a move
Whitsport Destination: Chelsea

Javier Pastore – Palermo – the Argentinian playmaker has been highly sought after this summer
Whitsport Destination: PSG

Phil Jagielka – Everton – the England international looks to be a good addition to the back line of most teams
Whitsport Destination: Arsenal

Emmanuel Adebayor – Man City – the troubled African striker can seem to find a good home, and City won’t let him leave that easily
Whitsport Destination: Real Madrid

Romelu Lukaku – Anderlecht – several PL managers really covet this guy, is he truly the “next Didier Drogba”?
Whitsport Destination: Chelsea

Eden Hazard – Lille – as a newly crowned champion of Ligue 1, could he too follow Gervinho out the door?
Whitsport Destination – Lille (stays put)

Daniel Sturridge – Chelsea – the forward showed his worth at Bolton last year but is way down on the Blues’ pecking order
Whitsport Destination: Chelsea bench

Move to Arsenal seems to have stalled

Gary Cahill – Bolton – the English defender was highly sought after at the end of the season, but talks and speculation have cooled
Whitsport Destination: Liverpool (2012)

Adel Taarabt – QPR – the Hoops hero has seemingly wanted out of QPR the minute they earned promotion, weird right?
Whitsport Destination: QPR (stays put)

Did we miss any? please feel free to comment and leave your thoughts. As a reminder, the Premier League season starts on August 13th, but the transfer window will remain open until August 31st. Thanks for reading!