Bringing the blog back for some more football, we’re moving on to part two of the Premier League review. Since Paul the Octopus kicked the can, it’s been left up to me to take up the mantle with this prediction malarkey.
So far: To say David Moyes has his hands tied when it comes to finances would be an understatement. The Scot continues to do wonders with a threadbare squad, and his consistency makes him easily one of the best managers in the league. Everton spent an appetising zilch in the summer, with the recurrent aim of holding onto their best players and scraping the barrel for a few loan signings being top of Moyes summer list. Despite the loss of talismanic midfielder Mikel Arteta, the Toffees still find themselves sat comfortably among the top ten sides in the division.
Everton have played a lot of the league’s ‘big boys’ already. The season curtain raiser (at Spurs) was called off due to some absolute morons thinking it wise to loot a Currys for a brand new flat screen. However, when Everton have got on the pitch they’ve beaten the teams you’d expect them to, and that’s why they are in the healthy position they find themselves in. Defeat at home to Liverpool will certainly be the season’s low, but while Moyes continues to captain the Goodison vessel, the club will continue to navigate the Premier League seas with unmitigated ease.
Key player: Louis Saha. An in-form Saha will score goals. But the Frenchman’s injury troubles have always stopped him reaching the absolute top and that’s worked to Everton’s gain. He finds himself pretty isolated in the Everton strike force department though, and it has often been left for the tireless Tim Cahill to fill the void when Saha vacates. Cahill can provide goals from the midfield, but asking him to spearhead an attack has left him slightly out of his depth and consequently the team struggles to score goals.
Where will they finish? Top half providing all the players stay fit and healthy. The addition of Royston Drenthe seems to have been a shrewd piece of business, and has shown plenty of skill and pace when given the chance. Leighton Baines and Jack Rodwell are both on the fringe of the England squad, and Everton’s best choice XI would give most a run for their money on their day. Moyes has assembled a classy, yet small squad which he organises very well, and I wouldn’t bet against Everton too many times on home soil this season. The reason why I think of Moyes’ management so highly is that he offers security to the club. The club is unlikely to fluctuate positionally despite the lack of funds to improve the team. And in today’s game, you can probably count on one hand how many managers can create a team and continue to outperform every season like Everton do.
Verdict: 7th-10th. Continuity is key for Moyes, and if the team continues to battle on in the Moyes fashion then I’m confident they will finish in the league’s top half.
So far: Like Everton, Fulham will continue to plod along in an elite division of fast cars, fast players and equally fast women. Martin Jol just feels like a Premier League manager, but Tottenham being the plonkers they are didn’t realise that! Spurs gags aside, Fulham have continued much in the same fashion as the past 24 months or so. Largely dependent on their home form due to their pretty abysmal away form, and going along quite nicely in the Europa League, Jol will be satisified with the start the Cottagers have made. The fact that they are currently 15th won’t be raising too many alarm bells just yet.
Key player: Danny Murphy. The ex-Liverpool man even turns his hand to a bit of punditry these days, and as expected, he’s pretty spot on with that as well. Captain, set-piece taker and just all round midfield general, Murphy is a clever footballer, and he pulls the Fulham strings from the heart of the midfield every week.
Where will they finish? The doldrums of mid-table await, as exciting as that sounds. There are probably seven or eight teams that I would fancy to be above Fulham over the course of 38 games, but with the expansive schedule of the Europa league, Fulham will have some tired legs in there come Christmas and January. In summary, not in danger of the drop, but not setting off any fireworks either. (Unless they buy Mario, that is.)
Verdict:10th-16th. A pretty broad verdict for Fulham, but I think the scale of their league success could be proportional to the amount of monotonous football UEFA will have them playing. Again, like Everton, they have quite a small squad to choose from, but they do have some sparkling individuals, which will shine through the mire of the bottom half to ensure top flight football next season. Still waiting for a John Arne Riise thunderbolt to fly into the Thames as well…
So far: John W. Henry certainly wasn’t messing about when he took control of the club. Since January and the awaited return of King Kenny, they’ve attempted to take a clean cut approach to get the club back fighting into the upper realms of the Premier League. But, a bit like a Top Gear car-come-tumble dryer, their ambitions may slightly outweigh the reality in May. Not that I am slating what Kenny has done, I love the sheer enthusiasm he has for the club, and his passion about playing football the right way. I do have a few minor issues with some of his signings though, and the main proprietor of my scrutiny falls to one Mr Andy Carroll.
As aforementioned with Everton, the Reds did manage to steal the derby in their neighbours back yard, with goals coming from Luis Suarez and Andy Ca… I’ll drop the criticisms for now, Andy.
A victory at home to United was scuppered by the ‘little pea’, but there has been success at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates. They also got trounced 4-0 at Spurs and could only manage draws against new boys Norwich and Swansea, so a bit of a mixed bag for Kenny.
