Preview Week continues with Part 2 of the official Being Sven 2007/08 English Premier League Preview!
You know how these things work; It’s a look at the Premier League, team by team, with a synopsis of how they might fare and what can be expected of them this campaign. The teams are listed in reverse order of their predicted finish. That is to say, we start with the 20th place team and get to the champions last.
Yesterday you saw the bottom half of the table, now you get to see how the other half lives.
Now, onto the ritzier zip code…
#10 – Blackburn
In: GK Gunnar Nielson (BK Frem Copenhagen – Nominal Fee), ST Maceo Rigters (NAC Breda – Undisclosed), ST Roque Santa Cruz (Bayern Munich – £3.5M)
Out: CB Andy Todd (Derby – Undisclosed), FB Michael Gray (Released)
Last Season’s Finish: 10th in Premier League (52 points)(52 Goals For, 54 Goals Against)
Overview: Mark Hughes continues his work with Rovers, looking to build on last year’s mid-table finish. The club’s profile continues to be raised as they’re back in the UEFA Cup after summer success in the Intertoto Cup.
While most of the reacent action at Blackburn has been on the field instead of the transfer market, Hughes has brought in two strikers (Rigters & Santa Cruz) to give the talented Benni McCarthy some help. While South African striker can well be expected to put up numbers rivaling last campaign’s total of 18 league goals (good for second on the PL scoring chart), Rovers could use the increased firepower. Allow me to point out that Santa Cruz scored one goal last season, and five in the last two. Young Matt Derbyshire may have to be ready to step up his contributions this season.
The Blackburn midfield is still well-stocked, if not completely unchanged. Despite constant speculation of a move up the food chain, Morten Gamst Pederson is still with the club after an impressive season and will once again will be the squad’s driving force. Should David Dunn be able to recapture the form he displayed before leaving Blackburn in 2003, Rovers fans will have to like their chances.
And, love him or hate him, Robbie Savage is still there.
The backline, which featured a handfull of new players last season, will have to step up their efforts in order to improve on the 54 goals given up last term. Quite honestly, Stephane Henchoz and Brad Friedel ain’t getting any younger. Youngsters like Chris Samba and Stephen Warnock are going to have to prove their worth sooner rather than later. Why Sparky Hughes hasn’t shored up the defense in the off-season is beyond me.
Sven’s Prediction: If the new strikers can help carry the load and the midfield steps up its production, Rovers might be able to afford let-down seasons from Pederson and McCarthy. Honestly, this team could go either way in my book. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them secure a place in Europe again, but if they were to slide back down the table, I wouldn’t be shocked. They have the talent, so the smart money says they improve. I’m just not sold yet. If the most-talented of ‘the former Man United players-turned-managers’ is able to beef up his backline, I’d like their chances. But, for now, it looks as if they’re treading water.
Reason to Watch: You’re an American who likes Brad Friedel or you’re looking for a darkhorse team.
#9 – Manchester City
In: (Manager) Sven Goran Eriksson, ST Rolando Bianchi (Reggiana – £8.8M), MF Gelson Fernandes (FC Sion – Undisclosed), MF Giovanni (Cruzeiro – Undisclosed), MF Martin Petrov (Atletico Madrid – £4.7M), ST Valeri Bojinov (Fiorentina – Undisclosed), MF Elano Blumer (Shakhtar Donetsk – £8M), FB Javier Garrido (Real Sociedad – £1.5M), FB Vedran Corluka (Dinamo Zagreb – Undisclosed)
Out: (Manager) Stuart Pearce, MF Joey Barton (Newcastle – £5.5M), CB Sylvain Distin (Portsmouth – Free), MF Trevor Sinclair (Released), FB Stephen Jordan (Released), FB Hatem Trabelsi (Released), GK Nicky Weaver (Charlton – Free)
Last Season Finish: 14th in Premier League (42 points)(29 Goals For, 44 Goals Against)
Overview: City have themselves a new owner, a new manager and a boatload of new players. But will the end result be any different?
Sven Goran Eriksson has made his return to club football and hit the ground running, making a splash in the transfer market with eight signings and more expected to be on the way.
Somebody needs to get this club some nametags.
For a man who was in the charge of the English national team for six years, it’s interesting that Eriksson hasn’t signed one English player during this spending spree. Granted, you can stretch a baht by buying foreign, but is it possible Sven learned nothing about English talent during his tenure?
