Football fans often have little to do over the summer after the football season comes to an end. That span of three months before the best league in the world kicks off is filled with transfer rumors, debates about goal line technology and more. So to pass the time, aside from reading the latest development in the Fabregas saga or sifting through pages upon pages of ridiculous transfer rumors, I am going to assess the title chances of the top 6 teams, in my opinion, and predict how they will fare in the 2011/12 Premier League season:
6th – Arsenal
I’m going to stick my neck out on the line here and plump with Arsenal to come sixth. Arsenal have been an ever present in the top four in recent times but I think this will be the year where they come unstuck. With Clichy joining City and the imminent departures of Fabregas and Nasri — plus Gervinho being the only major potential arrival at the moment, I can see the Gunners surprising a lot of people this year and really underperforming. Szczesny has yet to prove himself in the Premier League, their defence still looks well short of the mark, they concede lots of stupid goals and can’t defend set plays. Their midfield will lack creativity with Nasri and Fabregas gone, even though Wilshere will surely attempt to fill the gaping hole Fabregas will leave. Walcott and Arshavin were both inconsistent again last year and although up front they do have a top class striker in van Persie, he spends more time in the physio room than on the football pitch. Aside from van Persie, they don’t have any realistic striking options. Even though Bendtner preaches that he is world class, he has yet to prove he is anything more than a back up striker for a low lying Premier League side.
This current Arsenal squad are not up to scratch and frequently look very fragile. Wenger will persist with playing attractive football again this season but with their current lack of quality to pull it off, Arsenal will come last out of the big six.
Title Odds – 1/10
5th – Liverpool
Although there seems to be a revolution happening at Liverpool with the new owners focused on buying young British talent and the club now moving in the right direction, I don’t think there’s any realistic chance of them winning the Premier League title this year. Carroll and Suarez look like they could be a formidable partnership this season and with the addition of Henderson and possibly Adam and Downing arriving as well, Liverpool certainly look stronger than recent years but I don’t think that they are quite there yet. The new players will need time to gel together and get playing as a team before they can think about sustaining a title challenge.
I still think they are too weak in defence. They need signings at left back and centre back. Stalwart and Liverpool icon Jamie Carragher is aging; a younger replacement should be sought. It also looks as if ‘King Kenny‘ is going to have an abundance of central midfield options next year with the likes of Gerrard, Meireles, Henderson, Lucas, Shelvey, Poulsen and possibly Adam, so they look to be strong there. Overall, it remains to be seen whether new boys Henderson, Suarez, Carroll and maybe Adam and Downing will perform consistently well over the course of a season at such a big club. Having said that, I think they will beat Arsenal to fifth but I don’t think they have a realistic chance of regaining the title.
Title Odds – 2/10
4th – Tottenham
Since Redknapp arrived at White Hart Lane, Tottenham’s fortunes have seen a massive uprise. and expectations have changed as well. Tottenham fans loved the experience they had last campaign in the Champions League and are dying to get back into the prestigious competition. Redknapp has built a strong squad and if they can sell off some their deadwood, they could go and sign a top quality striker to go and get them 25 goals in the Premier League and lift the team to a new level. The current strike force of Defoe, Crouch and Pavlyuchenko were not good enough last year. None of them could manage consistent goal scoring form. If they do this, plus keep their current world-class talent of Bale, Modric and van der Vaart, I can definitely see Tottenham having a real shot at the title.
Spurs have a pretty a solid defence marshalled by Dawson, one of the best centre backs in the EPL. Their main problem at the back is the often erratic Gomes. Although veteran Friedal has been brought in, he is forty years old and is not a long-term replacement. Nonetheless, they have a good squad and, provided a striker is brought in, I can see them doing well this year.
