Sunday, July 29, 2007

Premier League Preview: Part Two

So here it is, part two of my Premier League preview. No need for introductions, let's get right to it.

10. West Ham United

Additions: Scott Parker (Newcastle), Julien Faubert (Bordeaux), Richard Wright (Everton), Craig Bellamy (Liverpool), Freddie Ljungberg (Arsenal).

Losses: Paul Konchesky (Fulham), Nigel Reo-Coker (Aston Villa), Tyrone Mears (Derby), Yossi Benayoun (Liverpool), Marlon Harewood (Aston Villa)

Some may question my placing West Ham this high, but if they keep Carlos Tevez, they’ll be up here come May. If Tevez does end up going to Manchester United, then scrap this ranking and put them at 14th or 15th. Besides Tevez, the most important player for the Hammers is Robert Green. Green singled handedly kept Arsenal and Manchester United from scoring in two games during the stretch run at the end that kept West Ham in the Premier League. Besides Tevez, the Hammers have Craig Bellamy and Bobby Zamora, who would make for a decent attacking pair. New signings Scott Parker, Julien Faubert, and Freddie Ljungberg will make for an exciting midfield. Injuries could be a concern for West Ham, as Faubert and Parker are currently injured and Ljungberg was injured much of last season. Luis Boa Morte adds a scoring punch on the wing. Defense needs more production from troubled talent Anton Ferdinand, but Lucas Neill and Matthew Upson are both solid. Like I said earlier, if Tevez makes his reported 30 million pound move to Man U, just forget everything I just said. Blackburn, Aston Villa, and Reading are two teams I would certainly place above a Tevez-free WHU.

9. Bolton

Additions: Gavin McCann (Aston Villa), Jlloyd Samuel (Aston Villa), Gerald Cid (Bordeaux), Blerim Dzemaili (FC Zurich), Zoltan Harsanyi (FC Senec), Danny Guthrie (Liverpool, season-long loan), Mikel Alonso (Real Socieded)

Losses: Tal Ben Haim (Chelsea), Henrik Pedersen (released), Quinton Fortune (released), David Thompson (released), Cesar Martin (released)

Bolton is another squad that could plummet in the rankings if their highly regarded striker ditches them for a Champions League team. Nicolas Anelka has been linked everywhere from a return moves to Arsenal or Real Madrid, or a switch to recovering powerhouse Juventus. Bolton’s chances of gaining a UEFA Cup spot will rely heavily on whether or not Anelka will commit to the club. Kevin Davies and El-Hadji Diouf are reliable in a supporting role, but neither could carry the scoring load. The strength of Bolton’s squad lies in their midfield led by the captain, Kevin Nolan. Supporting Nolan are veterans Ivan Campo, Gary Speed, and new signee Gavin McCann. Although they may be getting up there in age, these guys allow Bolton to control the pace of the game. The defense was hurt by the loss of Israeli international Tal Ben Haim, but Nicky Hunt, Abdoulaye Meite, and Abdoulaye Faye are solid contributors. Look for Bolton to fall somewhat off their pace from last season, but if Anelka stays, this squad will still be in the running for a UEFA Cup spot in the spring. If Anelka leaves…well, for Bolton’s sake, let’s hope he doesn’t leave.

8. Everton

Additions: Phil Jagielka (Sheffield Utd)

Losses: Gary Naysmith (Sheffield United), Richard Wright (West Ham), Alessandro Pistone (released), Scott Phelan (Bradford)

Although Everton was largely inactive in the transfer market this summer, but the one move they made is my favorite of the offseason. Phil Jagielka was the most underrated player in the Premier League last year, and now he will get to showcase his talents for a contender. Extremely versatile, Jagielka can play at any position on the back line, midfield, and even goalkeeper. His brightest moment of last season came when he was forced to play goalie against Arsenal and kept a clean sheet. Joleon Lescott and Joseph Yobo are both very capable defenders. If they can recover successfully from injury, then Tony Hibbert and Nuno Valente will be in the fold as well. Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta are great in the midfield, and they provide a much needed scoring punch. The true star of the squad is striker Andy Johnson. Despite claims that he is a diver, Johnson is one of the best strikers in the EPL and should be a mainstay on the England squad for years to come. James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe are very talented, young forwards that will make an impact this season. Everton has a nice mixture of old and new talent, which should propel them to the cusp of a cup berth.

7. Newcastle United

Additions: Mark Viduka (Middlesbrough), Joey Barton (Man City), David Rozehnal (Paris St Germain), Geremi (Chelsea).

Losses: Scott Parker (West Ham), Titus Bramble (Wigan), Antoine Sibierski (Wigan), Craig Moore (released), Olivier Bernard (released), Alan O'Brien (undisclosed).

