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

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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 Preview – Part III: “The Big 5”

That’s right, it’s pretty much a big 5 now. But even this term is vague. No doubt Manchester City belongs in the discussion of top teams in the Premier League. Along with Man United and Chelsea, they seem most likely to challenge for the title this year. So what about the remaining teams? Let’s take a closer look…

Sinking Ship?

It'll be up to RVP to carry the weight

Arsenal has grabbed most headlines this summer, despite making only a few deals in the transfer market. As usual, speculation has run rampant on the possible sale of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona. The former Barca youth player finally seems destined for a return to his club, after being left out of the clubs pre-season fixtures entirely. Gunners fans’ headaches don’t end there though. There’s also specualtion that Samir Nasri could leave for Man City, and then there’s the fact that Arsenal’s only “boost” to the leaky backline was Carl Jenkinson. No matter how things play out in the transfer market, Arsenal still seems so unsettled that less and less people are picking them to finish in the top 4. As much of a disaster as it would be to not qualify for the Champions League, perhaps a poor season is just what Wenger needs. The purse strings at Arsenal may need some loosening if Arsenal are to keep up with the other clubs at the top.

“Home-Grown” potential
By using the term “home-grown” we essentially mean British. Afterall, the influx of new players into Kenny Dalglish’s newlook squad at Liverpool were hardly developed anywhere near Anfield. Nevertheless, the new arrivals at Liverpool have certainly created a buzz. If Luis Suarez can continue his creative play and Stewart Downing can bring his effective crossing, the Kop faithful have a lot to look forward to. A top 4 finish is still somewhat of a high goal, but the drop in Arsenal’s stock may give Liverpudlians some hope at sneaking back into the Champions League

Title Contenders

United with trust a 20 year old with the gloves and their hopes of a repeat title

Man United is the toast of the town heading into the 2011-2012 season, but don’t expect them to run away with the title as easily as some think. Man City is a huge threat, and showed it with their first half display at the Community Shield last week. Their strike force may not be on par with their wages, but Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez alone could wreak havoc on most defences. Joe Hart was stellar in net last year, and single handedly kept City in games they seemed to have no interest in winning. If Mancini can continue to get his men on the same page, he’ll walk home with another trophy this year, even if it’s a Cup.

Don’t discount the “ageing” Chelsea team either. We all saw what Ancelotti did in his first season in the Premier League. Could Villas-Boaz bring the same savy play, and catch his new English opposition off guard? Entirely possible… Drogba still proved he’s a menace last year, and Frank Lampard may still be serviceable as a holding midfielder. If the pieces come together, the Blues could have a shot, so long as Torres operates from the bench…

They look nothing alike...

Check out the Ultimate Premier League Preview for more insight, and some thoughts on where all 20 teams could finsish in this year’s table.

Cheers!

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!

 

 

2011 PFA = Pretty Fuzzy Announcements

Is it just me? Is anyone else confused about the award show last night? I have just a few questions on the recent announcements of the Professional Footballers’ Association votings…

Gareth Bale loves you!... and that ball hes running off with!

#1 Gareth Bale: Let me begin by saying I have a love affair with the Welshman. Not only did I pick him to be Spurs best player this year (link), but I’d say he’s in the list of the top 5 players I most enjoy watching on the pitch. However, how can a man who missed the better part of 2 months, and hasn’t scored since January 1st win the player of the year? Was it a half year award? If so, Gareth’s your man, and his rise to prominence was certainly spectacular. Regardless, I am still looking for an explanation as to how a relatively full season of spectacular performances is not a prerequisite for this award…

Other options:

The Scot was furious after finding out he hadnt won Player of the Year

Nani: The Portuguese winger tallied 10 Goals and 14 Assists, and is the main reason for United’s position atop the Premier League table
Charlie Adam: THE reason Blackpool isn’t bottom of the league right now, he’s the heart and soul of the club, and he did more for his team than any other player in the PL this season
Carlos Tevez: the source of goals at Eastlands during a time when they were hard to come by. Main reason they’re in Champions League contention this year

Ill let this photo speak for itself

#2 – Jack Wilshere? Really? The recently crowned PFA Young Player of the Year is even less deserving than Bale in my view. He’s behind one of his own teammates (Nasri) for goodness sake! I understand his role on the pitch, and don’t expect him to pour in goals or lead the team on the stat sheet, but I just don’t see it folks. If I had a vote… Joe Hart would be my winner, just take one look at Man City’s defensive record… he’s the reason they’ve kept 14 clean sheets. Hell, even Chicharito has scored 18 times for Man United after moving from half way across the globe.

