So, little more than a month since we were watching Germany dismantle Brazil in one of the most astonishing games in World Cup history, the Premier League is back. Time to forget about England’s mediocrity, the collapse of Spain, the vivacity of Colombia, the awesome power and skill of the Germans, and to focus once again on the helter skelter world of the self-styled greatest league in the world.
And you know, I just can’t wait!
So, fantasy team selected, brief burst of optimism about West Ham quickly doused by Andy Carroll’s latest injury, fingers-crossed for the Bees in the Championship, here are my predictions.
Winners – Chelsea. Assuming Diego Costa continues to score goals like he did in Spain (though not yet for Spain) and with the infusion of elegance in midfield from Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea look very strong. Matic looked a powerful force in defensive midfield in the second half of last season and there have been defensive reinforcements, including the return of Thibaud Courtois in goal, to give Petr Cech some serious competition. It will hurt to see Cesc in Chelsea blue, but by all accounts Arsenal had first refusal and didn’t want him.
2nd – Arsenal. OK, I admit to a bit of wishful thinking here, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens to the defence in the first away match to a top team, after last season’s meltdowns. But the acquisition of Alexis Sanchez should add pace and incision up front – and Theo will back soon. Debuchy is a good replacement for Sagna and Calum Chambers is clearly viewed as having serious potential. Given that they have sold Vermaelen to Barca, I would like to see Arsene get the chequebook out for a top quality centre back. Use the German connection to get Hummels? Anyway I expect Ramsey to continue scoring goals from midfield, Ozil to show more in his second season and Wilshere to show that he can be England’s best midfielder. Yes, yes, yes. Hey, maybe they’ll actually win the thing!
3rd – Manchester City. Now, it’s risky to go against City for another title. A strong squad has been strengthened: Mangala in defence, Fernando in midfield. But, having won the League last year, will their focus be on the Champions League? Will Aguero be back to his best, or will he continue to get those niggling injuries? Will Fernandinho recover from the shell shock of that 7-1 defeat to Germany, in which he played a notorious part? Will Yaya feel the love? If the answer to all these questions is yes then they will probably win it again. But, right now, I have my doubts.
4th – Liverpool. The big question is obviously how Liverpool will be affected by the loss of Suarez. Brendan Rodgers seems to have bought well – Southampton fans must be cursing him – and Coutinho might really star now. But I think Sturridge has a bit to prove after a poor World Cup. Same could said about Henderson and Gerrard. Liverpool were genuinely exciting last season and caught the other big sides off guard, to come second. Will be harder for them this season and they have Champions League too.
So that means no top four place for Man Utd. A lot of commentators are assuming that the sheer presence of van Gaal will revitalise them. They may well be right. But the summer purchases haven’t been spectacular and they look quite weak at the back. (So why have I got De Gea in my fantasy team?). Will van Persie stay fit? Will Rooney stay happy? Too many question marks still. But of course you cannot rule out a return to the top for a side used to being there and they did have an impressive pre-season in the US. And there are a couple of weeks of transfer window left.
As for my own team, West Ham, I’m reasonably optimistic. Don’t expect anything spectacular. Some interesting summer purchases: Kouyate from Anderlecht in midfield, Cresswell and Jekinson (loan) Zarate, Valencia (who scored for Ecuador in the World Cup), and now Sakho, all up front. Will they make up for the loss of Andy Carroll to injury once again. Will Big Sam deliver the attacking football the board – and the fans – want? Will Diego Poyet (Gus’s son) be given a chance to restore the concept of playmaker to West Ham’s football? It all feels a bit tetchy at the moment, and if we start badly – first game home to Spurs – the Sam Out calls will resume. That could be damaging for a side that could easily lose confidence with so many new players and others, like Nolan, Downing and Carlton Cole, who are quickly slated by the fans.
Oh well, give us another win against Tottenham and we’ll be talking about Europe.
I’m going to sit on the fence and say 13th – about the same, then, as last year. But hopefully with a bit more style.
Relegation: Burnley, West Brom, Palace. With jury out on Leicester and QPR.
Surprise success of season? Well last year I thought about Southampton (8th) but tipped Norwich. Relegated! So the curse this year falls on Stoke, who Mark Hughes might just be turning into a good footballing side. The purchase of ex Barca starlet, Bojan Krkic, might be a flop, but equally could be inspired. So, I say top eight for the Potters!
PS. Written on plane home from Spain and on M1 back to London. Didn’t alter my Man Utd verdict when I heard they were losing at home to Swansea, but 2-1 defeat seems to bear out the doubts. As we always say at this stage though, only one game…
PPS. We lost at home to Spurs in second minute of added on time! Stoke lost at home to Villa. First game, first game…