Unlike all the hype that surrounds a squad like Manchester City, this is a team that is going placing. New manager Sam Allardyce brings instant credibility to the club, and new signings Mark Viduka, Joey Barton, and Geremi are very capable players. The attacking trio of Obafemi Martins, Michael Owen, and Viduka may be the best in the Premier League. Martins, who reportedly garnered interest from Arsenal, is still very young and will most assuredly improve on his 17 goal tally from last season. If Owen is healthy, then he is a mortal lock for double digit goals, and Viduka was the fourth leading scorer in the EPL last season. Joey Barton, if he puts his past behind him, could be a star in the midfield. Despite the fact he has gained many enemies for his alleged racist comments, Emre is another very good player in the midfield. The defense should be aided by the addition of Chelsea cast-away Geremi, who never quite found his groove with the Blues. Steven Taylor and Stephen Carr are also names to watch on the back line. This team is poised to keep climbing up the EPL table, and may in the near future crash the Big Four’s reign on the Championship League spots.

6. Portsmouth

Additions: David Nugent (Preston), John Utaka (Rennes), Arnold Mvuemba (Rennes), Sulley Muntari (Udinese), Sylvain Distin (Manchester City), Hermann Hreidarsson (Charlton), Martin Cranie (Southampton)

Losses: Svetoslav Todorov (Charlton), Daryl Fordyce (released)

After finishing 9th last season, Portsmouth are ready to move into a UEFA Cup slot. This club is arguably the most experienced team in the Premier League, boasting experienced veterans such as David James, Sylvain Distin, Sol Campbell, Lauren, Dejan Stefanovic, Linvoy Primus, and Pedro Mendes. There strength is undoubtedly there defense. With James in goal and a back line that gets to pick from the likes of Distin, Campbell, Stefanovic, Lauren, and Primus, you know goals are going to come at a premium for opposing squads. Mendes, Richard Hughes, Matthew Taylor, and Niko Kranjcar make for an exciting midfield. New signing Arnold Mvuemba is a talent to watch in upcoming years. The forward position is uncertain as of right now, but David Nugent, who was the first forward from a non-top flight league to play for England since 1999, will have to live up to the hype in order for Pompey to achieve success. Nwankwo Kanu is currently out of a contract, but if he were to return, he would provide a major scoring boost. If he doesn’t return, look for Benjani Mwaruwari or LuaLua to start with Nugent. Time is running out on this aging team, so it is important for Harry Redknapp to succeed while he still can. If they had a more reliable striking corps, I would be tempted to place them in the top five, perhaps the top four, but as it is they will fall just short of that mark.

5. Tottenham Hotspur

Additions: Gareth Bale (Southampton), Adel Taarabt (Lens), Yuri Berchiche (Athletic Bilbao), Darren Bent (Charlton), Younes Kaboul (Auxerre).

Losses: Emil Hallfredsson (Lyn-Oslo), Reto Ziegler (Sampdoria), Mark Yeates (Colchester)

So much has been made of late about the dominance of the “Big Four,” but if one team were to break that dominance, who would it be? The obvious choice is Tottenham Hotspur. What’s not to love about this team? They have a great group of strikers, a young, talented midfield, a rapidly improving defense, and England’s starting goalkeeper. If I had any guts at all, I’d put them in the top four, but I don’t…not yet at least. Let’s start with strength of the squad: the strikers. Dimitar Berbatov is one of the best strikers in the Premier League. Follow that up with Robbie Keane, Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe, and Mido and you’ve got yourself quite a group. Mido is almost certain to leave, but it looks like Defoe will stay with the Spurs for at least the first part of the season. Although I’m not a big fan of the Bent purchase (or at least the price of it), but he has shown great promise at past stops at Charlton and Ipswich Town. The midfield is headlined by future superstars in Aaron Lennon and Jermaine Jenas. Both should be a mainstay on the England side for years to come. The backline, which has been the Achilles’ heel for Tottenham in recent years, has been aided by the additions of Younes Kaboul and Gareth Bale, two highly rated young defenders. Michael Dawson is another young defender that keeps getting better and better. Pascal Chimbonda and Ledley King (when healthy) are both solid contributors and provide much needed leadership on a very young squad. The future looks very bright for Martin Jol’s club, and do not be surprised if it is sooner rather than later when the Spurs break into the top four.