#3 –Team of the Year? I have fewer issues with this one, seems like they got things mostly right. Van der Sar, A Cole, Vidic, Kompany, and Sagna were all great… Tevez and Berbatov were the best forwards in the game… but again we come to the midfield, instead of guys like Charlie Adam, Dirk Kuyt, Scott Parker, and Rafael Van der Vaart we’ve again placed Jack Wilshere and his solitary goal at midfield, and as one of the 11 best players in English football. Still doesn’t pass the smell test.

"I looked way cooler than Bale when accepting my award" ~ Christiano

Overall, I guess it feels like we’re getting ahead of ourselves, the English media has declared Wilshere and Bale the futures of their respective countries. I have no problem with this. I would also have no problem with naming either player something like “Breakout Player of the Year”. I understand this is the player’s choice, but to me, I think they’ve got it wrong here. Perhaps they’ve bought into the hype as well.

Tempers Flare in England!

As the Premier League season gets into full swing, we can count on two things… managerial sackings and player unrest. While the former typically comes first, the latter sometimes steals more headlines. The Wayne Rooney transfer rumors may have gained massive attention, but it now seems like that was ages ago. Rooney penned a new deal, and Man United have looked good ever since, without the help of Rooney in all honesty. But as a new bust-up arises at Eastlands, garnering plenty of chatter amongst the papers, tempers seem to be flaring up elsewhere across the country. Let’s take a closer look:

The media has made a mountain out of a mole-hill (Tevez's row with Mancini)

Carlos Tevez has handed in a transfer request. Man City has denied the request. Those are the facts, but now let the speculation begin… Sky Blue manager Roberto Mancini has said he has not spoken to Tevez since the Argentinian expressed his desire to leave, but insists his relationship with the striker is very good. Fingers now seem to point towards Man City’s management; a fairly easy target considering their expensive transfer swoops with no concern of team chemistry. But perhaps the finger should be pointed at Tevez himself? Lest we forget the unrest we’ve seen at literally every other club he’s played for… The “suffering” under Alex Ferguson… the savoir turned malcontent at West Ham… the insanity at Corinthians… the list goes on. It’s unsure where Tevez will be playing in January, but you can be sure that drama will likely follow him there

I think he's saying "how bout a hug?"

Samir Nasri has also enjoyed good form on the pitch for Arsenal this year, but put a microphone in front of him and the sparks seem to inevitably fly. Earlier last week he began a war of words with countryman Partice Evra, and Sir Alex Ferguson ahead of their clash at Old Trafford. Nasri didn’t just stop there though. New revelations have surfaced in his ongoing feud with another countryman, William Gallas. “I heard him saying it was ‘my loss’ that I hadn’t shaken hands with him. My loss? What the hell is all that about? He has forgotten how he bitched about me.” said Nasri to The Sun. Snarky comments aside, it’s becoming amazing how the brotherhood of being attached to a club is so much deeper than international roots. Just look at the Terry-Bridge non-handshake in February, though that incident had more off the field involvements.

This sums it up perfectly for Roy

In the managerial world, sackings have created quite a stir, as Newcastle sent Chris Houghton packing, to the ire of many (and not just in Newcastle). Sam Allardyce‘s dismissal by Blackburn was a bit more surprising, as Avram Grant and Roy Hodgson seem to be more likely candidates under the ax. Overall, managerial outbursts have been more related to those not departing anytime soon. Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson continued their long running rivalry, exchanging jabs ahead of their showdown last Monday. The Gunner gaffer also spoke out against the pitch conditions at Old Trafford, saying “the technical quality of the game suffered” as a result. Roy Hodgson and Carlo Ancelotti both have given heated statements about why their Big-4 jobs are secure. To throw even more fuel to the fire, Sir Alex has come out and given us a laundry list of reasons why Chelsea won’t win the title with their current squad.

