The new Premier League season has begun (finally) and wivfes are lamenting the losses of their husbands on a Staurday afternoon. Craig Farrell gives us his ten predictions for the 2014/15 season.
1. Chelsea will be crowned champions
Jose Mourinho was just short of the mark last season, but were able to take solace in knowing that they were able to prevent Liverpool from being crowned champions of England. The Special One got a year under his belt back at the helm of Chelsea and he entered the transfer market knowing exactly what he needed: a goal scoring striker, and in Diego Costa, Chelsea secured one.
Costa was just short of scoring a goal every second game for Atletico Madrid, and he has looked extremely sharp during preseason. The Brazilian-born Spanish international did not come cheap but the sale of Romelu Lukaku has reimbursed Chelsea the vast majority of the fee Atletico charged.
The second great coup in the transfer market came in the shape of former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. Chelsea already had a plethora of talent in midfield, but nothing quite in the elk of Cesc. Fabregas has sublime passing ability and vision, his deft through-balls will make Costa an even greater goal scoring threat. Mix that with the defensive strength that Chelsea showed last season and the title race becomes Chelsea’s to lose.
2. Diego Costa will be top goalscorer
There are many suitors to the top goal scoring accolade, but most of the teams that boast a suitor have more than one. Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie will split the goal tally at Man United, while a multitude of players from Arsenal and Man City will get in on the scoring act. Liverpool’s strikers won’t be as prolific this season with the absence of a certain Uruguayan, but Chelsea have just the one: Diego Costa.
He was brought in for the single purpose of hitting the back of the net; and Cesc Fabregas was brought in to ensure that his international compatriot is given every opportunity to do so. Chelsea’s new frontman has it all: he is quick, strong, can dance past players with quick footwork or just rush at them and send them into a panic. He is strong in the air, can play with his back to goal and all of these assets will assist him in rippling the opposing net time and time again.
Considering the talent that Chelsea has at its disposal from midfield: Oscar, Eden Hazard, Willian, Andre Schurrle, the threat can come from anywhere, but they will all end up finishing in the same place.
3. Paul Lambert will be sacked
Aston Villa have underachieved to say the least under Paul Lambert. The team has great talent amongst its rank, but Lambert just can not get them playing. Christian Benteke is the key to Lambert’s survival. If he regains his form he can win games single-handedly for the Villains but the Belgian has struggled to stay fit. Lambert has also taken it upon himself to isolate, and therefore destroy all confidence in Darren Bent.
Bent is a proven goalscorer and has a great pedigree in the Premier League but Lambert has placed him on the periphery of the Villa squad. Furthermore Villa’s fixture list is against them. They opened their campaign with a win away against Stoke City, but they now face Hull City and Newcastle United after which Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and Everton make up their next five games.
It is an impossible opening eight fixtures for Villa. They could have really done with an easy start to build confidence and get some wins ,and points, under their belt but will be struggling from the out and pressure will mount from the start.
4. QPR will be the only promoted team to avoid relegation
QPR had to battle their way back into the top flight of the Premier League. Harry Redknapp is the most experienced of the three newly promoted managers, but on top of that he worked the transfer market perfectly; focusing on building a QPR team that has a strong defensive backbone.
Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker enter the fray to offer Premier League knowhow and experience, while Mauricio Isla offers an internationally capped talent at left back. Redknapp will set his team up not to concede and will rely on the talents of Adel Taarabt and the blistering pace of Shaun Wright-Phillips to break on the counter attack and supply Loic Remy – a man who just makes it his business to score goals.
5. Liverpool will miss out on Top Four
It was great to see Liverpool in form and challenging for the title once again. Liverpool bring something special to a title race when they are involved – sadly they won’t be involved this season. The departure of Luis Saurez will have catastrophic consequences for the team. Brendan Rodgers will regroup and build a strong unit but this season will falter somewhat. Suarez is one of those great players who can just create something out of nothing. He was involved in more than 50 per cent of Liverpool’s goals last season – which is just phenomenal.
The money that Liverpool received for him will allowed Rodgers to build a squad of players that fit his philosophy. Liverpool were very thin last season and the fact that they have European games this season means that depth was a must for the side. Rodgers has brought in some decent players but none of the calibre of Suarez.
Unfortunately for The Reds they missed out on Alexis Sanchez who could have filled the void of the Uruguayan. They also backed out of purchasing Liic Remy who would have at least guaranteed them double figures in goals. The signings of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Emre Can and Lazar Markovic will all go towards strengthening Liverpool’s squad as a whole, but none of those players can replace Saurez’s ability in attack. Players such as Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge will find it harder to find space with their maestro now in Spain.
