Premier League Preview 2008/9 [Part 1]

Premiership Preview Part 1
Premiership Preview Part 1

It’s that time again.  Time to second-guess how the English Premier League will pan out.  Here’s part one of our preview.  Part two will be later in the week.

1st Manchester United

Last season: 1st

Transfers in: None

Transfers out: Chris Eagles (Burnley, undisclosed), Danny Simpson (Blackburn, loan)

I wouldn’t say Man U retaining is a banker.  They will be without Ronaldo for an unknown period of time and it could be that he will miss games away to Portsmouth, Chelsea and Liverpool.  The return of Wayne Rooney for the start of the season will be important as Tevez and Giggs didn’t look a potent forward line in the Community Shield.

But with Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs likely to start less games, a solid defence (including the returning Gary Neville) and emerging talents like Tevez, Nani and Anderson, United are in good shape.

Key to their success: Clearly it’ll be Ronaldo but if he is blunted or off form then United have plenty of other talents to pick up the slack.  They must use Rooney effectively this year – Ferguson has played him out of position way too often in the last few years.

2nd Liverpool

Last season: 4th

Transfers in: Diego Cavalieri (Palmeiras, £3.5m), Philipp Degen (Borussia Dortmund, free), Andrea Dossena (Udinese, £7m), Robbie Keane (Tottenham, £20.3m), Emmanuel Mendy (Murcia Deportivo, free), David Ngog (PSG, undisclosed)

Transfers out: Anthony Le Tallec (Le Mans, undisclosed), Harry Kewell (Galatasaray, free), Peter Crouch (Portsmouth, £9m), Danny Guthrie (Newcastle, £2.5m), Scott Carson (West Brom, £3.25m)

For someone who has consistently had a go at Rafa Benitez it might seem bold to project them as United’s biggest challengers this season.  But I guess it’s partly a reflection of the upheavel at both Chelsea and Arsenal allied with the capture of Robbie Keane that makes me think the Spaniard might have something this year.

I’ve never heard of any of the other signings but I’d not heard of Daniel Agger either.

Key to their success: Probably working out how to play Keane and Torres together.  They have a problem on the wings that current personnel are unlikely to solve so the pressure will be on Gerrard and Alonso (occasionally) to supply the forwards.

3rd Chelsea

Last season: 2nd

Transfers in: Deco (Barcelona, £8m), Bosingwa (FC Porto, £16.2m)

Transfers out: Steven Sidwell (Aston Villa, £5m), Claude Makelele (Paris St-G, free), Tal Ben-Haim (Man City, undisclosed)

Two of last summer’s free transfers – Sidwell and Ben-Haim – have moved on which says a lot of Jose’s recruitment policy as viewed by the club hierarchy.  Claude Makelele has gone too – but so had his legs last year so his loss will not be missed that much.  Deco and Bosingwa are two good signings although Deco is probably past his best at this point.

But there’s a new manager in Scolari and a couple of unsettled players in Lampard and Drogba.  Chelsea are not as good now as they were in the first two season’s under Mourinho.

Key to their success: Will need goals from Lampard and Drogba and for the first choice central defence to stay fit.  Hopefully Scolari will think a bit differently to the previous incumbant and utilise Essien in central midfield.  Playing their best player at right-back when he had two or three to choose from already was always a puzzle.

4th Arsenal

Last season: 3rd

Transfers in: Samir Nasri (Marseilles, £15.8m), Amaury Bischoff (Werder Bremen, undisclosed), Aaron Ramsey (Cardiff, £5m) 

Transfers out: Mathieu Flamini (AC Milan, free) Aleksandr Hleb (Barcelona, £11.8m), Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos, £1m)

With no trophy since 2005, Arsene Wenger has been frustrated by his top players abandoning what few would percieve as a sinking ship.  Following Thierry Henry out of The Emirates were Mathieu Flamini and Alex Hleb this summer with striker Emmanuel Adebayor angling for a move for the last three months before magically “pledging his loyalty”.

Winger Samir Nasri was a big-money signing but only turned 21 this summer.  If he fails to adapt quickly and Aaron Ramsey – a 17 year old with even fewer league appearances to his name – struggles with the step-up then Arsenal will seem considerably weaker than last season.  It might be yet another season of maturing for Wenger’s young squad but he has to wonder whether the likes of Alexandre Song, Johan Djourou, Denilson and Abou Diaby will ever make the class required to be first-team regulars.

