Thursday, July 26, 2007

Premier League Preview: Part One

This has been a wild off season in the Premier League with lots and LOTS of spending going on (sure that has nothing to do with the television mega-deal the league just signed…). Scandals about improper transfers, transfers gone bad (i.e. Tevez and Heinze), shock departures (Thierry Henry), and teams getting new owners (Liverpool, Birmingham City, Manchester City, etc.) have filled the headlines. With perennial power Arsenal seemingly falling apart from the inside, along with big spending from the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham, there could be a big shake-up at the top. I know it's somewhat dangerous to do this before all the transfers are completed, because things could change drastically, but these are my predictions as of right now. So without further ado, here is part one of my 2007/08 Premier League preview.

20. Derby County

Additions: Andy Todd (Blackburn), Robert Earnshaw (Norwich City), Tyrone Mears (West Ham), Claude Davis (Sheffield United)

Losses: Arturo Lupoli (loan from Arsenal), Seth Johnson (released), Paul Peschisolido (Luton), Morten Bisgaard (released), Paul Boertien (released), Lee Grant (released), Ryan Smith (Millwall).

As great as a story it was for them to win promotion with a victory in the finals of the Championship playoffs, their happiness will be short-lived. It’s hard to see this team staying in the Premier League for more than one year. They simply do not have the talent to compete with the big boys. Headed by Steve Howard, their striking team is sub par as they lost their second leader scorer, Arturo Lupoli, in the offseason. It’s probably a bad sign when your club’s record signing, striker Robert Earnshaw, was bought for only 3.5 million pounds. Their midfield is lead by the young and talented Giles Barnes, who seems destined for a bigger club. Their defense has a chance to be decent. Todd is a wiry veteran full back who should help, and Mears seems to be a promising young player, but there is no reason to think that the squad will be in the top division come next May.

19. Wigan Athletic

Additions: Antoine Sibierski (Newcastle), Titus Bramble (Newcastle), Mario Melchiot (Rennes), Andreas Granqvist (Helsingborg), Carlo Nash (Preston), Jason Koumas (West Brom)

Losses: Lee McCulloch (Rangers), Matt Jackson (Watford), Arjan de Zeeuw (released), David Unsworth (released).

Last season, Wigan escaped relegation by the skin of its teeth. They won’t be so lucky this year. It probably isn’t a good thing when your manager resigns AFTER you escape relegation. Sounds to me like a sign of things to come. Emile Heskey and Henri Camara are decent up front, but outside of those two, where are the goals going to come from? Last season Wigan’s top three scorers netted 9, 6, and 4 goals respectively. This simply does not cut it in the Premier League. Sibierski and Koumas were brought in to solidify a poor midfield. They are both good players, but will not be enough to push Wigan over the top. The bright spot for Wigan, if you can call it a bright spot, is its defense. Leighton Baines, a highly regarded left back who has received interest from many of the top squads, and Mario Melchiot, newly appointed skipper of the club, anchor the back line. Chris Kirkland is a fine goalkeeper, and will need to be extraordinary in order for Wigan to avoid relegation. If Wigan has any hope of avoiding relegation, it will have to play stingy defense and hope it can poach a goal here or there.

18. Middlesbrough

Additions: Tuncay Sanli (Fenerbahce), Jeremie Aliadiere (Arsenal), Jonathan Woodgate (Real Madrid), Luke Young (Charlton)

Losses: Mark Viduka (Newcastle), Stuart Parnaby (Birmingham), Abel Xavier (LA Galaxy), Malcolm Christie (released), Danny Graham (released)

This one was actually hard to choose. The teams in between about 12 to 18 are pretty much interchangeable. However someone has to go down, and it will be Middlesbrough. It’s not that I dislike Middlesbrough; it’s just that I like other teams more. New signing Tuncay Sanli has scored plenty of goals in his past stops, but he has yet to play in the Premier League. It would be hard to imagine him producing more than Mark Viduka, who was the Premier League’s fourth leading scorer last year. Jeremie Aliadiere is a very talented player who never quite put it all together at Arsenal, but it is unknown whether the change of scenery will do him any good. Yakubu’s got a pretty cool name, but no one can top Dong-gook Lee. Although he’s never scored at Middlesbrough I have high, HIGH hopes for him. Good thing he’s South Korean and not Vietnamese…but I digress. Their midfield is nothing special, headlined by a talented youngster Stewart Downing. The only other name of note in the midfield is James Morrison, and so far the only thing noteworthy about him is his name. Jonathan Woodgate and Luke Young are talented defenders, but the rest are nothing to speak of. Schwarzer is a good goalie that once garnered interested from Manchester United. For some reason I just don’t have a good feeling about this club. Even though they’ve added some good parts, I think that other teams have done more and lost less, and therefore Middlesbrough will be relegated.