City lost a key defender when Sylvain Distin moved to Pompei, but has managed to hold onto rising star Micah Richards. Sven has also brought in two foreign fullbacks to shore up an average defence, but most of the money has been spent further up the pitch. The former England gaffer may want to readdress his priorities before the transfer window closes.
The midfield has swapped bat-shit crazy Joey Barton for four new faces, all of whom are new to the English game. There is also a litany of options along the frontline. As the glut of new signings are attacking players, the new onus for the Citizens will surely be on getting goals. But will they score enough to offset a distinctly average backline?
Sven’s Prediction: I wonder if Eriksson will have time to introduce all his players to one another? With this many new players, especially those unfamiliar with the Premier League, City’s level of success will come down to how fast these players bed in. Who will sink and who will swim? By sheer amount of talent being brought in, the club should improve, but I don’t have a great deal of faith in Sven’s ability to get this squad to gel cohesively quickly. They’ll be a better team than they were under Stuart Pearce, but aren’t quite ready for Europe.
And, I fancy Sven for a longer tenure than his shady owner, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Somewhat Relevant Quote: (new owner Thaksin Shinawatra on his expectations)
This season, I feel we should be able to finish in the top 10. The second season we should be aiming for the top six and qualifying for Europe.
I accept the first year is a learning curve but we should start to be successful by the third. That is what I would expect.
Reason to Watch: You’re interested to see how Sven fares domestically after underacheiving with a generation of great English talent. Or you just want to see if he’ll ever leave his seat on the bench or show the slighest hint of emotion at any point during the match.
#8 – Aston Villa
In: MF Nigel Reo-Coker (West Ham – £8.5M), ST Marlon Harewood (West Ham – Undisclosed), CB Eric Lichaj (Free)
Out: ST Juan Pablo Angel (New York Red Bulls – Free), FB Jlloyd Samuel (Bolton – Free), GK Robert Olejnik (Falkirk – Free), GK Stephen Henderson (Bristol City – Free), MF Lee Hendrie (Released), FB Aaron Hughes (Fulham – £1M), MF Steven Davis (Fulham – Undisclosed), ST Chris Sutton (Retired), CB Liam Ridgewell (Birmingham – £2M)
Last Season Finish: 11th in Premier League (50 points)(43 Goals For, 41 Goals Against)
Overview: Season 2 for manager Martin O’Neill and owner Randy Lerner. Personally, I hold O’Neill in high regard and tip him to do great things for Villa. Then again, I have respect for anybody who has reduced Robbie Savage to tears.
The fiery Northern Irishman has cleared ’em out, but has he properly restocked? Like his mentor Brian Clough, he’s capable of motivating players to walk through walls. But, as Bolton or Blackburn have proved in seasons past, physical effort and hard work will only get you so far.
O’Neill has brought in West Ham teammates Reo-Coker and Harewood, both of whom should benefit (especially the former) from the old-school managerial style they weren’t going to get from a Pardew or a Curbishley. He brought in Ashley Young and John Carew last term and between the pace of Agbonlahor & Young, the physical presence of Carew, the power of Harewood and the youthful wildcard of Luke Moore, Villa should find themselves enough goals to improve upon their 11th place finish.
Last season, the solid Villa defense recorded 13 clean sheets. But they’ve parted ways with Aaron Hughes, Liam Ridgewell and JL Samuel. While a strong skeleton remains, O’Neill has to bolster the defensive options, lest he find himself with as thin a squad as he did last year. Also, goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen has picked up a hamstring injury and is likely to miss the opener versus Liverpool. (and earned himself a transfer off my fantasy team)
O’Neill needs to get to work on bringing in some quality reinforcements before the window closes. A rumored approach for West Brom’s centerback Curtis Davies is a move in the right direction.
Sven’s Prediction: As is the case with so many teams, the true key to Villa’s improvement will come in their away form which was disappointing last term. As an unabashed Martin O’Neill fan, I’m outright pulling for them to challenge for a spot in Europe. 6th or 7th is possible and I’m confident that with O’Neill holding the reigns and Lerner signing the checks, Villa will certainly finish in the top half of the table.
And should worse comes to worst, O’Neill could certainly have a future in television.