4. Liverpool

Additions: Andrey Voronin (Bayer Leverkusen), Kristian Nemeth & Andras Simon (both MTK Hungariam), Nikolay Mihaylov (Levski Sofia), Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid), Yossi Benayoun (West Ham), Ryan Babel (Ajax), Lucas Leiva (Gremio)

Losses: Bolo Zenden (Marseille), Robbie Fowler (Cardiff), Florent Sinama Pongolle (Recreativo Huelva), Danny Guthrie (Bolton), Luis Garcia (Atletico Madrid), Craig Bellamy (West Ham), Djibril Cisse (Marseille), Jerzy Dudek (Real Madrid)

No team has bought and sold as many players as Liverpool has this offseason. While the future looks bright for the Reds, the wholesale changes may hurt them in the short term. In no other sport is the partnership and communication between players as important as it is in soccer. If the Reds get off to a slow start (which by the way I think they will) they may put themselves into a situation they can’t get out of. Of all their summer signings, Andrey Voronin seems to be the one most likely to make an impact this season. Fernando Torres, their most expensive signing, is young and talented, but may take time to adjust to Premier League football. Up front, Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch are leftovers from last season’s squad, but Crouch seems to be the odd man out of this quartet. Ryan Babel is a very talented youngster, but I honestly don’t know where he fits in the immediate future of this squad. He can play up front or on the wing, but he is buried on the depth chart at both positions. The midfield is led by skipper Steven Gerrard, one of the best players in the world. The rest of the midfield positions are up for grabs with Jermaine Pennant, Xabi Alonso, Yossi Benayoun, Javier Mascherano, Momo Sissoko, and Harry Kewell all fighting for a spot. Mascherano was particularly impressive in the Champions League final against AC Milan. Lucas Leiva, acquired from Gremio, is the captain of Brazil’s U-20 squad and is an exciting prospect. The Liverpool defense is solid, led by Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyppia, Steve Finnan, John Arne Riise, and Daniel Agger. Riise is a versatile player that is a goal scoring threat whenever he pushes forward. If he unleashes from long range, watch out, because he has an absolute cannon of a leg. Pepe Reina is great in goal, and is especially adept in saving penalties. Call me crazy, but I think it will take a few weeks for the Reds to mesh their many talented pieces. By that time, it will be too late.

3. Arsenal

Additions: Bacary Sagna (Auxerre), Lukasz Fabianski (Legia Warsaw), Eduardo da Silva (Dinamo Zagreb), Havard Nordtveit (FK Haugesund)

Losses: Jeremie Aliadiere (Middlesbrough), Fabrice Muamba (Birmingham), Mart Poom (Watford), Arturo Lupoli (Fiorentina), Thierry Henry (Barcelona), Freddie Ljungberg (West Ham)

If pure talent transferred into championships, Arsenal would be far and away the winner’s of the league this year. No other team in the Premier League has as much young talent as they do. However the one thing they do lack is experience and that will keep them from winning the league this season. One might point to the departures of Arsenal stalwarts Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg as signs of Arsenal’s imminent demise in the Premier League table. The fact is, Ljungberg had lost his spot in the starting XI and obviously didn’t enjoy the impending lack of playing time. Henry was also another player who was past his prime, and Wenger wanted to get as much value for him as he could. Don’t get me wrong, Henry is still a GREAT player, but he had begun the gradual decline that all players go through as they age. Even without Henry (and a whole bunch of other players) for much of the year, Arsenal still had 7 victories over the rest of the top five in Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham while suffering only 2 defeats and 4 draws. With more consistency this season, the Gunners will be able to make a run for the top of the table. Arsenal are stacked in goal with veterans Jens Lehmann and Manuel Almunia fighting off newcomer Lukasz Fabianski for playing time. The defense, which had its lapses last season, will be strengthened by new signee Bacary Sagna and a healthy William Gallas. Gael Clichy is a young talent to watch, as he made the loss of Ashley Cole almost non-existant during last season. The midfield is led by 20-year old superstar Cesc Fabregas. Skipper Gilberto is another mainstay, and Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, Alexander Hleb, Denilson, and Matthew Flamini will all see significant playing time. One player that seems destined to explode this year is Theo Walcott who will for the most part play on the wing this season, although he may see time at striker as well. The striker corps will be lead by Robin van Persie who was Arsenal’s leading scorer last season before he got injured. Emmanuel Adebayor and Nicklas Bendtner are also going to see plenty of action up front. New signing Eduardo Da Silva has been a prodigious scorer of goals everywhere he has been, but will need to adjust to Premier League play. While none of these players are Thierry Henry, they will most certainly be able to get the job done. Never count out Arsenal while Arsene Wenger is still at the club. Although they may not have the experience to win it all, there most certainly will not be a 21 point gap between 1st and 3rd this season.

2. Chelsea

Additions: Florent Malouda (Lyon), Tal Ben Haim (Bolton), Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich), Steve Sidwell (Reading), Danny Philliskirk (Oldham).

Losses: Khalid Boulahrouz (Sevilla, season-long loan), Yves Makaba-Makalamby (Hibernian), Geremi (Newcastle), Michael Mancienne (QPR).

