The Premier League is back and we for one are immensely excited at that. Clean slate. New managers. Fresh start. Here we go again but before that Premier League ball is kicked in anger let us offer you our hearty, honest predictions to this season.
From the Gunners to the Hammers, every club and every fan have their own expectations for the new season. Pre-season is done, the transfer window is flapping and the managerial merry-go-round has finally settled.
But despite changes to last season’s top three we cannot see neither Manchester United, Chelsea nor Manchester City being dislodged. That aside, whatever the campaign brings, this is your starting point as we breakdown your team’s chances.
The In The Stands 2013-2014 Predictions Are As Follows:
1. Manchester City
3. Manchester United
9. West Ham
11. West Brom
17. Aston Villa
18. Hull City
19. Crystal Palace
20. Cardiff City
ARSENAL: Arsenal finished fourth last season after a nervy last day 1-0 win over Newcastle secured Champions League football for a 13th successive year. Once guaranteed title contenders, Gooners everywhere have been forced to accept that their side are now fighting for 3rd/4th place season-in-season out.
That is of course unless Arsene Wenger adds steel to his squad of lightweights. Suarez (or Wayne Rooney), an all action midfielder, Julio Cesar and Ashley Williams are a must if the Gunners are to launch a serious title challenge or win a cup this season. Failure to secure any of the above coupled with events at clubs elsewhere will leave the Gunners yet again struggling to secure a top 4 finish.
ASTON VILLA: Villa had a strong end to the campaign last year after a nervy 2013 and in securing the services of Christian Benteke for at least another year, should be a slightly better this time around.
Their first ten games see them travel to Arsenal, Chelsea, Norwich and West Ham so coach Paul Lambert is under no illusions as to the task before him. But as long as his defence holds steady (they signed burly 20-year-old Dane Jores Okore) a bottom half of the table finish should be ok.
CARDIFF CITY: Fresh from storming the Championship after three play-off heartbreaks and a controversial kit change, Cardiff are finally in the big time for the first time since 1962 when Brazil bagged the second of their five World Cups.
However, boss Malky Mackay is under no illusions that the upcoming season will be a struggle. Still, with a relatively solid and experienced back four which includes Matthew Connolly, Mark Hudson and Ben Turner, and with the enigmatic Craig Bellamy leading the frontline, Cardiff could, we stress could, have enough to avoid the drop. Their home clash with Swansea on November 3 promises to be a classic.
CHELSEA: The return of Jose Mourinho, now rebranding himself as ‘the Happy One’ immediately propels Chelsea as serious title contenders if one had any doubts beforehand. When Jose takes charge, special things usually happen and after two very average campaigns, domestically at least, Blues fans are demanding a return back to the summit of English football and a first league title since 2010.
And guess what, it is very possible. Chelsea took 20 points from their last eight league matches at the back end of last season, beat Arsenal twice, beat United away and won the Europa League. Something is stirring at the Bridge and players like Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and new £18million man Andre Schurrle know it.
The only issue is that this is not the same Chelsea side Mourinho took over in 2004, which contained the likes of Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba, Damian Duff, Eidur Gudjohnson, William Gallas and Joe Cole.
Moreover, the competition is a bit stiffer this time around. Likewise, Chelsea no longer have the biggest wallet in town and the team’s spine is showing creaks of aging. For these reasons they will fall just short of claiming this season’s league title.
CRYSTAL PALACE: ‘Relieved’ remains the best word to describe how Palace boss Ian Holloway felt when Kevin Phillip’s thumping penalty secured a narrow 1-0 win over Watford in last season’s Championship play-off final.
But after scenes of wild jubilation, reality quickly set in. Dear Mr Holloway, did you know Crystal Palace have previously enjoyed four seasons in the Premier League, and each one ended in relegation? Dear Mr Holloway, have you drafted in a suitable replacement after your team lost its best player Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United? Dear Mr Holloway, your top goalscorer Glen Murray is out until Christmas. How will you cope?
Oh and one more thing Mr Holloway, your first three away games are at Stoke, Manchester United and Liverpool. Confident? Exactly, now do you see why the Eagles are relegation fodder? Thought so.
EVERTON: Hello Roberto Martinez! When Wigan crushed Everton 3-0 after a first half blitz during last season’s FA Cup quarter-final tie, the Toffees hierarchy already had their mind set on the club’s future manager.
More so when Martinez guided unfancied Wigan to unpredicted FA Cup success. The reality is most if not all Evertonians are behind their new coach who they view as adventurous, ambitious (‘I’ll get you in the Champions League!’ he famously told Bill Kenwright during their first meeting), confident and a miracle worker.
Installing Martinez’s ‘philosophy’ may take time, however, with such a talented squad at his disposal, Martinez’s men will threaten the big four, Spurs and Liverpool. Trust us!
FULHAM: Fulham…hmmmm. An enigma. On their day Fulham are a side capable of rumbling with the very best the league has to offer and in striker Dimitar Berbatov, coveted defender Brede Hangeland and the silky smooth Bryan Ruiz, they have a starting XI to be proud of.
