Saturday, 13 August 2011

Premier League predictions

If you can't be a little self-indulgent on a blog, where can you be?

The Premier League is on the verge of restarting, carrying with it high hopes for many a team - not least of all my Facebook Fantasy Football team. Time, then for a few predictions - who will win the league, who will be relegated, who will do better than expected, who will tank.

Arsenal
It looks like being a tough season for Arsenal. While other teams have carefully prepared their squads over the summer, honed their team in pre-season friendly preparations, Arsenal seem to be stumbling towards the start line. Nasri and Fabregas look to be on their way to Man City and Barcelona respectively, a huge double blow to the team. The value of Fabregas hardly needs mentioning, and Nasri was the player of the first half of last year's Premier League. When you couple that with continued problems in defence and the faltering form last year of Arshavin, Arsenal look a long way from a team capable of challenging for the title. The emergence of Wilshere is a huge positive, and Oxlaide-Chamberlain's arrival is a good prospect for the future, but at the moment, Arsenal look short.
Prediction: 5th
Key player: Van Persie


Aston Villa
Poor old Darren Bent must be wondering why he picked Aston Villa now. When he arrived, it must have seemed like a dream come true, feeding on the supply line provided by Stewart Downing and Ashley Young. Come the summer, and gone is the manager that recruited him, and gone are the players who put the ball in front of him. Alex McLeish will have a rough ride from some fans for daring to have managed Birmingham, but he is a decent manager, no matter how much his failure to keep the Blues up. Last season, Birmingham looked a team wounded by behind the scenes troubles, and while Villa won't tear the Premier League up, they should settle in mid-table. Given in goal is a great signing, N'Zogbia is not a good enough replacement for the players that have left.
Prediction: 14th
Key player: Bent


Blackburn
Of the established teams in the Premiership, Blackburn looks the most doomed to relegation. The team's form at the end of last season was awful, and since then they have lost Jones in defence, and Samba looks increasingly likely to be off to new pastures too. The ownership of the club looks a mess, Kean as a manager looks more respected by the owners than the players, and David Goodwillie is hardly the big-name signing to encourage the fans.

Prediction: 18th
Key player: Samba. If he stays.


Bolton
You'd often be foolish to bet against Bolton - but the team does look weaker than last season. Goalscorers Elmander and Sturridge have gone, and Kevin Davies isn't getting any younger. The new recruits come from the bargain end of the market, but you get the impression that Owen Coyle will steer them to safety, and he has a habit of using the loan market well. A new striker looks essential, though.
Prediction: 11th
Key player: Davies.


Chelsea

New manager, new era, and Chelsea look to be in safe hands. They did, however, fall a little short last season, and their rivals have recruited more substantially than they have, although Lukaku looks a cracking signing. There's time yet for them to add some more reinforcements, but all of the top teams last season were less impressive than previously, and Chelsea need more fresh blood. A huge season for Torres, who has to come good or start to be regarded as yesterday's man, despite having a huge amount of his career still ahead of him.
Prediction: 3rd
Key player: Torres


Everton
Sooner or later, David Moyes is going to run out of steam keeping a seemingly out-of-pocket Everton going. No real signings, but no real departures either so far. Still, Everton could dearly use some fresh faces in the team, and goalscoring is still a problem. Marouane Fellaini has made a few unsettled noises - this could be a season to put himself firmly in the shop window.
Prediction: 9th
Key player: Fellaini


Fulham
Off goes Mark Hughes, in comes Martin Jol, who looks as good a fit for Fulham as anyone. There's not a lot wrong at Fulham, and the transfers in and out have not so much shaken things up as tweaked things here and there. It looks like Fulham are interested in another striker, and if they get some extra firepower to back up Bobby Zamora, they'll have a good chance of a top ten finish.
Prediction: 8th
Key player: Zamora


Liverpool
No one's recruiting policy looks more focussed than that of Kenny Dalglish. Suarez and Carroll look a formidable strike force, the perfect bland of craft and brawn, and the summer has seen Dalglish add the players to provide the supply line. Stewart Downing receives a lot of criticism, but he's a very able crosser of the ball, and no one will have been happier with his signing than Andy Carroll. Henderson and Adam will mean that Steven Gerrard's occasional absences from midfield will be less noticeable, and Enrique isn't a bad recruit for a problem position for Liverpool. An extra centre back wouldn't be a surprise, but Liverpool already look well-equipped to challenge Arsenal hard for a Champions League spot.
Prediction: 4th
Key player: Suarez


Man City
Having made it to the Champions League, Man City look ready to take the next step forward and challenge for the title itself. Tevez will be a sad loss, but who knows? If no one comes in for him with the right amount of money, perhaps he'll stay around until the January transfer window, and add extra goals to City's mix. Aguerro is a fantastic signing, possibly the signing of the summer, but behind him you have an unreliable Balotelli and a still settling Dzeko. Silva is a revelation, and if they add Nasri, they will ooze creativity, even without mentioning Adam Johnson. However, City can be cautious rather than adventurous too often, and I think they will just be pipped to the title.
Prediciton: 2nd
Key player: Aguerro


Man Utd
Last season was the weakest crop of challengers for the Premier League title, and in another year Man Utd wouldn't have gotten away with the stumbles they made on the way to the title. Ferguson has made some excellent signings over the summer, though, and they look better equipped this season. Jones and Young improve the team, let alone the squad, and while there have been a couple of pre-season wobbles, De Gea has a good reputation in goal. Ferguson has made mistakes with goalkeeping recruits in the past, but I'd expect him to come good. One more recruit in central midfield would be the ideal for Utd, and the lack of buyers for Berbatov leaves the attacking line-up intact, even if Rooney and Hernandez look the first choice pairing. It'll be an interesting season for Welbeck, after his excellent year at Sunderland. All told, Utd look to have enough to retain their title.
Prediction: 1st
Key player: Young for the supply line - although if Sneijder does sign, he'll prove the crucial addition.


