Around this time last year I wrote an article about what I thought of the chances of England’s elite football teams in both domestic and European competitions. I was slightly off with what I predicted then and I most likely will be now. Still, without further delay… Here is the view of a Chelsea fan.
Who will win the Premier League this year?
At the moment I see three teams being in with a solid shout for the top-spot in the league: Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City. Despite my allegiance to Chelsea I think that Manchester City will ultimately prevail in the title race for a few reasons. City have had an extremely strong home form so far this season, often trashing visiting sides by a sizable margin, and are now starting to pick up consistency during their away games. Their strike-force is utterly devastating and the supply-lines to their strikers; Aguero, Negredo, and Dzeko are reflected in their astounding goal difference in comparison to their rivals. The only cause for concern City have is that their defense and goalkeeping is slightly suspect, but the sheer number of goals they score more than offsets this problem provided City do not concede too late in a game. In comparison Chelsea’s goal scoring abilities are vastly inferior to their northern rivals and Arsenal’s past record is against them with the recent loss of Theo Walcott only compounding their similar problems further.
Who will win the Champion’s League this year?
I think that the era of Spanish dominance in Europe is coming to a close and the dawn of a German spell is upon us. Bayern Munich were absolutely devastating in Europe’s most prestigious competition last year, utterly destroying UEFA sweethearts Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate and in the process becoming the one team absolutely nobody wants to go up against now. Having said that Bayern Munich strangely seem to struggle against sides not afraid of getting rough, specifically English sides, more often than not. Despite being beaten by Bayern last season Arsenal, to their credit, gave the German champions a real scare at the Alianz Arena. Similarly, Chelsea always give Bayern a nightmare of a match whenever they clash – beating them on their own turf to win the competition in the 2011/12 season and coming very close to humiliating them by beating them again, this time with ten men, during the UEFA Super Cup. Regardless, I fully expect Bayern to go on to win another Champion’s League trophy this season; they’re simply too clinical and ruthless for most of the competition at the moment. Chelsea and perhaps Manchester City are the only ones I can see potentially stopping them but don’t be surprised to see the famous trophy getting on the plane to Germany.
Now, on to individual teams in the Premier League.
The return of Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge was a move that was welcomed by fans who needed healing after the events of the 2012/13 season. More importantly the return of ‘The Special One’ has inspired a string of impressive, but not definitive, results against opposition teams. Chelsea have not lost a single game against their title rivals but have had a few patchy spots here-and-there which have ultimately impeded their campaign thus far. Comfortably sitting in the top three and well-in with a shout for the coveted top-spot Chelsea’s main issue remains their lack of firepower up front. Fernando Torres is a footballing enigma in the purest sense of the term; he’s capable of some incredible bursts of skill and speed but can turn around less than five minutes later and spoon a shot so horrifically that it almost goes out for a throw-in. Samuel Eto’o, a former Jose-player, has been brought in to obviously bridge the gap between transfer windows and the reclusive Demba Ba has been nowhere to be seen for the better part of a month now.
When it comes to creativity and a downright terrifying midfield capable of seriously hurting opposing teams Chelsea are hardly found wanting. Eden Hazard continues to impress, Oscar is maturing nicely into life in the league, and new signing Willian had a wobbly start but is starting to find his feet. The other mystery at Chelsea involves another Spaniard however: Fan-favorite Juan Mata has been side-lined by Jose Mourinho apparently because he ‘needs to adapt his playing style’ to suit the new-look team the manager is aiming for. Unfortunately for Chelsea fans this has pitted a popular player, their ‘player of the season’ twice in a row, against an arguably more popular and beloved manager. Mata has gone on record saying that he will fight for his place but with the 2014 World Cup literally around the corner and his place in Spain’s national squad in serious danger the longer he remains on Chelsea’s bench he might be tempted to seek a move away during the current transfer window. Despite their problems Chelsea can potentially challenge for the title and go far in the Champion’s League; winning neither but still having a fair go. Jose Mourinho might have a prowess in mind games that would put Niccolò Machiavelli to shame but that alone cannot win games for when one goes to war one needs proper weapons.
Okay, I suck at Machiavellisms…
Predicted EPL: 2nd Place
Predicted CL: Semi-Final
Liverpool are an odd case. They can be incredibly impressive at times but their form fluctuates flip-flops more than feet on an Ibiza beach, certainly more than most of their rivals. Current gaffer Brendan Rogers deserves huge credit for not only holding on to the problematic flawed-genius that is Luis Suarez but also building a solid side around him. However, therein lies Liverpool’s glaring weakness, one that has been exploited more than once by savvy teams so far this season; Liverpool are way too reliant on Suarez to bail them out of situations. You stop Suarez, you stop Liverpool. This is not to say that Liverpool are lacking alternatives in the goal-scoring department however; Daniel Sturridge has really come into his own at Anfield and club talisman Steven Gerrard continues to defy father time – but both are currently out with injuries. Liverpool’s lack of European football this season might actually end up working in their favor as they can fully focus on achieving a top-four finish and return to the Champion’s League next season – which I fully expect them to do. If they secure Champion’s League football this season Liverpool can then reinforce easier and better in the transfer window by using the allure of the competition in conjunction with Suarez and the club’s historical appeal.
