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Premier League 2010/11 Preview

August 12, 2010

The Premier League returns this weekend. With no outstanding teams last season – it became apparent by February with Chelsea, United and Arsenal still interested that the title would be claimed by the weakest side for a few years – it is particularly difficult to call this time around. There has been little strengthening at the top, but the top-4 wannabees have mostly made substantial changes to either the playing or managerial staff. The league has kept its top players, unlike last summer, and there are plenty of strong sides in mid-table who can continue to cause problems for the established order.

Predicting top to bottom, place by place, with 38 games to go is a fool’s game – so we’ve gone for a few groupings, maximising the potential for success and also for embarrassment. Here’s how it could pan out:


Relegated

Blackpool, Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers

It really is tough to see Blackpool surviving, regardless of how much verve and passion they demonstrated in turning an average first half of the season into a late playoff charge. Passion, they say, gets you a long way in football, but it is not enough when you can’t buy mid-ranking Championship players to help you in the league above because they’re already being paid more than you can offer.
People are suggesting they could break Derby’s record for the lowest points total. They should win 3 or 4 games at home (Charlie Adam’s free kicks should get them five or six goals on their own) and thus avoid such a fate, but it’s hard to see them finishing anywhere other than bottom.

The likeable - and soon to be relegated? - Ian Holloway - metro.co.uk

Martinez’s Wigan did just about enough last year but have let some decent players go and their time may be up. Jordi Gomez and Charles N’Zogbia can create goals (though N’Zogbia has just handed in a transfer request and may be gone before the end of the month), and Hugo Rodallega scored a few last time around, but their defence let in a lot of goals – over two per match. This is unlikely to change and a similar number this time should relegate them.

Bolton sacked the unpopular Gary Megson half-way through last term and appointed Owen Coyle. Though he steered them to mid-table safety (when Megson left they were 18th) they certainly look to have one of the weaker squads in the division. It may be outlandish to predict them to finish lower than both Newcastle and West Brom, but I’ve just done it.


14th-17th

Stoke City, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United

Swapping red and white for red and white - Getty/mailonline

Stoke should be fine, again. Their brand of football has been the target of criticism for two years but it works. The excellent siege mentality at home is strong and though they regularly get beaten heavily away by the top teams this ultimately matters little when it comes to tallying up the points against those around them. The signing of Kenwyne Jones should ensure they continue to get plenty of headed goals. They suffered no ‘second-season syndrome’, the malady that has afflicted plenty of teams, and they shouldn’t suffer from the less-well-known but equally-debilitating ‘third-season sydrome’. It’s one thing knowing how they play; it’s another stopping it.

Sunderland sold Jones on the basis he was inconsistent, and in doing so they have seperated one of the most powerful partnerships in the division. He performed magnificently alongside Darren Bent at Old Trafford last season but Steve Bruce has strength elsewhere, with Frazier Campbell notching a few last season after the team went through an inexplicable run of failing to win. In the end they were only marginally closer to relegation than European qualification though, and expect similar again.

The two promoted clubs are tough to call – West Brom may finally break the ‘yo-yo’ trend that ensures the fans’ interest is maintained every season. They were comfortably promoted from the Championship (as usual) and though they should get beat routinely by the better sides, they have enough firepower to win a few at home. Roman Bednar should be their best attacking player, but Graham Dorrans and Chris Brunt impressed last year. They also boast some (albeit limited) World Cup experience in Chris Wood, but their biggest test will come at the back.

Newcastle had a lot of good players when they went down in 2009 and still have now. They easily warranted promotion and should not make the same mistakes again. Chris Hughton will obviously have a tricky season ahead but, like Stoke, their home form should serve them well. They should not fall back down this time.

11th-13th
Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers

Big season for Nikola Kalinic - zimbio.com

Blackburn are a decent team who rarely excel. The defence including Nelsen, Givet and Samba is solid – and though they are inconsistent going forward, relegation should be out of the question. It will be interesting to see how hit-and-miss Nikola Kalinic does in his second season.

West Ham have enough good players to avoid a repeat of last year’s near-disaster. Though Avram Grant got a pretty decent side relegated last time – Portsmouth must have had the strongest first XI to finish bottom in years, but were afflected by plenty of other problems – he should have more success here. Players certainly underachieved, but nobody is expecting more of the same. Scott Parker has been superb for a while and though the club always seem to get pre-occupied with star signings (the latest player apparently in their sights is David Beckham) it shouldn’t distract from the potential of what is, essentially, a decent Premiership squad.

Wolves only won one in four last year but it was enough to keep them up. Doubts remain over their forwards but they have one of the better defences of last year’s bottom half, particularly at home. Squad rotation (most notoriously at Old Trafford) paid off when the club survived in 15th. It makes sense to do similar again, though this time the trip to United falls in the middle of visits from Manchester City and Arsenal in November. Some points on the board early on would prove useful.


