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!

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!

 

 

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.

Premier League: Quarter Pole Update

With about 1/4th of the season already behind us, let’s take a glimmer at what’s happened already this season. Chelsea got off to a roaring start, scoring 21 goals in their first 5 games. Man City looks to be a real candidate for a Champions League spot and possibly even the league title, thanks to solid defensive play. Liverpool’s early season petulance saw them in the relegation zone, and Roy Hodgson was keeping an eye on the local job section of the paper.

Rooney's lone goal this year came from the spot

Off the pitch Wayne Rooney staged a one manned mutiny against United turning a nation and an entire fan-base against him; only to sign a multi-year extension two days later. While United fans might take some time to forgive the England star, he himself is more focused on returning from injury and regaining his form (scoring just once this season).

Some incredible performances were conjured up as well. Wigan’s 1-0 victory over Spurs, after giving up 10 goals over the first 2 games. Arsenal’s 2-3 defeat at the hands of West Brom shook things up as well, and truly underlined the Gunners’ injury crisis that just wont go away. A healthy Chelsea team looked at their wit’s end against Man City in a September classic that began the chatter of City as title contenders. Man United gave up a 2 goal lead against Everton in injury time, which underlined their early season defensive struggles.

The Table through 10 Games:

New Boys Progress:

Blackpool can be considered one of the surprises of the season so far, especially after an opening day cracker, and a stunning victory over Liverpool. But can Ian Holloway secure enough points to keep the Tangerines up? Hull City nearly crashed out in 2009 even after a marvelous opening two months. The locals at Bloomfield have plenty to be concerned about, especially after factoring the team’s PL leading 21 goals against.

While Blackpool may have started the season as favorites to go right back down, most pundits didn’t expect much from the likes of West Brom either. Averaging just a hair over 30 points in their previous 4 Premier League campaigns, the odds were certainly in favor of the Baggies plunging yet again. But manager Roberto Di Matteo seems to have his side playing well on both sides of the ball, and without a defeat at home.

Even outside of the Toon Army, many people expected Newcastle to stay up. After dominating the Championship last year, it was clear they belonged in first tier football. But consistency has been a problem once again, with the squad firing home 5 goals one game, but seeming over-matched the very next. Perhaps the Magpies’ place in the middle of the table is quite fitting.

Fun Facts through the first quarter:

A frustrated Cole after a lackluster performance at Anfield

– Liverpool went without a victory in the first 7 games in which Joe Cole played.

– Darren Bent’s 95th minute equalizer against Arsenal came exactly 364 days after Michael Owen’s 95th minute winner in the Manchester Derby last season.

– Italian coaches took home the Manager of the Month awards in consecutive months (Ancelotti and Di Matteo). City’s 2-0-2 record in October does not help Mancini’s hopes of keeping the streak alive though.

– Arsenal’s clean sheet against Man City last week was it’s first shutout away from the Emirates in almost 10 months.

– Didier Drogba’s impressive opening game hat-trick (which took 22 minutes) was still slower than Jermain Defoe’s feat last year, accomplished in a span of just 6 minutes.

– Ryan Giggs wasted no time, scoring on Aug 16, continuing his streak of scoring in every season since the formation of the Premier League  (1993-2010).

– Every team in the PL has been held scoreless in at least one game this season.

– Man United is the only team to remain undefeated this year, yet they remain in 3rd position after drawing 5 of their first 8 games. NOTE: they drew just 6 games in all of last season.

– Until Monday night, Blackpool was the only PL team who had yet to record a victory at home this season. 5 clubs are still win-less on the road.

So what do the remaining 280 games hold in store? I expect plenty of drama, a few more shockers, and plenty of jockeying up and down the table. Enjoy!

2010/2011 Premier League Predictions

On the eve of new beginnings, the English Premier League is ready to raise the curtains. We prepare to embark on another exciting journey filled with breathtaking goals, stunning stops, and moments that leave you on the edge of your seat. As always, specualtion runs high and pundits try to pick where they think teams will finish this year. Although the Premier League offers little change from one year to the next, we often find ourselves amazed at certain team’s play (positive and negative). Overall, nobody can predict exactly what will happen, and after all, we’ll have to wait 9 months until a resolution is made anyway. But it’s all about the ride anyway, so let’s throw some opinions around, and see where the EPL train eventually takes us…

PREDICTIONS:
Without much argument, it is safe to say that Chelsea, Man United, and Arsenal will be the main title contenders this year. While some may make an argument for City’s inclusion, they’ve yet to display the consistency and ground out wins that are necessary. European spots will be fought for tooth and nail, especially that final Champions League spot. Here’s how I see things shaping up:

Top 3:
1. Man United – Boost by depth, emerging youth, and addition of Chicharito
2. Arsenal – Great signings, look to be more balanced and deep across pitch
3. Chelsea – Loss of Ballack, Cole, Deco, and Carvalho tough to cope with, especially defensively.

Fighting for Europe:
4. Man City – Added more expensive talent, but will need to gel quickly to obtain CL spot
5. Liverpool – Adding Cole and Hodgson should lift spirits, need Torres healthy
6. Everton – Hot at end of last year, look healthier and more solid defensively
7. Tottenham – Added focus on Europe may distract domestic play, didn’t add to squad
8. Aston Villa – Loss of O’Neill was HUGE. Others may follow him out in a mass exodus

Mid-Table:
9. Fulham – Hughes is a solid gaffer, with a decent team already in place
10. Birmingham – Still have a solid defense, but played well above expectations last year
11. Stoke City – Added a striker, but not much else. Pulis will have to pull out all the stops
12. Bolton – Coyle’s impact will continue to help Trotters improve & become consistent
13. Blackburn– Have not added players to support weak offense. Big Sam needs help
14. West Ham – Avram Grant hopes to mold a squad with potential across the pitch

Relegation Battle:
15. Newcastle – Obviously more competitive than 2nd division. Still work to be done
16. Sunderland – Injuries and squad weakness already in question. Potential to drop
17. Wolves – Lucky to stay up last year despite weakest offense. Definite drop contenders
18. Wigan – Skeleton crew on defense will face relegation battle. Martinez sacking likely
19. West Brom – Face task of finally staying up. Weak defense, but formidable offense
20. Blackpool – Missing pieces that got them promoted (loans ended). Happy to be here

With a few more predictions left to make, let’s round up the post-season awards that will be handed out:

Young Player of the Year: Gareth Bale – TOT
Manager of the Year: David Moyes – EVR
Golden Boot: Didier Drogba – CHE
Golden Glove: Eddie Van Der Sar – MANU
Player of the Year:  Cesc Fabregas – ARS

First Manager Sacked: Roberto Martinez
Most Goals Allowed: Blackpool

It looks to be another exciting season. We can only hope that the level of competition rises once again, and that even more teams challenge for the title, and for European places. Let’s hope for no administration, and some truly remarkable relegation battles. It’s off to the races, enjoy!