Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Saturday August 9 2008
With the traditional season curtan raiser less than twenty four hours away, and the serious stuff beginning for us on Wednesday in Arnhem, I thought it might be worthwhile assessing each team's chances and put my proverbials on the line by predicting their eventual finish. Of course there is still time for business to be done with the transfer window not closing until 31st August. With the transfer market looking very slow this summer as economic realities bite, I would expect there to be a lot of last minute business to be done close to the deadline this year. With the obscene amounts of money pouring into the top flight, precitions such as this have become easier than ever and the league is as predictable and monastic as it has ever been. The main area of interest therefore has to be the small band of clubs chasing fifth place.
ARSENAL- The harsh lessons learned last season as well as the disappointment should spur Arsenal on and imbue them with a little more wisdom. However, in Gilberto, Lehmann, Hleb and Flamini; Arsenal have lost experience they have not begun to replace. Wenger will have to buy a world class keeper, a domineering centre half and a defensive midfielder before the window closes or else Arsenal will not be champions. Crossing one's fingers for better luck with injuries is not a tactic that fills me with much hope I am afraid. We need to plan for them, particularly with the brittle trio of Rosicky, van Persie (wish I could get a pay rise for taking six months sick leave a year) and Diaby. That said, the development of Walcott and Bendtner, the arrivals of Vela and Nasri and the retention of Adebayor make us the most potent attack in the league. Prediction: 2nd.
ASTON VILLA: The summer has been disrupted by the ongoing saga surrounding captain Gareth Barry. I can understand O'Neill holding out for a big price, but his constant harping to the media has allowed his preparation to become disrupted. This has also hamstrung his own attempts at bringing players in. Friedel and Sidwell look decent purchases, but Mellberg has yet to be replaced and they do not possess a single recognised right back. But expect Agbonlohor and Young to develop further this year.
BLACKBURN ROVERS: Questions abound as to whether Paul Ince can make the jump from League Two to the Premiership. Personally, I think it's too big a jump too soon and that Rovers will struggle without Hughes. Friedel and Bentley were big players and the signing of Robinson is a very poor one. Hanging onto Santa Cruz will be vital but who's to say he won't be a one season wonder? Particularly without Bentley's delivery and with Gamst off the boil. Tough season ahead. I don't expect Ince to last beyond January.
BOLTON WANDERERS: Survived last season largely due to Reading's total lack of desire to save themselves, Megson looks to have spent poorly this summer, £11m Elmander looks risky to me. At least Fat Sam's flops were cheap! Diouf and Campo have gone and Nolan's steakand kidney pie addiction shows no sign of abaiting. Bolton will drop and I won't be sorry to see them go.
CHELSEA: Will be more hungry than ever after last season's disappointments, they surprisingly haven't upset the apple cart with a wholesale squad change and have hung onto Drogba and Lampard. Expect a winger, probably Robinho, to arrive and complete the picture. Scolari is Mourinho like in his winning mentality and, provided Abramovich keeps his oar out, I see this being Chelsea's year. Ruthless in defence, dangerous upfront and with very wounded pride.
EVERTON: The club who have favoured stability and prudence over big words and broken promises will chase UEFA qualification again this year. Though they rarely make big splashes in the market, you get the feeling the silence on the transfer front could harm them. A long term injury to Cahill, Yakubu or Arteta could ruin them. However, with £11m deposited in their account for the sale of the one season wonder Johnson, expect a few arrivals to little media fanfare.
FULHAM: Hodgson seems determined to build on last season's miracle escape, having bought Johnson and Zamora to carry the threat now the excellent McBride has departed. The signings made in Janaury have now bedded in and Bullard is fit again. However, they still look to have a little bit of a soft centre. They'll struggle, but not as badly as last year.
HULL CITY: Will be eager not to beat Derby's poorest points tally. No chance of survival.
Prediction: Errr, can they finish any lower than 20th?