Reason to Watch: You’re a Cleveland Brown loyalist or a Celtic/Leicester fan who still worships Martin O’Neill.
#7 – Newcastle United
In: (Manager) Sam Allardyce, ST Mark Viduka (Middlesbrough – Free), MF Joey Barton (Manchester City – £5.5M), CB David Rozehnal (PSG – £2.9M), MF Geremi (Chelsea – Free), ST Alan Smith (Manchester United – Undisclosed), FB Jose Enrique (Villarreal – £6.3M)
Out: (Manager) Glenn Roeder, MF Scott Parker (West Ham – £7M), GK Pavel Srnicek (Released), FB Olivier Bernard (Released), CB Titus Bramble (Released), CB Craig Moore (Released), ST Albert Luque (PSV – Loan), ST Antoine Sibierski (Wigan – Free)
Last Season Finish: 13th in Premier League (43 points)(38 Goals For, 47 Goals Against)
Overview: It’s been tough times for the Barcodes as of late. The self-described ‘big club’ has been an study in dysfunction in recent years, wallowing in mediocracy and flirting with disaster. But hope floats on the Tyneside now. The club has a new owner in recluse business magnate Mike Ashley, a new manager in Sam Allardyce and a new chairman in Chris Mort. (now that Freddy Shepherd stepped down)
Allardyce is precisely the kick in the ass this team needed. After establishing Bolton as a Premiership mainstay and repeatedly finishing in the top half on a shoestring budget, Big Sam finally made the move to a club of better means. No longer will he have to sort through the bargain bin for aging veterans. Instead, Allardyce will have the finanicial backing to buy younger, better talent. What will he be able to achieve with a proper transfer kitty?
It’s no secret that the Newcastle defense has been an absolute joke. Big Sam should sort it out nicely and clearing out Bernard, Bramble and Moore was a step in the right direction. PSG-import David Rozehnal should hit the ground running and slot in nicely at center-back. Expect Newcastle to adopt the familiar physical nature and gritty attitude of Allardyce’s Bolton teams, which will reflect the drunken Newcastle fan base nicely.
The midfield has been reinforced with steady presence of Geremi and the unsteady presence of Joey Barton. Unfortunately for Newcastle, Barton has jumped on the Broken Metatarsal Bandwagon and will miss the beginning of the season. Also likely to not to be seen in black & white ever again is Kieron Dyer, whose ‘family problems’ may necessitate a move to West Ham, Spurs or Man City. Let’s hope it’s West Ham, so he can be reunited with Lee Bowyer. Surely, we can never forget Dyer’s pinnacle moment in a Newcastle shirt.
Further up the pitch, there remains the ever-present cloud hovering over Michael Owen’s general health. His knee is supposedly healed and ready to go, but heading into the season, he’s already picked up a slight thigh strain. The chances of him getting through the campaign in one piece are slim to none and none looks to have its bags packed, ready to leave town. Big Sam does have the powerful Obafemi Martins leading the charge and Fat Mark Viduka is certainly worth a few goals. Albert Luque may find his better better suited for a move back to La Liga. As for Shola Ameobi, well, Emile Heskey has carved out a profitable enough career as a non-scoring striker.
Sven’s Predictions: A Titus Bramble-free defence immediately shows improvement, Big Sam motivates his players to act like men and they find a few more goals in the process. If a supposedly bulked-up (muscle not fat) Michael Owen stays healthy, this team could really go places. I also think Joey Barton is good for one arrest this season and (at least) one training ground fight.
Reason to Watch: It’s probably a good time to jump on their bandwagon as there are plenty of seats and you won’t be labeled a Johnny-come-lately.
#6 – Portsmouth
In: CB Sylvain Distin (Man City – Free), MF Sulley Muntari (Udinese – Undisclosed), FB Hermann Hreidarsson (Charlton – Free), FB Martin Cranie (Southampton – £150,000), Paris Cowan-Halln (Rushden & Diamonds – Undisclosed), ST David Nugent (Preston – £6M), ST John Ukata (Stade Rennes – Undisclosed), MF Jean Francois Christophe (RC Lens – Undisclosed)
Out: ST Svetoslav Todorov (Charlton – Free), FB Andy Griffin (Derby – Undisclosed), ST Andy Cole (Released)
Last Season Finish: 9th in Premier League (54 points)(45 Goals For, 42 Goals Against)
Overview: After briefly sitting a top the table last season, Harry Redknapp continued to work his magic with Portsmouth, guiding them the jaws of relegation to a Top Ten finish. So, can Harry work another wonder?
