Back again with the quickness, the Premier League is set to return this Saturday, August 18th. And if it feels like they just ended, then you haven’t sweated the summer. I’m sure the Euros and the Olympics helped to calm the DTs of footie fans around the globe, but there’s nothing like the real thing. And the real thing comes back this weekend. Hallelujah! It’s back!
So let’s once again go through who will be the teams vying in the top echelon of English soccer this season and what we could expect from each one of them. And because I can’t just make you read a 5,000-word treatise on soccer without giving you something extra, I’m going to add a few pretty pictures of English girls throughout this post. You’re welcome.
Arsenal: If last season couldn’t start any worse for the Gunners, then this one I’m actually bullish on. I think the additions of Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski – three established international talents in their prime – will help propel Arsenal back into the title race for the Premier League. Yes, the Robin van Persie, Alex Song & Theo Walcott situations still loom over the team but, unless something drastic happens, all three will be in the fold come September 1st. Furthermore with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Gervinho all one year in on their careers at Emirates, they should start the season aware of what is needed to challenge. The key will be whether new assistant coach Steve Bould can help train the defense from giving up 49 goals – a 20-goal difference from the champions last year. PREDICTION: TITLE CONTENDERS
Aston Villa: The Eck is gone! The Eck is gone! Alex McLeish’s post-season sacking was celebrated across the Second City and in his place comes Paul Lambert, recently of the feel-good Norwich City. But there’s a difference between Norwich and Villa and Villains will not wait to make their presence felt if they don’t see good results from Lambert. Unfortunately, they’ll start the season with injuries to Gabriel Agbonlahor, Richard Dunne and Marc Albrighton, which means more pressure will be heaped on Darren Bent, Charles N’Zogbia, Shay Given and the mercurial Stephen Ireland, whom everyone is still waiting on for his best form. They’ll need to score more goals than the 37 they scored last year to make serious inroads on the table. At least, they should have enough talent to not flirt with relegation. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT
Chelsea: Winning the FA Cup and Champions League double did wonders for Blues fans and their outlook on last season. Keeping Roberto Di Matteo was the least Big Boss Roman could do after Di Matteo delivered the long-sought Big Eared Cup. But good feelings and triumphs don’t appease Mr. Abramovich for too long and he’ll expect a big return on the new contract he gave to Di Matteo and on the transfer outlay of this summer of 60 million pounds – midfielders Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar. Key for them will be the health of the defense (an issue last year with injuries to Terry, Cahill and Luiz) and the form of striker Fernando Torres (an issue ever since he moved). Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou are all gone and, with Romelu Lukaku looking for a loan move, the pressure is all on “El Nino” to deliver goals. Big Boss doesn’t take well to disappointment. PREDICTION: TITLE CONTENDERS
Everton: Finishing ahead of cross-town rivals Liverpool made folks at Goodison Park happy. Particularly since last season saw the usual twin-halves of the Toffees (first half of the season bad, second half of the season good). There’s hope that this year they will be consistent for the entire campaign. For one, they didn’t wait to sell players to buy new ones. Midfielders Steven Pienaar and Steve Naismith joined the club from Spurs and Rangers respectively. They’ll join Nikica Jelavic, Marouane Fellaini, Tim Howard and Phil Neville in challenging for their usual top 10 spot. And while selling Jack Rodwell to Manchester City may deprive them of a young talent, they have found a way to keep the forever-transfer storied Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka at the heart of their defense. If there’s a need, David Moyes has proven adept at loaning players during the winter window. PREDICTION: TOP 10 FINISH
Fulham: Somehow the Cottagers have kept last season’s top scorer, Clint Dempsey, from leaving for the greener pastures of Anfield or Emirates or the other clubs he’s been linked with. That should encourage them as they try to get back into European competition. They’ve brought in Hugo Rodallega from Wigan to replace Pavel Pogrebnyak while players like Dickson Etuhu, Andrew Johnson and Danny Murphy were let go. They’ll rely on Mark Schwarzer, Moussa Dembele and Brede Hangeland to continue being such a tough opponent. But it’ll fall on Dempsey to lift them as high as he can to see where they end. It’s unlikely they’ll rise much higher than last year’s 9th-place finish but at least they won’t worry about relegation. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT
Liverpool: 110 million pounds spent on new players last year weren’t enough to prevent Liverpool from equaling its worst finish in the Premier League and it resulted in the dethroning of “King Kenny” Dalglish. In his place enters Brendan Rodgers, who has shown some aggressive acumen while at Swansea. So far, Liverpool has let go of former stalwarts like Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez – oh and Alberto Aquilani is gone too. In their place come young Roma striker Fabio Borini and young Swansea midfielder Joe Allen to help bolster a squad still led by Steven Gerrard, Jaime Carragher and Pepe Reina. If Rodgers can keep defender Daniel Agger away from Manchester City and if he can find a way to get the forward line (namely Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez) to increase the number of goals scored, they might have a chance to get back their Champions League spot. PREDICTION: TOP 4 CONTENDER
