After posting my predictions for The Championship, League One and League Two it is now time for the big one. Yes, you’ve guessed it, the Premier League. This season looks like it could be the strongest for a while with some big name players signing from abroad and some young home-grown talent being given the chance to shine. His will it all finish up come May? Let’s have a look, starting with the title contenders.
Chelsea. When The Special One returned to Stamford Bridge last summer, many people were expecting big things from Mourinho’s Chelsea side. Unfortunately for them the season finished trophyless, but after a summer of recruitment the squad is currently looking top class. At times last season Chelsea were unplayable and I believe they would have won the title if they had a top finisher up front. They now do since the arrival of Diego Costa, whose 27 league goals helped fire Atletico Madrid to be crowned La Liga champions, and what better way to replace Frank Lampard than to sign Cesc Fabregas, a midfielder who is already Premier League proven. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois will get to show England his talents and his former Atletico teammate Filipe Luis joins him at The Bridge to replace the outgoing Ashley Cole. It is also worth noting that the race for the Premier League is a marathon not a sprint, it is overall a test of strength in depth as injuries and suspensions take their toll. Chelsea have that in abundance. They quality all in every position with their second XI not looking much weaker than their first and the fact that they can both score goals a plenty and keep clean sheets is why they are my tip for the Premier League title.
Manchester City. Man City won their first title in 2012 but poorly defended it during the following season which meant their Manchester rivals lifted the trophy quite comfortably. After reclaiming it last year City look in a much better position to defend it this time round. The squad overall looks more balanced with Bakary Sagna arriving on a free from title rivals Arsenal to provide competition for Zabaleta and Mangala will add that extra physical presence alongside Kompany in the heart of the defence. As always there are plenty of options in attack so goals and creativity are not in short supply. However, as we saw in the Community Shield, when City aren’t at full strength they don’t look quite the same team. I feel they are too reliant on Yaya Toure and David Silva having good games, especially when the rest of the squad is playing poorly, and although Aguero is a world class striker he is currently experiencing a batch of injury proneness which he needs to overcome. In the middle of the park Fernandinho still doesn’t convince me; is he a defensive or an attack minded midfielder? I’m not sure he knows either. For me there are too many doubts to say Manchester City will be champions again but they should still be good enough for second place.
Arsenal. Normally Arsenal are famous for there lack of summer spending with boss Arsene Wenger often preferring to bring in younger players on the cheap and nurture them into the first team. That changed last summer when the club announced the arrival of club record signing Mesut Ozil and again this summer following the purchase of forward Alexis Sanchez. Both are world class ‘cast offs’ from Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively and are good enough to play for the majority of clubs in the world and their arrivals are big statements of intent by Wenger. Other arrivals this summer have been Mathieu Debuchy who replaces the outgoing Bakary Sagna and young English prospect Callum Chambers, another right back, but one who Wenger wishes to convert into a centre half. That being said, despite over £50 million being spent this summer, the squad still lacks quality in two key areas. Firstly, an out and out striker capable of 20-25 goals a season is a must. Although Olivier Giroud is a good player, I just don’t think he is the man who can win you the title like Chelsea have with Costa and Manchester City with Aguero. A lot is being raved about the young Yaya Sanogo after his four goals in a recent friendly and Joel Campbell following his world cup showing. Both are still raw and unproven though and can’t be relied on for a whole season. The second position lacking in quality is a defensive midfielder to offer protection to the back four. A deal for Sami Khedira looks to have fallen through and although Jack Wilshere has been talked being used in the role he just doesn’t have the discipline to do it in my opinion. Overall to me it looks like Arsenal will miss out on the title but have more than enough for a comfortable top four finish.
The most successful club in England is currently going through a period of revolution and the best transfer they could have made this summer was securing the services of manager Louis Van Gaal. With no disrespect intended towards David Moyes, the club became a circus under his watch with players lacking discipline and not looking like they wanted to play for the manager. That is evident when exactly the same squad, bar newcomers Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata, went from champions under Sir Alex Ferguson to a seventh placed finish under Moyes. New boss Van Gaal will install discipline and his high standards should raise performances as it seems to already have done in preseason. He favours a 3-5-2 formation which is uncommon in England, but one he has had success with as manager of The Netherlands and Barcelona, and will possibly take some time for the players to adapt to fully. On the signings front, wonder kid Luke Shaw has arrived after his impressive and mature performances last season. I do question however the pressure to perform he has been placed under by the £30 million transfer fee and reported £100k a week wages. The other notable arrival is playmaker Ander Herrera who United were after last summer and will add quality to the central midfield area with his creativity and passing ability. The side is lacking a commanding and experienced centre half after stalwarts Vidic and Ferdinand departed and a midfielder in the mould of Roy Keane to add some bite to the side is also needed. On a positive note the strike pairing of Van Persie and Rooney with Mata just in behind still looks the best in the league and is one all defences will fear. Van Gaal’s arrival should mean that United can break back into the top four but the title is still a long way off.