Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Premier preview

So I didn't watch as much football as I might have last season, but I now have a DVD recorder. Of course, I've never actually managed to get it to record anything, but that's a minor issue.

The upcoming season promises to be exciting. For me, it will hopefully be enjoyable to watch Leeds make a procession of League One, or whatever the hell they're calling the third division these days. They are worth favourites, and without a points penalty, should walk it. Overconfident? Well, let's hope not. Leeds have a solid Championship side and shouldn't struggle.

The Premiership looks set to be hotly contested, but will it be?

Arsenal look slightly weaker than they were last season. They hung onto Adebayor but lost Flamini and Hleb. They have signed promising youngsters in Ramsay and Nasri, but it's not certain either will do well in the Premiership. Nasri was a bright star in France though, so maybe. If Nasri settles, and does what it seems he's capable of, Arsenal could go all the way. That's a big if though.

Villa have been distracted by the Gareth Barry saga, but in any case, their small squad does not look particularly strong. O'Neill is a great manager but competing with the best in this division costs a lot of money.

Blackburn may struggle. I think the appointment of Ince was a misstep. He seems already to have pissed off the dressing room. Top footballers, particularly Europeans, do not expect to be treated like squaddies. I haven't seen much sign that Ince is that cluey a manager either, and he never did come across as particularly smart. Their squad is decent but I think Hughes got a lot out of them. Still, Gamst Pedersen was disappointing last season, so he may show more and they could find themselves in the top ten. They'd have to count that as success imo.

Bolton look underpowered, and will struggle. Only the relative weakness of other teams will rescue them.

Chelsea are obviously a great chance of winning the league. Not only is their side of very high quality, but Scolari is an accomplished coach, a player's manager who has a good grasp of tactics. Hanging on to Drogba was a big plus for Chelsea. I'm not convinced by the purchase of Deco, and if Chelsea manage to sign Kaka, it's hard to see Deco even getting a game, but Chelsea are my tip for this season because they have improved their squad over last season with him and Bosingwa, and with a stronger coach, they should find the small improvement they need to be best.

Everton have confounded expectations for some time. There's no doubt Moyes has done a fantastic job, moulding a very decent side out of fairly unlikely elements. I wonder whether this is a season too far for them though. Sides that punch above their weight often crash catastrophically, and I think we could see Everton among the strugglers this season. They don't seem to have signed anyone this summer, and a few have gone out the door, although they are mostly fringe players who won't be missed. I think they may now be too light a squad to have a realistic tilt at European football, because others have strengthened considerably.

Fulham are shit, and were really lucky not to go down last season. Hodgson has recruited well: I think Johnson is a bit overrated but he does a job and Gera is a fantastic player, just what an often lumpen Fulham have lacked. And they also will benefit from the poor competition at the bottom, because I'd lay odds that Stoke and Hull will both go down, and one of Wigan and West Brom should be joining them. But Fulham could be dragged into it. I rate Hodgson, so I hope not, but they are a side whose days at the top are probably limited.

Hull are going down. They're shit and it's only a matter of whether they are bottom or second to bottom in the final shakeup.

Liverpool pose one of the big questions in the Premiership: can they win consistently enough to pose a challenge? I dunno. I don't think that their side is any better than it was last year: Keane is a better player than Crouch but I don't think he's a great fit alongside Torres (Keane likes to come short to pick up the ball and then run at defences; Torres likes the ball played through--hard to see how they can both be served well). Barry is not better than Alonso by a long chalk. Actually, I think Alonso is superior and it's fortunate for Liverpool that they didn't manage to sell him. He will likely be unsettled though. And here's the thing: settled teams win the league. Ferguson sends out the same side week after week if it's fit. Benitez sacrifices the togetherness of a settled side for picking what he sees as the most fitting side for each match. I think Benitez's approach is wrong, and Liverpool are likely to fall short. Very short, actually. I can see at least four teams that will be superior to them, and it's possible that they'll finish even lower than fifth this time.

Man City are a side that the neutral finds easy to love, but they should be hated, more even than Chelsea. Allowing Shinawatra, who in a just world would be serving time, control was shit. Still, the comedy of their unravelling should make up for it, if it turns out that Shinawatra meets justice or loses his money. Shinawatra is all bullshit and no actual money, and it looks like they can't pay for the players they bought. But we'll see. In his big signing, Hughes hasn't learnt from previous mistakes: players that score shitloads in crap leagues generally fail in better leagues, and players who succeed in Russia almost never do well elsewhere, with a few obvious exceptions. Is Jo the answer for City? I don't think so. I doubt he'll score in the double figures. Still, City has a more than decent midfield, with Elano and Petrov quality players (Elano is one of the obvious exceptions that I was just talking about!), and Hughes is an excellent motivator and a wily tactician. They could quite possibly get into the top six if all goes well and I'm wrong about Jo. Sigh. It's hard to hate them, after all.

