Premier League Preview 2009/10 [Part 1]

As is traditional – sometimes – here is part one of a rundown of how I see the Premier League panning out this year.

1st Liverpool

Last season: 2nd

Transfers in: Glen Johnson (£18m, Portsmouth), Alberto Aquilani (£20m. Roma)

Transfers out: Sebastian Leto (£1.3m, Panathinaikos), Jermaine Pennant (free, Zaragoza), Sami Hyppia (free, Bayer Leverkusen), Alvaro Arbeloa (£3.5m, Real Madrid), Xabi Alonso (£30m, Real Madrid)

I quickly tipped Liverpool for the title after last season’s impressive final months where they pressed an out-of-sorts Manchester United right up until the point where Andrei Arshavin made a mockery of their defence at Anfield.

The loss of Xabi Alonso has me less certain of that outcome now and, knowing very little about his replacement Aquilani outside of his apparent injury proneness, the jury will remain out on that front.

Questions remain over Alberto Riera, David Ngog, Ryan Babel, Nabil El Zhar and Leiva Lucas but Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun played their part last season.

Key to their success: Fernando Torres must play about 30 league games, Steven Gerard must stay out of bar fights and Aquilani will have to exert his presence in midfield alongside Mascherano.  Benitez must also stop being such an arsehole.  He’s just not very good at it.

2nd Manchester United

Last season: 1st

Transfers in: Luis Antonio Valencia (£16m, Wigan), Michael Owen (free, Newcastle), Gabriel Obertan (£3m, Bordeaux)

Transfers out: Cristiano Ronaldo (£80m, Real Madrid), Frazier Campbell (£3.5m, Sunderland), Carlos Tevez (free, Manchester City), Richard Eckersley (free, Burnley)

Without Tevez (5 league goals last season) and Ronaldo (18 goals) it’s hard to gauge where United are going to be vis-à-vis last season.  I like Tevez but only in a mid-table, hard-working, headless-chicken type way.  I don’t think he’s any great loss to a team chasing the title.  Considering he netted just five times in the league last year it is not hard to imagine that Michael Owen is going to double that tally at least.

With Ronaldo moving on (replaced by the highly-rated Valencia) it’s possible we might see more character from a shaken Dimitar Berbatov who struggled in the second half of last season.  The Bulgarian needs the world to revolve around him and with Ronaldo not stepping on his mojo anymore it’s quite possible that Old Trafford will see the best of him.

Key to their success: Deploying Rooney in a forward role would help.  That whole “left wing” thing in the Champions League really is a waste of his brute force.  The defence is a concern for United though with van der Sar another year older and the Ferdinand/Vidic axis disturbed by injury so frequently.  Jonny Evans doesn’t do much for me as of yet and Gary Neville must be nearly 100 now.

3rd Chelsea

Last season: 3rd

Transfers in: Ross Turnbull (free, Middlesbrough), Daniel Sturridge (tribunal, Man City), Yuri Zhirkov (£18m, CSKA

This is Ross Turnbull.
This is Ross Turnbull

Moscow)

Transfers out: Ben Sahar (£1m, Espanyol), Frank Nouble (free, West Ham)

Hard to see much movement from Chelsea this year after a surprisingly quiet pre-season.  There were flirtations with Andrea Pirlo that went nowhere and in the end left-sided attacker Yuri Zhirkov was an £18m capture.  Outside of that there was the underwhelming signing of Ross Turnbull from Middlesbrough who last played for them in January this year in a 0-2 defeat to Chelsea.  Daniel Sturridge rejected a contract at Manchester City to move to Stamford Bridge but although he shows potential it’s hard to see him getting a look in for a few seasons.

Key to their success: Plenty of experience in what is a very stable team.  Cech, Terry, Carvalho, Essien, Lampard and Drogba is an impressive spine.  However, the team is ageing and time is running out.  It also looks pretty narrow but we’ll see what role Zhirkov plays in the first XI.