For starters, he’s added Sylvain Distin (who’s on the correct side of 30) to an already competent defensive unit featuring Sol Campbell, Matty Taylor, Noe Pamarot and Linvoy Primus. Djimi Troare is also part of this unit, though to this day I still hestitate to apply the word ‘competent’ to Bambi.
After looking sharp in the pre-season, 37-year old goalkeeper David James hopes to keep his run of form from last season going. The Calamity James of the early 90’s seems to have all but disappeared (still known to pop up on the rarest occasions) and the Pompei defence is better for it. Captain Sol Campbell should have another year to two left in him.
Redknapp has brought in a number of new players, but the one with the most promise may be the up-and-coming striker David Nugent. There’s no doubt he’ll be an upgrade from Todorov and should do well surrounded by more talented teammates and better service than he was at Preston.
I’m not particularly knocked out by their midfield, but Mendes should have another cracker of a season.
Sven’s Predictions: Wily ole Harry continues to get it done. Whatever he’s putting in the water down there will continue to work. It seems odd to think that Portsmouth could be in Europe next season, but it looks to be a real possibility. They’ve probably got an extended domestic cup run in them too. And you can never count against Harry Redknapp walking away without warning. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. Just don’t be shocked if it does.
Reason to Watch: Because it’s almost like watching a ‘Where are They Now?’ segment, but much less depressing.
#5 – Arsenal
In: GK Lukasz Fabianski (Legia Warsaw – Undisclosed), ST Eduardo da Silva (Dinamo Zagreb – Undisclosed), FB Bacary Sagna (Auxerre – Undisclosed)
Out: MF Fabrice Muamba (Birmingham – £4M), Mart Poom (Watford – Undisclosed), ST Arturo Lupoli (Fiorentina – Free), ST Jeremie Aliadiere (Middlesbrough – £2M), ST Thierry Henry (Barcelona – £16.1M), CB Matthew Connolly (Colchester – Loan), MF Freddy Ljungberg (West Ham – £3M), FB Kerrea Gilbert (Southend – Loan), ST Jose Antonio Reyes (Atletico Madrid – Undisclosed), ST Carlos Vela (Osasuna – Loan)
Last Season Finish: 4th in Premier League (68 points)(63 Goals For, 35 Goals Against), Carling Cup Finalist.
Overview: So it begins, Life After Henry. (Tell me that doesn’t sounds like the name of an indie flick about group of friends dealing with death) While common sense dictates that no one player makes a team, surely the brilliance of a World-beater like Titi proves the exception to the rule? The footballing world is curious to see what affect his departure will have on the London club. (and also want to see just how incredibly sick attacking footy Barca will be playing this season)
Yet, it’s not just Henry’s exit that could serve as the tipping point for a possible slide back to the mediocracy of days gone by. The resignation of David Dein most certainly hurt Arsenal’s chances of keeping Henry and may contribute to them losing Professor Wenger. But with the possible arrival of Stan Kroenke as new owner, Dein may still have a role to play. With an impressive new stadium and the debt to match, Arsenal can’t afford to miss a beat this season (or Champions League qualification).
On the field, Brazilian turned Croatian Eduardo da Silva will be the man to replace TH upfront. Ironically, he scored first competetive goal at Emirates Stadium. I’ve little doubt that Arsene has found himself a quality striker, but what’s the English conversion rate on his 34 Croatian league goals? Cesc Fabergas has turned down overtures from Madrid, which bodes well for the club. And they may have lost Freddy Ljungberg, but considering his recent injuries, they lost him a while ago.
It should prove to be a season of important questions for Arsenal. Who’s going to lead them? Gilberto or the whining William Gallas? Do the talented Gunners have enough to win it all? Shouldn’t Van Persie, Walcott, Adebayor, Rosicky and da Silva provide more than enough firepower? Are they mature enough to withstand the rigors of another grueling season like the last? Or will it be a season of more beautiful football but not enough substance?
Sven’s Prediction: Remember last season? Care to try it again? It looks as if Arsene & Company will have a fierce fight on their hands for fourth place in the Premier League. As for Europe, I’ll randomly speculate that they’ll advance to the CL quarter-finals after crashing out a round earlier last season. Maybe we’ll throw in a Cup semi-final appearance as well.