So there it is. As I see it right now Derby County, Wigan Athletic, and Middlesbrough are all on their way down. Now to those that survive…

17. Sunderland

Additions: Dickson Etuhu (Norwich), Kieran Richardson (Manchester United), Greg Halford (Reading), Russell Anderson (Aberdeen), Michael Chopra (Cardiff City), Paul McShane

Losses: Kenny Cunningham (released), Tommy Miller (Ipswich, released)

Call me crazy, but there is something about Sunderland, something that makes me feel like they are going to be around for awhile in the Premier League. The young squad seemed to attach itself to its up-and-coming manager Roy Keane as they trounced through their Coca-Cola Championship competition. They are very inexperienced, but it’s hard to deny their immense talent. Strikers Anthony Stokes and Michael Chopra are twp of the brightest young talents in the Premier League and they are supported by veterans such as Dwight Yorke, David Connolly and Stern John. Their midfielders are also young but talented headlined by Liam Miller and the newly acquired Kieran Richardson. If there is a weakness, it is the defense. Keane is hard at work to remedy this situation, and the recent signing of defender Paul McShane will not be his last in that department this offseason. Even though the team itself might not be as good as Middlesbrough, or even Wigan, I think Roy Keane will, through his leadership and pure willpower, guide his squad to safety. And beware, this team isn’t going anywhere for a long time.

16. Birmingham City

Additions: Garry O'Connor (Lokomotiv Moscow), Stuart Parnaby (Middlesbrough), Fabrice Muamba (Arsenal), Olivier Kapo (Juventus), Daniel de Ridder (Celta Vigo), Richard Kingston (Antalyaspor), Rafael Schmitz (Lille, season-long loan)

Losses: Bruno N'Gotty (Leicester), Stephen Clemence (Leicester), DJ Campbell (Leicester)

This is another squad I have a really good feeling about. Once again the roster is filled with young talent. Teams with great midfielders are able to control the pace of the game, and often the outcome. Birmingham possesses some of the best young midfielders in the game. Fabrice Muamba and Sebastian Larsson, both former Arsenal youngsters, are the real deal. Muamba has been compared favorably to Patrick Viera, and Larsson is a goal scoring force from the midfield position. Daniel De Ridder was a star on the wing for the recently crowned Euro U-21 championship team from Holland. Olivier Kapo is a very talented attacking midfielder as well, and will greatly aid the Blues attack. Their defense is solid with Radhi Jaidi and Martin Taylor manning the two centre-back positions. Rafael Schmitz is an experienced, talented left back who will greatly aid the back line. Cameron Jerome, Garry O’Connor, and Gary McSheffrey make for a promising, albeit young, attacking corps. Steve Bruce is trying to add another experienced piece up front with Mido and Andy Cole being linked to the Blues. I like the direction this team is going, and they’re only going to get better.

15. Fulham

Additions: Aaron Hughes (Aston Villa), Steven Davis (Aston Villa), Diomansy Kamara (West Brom), Chris Baird (Southampton), Paul Konchesky (West Ham), David Healy (Leeds), Lee Cook (QPR)

Losses: Claus Jensen (released), Mark Pembridge (released), Tomasz Radzinski (released), Mark Crossley (released, now at Oldham)

Fulham is another team with a very good manager and could climb up the league table in years to come. That said, it is hard to see them finishing much higher than here this season. Lawrie Sanchez is a good young manager that saved Fulham from relegation last year. The defense has solid contributors in Carlos Bocanegra, Paul Konchesky and new additions Chris Baird and Aaron Hughes. Liam Rosenior is a talented younger player that has a bright future. Niemi in goal is solid as well. The midfield will be led by newly acquired Steven Davis, U.S. international Clint Dempsey, Welsh international Simon Davies, and my personal favorite, Papa Bouba Diop (How can you not love that name?). While nothing special, this group will be able to hold its own in Premier League play. Joining his American compatriot across the pond is striker Brian McBride, who will be joined by former WBA hitman Diomansy Kamara up front. Collins John is a young forward who was Fulham’s top scorer in the 2005/06 season, but lost his spot last year. If he can regain his form, he will provide some depth to a sparse Fulham strike force. Last year, Fulham’s problem was goalscoring (only 12 games with 2 or more goals and 12 games where they were shut out) and that trend doesn’t seem to be going up anytime soon.

14. Manchester City

Additions: Geovanni (Cruzeiro), Rolando Bianchi (Reggina), Gelson Fernandes (FC Sion), Martin Petrov (Atletico Madrid)

Losses: Sylvain Distin (Portsmouth), Trevor Sinclair (released), Stephen Jordan (Burnley, free), Hatem Trabelsi (released), Joey Barton (Newcastle), Nicky Weaver (Charlton).