Key to their success: Arsenal have questions to be answered all over the pitch.  Almunia does not seem a solid enough goalkeeper for one of Europe’s leading sides, Touré needs to re-find his form after a poor second half to last season, Gallas needs to cop-on to himself after several fits of pique and star players Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie need to stay fit.  Eduardo will return after his horrific injury last year and has a chance to establish himself as first-choice.  He and Adebayor will need to deliver if Arsenal are to challenge this year.

5th Portsmouth

Last season: 8th

Transfers in: Peter Crouch (Liverpool, £9m), Younes Kaboul (Tottenham, £6m), Ben Sahar (Chelsea) loan, Omar Alieu Koroma (Banjul Hawks, undisclosed), Glen Little (Reading, free) 

Transfers out: Sulley Ali Muntari (Internazionale, £12.7m)

Portsmouth seem as likely contenders for fifth place as anyone given ‘Arry’s ability to get the best out of the likes of Glen Johnson, Jermaine Defoe and Niko Kranjcar.  They look a little bit light in the middle of the park with Muntari moved on (for a rather inflated fee) but ‘Arry will be hoping Papa Bouba Diop can get motoring alongside the excellent Lassana Diarra with Kranjcar picking up where he left off last season.

In defence Sol Campbell is slowing up and beyond the likes of Glen Johnson, Sylvain Distin (who despite his pace and reading of the game is prone to blunders) and Herman Hreidarsson the options look thin on the ground – or “bare bones” as Redknapp might say.  The recent signing of Younes Kaboul could go either way: he’s athletic and full of potential but is he ready?

Key to their success: Definitely goals.   Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe team up for the first time at club level.  Thirty goals between them is the minimum that Redknapp will need to keep them competitive.  Utaka and Kanu may bag a few too but both players seem unpredictable.

6th Tottenham

Last season: 11th

Transfers in: John Bostock (C Palace, £700,000,) David Bentley (Blackburn, £15m), Giovani dos Santos (Barcelona, £4.7m), Heurelho Gomes (PSV, undisclosed), Luka Modric (Dynamo Zagreb, £15.8m) 

Transfers out: Robbie Keane (Liverpool, £20.3m), Paul Robinson (Blackburn, £3.5m), Younes Kaboul (Portsmouth, £6m), Steed Malbranque (Sunderland, undisclosed), Teemu Tainio (Sunderland, undisclosed), Joe Martin (Blackpool, undisclosed), Tommy Forecast (Southampton, undisclosed), Pascal Chimbonda (Sunderland, undisclosed)

“Undisclosed” seems to be the word of the summer for Spurs who off-loaded three players for such a fee to Sunderland.  Assuming combined fees in the region of £12m for them alongside the £30m they could eventually pocket for Younes Kaboul, Robbie Keane and Paul Robinson, it’s been a productive period.

That money has almost all been spent on three new forward players, Bentley, Modric and dos Santos.  Dos Santos has looked a great catch to the point where the big four may be once again sniffing around with money next summer.  Dimitar Berbatov’s future is up in the air and he could be at Old Trafford by the end of the week.  Spurs will need to replace him before the end of the transfer window, possibly with Russian forward Andrei Arshavin.

Key to their success: Key performance indicators at both ends of the pitch.  Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King are their two outstanding defenders.  With Younes Kaboul and Anthony Gardner moved on and an attempt to snare Manchester City’s excellent Vedran Corluka seemingly doomed, losing either player will see Spurs leak goals.

Unbelievably, with 13 pre-season goals, Darren Bent is now in with a chance of establishing himself as a top English striker.  If he nets that amount during the season it’ll be the first step to rehabilitation.

7th Aston Villa

Last season: 6th

Transfers in: Curtis Davies (West Brom, £8m), Steven Sidwell (Chelsea, £5m), Brad Friedel (Blackburn, £2m), Luke Young (Middlesbrough, undisclosed), Nicky Shorey (Reading, undisclosed)   

Transfers out: Luke Moore (West Brom, £3m)

Aside from the tiresome Gareth Barry episode (current status: he has not joined Liverpool), it’s been a good summer of recruitment for Martin O’Neill.  They’ve strengthened defence with Davies (who settled in well after a shaky start during last year’s loan period), Luke Young (a solid Premier League player for years with Charlton and, last season, Middlesbrough) and Nicky Shorey.  Behind them is one of the division’s best goalkeepers, Brad Friedel.

Best piece of business might be geting £3m for Luke Moore.  However, Villa’s own forward line looks to be lacking.  John Carew is getting on – Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor are exciting players but still learning their trade.  I could mention Marlon Harewood but, you know, it’s Marlon Harewood.

