With only a few days to go before the curtain riser of the Charity Shield, this is the preview of the new EPL season. With an off-season where almost all the major teams lost players, how will the teams fare this season?
The Big 4
Chelsea- In an off-season when all their biggest rivals lost players to bigger paying teams, Chelsea is the only team who managed to keep their best players. Not only that, they may have made the best buy of the off-season. New boss Carlo Ancelotti has replace the departing Flying Dutchman Guus Hiddink, and he bought with him a history of producing winning teams. If their main players stay healthy, I expect Chelsea to win the EPL title this season.
Liverpool- No one suffered more than Liverpool in this off-season. Manager Rafael Benitez managed to keep Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, but the loss of Xabi Alonso is going to hurt. Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani is a good buy but he is not a direct replacement. Gerrard can move back to midfield but he is also not the playmaker Alonso is and if Liverpool lose anymore of their midfield (looking at you Javier Mascherano), Rafael Benitez will need to go into the transfer market again. They will be in the Top 4 again, but unlikely to be champions.
Arsenal- Despite what people may say, I don’t think Arsenal did too badly this off-season. Kolo Toure is a loss but $16million is a big price to get for a defender, and Emmanuel Adebayor is an over-rated player in my view so $30million for him is a good price. Unfortunately for Gunners fans, manager Arsene Wenger is refusing to spend the money. He still has Andrei Arshavin, Cesc Fabregas and a whole host of young players coming up, but until Wenger get a defensive midfielder I just cannot see the Gunners winning the title.
Manchester United – They lost Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, and got Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen in return. Even the most-die hard Man Utd fan will say that they got the raw end of the deal this off-season. Valencia is a good player but he isn’t worth $17million and the injury doubts of Owen is known to all. Sir Alex Ferguson needs his youngsters to come good this season or they will find it hard to win the title again.
The Dark Horses
Man City- With oil money, they have bought defender Kolo Toure, strikers Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz, along with midfielder Gareth Barry. Everton’s Joleon Lescott is also another target. With all these buys, 2 things must be answered. 1) What is their first 11? And 2) Can manager Mark Hughes keep egos in check in the dressing room? Seeing that this is the same manger that had such a difficult last year with just Robinho and Elano, I’m not betting on it. But if Hughes can do that, Man City will be the most likely team to break into the Top 4.
Everton- Manager David Moyes has always managed to get Everton to play above their ability. He is going to need every ounce of his ability because Everton is going to find it hard to maintain their position just outside the Big 4 this season. With Man City and Tottenham wheeling and dealing in the transfer market, Everton has been dead quiet outside Joleon Lescott upcoming transfer to Man City. Not likely to do any better this year.
Tottenham Hotspur- Darren Bent is off to Sunderland and Peter Crouch is in the team. I won’t call that an upgrade but Crouch will give Spurs an aerial threat that they were sorely missing last year. However the biggest question mark for the team is in the centre of defence. Michael Dawson and Jonathan Woodgate are injured (again) and Ledley King can only play once a week, so your guess is as good as mine on who Harry Redknapp will play in the centre on opening day. Sebastien Bassong will help but he has a ban for the first two games of the season. As usual for Spurs, it looks like a season when they must score more than they concede.
Aston Villa- Aston Villa pushed Arsenal hard for that all-important fourth place last season before falling away badly. With the loss of both Gareth Barry and Martin Laursen however, manager Martin O’Neill will have a hard time emulating the success of last season.
Likely Teams to Go Down
Hull City- How in the world did they managed to stay up last year is a question only the football gods can answer. Phil Brown’s side got like 5 points in the last 20 games of last season and still managed to stay up! They won’t be so lucky this season.
Burnley- Quick, name me one player from Burnley? Outside former Man Utd players Chris Eagles, Richard Eckersley and Norwegian international Gudjonsson, that’s it.
Wolverhampton- Quick, name me one player from Wolves? They are even worse off than Burnley in my view.