After three matches, jumping to conclusions about how the season will play out seems a bit hasty. We can’t possibly know after three short weeks what’s going to happen in the next eight months, right? Wrong. Here are five conclusions I’m ready to jump to:
- This is the last season you’ll see Fernando Torres in a Liverpool shirt
The season surely hasn’t been the start Roy Hodgson dreamt of. It’s tough to say what has been the most excruciating part of Hodgson’s first three weeks in charge. It could be Joe Cole’s less than stellar red-card and botched penalty debut week. Or perhaps it was the way Pepe Reina let those two points bang off his hands and into the Reds goal at Anfield? The 3-0 pounding at Eastlands? No, it surely has to be Javier Mascherano’s insistence on getting out, and getting out now. I think Masch could read the writing on the wall, and although he may not have handled the situation gracefully (according to Hodgson), I can’t blame him for wanting to bail on this sinking ship.
Torres took the opposite tack in the late summer, pledging his loyalty to the club and vowing to win trophies. I respect that loyalty, but I don’t expect Fernando to be singing the same tune come January, when Liverpool sits in the middle of the table with virtually no shot at the Champions League. They’ve left too many holes in the squad for too long, starting last year with the exit of Xabi Alonso and now with the departure of Mascherano. There are some new faces around to try to fill in some of the gaps, but I don’t think these pieces have what it takes to get Liverpool in title contention and keep their star striker happy. If he’s fit in January – that’s a capital IF – I expect Torres to start making some transfer noise and begin his campaign to move on from Liverpool, regardless of the ownership situation.
- Manchester City is going to qualify for the Champions League
With more money spent on their bench than most squad’s starting eleven, I think the Citizens have finally amassed the talent necessary to get to that next level and claim one of the EPL’s Champions League spots. Yes, I saw the mess at Sunderland and the virtual theft of a point at Spurs courtesy of a Joe Hart clinic in big time goal keeping. I also saw them dismantle Liverpool, and what impressed me was not that they beat them but how, that was never a contest. I just think this squad has too many quality pieces to miss out on the top four.
For me, the biggest addition has to be James Milner. His creativity, motor and scoring ability bring to the team a bit of anti-Robinho-ness (a new term, I hope you like it) and a touch of grittiness that they lacked before. Hart’s goalkeeping has been spectacular, one goal allowed in three games, and a penalty at that. He’s the real deal. Perhaps the biggest transfer win for City is that they did not have to work out a deal for the exit of Shay Given. Keeping him on their bench means that Arsenal doesn’t have him, which means they’re stuck with the unfortunate duo of Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski. Which leads me to my next thought…..
- Arsenal’s neglect of acquiring a solid keeper takes them out of title contention
Chelsea and Man United seem to be the consensus no. 1 and 2 teams, but Arsenal’s net minding situation should be very unsettling for the Gunners. The race for the third and fourth will come down to Arsenal, Tottenham and Man City. I think City is better than Arsenal, and I expect them to prove that as the season progresses. Tottenham swooping for Rafael Van der Vaart gives them a boost, and Gareth Bale is emerging as a true force in the Premier League.
There are a few too many big question marks around Arsenal right now. The biggest one is at the back, in goal. The one place you can’t afford to be weak is where Arsenal is the weakest. I’m a bit surprised there was no move for Given, Mark Schwarzer, or anyone for that matter.
Another question is Cesc Fabregas. Is his Barcelona dream really just going to be put on the backburner, or is he going to yearn for the Camp Nou and start making some noise come January? Lastly, the fitness of Arsenal is a cause for concern. Robin Van Persie is out again, and Nicklas Bendtner apparently shelved for an extended period of time, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on The Walcott to continue his scoring streak. With all these questions, I expect Arsenal to be in a dogfight all season, but instead of fighting for the top spot, they’ll be fighting to stay in the top four.
- Recently promoted Blackpool and Newcastle will stick around another year
Both Newcastle and Blackpool come out of the first three weeks with four points to their name. While it may not be a total shocker for Newcastle, I don’t think too many people thought Blackpool would be off to this kind of start. A thrashing of Wigan, and a hard fought draw against Fulham have me believing that this Orange shirted squad is not going to just give up points week after week. The 6-0 loss to Arsenal surprises nobody, but I give them a bit of extra slack since they had 10 men for 60 minutes.
Newcastle looks a bit more impressive. Andy Carroll’s goal scoring form seems to prove that he can handle the big stage, and Newcastle is playing like they are more likely to be hanging around the middle of the table than fighting to avoid relegation. Both of these squads will likely drop some points to the big boys, but I don’t expect them to be in the relegation zone come May.
- Chelsea is going to break their goal scoring record and repeat as EPL Champs
It took until late September last year for Chelsea to hit the 14 goal mark. They have 14 through three games, and with the relative ease of their upcoming schedule, I think they’ll have poured in at least 20 goals by the time they roll into Manchester City for their first real test of the year.
Ashley Cole is up to his usual tricks, spending most of his time making runs and creating scoring chances, while Florent Malouda has been one of the most impressive players in the young season. Chelsea’s left side is going to continue to give everyone fits, and they’re just going to keep lighting up goalies Michael Essien’s box-to-box mad man style is back and helping make a questionable central defense look a bit stronger. And then there’s Didier Drogba, who seems just as happy creating an abundance of opportunities for everyone else as scoring himself.
Chelsea just has more of the look of a champion than Manchester United, they have not looked even a bit shaky thus far, and you can’t say the same for United. A 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage was disappointing, but Berbatov looks like he’s (finally) ready to live up to his expectations. With Rooney having not even reached his peak goal scoring form and Rio Ferdinand nearly back to fitness, I expect it to be a two horse race for the title. Right now, Chelsea looks poised to win that race, and I think they’ll crack 115 goals easily.
So what do you think? Am I jumping the gun on these?