Predicted EPL: 4th Place
Despite being a Chelsea fan I’ve always admired the way Arsene Wenger goes about his business, focusing on raising young players through the Arsenal academy and working them into the first team. However, a shock 3-1 defeat at the hands of Aston Villa on the first day of the season forced the Arsenal manager’s hand and at long-last he broke the club signing record and brought on board the Real Madrid maestro Mesut Özil to pacify a tsunami of fan discontent and to bolster his creative options. Ultimately, it seems Wenger’s gambit has paid off as Arsenal find themselves handsomely in contention for the Premier League title, right up there with Chelsea and Manchester City. Arsenal find themselves suffering from a similar problem that ails Chelsea though which is for all their creative ability they sometimes struggle to score goals. Hit-man Olivier Giroud, while easily more consistent than Fernando Torres, goes through droughts and considering that Arsenal’s back-up striker Theo Walcott is now out for the remainder of the season Arsenal need to reinforce their striking options – urgently. Failure to do so could see Arsenal begin to bleed points and fall out of the title race. I think that they will still achieve a top-four finish but I cannot see them ascending to the throne this season. Arsenal also have the momentous task of facing Bayern Munich as their next opponent in the Champion’s League, a fixture I fully expect them to give their all in but ultimately be defeated.
Predicted EPL: 3rd Place
Predicted CL: Quarter-Finals
Oh boy… Where to begin here…
Pundits and fans alike knew that any transition the club would go through following the retirement of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson would be painful but NOBODY could have foreseen what would unfold at Old Trafford. England’s arguably most iconic club over the summer welcomed for the first time in over two decades a new manager, former Everton and fellow-Scot to Ferguson: David Moyes. I’ll say this right now. I think David Moyes is a fine manager, he accomplished a great deal with next to nothing at his disposal at Everton and I think that in-time he will become a decent manager for Manchester United. However, I think that Ferguson has done him very few favors and has left him with a team that, despite whatever their fans say, won the league last season purely because their competition was so amazingly sub-par (Manchester City collapsed, Chelsea imploded, Arsenal faded away, and Liverpool were nowhere to be seen). This season however the competition has come back invigorated and the cracks that Ferguson managed to conceal last season have begun to bring the house down around poor Moyes’s head. The lack of depth in United’s squad has time-and-again this season been ruthlessly exposed and a number of shock defeats have plagued United, taking them out of the title race entirely and eliminating them from two cup competitions. Add to this a fan base accustomed to regular success, often from the jaws-of-defeat, under Ferguson and the rising tide of fan mutiny was inevitable.
How do Manchester United stop the rot? I honestly do not know. Throwing masses of money at players to fight for a fourth place spot is a massive gamble for if United fail to qualify for the Champion’s League after spending so much in the January transfer window they will be left not only with an egg on their faces but a serious financial dilemma. People often bag on United’s more ‘fickle’ fans but I get the feeling this season will REALLY weed out the true fans from the ‘plastics’. Strap in true believers… It’s going to be a bumpy ride under Moyes for a while.
Predicted EPL: 6th
Predicted CL: Semi-Finals
What is it with Manchester City having the monopoly on strikers in this league? Tottenham’s distinct lack of goals, from any source, has ultimately been their undoing this season. New signing Roberto Soldado has frankly failed to impressed with the majority of his meager goal-scoring tally coming from the penalty spot and Spurs’s alternatives are arguably no better. Not only that; now-former-manager Andre Villas-Boas, has been the first top-flight managerial casualty with owner Daniel Levy finally snapping and booting the young Portuguese manager out the door over Christmas. When it boils down Villas-Boas can have nobody to blame other than himself for his dismissal; he clearly miss-spent a colossal figure in the transfer window having finally lost superstar Gareth Bale and through a poor string of results clearly lost the support of his players. What happened to Tottenham in the first half of this season is almost beat-for-beat what happened to Chelsea in their 2011/12 season when Villas-Boas was manager there – the manager lost the dressing room, then the back-room staff, and finally the backing of the club’s owner. Unfortunately for Tottenham, unlike Chelsea, I cannot see them replicating the same miracles that happened after Villas-Boas’s previous dismissal and think they are destined to perpetually remain in the Europa League. Daniel Levy deserves some small credit for giving an English manager a chance as Villas-Boas’s replacement and I earnestly hope Tim Sherwood can gradually drag Spurs back into contention in subsequent seasons.
Predicted EPL: 5th
The Etihad Stadium has fast become a place visiting teams dread to go to this season, and for good reason. Manchester City’s home form has been searing to say the least. Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Arsenal have all come to the Etihad and have subsequently been scalped by a fearsome Manchester City side that seems to have capitalized on the collapse of their mortal enemies across the city of Manchester and have begun to take the league by storm. Manchester City’s away form has been patchy though, and although they have begun to patch up that particular problem the issue remains that they need to visit all of the teams they played at home in the first half of the season in the second half. This is where Manchester City could potentially drop points but I still expect them to triumph come the end of the season. Their margin of victory will be narrower than some might think however as Chelsea, the only rival to have actually beaten them remain hot on their heels. Expect this battle to go down to the wire. Manchester City also face Barcelona in the Champion’s League, a fixture that’s sure to be a scorcher. Going on my gut feeling I think that City will overwhelm Barcelona over both legs and, if their form continues, could well reach the final of the competition.
Predicted EPL: 1st Place
Predicted CL: Final