Title Odds – 4/10
3rd – Chelsea
Andre Villas-Boas has arrived at Chelsea with an aging squad in desperate need of an overhaul. In Cech, Chelsea have a fantastic keeper that provides a sense of security to the team, knowing that they have a safe pair of gloves at the back. Last season, the Blues conceded the joint least amount of goals, so for this upcoming season, they should have no worries about the solidity of their defence. The £21.5m signing David Luiz impressed with a refreshing style that is pleasing on the eye and will only get better with experience and looks a good partner for Terry. He has shown a Brazilian flair to his play that is rare to see. I think that a new right back wouldn’t go amiss as Bosingwa looked out of depth at times last season and teams will look to try and exploit him this year, but it is only a minor fault in the team.
In midfield, Essien and Lampard really looked their age last season and neither were the effective force they have been previously; an injection of youth is definitely needed. Joao Moutinho could follow Villas-Boas from Porto, and at 24 would provide some creativity and guile to the midfield. However, Chelsea are also interested in Modric and have had a £22m bid turned down so who they will sign is still a mystery. Up front, Drogba has been cast aside and demoted to second choice since the £50m signing of Torres and I can’t see Drogba being happy with playing second fiddle. His volatile personality could cause problems in the dressing room this year so I wouldn’t be surprised if he was sold, while Falcao coming from Porto to join the new gaffer. For all Torres’ poor performances last year, with a positive pre-season, he surely must come good. As they say, form is temporary, class is permanent and Torres has class in abundance. All in all, even with a few flaws in the current team, with the managing talent of Villas-Boas along with the winning mentality already instilled in the squad, the experience and quality still in this Chelsea side will look to mount another serious title challenge.
Title Odds – 5/10
2nd – Manchester City
Manchester City have spent big over the past few seasons and will surely do so again before the new UEFA financial fair play rules come into action. Mancini is building a really good side. They have the golden gloves winner Joe Hart in goal and the value of a good keeper can never be underestimated. Their defence was outstanding last time round, conceding the joint fewest amount of goals along with Chelsea, and with Clichy arriving to replace Kolarov, the problem left back area is sorted.
They could do with some more creativity out wide but this is not a huge problem. The long running Tevez saga continues to rumble on. One day he’s staying, the next he has got the removal men in. I fear this could disrupt the dressing room. Every day they open the paper to see the latest story about their captain and talisman leaving.
I think there needs to be a lot of departures. Players rotting on the sidelines while earning astronomical wages isn’t good for either party. The likes of Given, Bellamy, Wright-Philips and Santa Cruz will all be allowed to leave. The collection of expensive signings assembled by Mancini started to look like a team last year and if their finish to last season is anything to go by, they could do really well this year and I think they could be a definite threat to the favorites, Manchester United.
Title Odds – 6/10
1st – Manchester United
As the current holders of the EPL, Manchester United are certainly the favorites to go on and lift the trophy again this year. The team that won the title last year were definitely not the most swash-buckling, exciting Manchester United team we have ever seen. They will not be forever remembered as one of the great Fergie teams. However, this United team has a real grit and determination, a desire to win and never be turned over. There is a winning mentality at Old Trafford that sets them apart from the rest.
When you look through the likely team for next year, it is strong, again. I think that Phil Jones will add competition and cover in central defence, especially with Ferdinand being injured ever more increasingly. Young will provide more attacking options; he can play on either wing or through the middle. Twenty year old David De Gea looks to be a fantastic young keeper but whether he can handle the huge expectations that come with goalkeeping for such a huge club is another matter.
The Red Devils are also yet to sign a creative midfielder to fill the huge hole left by Paul Scholes; Modric, Sneijder and Nasri are all on their radar at the moment. Also, players like Welbeck, Macheda and Cleverley, all returning from loan, will provide valuable competition to spur on their senior counterparts. They will keep the more senior players on their toes knowing there is a young player waiting in the wings to take their place. And if Rooney and Hernandez build on their already successful partnership, they could easily become one of the great strike partnerships and score fifty goals between them in the EPL. Overall, Manchester United are definite favourites and the team to beat. I think it will take a monumental effort to topple them this year.
Title Odds – 8/10