Chelsea was so close to winning the Premier League title for the third consecutive time last season, but it looks like they will have to wait at least another year to raise another Barclays Premier League trophy. Chelsea have made some very nice additions this offseason, as Florent Malouda is looking especially impressive in the preseason. Petr Cech is arguably the best goalkeeper in the EPL, and their defense is headed by captain John Terry. The defense was further solidified by the addition of Israeli international Tel Ben Haim, and Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge, Paulo Ferreira, and Ricardo Carvalho will all vie for a spots on the back line. The Blues midfield is top notch led by Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien, Claude Makelele, Steve Sidwell, and John Obi Mikel. Ballack’s play last season was very underwhelming while Mikel began to impress more and more as the season went on. Malouda, Joe Cole, and Shaun Wright-Phillips are each very effective at attacking on the wings. Didier Drogba was simply spectacular last season, which aided in taking some of the negative light away from Andriy Shevchenko’s highly unsuccessful first season with the Blues. It will be interesting to see how Drogba holds up this season after playing in an incredible 60 games last season. New signing Claudio Pizzaro, Arjen Robben, and Salomon Kalou complete this formidable backline. Scott Sinclair is a youngster that will most likely be loaned out to another squad to gain experience and is definitely one to look for in the future. Mourinho may not be pleased with a second place finish, but I just don’t see Chelsea overtaking Manchester United just yet.

1. Manchester United

Additions: Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Anderson (FC Porto), Nani (Sporting Lisbon), Tomasz Kuszczak (West Brom)

Losses: Kieran Richardson (Sunderland)

For the second consecutive year, Manchester United are going to be kings of the EPL. I tried to convince myself they wouldn’t go back to back, but there is just no way around it, they are the best team in the league. Keep in mind; I’m making this prediction BEFORE the Tevez saga gets sorted out. If they add the uber-talented Argentine forward, there will be no stopping them. Cristiano Ronaldo was arguably the best player in the world last year, and at 22, he will only get better. Even younger is Wayne Rooney, 21, who has already established himself as one of the premiere strikers in the world. Personally I think Owen Hargreaves is a little overrated, but Anderson and Nani are the real deal and will be a thorn in the side of opposing defenses for years to come. Mix in experienced talent such as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Gabriel Heinze, and Gary Neville and United are going to be very hard to dethrone. With Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm, I have no doubt the Manchester United will be hoisting up the Premier League trophy this spring.

Pre-Season Superlatives

Footballer of the Year: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

Last season Ronaldo made a bet with Sir Alex Ferguson that he would score 15 goals over the course of the year. He scored 23 in all competitions and 17 in the EPL. As I said earlier, he will only get better, and if Manchester United go back to back, look for him to win the top individual award. Others to watch for are last year’s winner Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal) or my personal dark horse, Dimitar Berbatov (Tottenham).

Manager of the Year: Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)

Amidst all the offseason turmoil at Arsenal, if the Gunners end up in the top three, Wenger has to get the nod. After losing Henry and David Dein, along with the whole ownership issue, everyone is assuming that Arsenal will be on the decline. Because of all this, if the Gunners exceed expectation, Wenger will deserve the nod for manager of the year. Also contending (besides the other managers of the Big Four) are Martin Jol (Tottenham) and Sam Allardyce (Newcastle United). Depending on the success of their squads, Steve Bruce (Birmingham) and Roy Keane (Sunderland) could also be considered.

Breakout Young Player This Season: Fabrice Muamba (Birmingham)

Honestly, I wanted to put Theo Walcott here, but I figured he was already very well known. In the end I decided on Muamba who will have the responsibility of guiding Birmingham to safety. Comparisons have been made between Muamba and Patrick Viera, and they aren’t far off. Other names to watch are Anthony Stokes (Sunderland), Adel Taarabt (Tottenham) and Michael Johnson (Manchester City).

This is stacking up to be a great season in the EPL, with plenty of storylines to watch as it goes along. I, for one, can’t wait.


Justin said...

I've got no beef with the top ten. I would probably switch Arsenal and Liverpool, personally. And I'd switch Portsmouth and Newcastle. However, this is a pretty good top ten. I'm impressed you were so unbiased in this.

However, even though I would still rank Spurs at #5, know that I will be pulling for that Champion's League spot to finally be ours.

JamesDubya said...

Arsenal in front of Liverpool? they will be very lucky to make the top five. I don't really understand why you put portsmouth in front of Newcastle, who I think will make an instant impact on the the top four spots. bolton probably won't make the top ten, they have lost way too much, and like you said, they are old. I disagree for the most-part with your top ten, especially the Arsenal in third place, Arsene Wenger will walk on water before that happens.