My Ultimate Championship predictions – Premier League
Reminder: the deadline for Conference and Europe predictions is Friday 10th August at midnight. Entries will be accepted after but will be subject to points penalties. The deadline for Ultimate Championship predictions (for the Premier and Football Leagues) is Friday 17th August at midnight.
Last year’s Premier League season was quite good. This year could be even better. While reigning champions Manchester City haven’t really invested in improving their squad yet, the chasing pack certainly have. This may mean the top 5 or 6 teams is a bit further clear of the congested midfield, but it should mean a good title fight. It should also mean another close relegation battle as well. I’ve tried to make sense of it all.
1. Manchester City – #arabianknights
While all their rivals are busy buying, stability might be the key to Manchester City winning another title. It could go one of two ways – other teams might improve whereas Man City don’t move on from nearly not winning the title, or the benefit of casting away the stigma of not having won the league could send them into an unbeatable frenzy. They’re a safe bet for the top because they’re almost certainly going to be up the top whatever happens. But it’s by no means guaranteed.
2. Manchester United – #alexstartanarmy
Glazernomics and a god awful home shirt have not prevented United from winning the league in the past and they won’t be the reason why they won’t win it this year. However, the lack of depth in centre-midfield might – signing Shinji Kagawa is all well and good but Ferguson still hasn’t addressed the key reason why United lost to City in the crucial Manchester Derby towards the end of last season. They might still win the league, because they are Manchester United and they can. But I have my doubts this time.
3. Chelsea – #theadventuresofrobertmatthews
It would be a bit of an understatement to suggest last season was a bit eventful for Chelsea. Coming into this season, they now have the momentum of that Champions League victory, as well as a stack of new signings that give the team the width it lacked last year if nothing else. There are still question marks about the defence, but given that you could say that about so many English clubs at the moment, I’m not sure it’ll be a major issue. With Drogba gone, Fernando Torres will be a major factor now that the team will be built around his considerable talent.
4. Arsenal – #ohsotherewasmoneytheretospendafterall
At last Arsene Wenger has spent some money in the summer – OK, he did last summer too, but that was after the season started. The arrivals of Lucas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla are boosts for a side not already lacking in creativity but nonetheless will gratefully receive their services. Whether or not Robin van Persie hangs around is of course important but not vital – I can see them finishing in roughly the same position regardless of whether or not he stays. The reason for that is that the defence is still the major issue, something Wenger seemingly hasn’t touched and probably won’t.
5. Tottenham Hotspur – #andrepreview
Redknapp and King out, Villas-Boas and Vertonghen in. That’s pretty much been Spurs’ summer. They were good last year so I don’t see why they wouldn’t be under a better manager. The same issues are still prevalent – the defence still looks a bit iffy and they still employ Jermain Defoe – but this time the manager isn’t going to get distracted by the England job. But the pressure is still on AVB to deliver straight away, otherwise the wrath of the ‘Arry Brigade in the crowd and the media will quickly turn the heat up.
6. Newcastle United – #oneforsorrowtwoforjoy
Same again for Newcastle – a relatively unchanged squad with no major departures, unless you’re one of those weird people who believes Danny Guthrie is the new Lothar Matthaus, and a couple of young prospects signed up, including Gael Bigirimana from Coventry. Mathieu Debuchy is also expected to sign. It is worth noting that Sylvain Marveaux will be back from injury too after barely playing last year. It will be hard to repeat the tremendous season they had last year, but if Cisse starts scoring, who’d bet against another European spot?
7. Everton – #toffeecrisp
Everton always start slowly – we all know that. So don’t judge me too early if they’re way down the table and I’m losing a hatful of points on them – it’ll come good eventually, I’m sure. The side is now settled, with a couple of interesting signings in Steven Naismith and the return of Steven Pienaar that are more likely to be benefits than hindrances. Nikica Jelavic gets a full season to show what he can do, presumably alongside his former Rangers strike partner. I can see this being a good year for Everton.
8. Liverpool – #tikitakalmdownkalmdown
Call me a cynic, but I’m not convinced Brendan Rodgers is the right man for the job, and I’ll put that up there so that everyone can laugh when Liverpool win the league. There is method behind the madness – to me it seems the guys running the club have thought to themselves “I know, let’s get in one of those managers who likes Spanish-type passing football. That’ll work” and chucked Rodgers in there expecting miracles to be performed overnight – OK, maybe they don’t, but they still can’t expect a sudden turn-around in form just by changing the style. The side will need to be totally overhauled (again) before they have the right players to do this (and anyway, since when is Clint Dempsey an expert in tiki-taka?), and I’m not sure he’ll get the time to do this. I’d love to see him succeed because he seems like a nice guy, but I’m not sure he’s the answer right now. Unless of course he can discover Jamie Carragher’s hidden talent to play as a Busquets-style deep-lying playmaker. I remain open-minded.
9. Sunderland – #wearandtear
Martin O’Neill! I was just thinking of leaving this at that, but I won’t because that’s lazy. MON’s had a really good turf-out this summer, although he’s done it without signing many players – maybe he’s trying to prove to the critics that he can do it without spending loads of money. I’m sure he can. Maybe I’ve put them too high bearing in mind the teams below, but it seemed like the logical place to put them.
10. Fulham – #dontstoptilyougetenough
Without the worry of European competition, I think Fulham will be solid all year. It took a while for them to get going last season, but when they played well they played very well. The squad is relatively the same – Dempsey’s still a Fulham player at the time of writing, and the addition of Mladen Petric I think will prove to be a solid one, although I’m not convinced by Rodallega. The only real loss is Pavel Pogrebnyak, who Martin Jol must have thought would stay. Disappointing.