Man Utd, though, are not hard to hate. When looking at their squad, I'm like, who cares? I just want them to lose every match. Objectively (lol), they have a strong squad and a fantastic manager, and will be very hard to overcome. Should they sign another world-class striker, omg. They'll miss Queiroz a lot though, and they were pretty lucky with injuries last season. So let's go out on a limb and say that they will just fall short this season, with Chelsea most likely to be a little bit better. Obv. I hate Chelsea too, so I'm hoping for plenty of Nasri magic.

Middlesbrough are grindingly boring to watch and always finish eighth. They'll be the same as ever.

Newcastle are the comedy team of the Premiership. Always hyped up, never any good, with a defence that has neutrals in stitches, and behind the scenes shenanigans that never fail to amuse. The defence should benefit from the addition of Coloccini, who is an excellent player, but their squad looks thin and midtable beckons. As for Owen, the suggestion that he's worth more money when he's played maybe 50 games in three seasons is ridiculous. I also dislike Keegan. The guy's a clown, absolutely clueless. But he's very suited to Newcastle. They have huge aspirations but their chances of fulfilling them are very slim. But they'll make us laugh. At them, not with them.

Pompey are the most improved team of recent years, reminiscent of Charlton in the way they have successively strengthened. It's all down to Harry, of course. He's always been an astute coach, and he understands the dynamics of a squad better than anyone. I don't think Pompey can go any higher, so probably the only way for them is down, but as long as Harry is in the hot seat, they will be comfortable imo. Losing Muntari is going to hurt, but Pompey's strength is their formidable defence. I think they are again going to be hard to beat, and should finish in the top ten, maybe with a decent run in the UEFA Cup.

Stoke are going down. They're shit and it's only a matter of whether they are bottom or second to bottom in the final shakeup.

Sunderland are my proxy side in the Premiership. (They are M's team.) Which has meant adjusting my view of Roy Keane from something akin to shit on my shoe to footballing messiah. He's done a fine job at Sunderland. They played football appropriate to their resources last season, and with a bit more luck would have stayed up much more comfortably. Keane has recruited well: Tainio is a more than useful utility player, Malbranque a talented playmaker and Chimbonda a fine attacking fullback. Diouf is inconsistent but he does have some class, even if as a person he's a complete prick. Sunderland should be well clear of the mire this season, if only because the promoted sides are so bad, and the top half is not impossible, even if unlikely.

Tottenham are another team I love to hate, but they have provided the excitement in the transfer market this summer. Modric and dos Santos are exciting young players--selling the latter may turn out to be a huge mistake for Barcelona. Bentley is a fine prospect, and Tottenham already had plenty of talent in midfield. If they hang onto Berbatov, and perhaps add a striker--maybe Arshavin, but he comes with the same caveats as Jo--they could do very well. I would be excited were I a Spurs supporter. I can definitely see them in the top four. Whether they will be good enough or consistent enough to overhaul the Scum and Chelsea is a different question, but it's not impossible, and you haven't been able to say that about Tottenham for some time.

West Brom are bad but I think that over the season, Hull and Stoke will be worse. Brom have made some reasonable signings and Mowbray is a more than decent coach, it seems, but I'd be surprised if they weren't firmly in the bottom four at the end of the season, and we could well see all three promoted teams swiftly return to the Championship.

West Ham flattered to deceive last season and I can't see them doing better this. However, Julien Faubert was missing all of last season, and he's a huge talent. Will he fit into the Irons' side and the Premiership? It's hard to say but if he does and works well with Parker, West Ham should be about tenth again. They are one of the sides that could struggle though, particularly if key players are hit by injury.

Wigan should be shit, but I think Bruce has made some canny buys and they could be slightly better than the promoted sides. Not much, but probably enough.

So I'm thinking Chelsea, Arsenal, the Scum and Spurs in that order. Liverpool probably fifth, but maybe as low as sixth if Shinawatra stays out of jail. A ton of sides could be anything from seven to seventeenth. I'd expect Hull and Stoke to go down, and one of (most likely) West Brom, Fulham, Wigan and Bolton to join them. Everton may be the "side too good to go down" this season, but I think, erm, they're too good to go down.


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