Off the field, the fans are going to get ansy about losing Wegner after he hints at leaving. Should that happen, imagine the worry of a possible regression back to the George Graham days! Anyhow, Kroenke will swoop in and the club will sort itself out. Maybe there’s another novel to be had here, Nick Hornby.
Somewhat Relevant Quote: (William Gallas on Arsenal’s title chances)
In the past we have relied too much on lovely football to see us through. But we have learned from last season. Sometimes you have to fight to achieve success. Some people have claimed this club is on a downward spiral. But there is an enormous determination to put things right.
Reason to Watch: Even without #14, it’s still entertaining, skillfull, attacking soccer.
“I just called to say I love you…”
#4 – Tottenham
In: FB Gareth Bale (Southampton – £5M), MF Adel Taarabt (Lens – Undisclosed), ST Darren Bent (Charlton – £16.5M), FB Yuri Berchiche (Athletic Bilbao – Undisclosed), CB Younes Kaboul (Auxerre – Undisclosed), FB Matt Lockwood (Leyton Orient – Undisclosed), MF Kevin-Prince Boateng (Hertha Berlin – Undisclosed)
Out: MF Charlie Lee (Peterborough United – Free), MF Mark Yeates (Colchester United – Undisclosed), MF Reto Ziegler (Sampdoria – Undisclosed)
Last Season Finish: 5th in Premier League (60 points)(57 Goals For, 54 Goals Against)
Overview: Martin Jol continues to demonstrate his eye for promising talent. After unearthing a gem in Berbatov, this off-season he brought in the much-hyped Gareth Bale, the highly-lauded Kevin-Prince Boateng and the possibly over-priced Darrent Bent.
The Dutch manager is piecing together a formidable squad that could soon challenge for honors on multiple stages. In the back, there’s an embarrasment of talented, young English defenders. Yet, 50+ goals is unacceptable and their defending will have to improve this year. I still have my doubts about Paul Robinson in goal. On his day he’s worth his weight in gold. The problem is the consistency of those days.
Continuing the talented youth thread, the midfield boast Aaron Lennon and Wayne Routledge, both pacy wingers. Routledge has spent a great deal of time in other team’s shirts since coming to Spurs, but he should have a larger role to play this year. Lennon, on the other hand, should only continue to improve and elevate his chances with the England squad in the process.
Up front, Jol has his pick of Berbatov, Keane and Bent. Even though Defoe should eventually find the door, he still proves a dangerous choice half the teams in the Premier League would die to have.
Sven’s Predictions: This is the year they replace Arsenal in the top four. They may run with the title contenders for awhile, but should drop off by the New Year. They’ll still have a role to play in the title race, though. And I think now that we’re seven years into the millenium, Tottenham should win a domestic cup.
Reason to Watch: This is a club on the rise. You can see some potential stars of the English squad.
#3 – Chelsea
In: MF Steve Sidwell (Reading – Free), ST Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich – Free), CB Tal Ben Haim (Bolton – Free), MF Florent Malouda (Lyon – Undisclosed)
Out: CB Nuno Morais (Apoel Nicosia – Free), GK Yves Makabu-Ma-Kalambay (Hibs Undisclosed), MF Geremi (Newcastle – Free), CB Slobodan Rajkovic (PSV – Loan), FB Khalid Boulahrouz (Sevilla – Loan), MF Jimmy Smith (Norwich – Loan), CB Michael Mancienne (QPR – Loan), ST Ben Sahar (QPR – Loan)
Last Season Finish: 2nd in Premier League, FA Cup Winner, Carling Cup Winner (83 points)(64 Goals For, 24 Goals Against)
Overview: After Roman Abromovich reportedly tightened the purse strings last January, Chelsea proved they could shop smart by landing their first three signings without even opening their sugardaddy’s wallet. But have they actually gotten any better or have they just collected more talent to sit on the bench? Will Ballack and Shevchenko consistently make significant contributions? Or will Ballack join Robben in Madrid? How much longer will Jose stick around? Can Drogba produce another monster season? Will they be able to blame injuries again if things don’t go their way? How many more questions could we ask? Even if you don’t like Chelsea (and why should/would you?), it’s certainly an entertaining circus at Stamford Bridge. Yet, they get results on the pitch.