11. Aston Villa – #lambertbutnobutler
In contrast to Rodgers at Liverpool, I think Villa have made the right call, and also I think Norwich will miss Paul Lambert more than Swansea will miss the Northern Irishman. Villa’s main problem in their terrible run towards the end of the season, aside from being managed by the most negative manager on Earth, was the lack of a striker who could still the ball in the onion bag. Darren Bent is now fit again, which should at least provide some solution, although Lambert hasn’t signed any. My hope for Villa is that this means Lambert will play 4-5-1 and utilise wingers like N’Zogbia much better than his predecessor.
12. West Ham United – #hammerandsickle
As annoying as it was to hear a West Ham fan on RaW saying the play-offs were useless and they were entitled to promotion just by finishing 3rd, West Ham were generally good last year. They also have a glut of strikers, having added Baldock, Maynard and Vaz Te over the course of the season and now Modibo Maiga this summer. The defence and midfield is also solid enough, especially with Collins and Diame added respectively. With plenty of top-flight experience in the squad, I think they’ll be fine.
13. Southampton – #thehailmary
At their best last season, Southampton were good. Really good. Nigel Adkins’ side played some beautiful football, tearing teams apart. Since securing promotion, he has improved the squad further; Clyne and Rodriguez are very good young players, and Steven Davis adds more experience in midfield. Hopes will rest on whether Rickie Lambert and Billy Sharp can hack the step-up to top flight football, but it’s not like they don’t have options. They should finish solidly mid-table. I can’t see them struggling.
14. Queens Park Rangers – #ownedbymalaysiansbutstillinblue
I really am no fan of Tony Fernandes but you have to say he has at least put his money where his mouth is since taking over as chairman, first by allowing Neil Warnock to pick up some vital signings at the end of last summer’s transfer window, without which QPR would certainly have been relegated, he funded the signings of Zamora and Cisse in January which again were crucia,l and he’s done it again this summer. Hoilett and Andy Johnson add fire power (come on, who genuinely thought DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd would be good enough to keep QPR up alone?), a declining Park is still a good signing for them, Fabio is a decent full-back, Rob Green is better than Paddy Kenny, and Ryan Nelson strengthens the defence. It’s definitely improved, and ordinarily I don’t think they’d have trouble staying up – it looks like a Premier League squad now. However, it’s a strong league this year. They might have some issues.
15. Swansea City – #swanningaround
Here comes the difficult second season, and a season with a new manager. Michael Laudrup has made some shrewd signings, going back to Spain to pick up some talented players in cheap deals. The midfield should be beefed up at least. The one problem I can see is that I think they still lack striking options: Dobbie, Lita and Moore aren’t brilliant. Plus I think they might be found out this time. However, I don’t think they’ll go down.
16. Reading – #royalacclaim
It’ll be interesting to see which of the promoted sides come out on top. Both Reading and Southampton play good football and have plenty of players that don’t have a great deal of Premier League experience. Pogrebnyak is a great acquisition, but alongside this, Reading have added a lot of players that have cut it at Championship level but not necessarily in the top flight, like Mariappa, Gunter and McCleary. It’s a tough call. I’m going with Southampton ahead of Reading because Southampton have more stability and I think Reading are carrying a few players that were good enough last year but may not be this time.
17. West Bromwich Albion – #baggietrousers
West Brom without Roy Hodgson, I’m a little bit concerned. The squad’s the same, but Steve Clarke has never managed on his own before, and some great assistants have made terrible managers (shoutout for Brian Kidd). Of course, he could also be great. I don’t know. It’s a competitive league and I think West Brom have remained stagnant while other teams down the bottom have moved forward. I still fancy them to survive but it could be close.
18. Stoke City – #upandunder
You might think of this as a bit of wishful thinking, but it isn’t – the Premier League needs variety and as awful as Stoke can be to watch on occasions, it’s nice to have a pantomime villain team (other than United). However, I think Stoke have gone as far as they can under Tony Pulis – the squad may be settled but I think teams have started to figure them out, and I suspect this could be their most difficult season yet. It’s a bit of a risk to tip them to go down but I’m relatively confident this will happen, i.e. not very confident but it’ll do for this.
19. Wigan Athletic – #theroadtowiganpier
Poor old Wigan. Perennial strugglers, but always find a route to safety. Except this time, I think they’ll run out of chances. The reason? Roberto Martinez won’t stay forever, and I think he may get called elsewhere before the end of the season. Even if he doesn’t, I still think Wigan may go down. 19th is a good position to put them, actually, because if people in this competition will put them in the bottom 3, they invariably put them bottom, so I gain an extra point on them if they don’t finish bottom (and I don’t think they will) – damage limitation.
20. Norwich City – #yellowperil
Paul Lambert turned Norwich around. He took them to the top. And then he left. I don’t blame him either, because it would have been difficult to repeat what they did last year. With Chris Hughton in charge – good but not brilliant – I can see them going down. Robert Snodgrass, yeah, decent signing, but is he going to keep them up? Surely teams will figure Grant Holt out. There’s not a lot of experience there. I don’t see it as sustainable. They will almost certainly struggle – I can’t see who they’re definitely going to finish above, who they’re definitely better than.
Note: I’ve swapped QPR and Reading since publishing this.