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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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!