Newcastle
If Newcastle manage to avoid relegation this season, it won't be for the lack of trying. First, out went Carroll, with a promise of reinvesting the £35m that is looking increasingly thin. Then, off went Nolan. Barton was deemed persona non grata. Enrique is the latest to depart. The big names replacing them are a striker from a relegated side on a free transfer and a Manchester United reserve who struggled to get anywhere near a first team shirt. Add to that the sense that there is unrest behind the scenes, and a general resentment from the fans towards owner Mike Ashley, and it's not a good mix. They still have some good players, especially in the likes of Tiote and Ben Arfa, but I don't think Ba will score enough goals to lift them far above the relegation places.
Prediction: 17th
Key Player: Tiote


Norwich
One thing for sure - Norwich are going to give the Premier League a good go. Paul Lambert has made a host of signings, mostly the better players from the Championship, which is a good tactic for up-and-coming sides, ensuring that if the worst happens, they're well equipped to bounce back. It's a doubly good tactic for Norwich, who have won promotion probably earlier than they could have hoped after only one season in the Championship. Whatever happens, the board will back Lambert, who has done an excellent job, and I think he has just, just done enough in his recruitment, particularly up front, to give Norwich a chance of avoiding relegation.
Prediction: 16th
Key player: Holt


QPR
In theory, QPR should be the best placed of the three promoted teams to stay up - there's money in the team, Neil Warnock has the experience, Taraabt is a player looking to prove a point and earn a big transfer. But again this is a club which doesn't look to be a happy ship. It could be up for sale, Warnock has been rumoured to not have the full backing of the owners - these are the things which could undermine what is sure to be a tough bid for survival. The new recruits look to be on the cheap side, too. As much as QPR were worthy winners of the Championship, they look a bit short for the Premier League.
Prediction: 19th
Key player: Taraabt


Stoke 
Steady progress for Stoke, and a top ten place looks a likely proposition this year. For some reason, Stoke don't win too many admirers, but Tony Pulis has made them a solid Premier League side. Not many major additions to the squad yet, but he does tend to leave his recruiting late. Safe, and the possibility of exceeding their own expectations.
Prediction: 7th
Key player: Shawcross


Sunderland
A big shake-up over the summer for Sunderland, with a lot of players arriving, more than making up for Henderson's departure. Gyan up front is a marvellous player, but Bent will still be missed, as will the departed loan striker Welbeck. It's a great chance for Connor Wickham to make a name for himself in the Premier League, but all those signings will take a while to settle. Sunderland will be safe, and a top ten finish is certainly possible.
Prediction: 10th
Key player: Gyan


Swansea
If Swansea stay up, it'll be a miracle. No offence to them, because I'd love to see them do well, but Danny Graham, at £3.5m, is their record signing, and their team is very short of Premier League experience, while their best player, Ferrie Bodde, has been a long time out with injury. They'll have a good go, and they will try to play attractive football, but the best they can hope for is building for the future.
Prediction: 20th
Key player: Bodde


Tottenham
While there's a transfer window open, there's always a chance that Harry Redknapp will pull off a trick or two, but Tottenham's best trick has been keeping the players they've got. Still, they don't look happy with the strikeforce they've got, and Crouch could wind up at any one of half a dozen teams before the season starts. By standing still, Spurs have still managed to catch up on Arsenal, who look to be going backwards right now in terms of squad strength, but they have been overtaken by Liverpool, which won't help their ambitions of reaching the Champions League for a second time.
Prediction: 6th
Key player: Van Der Vaart


West Brom
When Roy Hodgson arrived at West Brom, they looked to be headed dangerously towards relegation. As it is, Hodgson turned them around and moved them back up the table. It'll be another tough season for West Brom, but Hodgson has recruited well, even without spending too much money, and it'll be interesting to see how Long settles after his move from Reading. It won't be comfortable, but they should be safe.
Prediction: 13th
Key player: Odemwingie


Wigan
Perpetually tipped for relegation, perpetually wriggling out of it at the last. Wigan have suffered a blow in losing N'Zogbia, but they've kept Martinez as manager, and made Al Habsi's deal permanent. Capable of some startling results, and some shocking defeats, there's little to suggest that things will be different this time. Survival, but not by much, and a lot depends on the goals of Rodallega.
Prediction: 15th
Key player: Rodallega


Wolverhampton
Wolves disappointed last season, staying far too close to the bottom of the league, even to the last day of the season. Hopefully, they will be less troubled by injuries this year, and Roger Johnson should beef up the defence after arriving from Birmingham. Their recruitment looks a little short this summer, but a couple of loan signings look fairly likely to add to the squad. Their strength is that their rivals this year look weaker than last, and both Fletcher and Doyle have the taste of Premier League goalscoring. 
Prediction: 12th
Key player: Doyle

Top four: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool
Bottom three: Blackburn, QPR, Swansea

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