Nevertheless, more often then not, Martin Jol’s men plod along steadily rather than explode into life. Last season the Cottagers smashed Norwich 5-0, drew 3-3 at the Emirates after a masterful attacking display, and thumped highflying Swansea 3-0, proving that the quality is there. The real question to ask is, whether the consistency will also be there?
HULL CITY: Hull secured their place in the top flight for the first time in three seasons after a late and steady surge saw them nick runners-up spot in the Championship.
Last season a third of Hull’s matches ended 1-0 and Steve Bruce’s unpredictable 3-5-2 system will leave his team of battlers hard to beat. However, question marks remain over their strength upfront.
Still, with some decent Premier League experience in Curtis Davies, Maynor Figueroa and Abdoulaye Faye, coupled with a relatively manageable opening fixture list, you get the feeling that Hull could have enough to beat the drop. We stress could…
LIVERPOOL: Brendan Rodger’s premier season with the Reds flattered to deceive on many fronts. In short Liverpool were no more than average for much of last season although there were occasional flashes of brilliance, like for example, their second-half performance at Old Trafford.
After a summer of will-he-won’t-he, it looks like main striker Luis Suarez may stay at Anfield after all, a crucial factor which will decide the fate of Rodgers’ men this season. Deadwood in the form of Stewart Downing and Jonjo Shelvey has been cleared, whilst the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge are itching to step up a level in a World Cup year.
Rodgers has a good footballing philosophy – that nobody denies – and despite a truly hideous pair of away kits, better organization at the back and a better start to the campaign, we believe will see the Reds challenge Arsenal and Spurs for 4th place.
MANCHESTER CITY: We tip Manchester City to win the league. Straight up. We feel Manuel Pellegrini has strengthened the squad notably in Jesus Nevas and Alvaro Negredo, whilst the ousting of troublemakers Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli has neutralized squad hostilities.
City were a distant second behind United last term but it must be noted that it was the Citizen’s inconsistency which did them in. One-on-one they are, were and will always be a match for anybody. That very much is clear as despite their patchy form last term, the former champions beat Spurs (2-1) and Chelsea 2-0 at Eastlands and also put both Arsenal (2-0) and Manchester United (2-1) down in their own liar.
It was defeats to the likes of Southampton and Sunderland which did it for Mancini, a fact not lost on Pellegrini. ‘The Engineer’ is known for his consistency, reliability and an uncanny ability to get the most from his players. If harmony, hunger and steel can be restored, coupled with a fit Sergio Aguero and Joe Hart back to his best, City should bag the 2013/2014 Premier League crown.
MANCHESTER UNITED: It was inevitable wasn’t? When the Emperor Sir Alex Ferguson finally stepped down from his throne after 20 plus years at the top, the general consensus was that nobody was going to be good enough to take over the reins.
Good luck David Moyes! Understandably, United fans are a tad concerned, if not neutral on their new Scottish boss. And if pre-season performances are to be believed then their pensiveness is warranted. That the Red Devils have missed out on the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara this summer proves that the once super attractive prospect of plying your trade at the Theatre of Dreams no longer holds as much sway as before.
Couple this with an immensely tough opening set of fixtures and suddenly it makes sense why Moyes’ men are only 9/4 to retain their Premier League crown. If unsettled striker Wayne Rooney leaves then the pressure will be on Robin Van Persie to lead the line all season long. But what if he gets injured?
Likewise, last season United conceded 43 goals – the third leakiest title winning defence in Premier League history. The United era is over. You heard it here first. 3rd.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: The French national team will certainly…oh sorry, Newcastle United will certainly want to forget last season when a collapse in form saw the team limp home in 16th place.
Not content with the alarm bells already ringing loudly, club owner Mike Ashley has thrown a grenade the size of Joe Kinnear (deeply unpopular with Toon fans) into already unpopular Alan Pardew’s lap. Not a good idea and so combustible that everyone including Santa Claus is expecting the Magpies to crash and burn months into the season.
The funny thing is the core of this side is strong – certainly top 10 material with the likes of Fabricio Coloccini, Hatem Ben Arfa, Papis Cisse and Sylvain Marveaux good enough to grace most Premier League clubs. However, strength in depth is a major problem, off-field unrest is just an exploding grenade away, the team ship goals like a leaky tap and if Cisse isn’t firing, who is?
When the saint known as Joey Barton calls your club a “circus sideshow” you know there are problems. With trips to Man City, West Ham, Aston Villa and Everton to be played in the opening two months, Newcastle can finish anywhere from 7th to 19th. Yes they are that unpredictable.
NORWICH CITY: A decent end to the campaign coupled with super important home wins over Arsenal, Manchester United and City helped Norwich ease into 11th place and maintain their top flight status after promotion in 2011.
Whatever the targets are for this season they will surely be backed up by the words, ‘stay away from relegation’ and if possible do so before April 12th 2014 comes along. Why? Because the Canaries host Liverpool and Arsenal, and also travel to Manchester United and Chelsea for their final four fixtures. GULP!
