Michael Laverty is here to predict how the battle for top four in the Premier League will pan out, with a number of teams vying for glory.
With the new Premier League season less than a fortnight away, it’s time to speculate who will win the title, who will achieve a top four spot and who will ultimately fall short. With a few changes since last season, and the inevitable surprise performances from players and teams one might not expect, it’s an exciting time of the year.
Jose Mourinho has had time this summer, after a full season back at Stamford Bridge, to put his own personnel together and make his own mark with Chelsea again. This time he has brought in significant players to improve the side, including Felipe Luis, Didier Drogba, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. Add this to a headache over Cech and Courtois for goalkeeping duty, and a midfield as solid as cement, and you have a team that is going to be at the top of the table right until the last day of the season.
With Frank Lampard gone, the side still has players like Hazard, Oscar, Fabregas, Schurrle and Ramires. With a solid backline, the choice of a top goalkeeper, Jose Mourinho’s tactical brain and a centre forward in the form of Diego Costa and Didier Drogba (maybe even Torres too, you never know), it is hard to look past The Special One’s side this season in search of who might be lifting the trophy.
2. Manchester City
As solid as Chelsea, but they have not really strengthened their side, with just three signings in the shape of goalkeeper Caballero, former Arsenal defener Sagna, and Fernando from FC Porto. Some say City may not need to strengthen, and sure they won the league, but they struggle in European competition and with the other teams in the top six of the Premier League strengthening, a tough campaign may be ahead for City.
While they are still an excellent outfit that will contest for the title until the last day of the season, their only hope of a trophy this coming season might be the FA Cup or the League Cup.
3. Manchester United
With a good pre-season behind the Red Devils, a new manager in Louis van Gaal, a new system in place and solid signings in Luke Shaw and Herrera, a promising season lies ahead for the team that finished a surprising 7th last season. While the defense still needs to be strengthened before the transfer window jams the fingers of Harry Redknapp, the new system which can bring Valencia and Young into a more defensive position along with the likes of Evans and Jones, might be just what they need to step up their responsibilities.
United have an excellent set of strikers and a solid keeper in de Gea, but the defense is where the real test lies. It will likely not be United’s season to lift the trophy again, but expect a great improvement on last year and a solid top four finish.
Lifting the FA Cup and Community Shield must make it feel like a dream at the moment for fans of the Gunners, but thanks to the support towards Wenger, the club are moving in the right direction. Aaron Ramsey, if he stays injury free will wreck havoc in the league this season. With the addition of Sanchez and a better previous season behind Giroud, it might be a great goalscoring season for Arsenal.
With the new addition of Chambers and Debuchy in the backline, and World Cup winner Per Mertersacker with Koscielny, Arsenal are looking somewhat of a more solid and improved side, with a lot of promise and more expectation ahead for them. Their best addition of the summer may be that of fitness coach Shad Forsythe, who worked under Joachim Löw with the German national team.
With the likes of Podolski, Ozil and Mertesacker being part of the German set up, they will know the standard that will be set. Expect a more energetic team performance from Arsenal this season, with increased fitness levels and perhaps less injuries which has been a big problem for a number of players at the club.
The One That Got Away
While they will have an excellent chance of building upon last season and taking a top four spot, it might be a case of a year of transition at the moment for Liverpool. With the loss of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, there will be a big gap in the Liverpool line-up. Saying that, having done well without him last season, this may be a blessing in disguise if they squad pulls together and helps the likes of Daniel Sturridge have another fantastic season.
After an impressive pre-season and players such as Coutinho, Henderson and Sterling, the depth and performance may have increased upon last season throughout the squad, but whether the quality is their to secure the top four spot they’re capable of without Suarez and as Gerrard gets another year older, it might be a tricky task at hand. Expect a huge and tight battle with Manchester United and Arsenal for a top 4 spot with Liverpool.
Top of the Table Summary
Unfortunately there are only four top spots for the five or six top teams in the Premier League. While there is a lot of admiration for Liverpool both last season and in pre-season under Brendan Rodgers, it will be interesting to see how they perform this season with a half a new look squad.
They are a team that could easily secure top four, but might find themselves just missing out. This is the case also for Arsenal and Manchester United, but don’t be surprised to see Manchester City having a difficult season along with the sacking of Pellegrini.
All of the top teams have strengthened more so than City this year and they have an incredible weakness in the Champions League. City may find it hard against their top 4 rivals and the champions may actually find this to be their most difficult season in recent years.
Chelsea have to be the firm favourites to win the league this season with a solid squad throughout in every area and one that will compete in Europe as well. An exciting season awaits for Mourinho’s Blues.
Michael Laverty, Pundit Arena.