Key player: Luis Suarez. What. A. Player. I cannot speak highly enough of how good Luis Suarez is in terms of pure footballing ability. His all round forward game and general hard work will guarantee he goes down in folklore at Anfield…providing he doesn’t do an overpriced runner to Chelsea in January.
Where will they finish? With 3rd and 4th both already occupied in my crystal ball, it leaves a pretty straight forward duel between Liverpool and Tottenham for 5th place. Liverpool have already dropped points in games they shouldn’t, and find themselves 6 points behind Spurs as it stands. I touched on Carroll earlier, and although hindsight is a wonderful thing, Kenny still has a lot to prove that £35m was well invested in the Geordie lad. He also bought England protege Jordan Henderson for £20m and hot-and-cold winger Stewart Downing for similar money. They also shelled out the best part of £10m for last season’s surprise star Charlie Adam. That’s a lot of midfielder’s on the payroll, Kenny.
Verdict: 6th, but it’ll be a close run thing. In direct comparison to Spurs, I think Spurs midfield have Liverpool covered, but there’s probably a good argument that Spurs have the best midfield in the league. Liverpool have plenty of creation in their ranks, but I still have my doubts over whether Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel and the evergreen Jamie Carragher are up to the defensive standard required to challenge week in, week out for major honours. I can also see Liverpool having a good go at the FA Cup with no European distractions in their way.
So far: As November draws to a close, I think Roberto Mancini will be quietly confident of winning the title this season based on what has happened thus far. The 6-1 drubbing of United will go down in legend, and has been the hallmark of City’s dominance this season. They lead their city neighbours by five points after 12 games, but plenty can change between now and the end of the season, as only Sir Alex well knows. Despite the wealth of international stars in City’s ranks, very few of their first team have lifted the title prior to this season (Bridge, Clichy, Hargreaves, Tevez and Kolo Toure). The biggest test for Mancini will be to see if he can master the league, and teach his squad how to win the title.
Still unbeaten, and scoring at will, they face a stern test at Anfield on Sunday but I’m sure that the Sheikh’s superstars won’t be fazed in the form they are in.
Key player: Vincent Kompany. A lot of City’s dominance this season will boil down to them simply outscoring them with their infinite attacking options, but they do lack world class cover at centre-back and that is why skipper Kompany is so vital. There is no question that with the striking talent available to Mancini that City will be able to play confidently and openly in most games this season, home or away. It is therefore essential that the trio of Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott and Kompany provide the steeliness at the back to prove they are worthy of the title.
Where will they finish? In August I doubted whether Mancini’s tactical approach was suited to a title assault, but since the additions of more attacking outlets, he’s changed his philosophy. They are now trying to win every game, and there are plenty of strong individuals in the group which don’t give the impression that they will buckle under pressure. Only time will tell whether that proves the case.
Verdict: Champions. At this stage of the season it seems as if only United can stop City marching to the title this season. There’s something different about this season though, and I think all of City’s spending may bring the ultimate reward. City have the goal scoring depth and a vast contingent of flair players, including one of the best players in the league in David Silva to unlock any defence.
So far: United have quietly gone about their business this season, and despite only losing once, still lie in the wake of neighbours, Manchester City. This is a new era for United under Ferguson, Paul Scholes’ departure has left a bit of a hole in the midfield, particularly with the improving Anderson struggling with an injury problem. In the early part of the season, Tom Cleverley showed great promise and maturity in the middle of the park, but his injury comes as a shame to me as an English football fan, and to the Premier League as a spectacle. United’s 8-2 smashing of Arsenal promised much, but perhaps the City result proves how hard it will be to retain their crown this season.
Key player: Nemanja Vidic. Much the same story as City in terms of importance of keeping clean sheets. The Serb always leads from the front, and his performances set the standard for his teammates to follow. With Edwin Van Der Sar’s retirement, young David De Gea needs protection, he has already experienced some hairy moments in United’s goal this season. United have a great attacking quartet in Nani, Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez, which will score goals. It is therefore paramount for Ferguson to ensure that the senior heads at the back keep it tight, particularly away from home where they struggled to win games last season (5).
Where will they finish? It would be unthinkable for United to finish outside the top two, and while Chelsea seem to be stuttering like a scratched record, and Arsenal being dragged along by Van Persie, I think they will be ok. I’ve already said where I think the title will end up, but I’m not discounting Fergie’s challenge. Everyone knows that United always pick up in the new year, and if City are still top by then, then they can expect a difficult fight until the end of the campaign.
Verdict: 2nd. City’s strength in depth and sheer financial power may have finally caught up with, and have the potential to surpass Fergie’s team this season. European football could also be a vital part as both managers have to balance their team selections. United can go far in the Champions League again this season, maybe semi final material. I expect either of the Spanish heavyweights to lift the cup in Munich next year.