Firstly, expect the defense to be just as stingy as recent seasons. The additions of Tal Ben Haim and Alex will allow emergency stop-gap Essien to return to the midfield. One has to figure that Ashley Cole can’t possibly play worse than he did last season, so any improvement will be welcomed. Petr Cech’s head injury should be healed quite nicely so he and his epilepsy helmet will no doubt reclaim command of his area. John Terry will be as solid as ever, Roberto Cavarlho will continue to be a cunt and Wayne Bridge will struggle with injuries. They recorded 22 clean sheets last season and only an injury crisis (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility) will see them lose the beat this season.
Oh, what’s that you say? John Terry is out for the first month of the season? There’s the first chink in the armor.
The center of the midfield is well-sorted with Lampard, Essien, Obi Mikel and Makelele all returning. As for the what’s going on with the wings, it’s anybody’s guess. The revolving door policy seems to have Arjen Robben and his invisible sniper moving to Real Madrid, with Steve Sidwell ready to fill his playing time. Shaun Wright-Phillips may finally realize his mistake in joining the Blues now that the talented Florent Malouda has also joined the cause. A fit Joe Cole should be ready to re-establish himself this season.
Up front, Drogba will bully Premier League defences for another season. Kalou saw some action last season, but will now have to share that playing time with new boy Claudio Pizarro. What role Sheva plays this season is unclear. The squad would be that much more dangerous should he return to his pre-2005 Champions League final form, but whether he has it in him or will even be allowed the luxury of time to find it is questionable.
Sven’s Predictions: After ‘settling’ for the League and FA Cups last term, driven by the desire to recapture the Premier League title and filled with the hope of finally advancing to a Champions League final, it will come as no shock to anybody that this team will challenge for silverware on all fronts. There are those who suggest Mourinho’s men will take their foot off the pedal in the league to concentrate on the CL, but unless they’re an completely unmanagable number of points behind (a highly unlikely scenario), expect them to go full steam ahead. They’re good for at least one piece of silverware, if not multiple; They’ll play in a domestic Cup final, the semi’s (maybe a loss in the final) of the Champions League and will be in with a shout for the Premier League title. I will also predict (i.e. hope) that their knack for finding the winning/tying goal in the dying minutes deserts them this season.
Reason to Watch: You’re a bandwagon fan who’s late to the party.
#2 – Liverpool
In: ST Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid – Undisclosed), ST Andrei Voronin (Bayer Leverkusen – Free), MF Ryan Babel (Ajax – £11.5), MF Yossi Benayoun (West Ham – Undisclosed), MF Lucas Leiva (Gremio – Undisclosed)
Out: ST Robbie Fowler (Released), GK Jerzy Dudek (Released), ST Florent Sinama-Pongolle (Recreativo Huelva, £2.7M), MF Danny Guthrie (Bolton – Loan), CB Godwin Antwi (Hartlepool – Loan), MF Luis Garica (Atletico Madrid – Undisclosed), ST Craig Bellamy (West Ham – £7.5), ST Djibril Cisse (Olympique Marseille – Undisclosed), MF Adam Hammill (Southampton – Loan), FB Lee Peltier (Yeovil Town – Loan)
Last Season Finish: 3rd in Premier League, Champions League Finalist (68 points)(57 Goals For, 27 Goals Against)
Overview: Another season of high expectations at Anfield. After finishing 21 points behind the champions but making it to the Champions League final, talk of another title challenge is in the air. With their recent successes in Europe, Liverpool fans are hungry to see the same level of achievement attained domestically. The summer saw Rafael Benitez bring in wingers and a strikers, addressing the weak spots on an already strong team. But, will they have sufficient firepower to slug it out with Manchester United and Chelsea?
The defence remains as strong as ever. Daniel Agger has successfully replaced Hyypia to form a strong partnership with Jamie Carragher. Between the sticks, they have one of the top goalkeepers in the league, if not the world, in Pepe Reina. Right fullback is sorted with the rock that is Steve Finnan, but exactly who will make the left back spot their own remains to be seen.
A central midfield consisting of Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano and Sissoko already ranked among the strongest in any league. But with the continuing education of Jermaine Pennant, the additions of Babel and Benayoun and the return of Harry Kewell, Liverpool may have the proper wing play to complement their outstanding central counterparts.