8th – 10th

Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Fulham

Fulham didn’t win many league games last time; their European run masked (and certainly contributed to) an average domestic season. Mark Hughes inherits largely the same group of players though, and there is plenty of quality there to ensure they don’t get sucked into the lower reaches of the table. Bobby Zamora, Damien Duff, Danny Murphy and Clint Dempsey all did very well last time and there is no reason they shouldn’t again. The defence is built on solid foundations – Phillipe Senderos’ injury is a blow but they still have last year’s back four – and keeping Mark Schwarzer is a bonus.

On his way - zimbio.co.uk

Birmingham were by far the best of last year’s promoted clubs. Their mean defence underpinned a series of good results and, though they had one of the weakest attacks in the division they survived comfortably. If Alex McLeish gets them as well-organised as last time, they should finish top 10 – and Serbia’s Nikola Žigić should add much-needed firepower, despite an underwhelming World Cup campaign.

Martin O’ Neill’s departure from Villa was scarcely better timed than Steve Coppell’s from Bristol City. Yet even assuming James Milner goes to Manchester City O’ Neill’s successor will have a good first XI. It’s difficult to see them doing as well as last season, and with the improvement going on around them O’ Neill may have taken them as far as they are going to go, particularly with the ever-distracting European campaign for which Villa seem to care little. Still, they should be comfortably top-half and have a decent shot at top-7. But Everton, Spurs, City and Liverpool are now stronger.

5th-7th
Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur

Here to stay - liverpoolway.co.uk

Everton were excellent in the second half of last season, when their injured players returned. Persuading Mikel Arteta to sign a new contract is an undoubted boost, and if he, Fellaini and Cahill stay fit they will have one of the best midfields in the division, with Pienaar continuing his good form from last season. Up front, it remains to be seen how Jermaine Beckford will cope at this level, but they could quite conceivably finish above Spurs and Liverpool.

Liverpool should better 7th, but despite swapping Hodgson for Benitez they haven’t improved the team a lot. Yossi Benayoun is a loss, Joe Cole a gain, though it’s tricky to forecast how that exchange will pan out. Keeping Torres and Gerrard was obviously essential, and a return to top 4 will probably be anticipated. But not by me.

Tottenham, meanwhile, strung together some excellent results last year and though they were, as usual, routinely beaten by United they did perform well against and take points from the other top teams. They will need to do similar again to cancel out their inevitable home defeats to teams in the bottom half and will struggle to make the top 4 again, though their run in should be unencumbered by Champions League football.

3rd-4th
Arsenal, Manchester City

Arsenal have been looking for the final piece in the jigsaw for a good few years, but unlike Liverpool they’ve at least found the picture on the box. They came close again last year, but nobody was surprised when they dropped out after blowing a lead at Wigan. Fabregas could have a top season, winning them the league before heading to Catalonia, but injuries usually cost them, particularly up front. It’s a big season for Nicklas Bendtner, and they have certainly cut some of the dead wood from defence. Top 4 should be a doddle….but no higher, this time.

Silva could prove a great signing (assuming he gets a game) - thesun.co.uk

City, meanwhile, have bought half the western world in their bid to be crowned the best team in the country for the first time since 1968. If it happens and their neighbours don’t succeed in Europe, people might actually take notice this time as well. But a great squad and a superb bench does not necessarily mean a brilliant first XI. Mancini has assembled a splendid array of attacking talent but doubts remain over a defence which conceded well over a goal a game last season. Perhaps it won’t matter – and with Alexander Kolarov the troublesome left-back position may finally become a non-issue. They have the potential to beat anyone, and they should make the top 3 or 4. But further may be a step too far – for now.

2nd
Manchester United

Can Rooney recreate his superb form this time around?

United took it to the final day last year despite losing 7 matches. They could quite conceivably win it this time, though they will need more goals from midfield assuming Wayne Rooney doesn’t equal his excellent tally of last time. The signing of Hernandez is certainly exciting though it remains to be seen how much he will be used; his well-timed runs could prove very useful, particularly against tired defences in the closing stages of matches. Injuries in defence cost them last year and Ferdinand’s fitness is important – as well as, to a lesser extent, that of Wes Brown and John O’ Shea. The competition is improving and United, it seems, haven’t. Second place again.

Champions
Chelsea

Same again? - espn.com

Chelsea should have won last year’s title far more comfortably than they did, but rivals slipped up one too many times. Their propensity to batter sides at home is useful, meaning players can often be rested from 60 minutes in if Ancelotti deems it appropriate. Away they were not as ruthless as United, and pre-season form has not been good. But that should never be an indicator of true potential, and this – albeit ageing – Chelsea squad is the best in the division. It may well be as close as last time, but they should win it again.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. George Gilbert permalink
    August 17, 2010 9:49 am

    Very enjoyable read Mr. Winstanley. On the whole I agree with your predictions.

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