Overall it’s hard to say who’s the bad guy in some of these situations. I’m sure most people can agree that guys like Rooney and Tevez were the causes of their own self-inflicted pain. While it’s also fairly obvious that there’s no reason teammates like Nasri and Gallas can’t get along… aside from that fact that they’re French. On the flip side, I’ll blame the media for Ancelotti’s and Hodgson’s sleepless nights. Until either of their respective clubs come out and say something to the effect of “his job’s on the line”, sackings shouldn’t be mentioned for teams 3rd and 9th in the table. On the other side of the coin, Avram “1 out of 3 or else” Grant has things to worry about these days.

It’s been an entertaining month to say the least; Cantankerous managers, irritable players, and quarrelsome fixtures (with some still come). We’ll see Chelsea v Man United, Arsenal v Chelsea, Arsenal v Man City, Spurs v Man United, and Liverpool v Everton all within the next 30 days. With the opening of the transfer window just 2 weeks away, it looks like another entertaining period is upon us. Now, if only Jose Mourinho still coached in England…

What’s Wrong with Chelsea?!

During the first two weeks of the Premier League season, viewers were treated to some impressive performances. Two specific victories came courtesy of Ancelotti’s champions in Blue. Chelsea kicked off the new campaign with ferocity and left opponents in piles of rubble along the way. With a pair of 6-nil victories, the Pensioners were already crowned 2010-2011 champions by many. Didier Drogba’s comments after the Wigan thrashing simply seemed modest… “It would be great if we could win the league with a lot of points, but this league is not going to be easy” said Drogba. But which team could possibly match their tenacity? Who would stop them from scoring?

Perhaps Drogba was onto something, and an automatic Chelsea repeat was a bit premature. But the Londoners continued on, winning 3 more league matches and conceding just one goal. At that point Arsenal had already lost to recently promoted West Brom, and Man United couldn’t seem to hold onto a second half lead.

Shocking Turning point…

Tevez personally handed Chelsea their first loss of the season

But then, in one of the more attention-getting results in recent memory, the Champs fell. Chelsea lost 0-1 to Man City, as their unlimited supply of cash sprung them into the title discussion. At first, the game looked to be a blip on the radar, as Chelsea went on to beat Arsenal the very next week. They also went on to win 2 and draw 1 of their next three matches. Goals were less frequent though, as it took the pace-setters 84 minutes to finish off a scrappy Blackburn club, and they couldn’t manage to find the back of the net at all at Villa Park.

Chelsea started the month of November off with a nice cushion atop the table, but then proceeded to lose to Liverpool, and squeak out a 1-0 victory vs Fulham. This past weekend’s 3-nil shocker at the hands of Sunderland appears to be the wake-up call. The team that looked invincible just weeks ago, has now lost thrice in 8 matches. Since the loss to City, Chelsea have managed just 7 goals (after scoring 21 in their first 5 fixtures).

Who’s to Blame?

Ancelotti may need to take up smoking again

Is it Ancelotti’s fault? He seemed to have English down pat, and the English game in his pocket. After Chelsea’s roaring start, the Italian manager didn’t change much. The attack stayed the same, but the goals just haven’t come…

It couldn’t be Drogba’s fault, could it? after all he was the one who said it was not going to be easy to repeat as champs. But the Ivorian has netted just once since the City game, and a recent story of the striker contracting Malaria is another wrench thrown into the ring.

Could it be injuries? Some we know about, like Lampard’s groin, Alex’s knee, and Terry’s leg. But who else may be suffering without letting on. Could Drogba’s malaria be hampering him more than we thought? Perhaps the loss of former players like Joe Cole and Michael Ballack is more of an impact than first thought.

Final Verdict…

I’ll point the finger towards City. I’m not sure if they exposed Chelsea’s weaknesses, but it seems like they haven’t been the same since that afternoon in September. Arsenal fought hard at Stamford bridge and probably deserved better than a 2 goal defeat; other teams which Chelsea managed wins against (like Fulham and Rovers) have also looked better, and seemed to give Chelsea more problems than earlier in the year. A healthy Chelsea team is still probably the best in England, but the fact that rivals Arsenal and United are both within 3 points does not bode well for a team playing poorly. P.S. They may be without their skipper (and most reliable defender) for several months.

Chelsea still finds ways to win, and credit Ancelotti for starting to infuse younger players into the line-up. They’re still the pace-setters, but this may not be the wire-to-wire campaign we all started to imagine in August.