Key to their success: Martin O’Neill really did perform a minor miracle in the last few years bringing Villa from the lower reaches of the league to mid-table in his first season and sixth last year.  He’s bought well and although a striker short, he’ll make the most of what he has at his disposal.  He also has an excellent owner in Randy Lerner to work with.

8th Everton

Last season: 5th

Transfers in: None  

Transfers out: Jamie Jones (Leyton Orient, free), Andrew Johnson (Fulham, £10.5m), Lee Carsley (Birmingham, free)

Everton have joined Newcastle and Manchester City under the media spotlight this summer as a club under pressure.  With no new signings and boardroom issues that dogged their near-neighbours Liverpool now resident at Goodison Park, it’s hard to see how they can compete at the level they did last year.

Last year they ran out of steam towards the season end as tiredness and injuries took their toll.  With one midfielder (Carsley) and a striker (Johnson) less, the squad looks even more threadbare; recuritments are crucial.  There is plenty of talent in the starting XI but beyond that Everton look to be short.

Key to their success: They definitely need another top striker to partner Yakubu up front.  Anchibe is a good player but unlikely to perform consistently all season (as is Yakubu).  More bodies are needed in defence and midfield.  As it is the first choice players won’t be fearing for their place no matter how poor their form.

9th Sunderland

Last season: 15th

Transfers in: Nick Colgan (Ipswich, free), Pascal Chimbonda, Teemu Tainio, Steed Malbranque (Spurs, all undisclosed), El-Hadji Diouf (Bolton, £2.5m), David Meyler (Cork City, undisclosed)  

Transfers out: Andy Cole (Nottingham Forest, free), Greg Halford (Sheffield United, loan)

Although he achieved his brief of keeping Sunderland in the Premier League, it was sometimes a lesson in humility for Roy Keane.  The over-spending on decent players like Kieran Richardson, Kenwyne Jones and Craig Gordon was only surpassed by the over-spending on sub-standard players like Michael Chopra and Greg Halford (hastily sent out on loan when it became apparent he wasn’t up to it).  Then there were some complete failures like Dickson Etuhu, Paul McShane and Ian Harte who added little-to-nothing to the first team squad.

But he started to get better after Christmas: Andy Reid and Phil Bardsley (for two-thirds of a Gordon) were instrumental in their survival and he appears to have done even better business again this summer.  The three Spurs players all have Premier League experience and quality; Diouf will be a potentially-explosive signing who can make a difference.  I think Sunderland will be a surprise package this year.

Key to their success: Absolutley going to be the application of mavericks like Diouf and Chimbonda, both fine players on their day.  A midfield with Teemu Tainio, Steed Mabranque, Kieran Richardson and Andy Reid is very good indeed – even if it is 3/4 former-Tottenham Hotspur.  On another note, Chimbonda might be required at center back because right now the choices are not inspiring.  Stop the leaking of stupid goals and Sunderland will comfortably finish up the table.

10th Wigan

Last season: 14th

Transfers in: Daniel De Ridder (Birmingham, free), Olivier Kapo (Birmingham, £3.5m), Lee Cattermole (Middlesbrough, £3.5m), Amr Zaki (Zamalek, loan)

Transfers out: Andreas Granqvist (FC Groningen, undisclosed), David Cotterill (Sheff Utd, undisclosed), Julius Aghahowa (Kayserispor, undisclosed)

I wasn’t a big fan of Steve Bruce at Birmingham as I felt he was underacheiving.  Having said that he was also being led a merry dance by boardroom shenanegans so it was no surprise when he left.  His return to Wigan (he managed them for two months in 2001) has been rightfully hailed as a success and they finished the season strongly.

His transfers are a mixed bag.  I don’t know a lot about de Ridder but he featured in only 10 games for Birmingham last season.  However, Oliver Kapo looked decent and scored 5 goals from midfield for Birmingham in 2007/8.  Lee Cattermole is an honest defensive midfielder who has done well for Middlesbrough over the last three seasons.  You feel that Wigan are a bit short of some quality in the mould of what Sunderland have purchased but Bruce can get the best out of what he has.

Key to their success: They do have some really good players in Antonio Valencia, Jason Koumas and Paul Scharner (one of the most underrated talents outside the top four) and their performances alongside seasoned veterans like Kevin Kilbane and Emile Heskey should ensure a better-than-expected season for Wigan.  I like Wigan.

Part 2 later in the week as we count down from 11-20.  Yes, Newcastle will be there…somewhere.

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