Manchester City: Winning the Premier League in the fashion they did has allowed City’s supporters to forget all the moments when it looked like it was lost (like going down 2-1 to QPR on that last day). Never mind, champions they are and champions they’d like to stay. Roberto Mancini will be relying on his usual cast (Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Yaya Toure) to continue growing as a team and push on both the Premier League and Champions League fronts. Fears of Financial Fair Play rules have limited their transfer dealings. So far only Jack Rodwell has arrived and he’s seen as more of a future player than one for the present while they’re linked with a move for Daniel Agger to help shore up their defense. Keeping the crown is always harder than winning it, but they’ll be in contention. PREDICTION: TITLE CONTENDERS
Manchester United: Losing the Premier League the way they did had to suck. That said, the fact they were that close given everything that happened last season was a minor miracle. They’ll hope they won’t face as many injuries to the defense this year and that the young players like David De Gea, Johnnie Evans, Phil Jones, Danny Wellbeck and Tom Cleverley are more composed and surefooted this time around. They’ll rely on Wayne Rooney, Nani, Ashley Young, Nemanja Vidic, newcomer Shinji Kagawa and the old brigade of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand to keep them from losing a step. All the same, they’re a team who are entering a period of transition. PREDICTION: TITLE CONTENDERS
Newcastle United: Last year’s Toon was a surprise, a revelation and a shock. Alan Pardew displayed the kind of transfer and managerial nous that rightfully earned him the Manager of the Year trophy. His Newcastle challenged for the Top 4 right until the last weekend of the season. Their mission this year will be to build on last season’s successes while competing on Europe. At least they’ve kept all of last year’s stars together as they’ll rely on Demba Ba, Papiss Demba Cisse, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Cheik Tiote, Tim Krul and Fabricio Coloccini. To challenge for the Champions League spots, they’ll need to cut down on the Goals Allowed: 51. How they react to having expectations of success heaped on them will be interesting to see. PREDICTION: TOP FOUR CONTENDERS
Norwich City: The Canaries flew high last season and managed to avoid the drop. This year, they’ll have to duplicate that effort without departed manager Paul Lambert. In his place, former Newcastle boss Chris Hughton arrives to try and prevent the Second Season Syndrome from claiming the Canaries. Foremost on his mind will be a way to concede less goals than the 66 Norwich gave up last year – tied for most of any non-relegated team. To that end, they’ve brought in defenders Michael Turner and Steven Whittaker. They’ve also added Robert Snodgrass to the forward line to take some pressure from Grant Holt, who remains a Norwich player in spite of a stated desire to leave. All the same, it’ll be a tough second season and they could get dragged into the relegation fight. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS
Queens Park Rangers: And here is the other team that gave up 66 goals last year. To be fair to QPR, they were a team who shifted dramatically during the season. They started the season with Neil Warnock as manager before a bad run of games cost him his job. Mark Hughes came in and, with luck and some breaks, managed to stay in the top flight. Part of Hughes’ role will be to cut down on the goals allowed. He starts by bringing in England international Robert Green at goalkeeper and defenders Ryan Nelsen and loaned Fabio da Silva. He’s also lost last year’s top scorer Heidar Helguson but will seek for goals to come from new arrivals Park Ji-Sung, Andrew Johnson and Bobby Zamora to complement Djibril Cisse. Oh and Joey Barton remains their player though suspended for the first 12 games. They will need more luck to stay. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS
Reading: The last time Reading was in the top flight, Steve Coppell was their manager and they lost 13 of their last 18 games. This time manager Brian McDermott will hope for better form and better luck as they seek to continue the run of Championship champions to remain in the Premier League during their first season back. To that end, new owner Anton Zingarevich opened up his wallet to bring in forwards Pavel Pogrebnyak and Adrian Mariappa, midfielder Danny Guthrie and defenders Nicky Shorey, Chris Gunter and Pierce Sweeney. It’ll be a tough going for the Royals, but if they can gel quickly and steal points off teams before they’re figured out, they might survive. It’ll be a tough year otherwise. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS
Southampton: The Saints came marching back in. After a seven-year absence that’s seen them go into administration, drop down to League One, sell many of their prized youngsters (Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) and claw their way back up, they return to the League they helped form. Manager Nigel Adkins will have his work cut out for him to stay in the top flight. They’ve acquired some help in former Rangers midfielder and captain Steven Davis as well as forward Jay Rodriguez and defender Nathaniel Clyne. They’ll join defender Frazer Robertson, midfielder Adam Lallana and, the top scorer in last year’s Championship campaign, forward Rickie Lambert in trying to help keep Saints up. All the same, it’s tough to see how they survive. It may come down to other teams’ form as much as their own. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS
Stoke City: By this point, you know full and well what you’re going to get out of the Potters. They’re going to be tough and physical. Rory Delap will use his towel 20 times and throw balls towards Peter Crouch in the box. If you get between Ryan Shawcross and Dean Whitehead, you’ll get crushed. They’ll steal points from big teams and they’ll lose to teams who manage to break their defense. Adding midfielders Jamie Ness and Michael Kightly and defender Geoff Cameron should help shore up some losses like Danny Collins and Jonathan Woodgate. It’ll be crucial for them to score more goals than the league-worst 36 they got last year. In the end, they’re too good to fall into relegation zone but not so great to climb towards the top. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT
Sunderland: With the Steve Bruce era over at the Stadium of Light, the sale is under way with 7 players (most notably, Asamoah Gyan and Michael Turner) already gone. Meanwhile, Martin O’Neill is looking to bring some players in – defenders Wayne Bridge, Carlos Cuellar and Sotyrios Kyrgiakos are already in and a possible move for Wolves’ Steven Fletcher is in the works. The team will still work around midfielders Stephane Sessegnon, Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson with Frazier Campbell, Ryan Noble and Connor Wickham all looking to get on the end of their passes and score. They should have enough to avoid the relegation fight but their fans will demand they don’t fall further behind their old nemesis, Newcastle. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT
Swansea City: The Swans have lost their manager and their best midfielder to Liverpool. Replacing Joe Allen will be tough but replacing Brendan Rodgers will be even tougher. New boss Michael Laudrup may try to continue the high-flying, high-attack model of Rodgers. Key will be to integrate new players like midfielder Miguel Perez Cuesta (AKA Michu) and defender Jose Manuel Flores (AKA Chico)into a side that doesn’t feature players with so many names. They’ll need to score more than they did last year and they’ll rely on Danny Graham, Scott Sinclair, Luke Moore and Leroy Lita to offset the losses of Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Even if they go down, they’ll be fun to watch. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT
Tottenham Hotspur: After flirting with the title chase for the first half of the season, the wheels came off the Spurs rollercoaster thanks to a 5-2 thrashing at the hands of Arsenal. Five wins in what remained of the season followed and Harry Redknapp wasn’t retained. In his place enters Andres Villas-Boas, who last year was one of the hottest young coaches around but is now looking to rebuild his reputation after a failed stint at Chelsea. He has a tough road ahead. Foremost, he needs a resolution to the Luka Modric transfer saga – rumors of a move for Yann M’Vila indicates a possible endgame approaching. Beyond that, he’s got to bed in midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson and defender Jan Vertonghen into his side and find a way to convince Emmanuel Adebayor to take less money to make his transfer permanent from Man City as their need for a quality striker is big – as big as their need for a quality goalkeeper. Hence the continued rumors of a move for Julio Cesar from Inter. They’ll still rely on Rafael Van der Vaart, Gareth Bale and youngster Kyle Walker to retain last year’s form. They should have enough to not fall off the top 4 pace but may find bridging the gap between them and the big teams too much. PREDICTION: TOP 10 FINISH
West Bromwich Albion: A top 10 finish was a nice way to send off former manager Roy Hodgson. In his place steps Steve Clarke who finds a decent team around him. Forwards Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long are still there as are goalkeeper Ben Foster (who finally made his loan move permanent) and newcomers Markus Rosenberg and Claudio Yobo. They have to hope to keep defender Jonas Olsson to not create turmoil at the back, but West Brom is a solid team who should enjoy another year of top flight football without too many concerns. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT
West Ham United: Back again into the Premier League are the Hammers and back is “Big” Sam Allardyce. That said last season’s Championship Play-Off Winners were a departure from the usual Allardyce routine. They were attacking and scored for fun (81 goals) while retaining his trademark tough defense (only 48 conceded). Ricardo Vaz Te led the team with 22 goals. He’ll be looking for a similar campaign this year and with solid transfers like midfielders Alou Diarra and Mohamed Diame as well as goalkeeper (and Allardyce-favorite) Jussi Jaaskalainen to replace the departed Robert Green. The Hammers are marking their intention to stay in the top flight this season. If nothing else, we know that Allardyce knows how to keep teams from going through the trap door. PREDICTION: MIDTABLE COMFORT
Wigan Athletic: The Latics managed to hang onto manager Roberto Martinez, who was linked with a bevy of jobs during the summer. Good thing because they’re going to want to continue their end-of-the-season run from last season. While they’ve lost Hugo Rodallega, Chris Kirkland and Mohamed Diame, Martinez has brought in forward Mauro Boselli, midfielder Fraser Fyvie, and defender Ivan Ramis to help Franco Di Santo and Shaun Maloney. They’ll be further boosted if they can keep Victor Moses from leaving for Chelsea. It’s tough to predict anything but another fight to avoid relegation but, if they play as they did during April and May of last season, then they’ll keep taking scalps from teams that underestimate them. PREDICTION: RELEGATION FIGHTERS
Enjoy the season’s start on Saturday and get ready…cause it’s back!