Don’t buy the hype. That should be the motto for this club. Sure it looks good on paper. A new manager, owner, and some publicized new signings. Have people really forgotten that Sven-Goran Eriksson was run out of his England gig? And people are banking on him to turn this club around? Highly doubtful. Bianchi and Geovanni could pan out, but how are they going to replace Distin, Barton, and Weaver? Personally I don’t think they can do it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they fall below where I have them. Their defense still should be solid, although not very deep. Micah Richards will be a future superstar, and Mills and Dunne are reliable veterans. The midfield is definitely the weak link on the team. Dietmar Hamann and Ousmane Dabo have some experience and some talent, and Geovanni and the recently signed Martin Petrov should provide a scoring spark from the midfield. Michael Johnson is an up and coming player that will have the unfortunate task of replacing departed star Joey Barton. New signing Rolando Bianchi is young and talented, and will be asked to carry much of the scoring load. Georgios Samaras has shown some promise, and Bernardo Corradi and Darius Vassell could both provide some depth at striker. Don’t be fooled. This is not a team that will be contending for a UEFA Cup spot anytime soon.

13. Reading

Additions: Kalifa Cisse (Boavista)

Losses: Steve Sidwell (Chelsea), Greg Halford (Sunderland), Curtis Ujah

Reading were the darlings of the Premier League last season (the club’s first ever season in England’s top division), but this year the honeymoon is over. You may say, “Hey, didn’t they finish 8th last season? And aren’t they pretty much exactly the same team?” That’s exactly it. They were almost entirely inactive in the transfer market, plus they lost arguably their best player, Steve Sidwell (you know, the guy that almost ruined Beckham’s debut) to Chelsea. While they were busy doing absolutely nothing, many of the teams behind them last season were buying new players and improving their squads. The Reading defense is led by Nicky Shorey, an established left back who was the first Reading player in almost 100 years on the England squad, and Ivar Ingimarsson, the club’s player of the year this past season. Marcus Hahnemann, a U.S. international, is solid in goal as he made more saves this past season than any other Premier League goalkeeper. The midfield is hurt by the departure of Sidwell, and James Harper will have to be the leader in the center. Stephen Hunt and Bobby Convey (another American) will be called on to provide a scoring spark from the wing. Up front, the Royals have two rising stars in Leroy Lita and Kevin Doyle, who scored 14 and 13 goals last year respectively. Dave Kitson is a solid performer off the bench, but there is a drop-off after him. Reading has some nice pieces, but their inactivity in the offseason will cost them this coming season.

12. Aston Villa

Additions: Nigel Reo-Coker (West Ham), Harry Forrester (Watford), Marlon Harewood (West Ham).

Losses: Gavin McCann (Bolton), Jlloyd Samuel (Bolton), Juan Pablo Angel (New York Red Bulls), Stephen Henderson (Bristol City), Aaron Hughes (Fulham), Lee Hendrie (Sheffield United, released), Steven Davis (Fulham), Chris Sutton (retired).

Where Reading hurt itself by being inactive this offseason, Aston Villa made some movies that should really add to their squad. Problem is, once again, other teams did more. I, for one, am a big fan of Nigel Reo-Coker, who was wrongly run out of West Ham. Anchored by Olof Mellberg, the Villa defense is sturdy although unspectacular. Gary Cahill and Martin Laursen are two players are important in the back and need to stay healthy. Headlined by skipper Gareth Barry, the Villa midfield also boasts Reo-Coker, Stiliyan Petrov, and the talented ex-Man United man Eric Djemba-Djemba. Although Barry and Reo-Coker should be mainstays on the England side for years to come, the real strength of Villa lies in their strikers. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, and Luke Moore are all extremely, EXTREMELY talented and under 22 years of age. John Carew is the most experienced of the bunch (and only 27), and has been a scoring machine everywhere he has played. Carew has a track record of moving around from club to club, so I would not be surprised if Villa sold him to gather funds to improve another area of their team. The future truly looks bright for Aston Villa, but it will be at least another year before they are fighting for a cup position.

11. Blackburn

Additions: Gunnar Nielsen (BK Frem Copenhagen), Maceo Rigters (NAC Breda)

Losses: Andy Todd (Derby)

Blackburn is another squad that simply did not do enough in the offseason to keep up pace with all the other clubs who were active in the summer. Blackburn’s strength is their strike force lead by the Premier League’s second leading scorer last year, Benni McCarthy. Jason Roberts was injured last season, but has had success in the Premier League. Matt Derbyshire is another young striker on the rise and was immortalized when he was the first English player to score in the rebuilt Wembley Stadium. Newly acquired Maceo Rigters was sought out by many top clubs after his performance at the Euro Under-21 Championships for his role on Holland’s championship team this summer. On defense, the Rovers will miss Andy Todd’s toughness, but the likes of skipper Ryan Nelsen, Stephen Warnock, and Christopher Samba should be adequate. Midfielders Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Bentley are outstanding and provide a much-needed goal scoring punch.

Coming Sunday: Clubs 10-1 and Pre-Season Superlatives

1 comment:

Justin said...

Not bad, not bad... Not much I'd argue with, other than I think Birmingham might be a little higher than that. Crazy to think 'Boro might get relegated, but it's quite possible. Good riddance, I say!

Superlatives: Best player: Dimitar Berbatov, Best manager: Martin Jol, and Champions: Tottenham Hotspur, right?