6. Leicester City will finish bottom
Leicester coasted through the Championship last season by thumping goals past teams and simply outscoring them as opposed to outplaying them or defending them off the park. That luxury will not lend itself to The Foxes this season. They have a team that has very little quality or Premier League experience.
The team is a concoction of Premier League rejects and ex-Manchester United youth players. None of the signings – with the exception of Marc Albrighton – would really generate any encouragement for the season ahead. Leicester conceded 43 goals in 46 games last season. Although that seems impressive, giving up less than a goal a game, the Midlands side will face tougher opposition and will need to be able to protect their goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel.
7. Manchester United will finish in the top 4
Louis Van Gaal will definitely be Man United’s most important off-season acquisition. He has brought confidence and swagger back to Old Trafford. He has also implemented a system that allows Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie all to play in their best positions at the same time. Ander Herrera looks set to run the United midfield with great vision and an eye for a pass.
Luke Shaw goes some way towards rebuilding the United backline; however the defense is a worry. The system of three centre backs is potentially dangerous as United only have three recognised centre halfs in the team: Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling – neither of which would be considered an anchor in the backlines. The full/wing back positions are also an issue as there is very little cover behind the starting duo of Luke Shaw and Rafael. In saying that United look like they are going to play a game of ‘you can score one, we will score two’. If Van Gaal was able to capture some more defensive signings prior to the season a title run may have been a possibility, however with the defensive frailty still evident a top four finish is the best United can hope for – and considering last season’s debacle, it can not be scoffed at.
However, the signs point to the notion that the opening day defeat to Swansea was a blip on the road to a return to Champions League football.
8. Southampton will finish in the bottom half
Southampton were cursed by overachieving. They surpassed everyone’s expectations, not only in terms of where they managed to finish in the league but also in the style of play the were able to adopt while doing so. This has led to a mass exodus from the southern outfit. The team that was a joy to watch has been pillaged.
Spurs took their coach, while Liverpool pouched practically their entire starting XI – convincing three of them to make the move to Merseyside. Five first-teamers have ditched Southampton this off-season. Lambert, Lallana, Shaw, Lovren and Chambers all have new homes in the Premier League, while some other first-teams are angered by Southampton’s unwillingness to sell them as well. Southampton have brought in a new coach and some new players, but the entire system has to be broken and built again. It is practically a new team to that which soared so high last season.
9. Stoke finish in top 8
Mark Hughes has created something of a revolution at Stoke City. Giving credit where it is due, Tony Pulis got Stoke into the Premier League and helped them imbed themselves into the foundation of the league. Stoke have been free from the fret of relegation for some time thanks to Pulis’ philosophy but Hughes has created a new, more dynamic, Stoke City to the one that many recall when they hear The Potters name. Hughes has adopted a brand of football that allows some of the Premier League vagabonds a style to embrace and excel under.
The likes of Charlie Adam and Stephen Ireland has shown glimpse of their former greatness which previously brought them to the interest of Liverpool and Man City respectively. The Welshman has also spiced things up in the transfer market. He has added strong reliable bodies to his squad in the form of Steve Sidwell and Phil Bardsley, while also adding some exotic twists to his business, snapping up Mame Biram Diouf and Dionatan Teixeira – while also pulling off the transfer coup d’etat by signing Bojan Krkic from Barcelona – who has been in fine finishing form thus far in the pre-season
10. Five managers will be sacked
As stated above Paul Lambert will get the chop after failing to win more than a single game in his opening eight encounters. So with Paul having already fallen on the sword that leaves four more to face the managerial guillotine.
West Bromwich Albion are going to struggle from the outset and have a history of cutting their losses with managers in a desperate attempt to avoid the drop. WBA had three different hands on the reins last season and it is very likely that the manager they begin the season with won’t be there come next May.
West Ham and Newcastle are two teams that have be longing to sack their respective managers. Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew, for all their good work, both know they are just one bad result or bad press conference away from getting their pink slip.In the former’s case, Big Sam was almost gone prior to the start of the season over a dispute with West Ham’s board over Ravel Morrison.
Both Leicester and Burnley will make quick homes in the relegation zone so the managers for each of those clubs will get very hot under the collar. And it wouldn’t be a Premier League season without Tottenham sacking a manager – lets see if they can resist the urge this season.
Craig Farrell, Pundit Arena.