LIVERPOOL: Simply cannot seem to maintain any stability under Benitez, with playing staff seemingly transforming every summer. For every Torres, Agger and Babel, there are a dozen Kromkamps and Bellamys. I'm not sure where Keane fits into the equation, but I think another season of heavy rotation is on the cards. With Crouch sold their most potent plan B has disappeared. Expect more reliance on the flat track bully that is Stevie Me (he of a thousand shots a game and zero football brain) and the sublime Torres will have to prove he's no one season wonder and start scoring away from Anfield.
MANCHESTER CITY: Have hired a good manager in Mark Hughes, but they had a good manager and the mentalist Shinwatra sacked him.Hard to see what Hughes can do to avoid the same fate. Jo has no Premiership pedigree and I do wonder how much Hughes has to dowith signings. City have the set up and potential for a good season, but expect their meglomaniacal owner to ruin it all. Prediction: 9th
MANCHESTER UNITED: Following last season's heady heights, the target for United will be to maintain the hunger. I may be setting myself up for a fall, but I think the Ronaldo situation will harm them. He has intimated he will leave next summer, which is a very unhealthy situation. Ferguson should have been his ruthless self and cashed in. Now I can see Ronaldo's ego overtaking the team ethic, as the players scrabble to give him the ball every time he demands it and sacrificing their own talents to please him. I cannot see how his mind can be on the job and I can see his inflated self opinion getting the better of him, to the detriment of the team. Particularly if they bring in a striker as Fergie has promised, I can see that clashing with Ronaldo's vanity.
MIDDLESBROUGH: More of the same, Southgate seems to be learning his trade and I think we'll see a good campaign from Afonso Alves, but they don't seem quite ready to kick on from mid table to challenge for UEFA qualification. More mediocrity for Boro.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Hamstrung in the transfer market, ownership confusion, a hierachy that doesn't seem to talk to the manager about their plans and a manager who's walked away from a challenge more than pnce in his life. I think Keegan will get fed up with Ashley and leave before November and the Geordies will once again be confined to their perennial soap opera. The continued employment of Joey Barton will see them take heat from the press and I don't see Keggy, nice a fella as he is, coping with that.
PORTSMOUTH: I do wish Redknapp would shut his trap and stop moaning about his squad (you're in charge of them Harry) because Crouch is an excellent addition and will look to develop a deadly partnership with Defoe. Though I feel Campbell is getting on and a quality centre half for cover is necessary, put with the likes of Diarra, Kranjcar, Crouch and James on board, I expect Pompey to help their league campaign by going out of Europe early, but storming to fifth.
STOKE CITY: The route one football that bought Stoke up won't cut ice in the top flight, a little more variety will be required and I don't see that Stoke have the players to do it. Hard to see them staying up.
SUNDERLAND: Roy Keane will have learned lessons in the transfer market last year after purchasing a lot of dead wood and has bought in top flight experience. Having avoided the drop, the Mackems will find mid table obscurity just hunky dory thanks.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR: Spurs had no problems scoring last season, but their problems were all defensive. The signings of Hutton and Woodgate in January looked good, but relying on a pairing of King and Woodgate will not bare fruit long term. A lot of very similar lightweight playmakers have been added to the mix, if it's true they're looking to replace Berbatov with Ashton, then it's not hard to see why Ramos' points return was behind Jol's. That said, they will improve on last season, selling Robinson alone ensures that.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION: The perennial yo yo club will now look to finally establish themselves as a topflight outfit. This season will be a struggle, but they will be aware of that from the offand I think the Baggies will stay up. Then they can worry about maintaining their status.
WEST HAM UNITED: More of the same from Curbishley, ensure survival by January and then stop bothering. With West Ham having to readjust their cloth in the wake of Magnusson's departure. Curbishley needs to stop signing treatment table dwellers to challenge for Europe. That said, considering the state the Hammers when Curbs took over, perhaps he is being harshly dealt with.
WIGAN ATHLETIC: Bruce did a fantastic job steering the Latics away from the drop and will look to kick on and a mid table finish will be his aim. I think he can achieve it too, Bruce will have learned lessons from his stint at Brimingham and I see an average season of obscurity for the Latics. Which will suit them just fine.
Date:Saturday August 9 2008
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