As long as Grant Holt remains fit the nails need not be bitten. The clubs’ 2013 FA Youth Cup final triumph bodes well for the future.
SOUTHAMPTON: Mauricio Pachettino calmly steered unfancied Southampton away from the drop zone upon replacing the hugely popular Nigel Adkins and quickly won over the support of the Saints fans in the process.
So what to expect? Well, more of the same really. The addition of Celtic midfield general Victor Wanyama should help as will the growing flux of young talents emerging for the Saints, such as Morgan Schneiderlin and Luke Shaw who promise much.
The South Coast club are good to watch, play inspiring, open football and as Manchester United saw for themselves, harbour an admirable ‘never say die’ attitude. Their opening set of fixtures have been relatively kind and so the trepidation of relegation should no longer weigh on their minds as it did last season. We predict a top ten finish.
STOKE CITY: Goodbye Tony Pulis, welcome Mark Hughes. And that was that. Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the Britannia Stadium since Peter Crouch scored that goal against Manchester City in 2012 was this very un-interesting managerial change.
Oh, errr, in also has come Spanish under-21 defender Marc Muniesa from Barcelona (yes you read that right), as well as PSV Eindhoven left-back Erik Pieters. Apart from that, nothing much has changed.
Well what did you expect? A 200 page manual on how the Potters have revolutionized the English Premier League?! We are experts but come on, this is Stoke City! Next…
SUNDERLAND: You have to give it to Paolo Di Canio. The fascist-saluting boss came into the Stadium of Light following Martin O’Neil’s dismissal in March and steered the club away from certain relegation.
Along the way we saw Mourinho-like slides across the pitch after a thumping derby win against the old enemy, a 6-1 defeat at Aston Villa, and passion – pure unadulterated passion from the sidelines.
The Italian’s raving instinct to succeed has seen him acquire some astute transfer signings in Juventus’ Emanuele Giaccherini, highly rated defender Modibo Diakite and in-form US striker Jozy Altidore. Suddenly, Sunderland look like last season’s woes could be past them.
But then again this is Paolo Di Canio. If the proverbial s*** hits the fan the whole damn thing could blow up in the clubs face. Heads or tails? Flip a coin.
SWANSEA CITY: It would not be too churlish to suggest that Swansea City were the team of the season in 2012/2013.
9th place in the league, League Cup winners, European footy and some truly stunning football to boot made Michael Laudrup’s men become most people’s ‘second team’. The likes of Michu, Pablo Hernandez and Nathan Dyer did nothing but impressive and Laudrup’s ability to grab a bargain ensures that the team will continue to strengthen.
Swansea’s opening three fixtures at home to Manchester United and then away to Spurs and West Brom respectively will give a better indication of where exactly the Welsh-based side are at present.
Last season they shut down after thrashing Bradford in February’s League Cup final so will need to quickly pick up again this time around. Having said that, this is a team that won at Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool at different points last season.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS: This is pretty simple. After the addition of Confederations Cup winner Paulinho and Valencia’s goal hungry forward Roberto Soldado, if Gareth Bale stays – or more accurately put – if Spurs manage to wade off the flirting advances of Real Madrid, they will finally top eternal North London rivals Arsenal and finish fourth.
Bale, Bale, Bale, Bale, Bale, Bale, Bale. Why do we say that? Go grab the official Tottenham Hotspurs 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 season review. Given that Arsenal have failed to significantly strengthen, if the 21-league goals man stays, Spurs come fourth. If he leaves, the top four will be beyond them. It is as simple as that.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION: West Brom are usually last on Match of The Day when your eyelids are at their heaviest or you are at your most drunkest.
Fair? Probably. Steve Clarke has made a team of stable, mid-table (admittedly at times exciting) organized battlers. Normally the games West Brom ought to win, they win and their 4-2-3-1 formation perfectly played to their strengths last season.
This time out however, Romelu Lukaku is gone although it is hoped that Nicolas Anelka can fill the goal scoring void left by the big Belgium forward. Nobody denies Steve Clarke’s men have the quality to challenge for a top half place, especially as they often comfortably turn over their more direct mid-table opponents, but an insufficient depth for goals, in addition to shaky performances away from home means that more ambitious goals remain beyond them.
WEST HAM: Cautious optimism pervades Upton Park. Although that should be something to celebrate, one can never be sure especially if you are a West Ham fan.
A new TV deal, securing Premier League status, a fabulous 3-1 win over Chelsea and a pending move to the brand new Olympic Stadium in Stratford is the reason the air of optimism exists.
Credit where it’s due, Hammers boss Sam Allardyce has built a robust, solid outfit who are tough to beat. In Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Mohamed Diame and Mark Noble, West Ham are a side easily capable of brushing aside any ‘second season syndrome’ fears, and who knows, maybe embarking on a good cup run, a la 2006.
As ever, Upton Park remains a mini-fortress for the East London club although results on the road need to be improved if the side are to push on and challenge for a top 6 place. So far that ‘mood for optimism’ is rightfully justified.