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

Premier League Preview – Part II

That’s right, just 1 week until kickoff, the start of the Premier League season is so close we can smell it. Earlier in the week, Whitsport took a look at the teams that finished last season at the bottom of the table. When you look at the teams from #10 to #5, you’ll see a lot of similarities.

Let’s now examine the middle of the pack… Each of these teams are looking at qualifying for Europe this season, but which ones have a realistic shot?

High Hopes

Bruce will rely on John O'Shea to bring the winning mentality to the Stadium of Light

When Steve Bruce took over at Sunderland, you could tell he had high hopes. Everything he’s done over the last 3 seasons has emulated his managers and former colleagues of the past. Heck he’s even resorted to snatching up a slew of Sir Alex’s own players. But this year, the Sunderland team has a different feel to it. They’ve kept some key pieces like Gyan, Bramble, and Bardsley, and have added an interesting combo of youth, promise, and leadership. Don’t be surprised if they start sneaking up the table come mid-season.

Another team on the rise is definitely Liverpool. While some of the Kop faithful claim that they’ll challenge for the title, Chairman Tom Warner said it best when he set their first goal as “finishing in the top 4”. While the additions of Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson might take time to really play out, Stewart Downing looks to make an immediate impact. His crossing ability combined with the finishing prowess of Andy Carroll, creative playmaking of Suarez, and tenacity of Dirk Kuyt make them a contender for sure.

Middle Class

Pavly's also scratching his head as to why he doesn't get on the pitch

Tottenham Hotspur will likely been in good contention for a Europa League spot, but Uncle ‘Arry’s dreams of returning to the Champions League are slim in my book. Sure, Bale, VDV, and Friedel are in tow, but their strike force doesn’t doesn’t pass the smell test. Crouch seems less effective with each passing year, and Pavlyuchenko (who has been their most efficient striker) doesn’t see enough time on the pitch. Additionally, Michael Dawson cannot do it alone on defense, and Spurs nature to concede goals is still their biggest concern.

Another team that has a legitimate shot at the Europa League is Fulham. Martin Jol seems very comfortable with what was left to him by Hughes and Hodgson. If Dempsey can retain form, and others continue to chip in offensively, the Cottagers won’t even need to hedge their chances on Zamora’s and Andy Johnson’s respective healths. The retained Fulham back-line and addition of John Arne Riise should prove to be their strong point again this year.

Seeing the Drop?

Get used to seeing this scowl Villa fans

… from the top half, that is. Aston Villa fans may think this sounds crazy, but Charles N’Zogbia will NOT replace the losses of Downing and Young. Defensive minded manager Alex McLeish may help rejuvenate the back four at Villa Park, but scoring will be the likely issue. Villa has struggled to find scoring in recent years, and even though Darren Bent is good for a dozen or so tallies each season, their lack of talent at midfield is a real cause for concern.

Check back next week for a look at the top 4, and the launch of the Premier League Predictions page, just in time for the 2011-2012 season. 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…

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!

European Football Wrap-Up… Historic Ending to 09/10

With just two weeks left to play, the 2009-2010 footy season comes to a crescendo. In just a short while title races across the continent will wrap up. The past few months have shown us some of the biggest ups and downs, as well as some of the closest title races in years.

In the English Premier League it looked to be all over as Drogba’s second half goal sunk Manchester United on April 3rd. But a dramatic United win in the Manchester Derby and a Spurs shock victory over the Blues last week has kept the title race alive. Chelsea lead Man United by a solitary point going into a weekend where Sunderland looks to steal points from United for the second time this season, while Chelsea travel to Anfield, hoping to hang onto their slim margin atop the table.

Arsenal may have fallen off the pace, but have to consider this season a good sign of things to come. Despite losing Arshavin, Fabregas, and Van Persie for months at a time, the Gunners were in the title race through mid-April. They’ve obviously secured a Champions League spot, while the race for the #4 spot seems to see no end… The May 5th clash between Spurs and City is a huge one, with the coveted final CL spot possibly hanging in the balance. To make things even more interesting, Aston Villa and Liverpool are still contenders as well.

Although the relegation battle has already been decided, it is fair to say that the true “bottom three” teams are going down. Best wishes to the Tigers, Clarets, and financially cursed Pompey.

Over in the La Liga, it seemed like El Classico had wrapped things up, but a Barca draw last weekend, and a comeback win by Madrid has kept things interesting. The two Spanish giants are also separated by just a point, and the advantage looks to be with Barcelona, thanks to their easier remaining schedule and existing lead in the table.

In the Serie A, I was disappointed to see AC Milan drop out of Scudetto contention, for a three horse race would have been sensational, but nonetheless, the events of this past weekend were enough to satisfy fans of late season drama. AS Roma fell to Sampdoria, while Inter grabbed all three points and went back atop the table.

Over in the German Bundesliga, Schalke notched a win and capitalized on Bayern Munich’s 0-0 result, to draw even on points for first in the standings. Bayern may have an easier league schedule, but they’ve also got that extra Champions league fixture to worry about…

Things may be all said in done in Ligue 1, what was once a 5 team battle just 1 month ago has turned into a runaway. Lyon dropped points in 5 of its last 7 games, while Marseille has earned 3 points in each of its last 7 fixtures. Most teams still have 4 or 5 games remaining, but l’OM’s 5 point lead looks like it should hold up, especially due to their recent form

In terms of the Champions League, some have said there could be an anticlimactic end to an exciting year in European contests. Teams like Liverpool and Juventus were bounced early from the group stages. Others surprised the masses, as in Lyon and Fiorentina. But the finale comes down to Bayern Munich vs Lyon, and Barcelona vs Inter Milan, where the Nerazzurri hold a first leg lead. The Spanish giants were basically handed the title after Messi’s stellar dismissal of Arsenal, but Jose Mourinho has coached up his Italian side, and Barca will have to overcome a 2 goal deficit back at Camp Nou to have a shot at defending their title. Bayern may have grabbed a goal advantage in their first fixture, but Lyon has shown that they are fully capable of late game magic before. No matter who ends up advancing, this years final will surely be fit to wrap up a stellar year in European Football.