Consistently scoring goals has been the Achilles heel of Liverpool in seasons past, severely hampering their title aspirations. But fans believe that the £20M man from Atletico Madrid, Fernando Torres, may be missing ingredient to a successful recipe. Andriy Voronin also joins the attack, replacing the one-and-done Craig Bellamy. Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch round out a diverse strike force for the Reds.
Sven’s Predictions: Improving a strong team can be tricky, but Rafa has certainly improved his squad. Expect a shift in the way Liverpool plays this season; the defence will be as staunch as ever, but the emphasis may now shift to a quicker and more ‘attractive’ style of play. This is a squad that should challenge for the title and will once again make headway in the Champions League. I’ll say they’ll win one of the domestic cups, be in the running for the title until late April and make it to the last four (at least) in the Champions League.
Somewhat Relevant Quote: (Steven Gerrard on Liverpool’s title aspirations)
I think it would be stupid of me to sit here and make promises to the supporters that we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that but what I can say is we’ll have a right good go and work hard.
We don’t feel as if we’re too far away from the other big clubs in the league and we feel if the current players dig in a bit and work a bit harder we can get involved in the title race.
Playing for Liverpool Football Club, it’s all about winning trophies and this summer’s no different. The squad has improved, the manager has been backed with good money and he’s spent it well and now it’s time for the players to deliver. The Premier League, that’s the one. That’s our main priority.
Reason to Watch: Don’t jinx us.
This is worth a laugh…
#1 – Manchester United
In: MF Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich – Undisclosed), MF Nani (Sporting – Undisclosed), MF Anderson, (Porto – Undisclosed), GK Tomasz Kuszczak (West Brom – Undisclosed), ST Carlos Tevez (West Ham – £2M)
Out: MF Kieran Richardson (Sunderland – Undisclosed), ST Alan Smith (Newcastle – Undisclosed), ST Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal – Undisclosed)
Last Season Finish: 1st in Premier League (89 points)(83 Goals For, 27 Goals Against), FA Cup Finalist
Overview: Coming off an impressive championship run, United aren’t relaxing, instead making a strong effort to strengthen their squad for the upcoming title defence. A young ‘keeper has been lined up as Van der Sar’s heir. The midfield has added new weapons from sunny Portugal. And after chasing him for a year, Sir Alex finally wrestled Owen Hargreaves from Germany. But the biggest coup of all had to be the capture of Carlos Tevez from West Ham for only 2 million.
United are definately ready for battle.
Hargreaves should pair nicely with Carrick, allowing the latter to get forward more often with exposing the backline. Also, the Canadian’s arrival now means SAF can afford to let Paul Scholes age. Both Scholes and Giggs enjoyed revitalized seasons last term, but Mother Nature and Father Time are just waiting to kick the chairs out from under them. Luckily, Nani and Anderson represent the fresh legs, so the old men just need to hang on for one more season as they get acclimated.
And then there’s Ronaldo. Expect more of the same douchey attitude with all of the same world-class talent. Sadly, he’s not too far away from being unstoppable.
The United defense is well sorted, but I can’t help but feel that an injury or two could put undue pressure on the champions and derail the chances of a repeat. (Granted, you could say that about most sides, though) Honestly, any side that features Wes Brown and Mikaël Silvestre regularly is a side worth exploiting.
Curiously enough, United seem to have an interesting striking situation. At present, they only have 2 1/2 servicable strikers – Rooney, Tevez and Saha. (Guess who counts as half?) Rooney and Tevez are roughly the same type of striker, but with their pedigree, that’s like captial gains tax – it’s a problem you don’t mind having. Problem is, Saha will probably be injured for half the season and Solskjaer’s knees could fall off at any time. So, SAF looks to have a possible striker shortage on his hands. I’d be shocked if the old Scot doesn’t bring in a pacey, taller striker who can play off the shoulder of the last defender by September 1st.
Sven’s Predictions: *groan* United to win the Premier League. United in the final of one of the domestic cups. United in (at least) the semi’s of the CL. United, United, United.
Reason to Watch: Watching Rooney and Tevez working together should be supremely entertaining. *sigh*
So, what do you think?
Sure, predictions of finishes are a pure craps shoot, but do you think one of these teams have been criminally over- or underrated?