As the transfer market got into full swing, ‘Arry got himself ready…
As with most high profile football journos, analysts, pundits etc, I threw in my two-pence worth at the start of the season, and as with everyone else have been forced to revise these predictions halfway through the season having got some of them horrifically wrong (holds hands up). I defy anyone that can say that they correctly predicted the way this season would turn out! Let’s be honest, who could have?
Granted, the two Manchester’s lead the way as expected; City showing great maturity in the way they play, backed up by some immense firepower. This may have been at the detriment of their Champions League campaign, where they were a different animal altogether, however, just as in the PL, I imagine they will be an even stronger force second time round next season. United are of course still in the hunt, but it’s hardly been easy for the Champions, given an embarrassing exit from the CL (arguably the easiest group) and the 6-1 humiliation at the hands of City at Old Trafford, particularly surprising considering the way they ruthlessly dispatched Arsenal early on, and made light work of Chelsea. I predicted there would be two leagues of 3 at the top, and this is still true I believe, however it is credit to Spurs for making the top 3 at the expense of the West London Blues. Two great signings were made in Adebayor and Parker and the Lilywhites really are playing quality football now. No European distraction coupled with a good squad of quality players and I would think they are a shoe-in for the top 4 and could even give the title a bash having come out of the Christmas period the least damaged of the top teams.
As for the team they replaced, they are struggling for any consistency. Rumours that Villas-Boas may have lost the dressing room after Anelka’s departure and Lampard selection issues seem to be hampering Chelsea’s season. In a Steve Kean-esque way, the young Portuguese manager remains confident of the club’s support, but given Abramovich’s previous one does wonder, particularly as I can’t see Villas Boas repeating Ancelotti’s result last term. Chelsea will have to do a lot to get into the automatic CL spots and the CL itself or the FA Cup seems like Chelsea’s best shot at a trophy, but given the nature of knockout football it is too early to say. I hope Villas-Boas is given time, as I don’t agree with the quick decision to sack a manager after one poor run, however, if the second half of the season follows the pattern of the first, we will see big changes at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal are probably in a similar position to how I assessed them at the start of the season. Pushing for top four at best and with a fight on their hands. If you had offered Arsenal fans the option of being one point off fourth back in the dark days of September or October they would have bitten your hand off. Still in Europe, still in contention for CL spots and THE man himself has returned to assist the potent Van Persie. They are where they need to be. Defensive back up is needed, but isn’t it always at Arsenal…
Liverpool are of course still in contention too, however their lack of firepower could see them missing out on the CL at least. Let’s not get too wrapped up in the Suarez saga, but the his loss over the next 8 games could be crucial as they were hardly banging them in before then, and with the likes of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Dirk Kuyt etc hardly contributing in anyway to the goals it will take a good signing or a player really stepping up to the plate (did someone say Steven Gerrard) to puch for the top 4.
At this point I should remove the biggest egg on my face from my early predictions, concerning the North East. It seems I got them mixed up. I thought Newcastle would struggle given the loss of key players, and untested players being brought in. However, Tim Krul has been immense, Yohann Cabaye has settled nicely, and the back four were looking as solid as, up until the injuries hit in. A poor run of results at the newly-named Sports Direct Arena saw them slip out of the top 4, however they still look like a strong team and could push all the way for Europe, although this may depend on one or two January signings. Having famously said they need to buy a striker, Demba Ba stepped up magnificently to put the egg on my face, Pardew will have to recruit a replacement with Ba due to miss a number of games having been named in the Senegal squad for the African Cup of Nations. As for Sunderland, I said they would do well given the players brough in, however they struggled to gel and put together a run of form fit for relegation which eventually saw Steve Bruce get the axe. Personally I wasn’t surprised, and for Mackems it seemed a long time coming. Languishing dangerously near the bottom, Martin O’Neill came in and thanks to some good results has pushed them up the table. Top half could be a stretch but I’m sure MON will give them a respectable finish.
As for the bottom of the table, I was surprised that Steve Kean wasn’t the first man out the door, and even more surprised that he was given a bumper deal in November. The Venky’s then said it was ‘too expensive’ to sack him, cue the drama at Ewood Park. I actually felt sorry for Kean particularly after the Bolton game and was hoping they would get a run of results. This seemed like it was happening following spirited displays at Anfield and particularly Old Trafford, however the home loss to Stoke, brought Rovers back to Earth with a thud. Unless the Venky’s really put their money where their mouth is it could be doom and gloom for Blackburn… a relegation battle awaits!
And who will be in this battle? No surprises to see Wigan down there; no great goalscorer and no real talisman in the side. They continue to play good football, they continue to pick up the odd result, Martinez continues to be an absolute gentleman, and they also continue to be inconsistent and drop points. They wouldn’t be on my list for who I want to go down, but are probably on the one of who I think will go down. And they would be on that list with Bolton, who I was very surprised to see down there. I quite like Owen Coyle but I wouldn’t put big money on him keeping Bolton up. Especially with Cahill looking to pack his bags. Bolton may have missed out on the opportunity to cash in on their star man though, as his wage demands may scupper a January move meaning he would leave on a free in the summer. His performances this season haven’t been great prompting last summer’s potential suitors Tottenham to look at other options now, and I’m not sure he would be the answer to Chelsea’s woes.
As for the promoted sides, I thought QPR would have the best chances of staying up given the money and the players that this money attracted. However they have looked inconsistent and now find themselves in the mix at the bottom. I’m sure a few New Year acquisitions will help them out, but they along with Swansea could be drawn into the battle. I respect that the Swans have continued to play their free-flowing game, and of the promoted sides they are the one I enjoy watching most. They have made the Liberty a difficult place to go and Michael Vorm is a contender for signing of the season given his form. Norwich are currently doing the best of the three and Paul Lambert deserves all the accolades he receives given the rise the club have endured from two seasons ago. I would expect them to stay up now as other clubs look to be in worse situations and that would be a great achievement.
I also expect Wolves and West Brom to stay up fror similar reasons. Both have the experience to churn out good results and make it difficult for visiting teams and the two men in charge have the experience to keep their clubs safe. I expected Wolves to be right down there and I still think they will be, but to just stay up like last year. As for the others; Stoke are looking a good side as predicted, I think top 8 is possible but will need a push. Their European run has been incredible and I am intrigued to see how one of the top teams in La Liga deal with their direct approach in the Europa League. Aston Villa have stumbled towards the top half and Big Eck would have to do a lot to get them to follow their city rivals into the Championship. Could be interesting to see if Darren Bent repeats his actions last January, particularly with Liverpool rumours floating around. David Moyes continues to do wonders at Everton given the resources and I think they will see a mid table finish as usual, whilst Martin Jol is doing more than enough to keep Fulham in the top flight for now, and given that they have taken good points of Arsenal and Liverpool this season, they should be at the top end of the bottom bunch.
As with the pre-season predos, I fully expect some (if not most) of these to be embarrassed come mid-May, but it’s all good fun! Leave your comments/ predictions if you fancy…