4th Arsenal

Last season: 4th

Transfers in: Thomas Vermaelen (Ajax)

Transfers out: Emmanuel Adebayor (£25m, Man City), Touré (£16m, Man City)

They might have pulled in over £40m for two first team players but it’s only benefiting the hard-up bankers while it sits in their current account.  I understood them moving out both players in that Adebayor had become a target for the boo boys and was itching for a move for a while while Touré was struggling to recover his form of a few seasons ago.

But I’d never understand moving a player out without a replacement in mind.  Arsene Wenger may have brought in Thomas Vermaelen but a lot of fans would have issue with most of the other centre back options such as Mikael Silvestre, William Gallas and Philippe Senderos.  Alexandre Song and Johan Djourou are two other players in the running but are they good enough?

Key to their success: Injuries are taking their toll already with Samir Nasri, Tomáš Rosicky and Theo Walcott ruled out of the opening game against Everton.  There’s plenty of quality in the first XI but I’m not sure Arsenal can compete while Wenger persists with the likes of Diaby, Denilson, Eboué, Song and Nicklas Bendtner.  I’m sure Jack Wilshere will make his mark this season.

5th Man City

Last season: 10th

Transfers in: Gareth Barry (£12m, Aston Villa), Stuart Taylor (free, Aston Villa), Roque Santa Cruz (£17.5m, Blackburn), Carlos Tevez (£25m, Man Utd), Emmanuel Adebayor (£25m, Arsenal), Kolo Toure (£16m, Arsenal)

Transfers out: Ched Evans (£3m, Sheffield United), Elano (£8m, Galatasaray), Daniel Sturridge (tribunal, Chelsea), Gelson Fernandez (undisclosed, St Etienne), Darius Vassell, Dietmar Hamann, Danny Mills, Michael Ball, (all released)

Lots of ins and outs at Manchester City which have been discussed to death.  In came top, top players like … Gareth Barry.  Yes, I’m not that impressed. Sure, it’s an improvement on what has come before but not one of the new players could be described as being world class.  Where is City’s Fernando Torres, Steven Gerard, Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo?  They went for John Terry and now they’re struggling to get Joleon Lescott – and may end up with Matthew Upson.

I’m not too keen on how they’re running their mouth either.  Mark Hughes has always come across as a great guy but the way he’s conducting his transfer business through the media recently has stuck in the throat.  Just like Benitez and Redknapp, he’s not very good at it.

Key to their success: I suppose it’s going to be a case of everything just clicking or otherwise.  They’ve bought good players even if they have overpaid for them.  I’ll be more interested in seeing the likes of Stephen Ireland and Michael Johnson making progress this year.  I’ll also be interested to see what happens to Mark Hughes if City are 9th in November.

6th Everton

Last season: 5th

Transfers in: Jo (loan, Man City)

Transfers out: Lars Jacobsen (free, Blackburn)

The battle lines are drawn in Hughes versus Moyes.  In reference to the long-running Man City move for Everton defender Joleon Lescott, Hughes said: “We are still trying to speak to the people who will ultimately make the decision over whether or not the deal continues.”

Meow.  Moyes responded: “I hear City think they are talking to people who make the decisions here.  Well, that’s me.”

A lot might hinge on how this plays out.  Lescott is an important player for Everton but letting him go to their rivals would be a double whammy for Moyes.  Year after year he struggles to bring players in but continues to conduct miracles.  If the club sell Lescott over his head then he should walk out, simple as.

As for Lescott, well he has no reason to want to go to Manchester City having been happy to sign a four year deal last year.  Why didn’t he just sign a two year deal or not sign a deal at all and chance his arm at the end of his current deal?  The players like the security of a long-term, lucrative contract but then like to have their cake and eat it too.  Put him in the reserves until his contract runs out.  Let him take it to the Court of Human Rights or whatever.

Elsewhere, Everton are unchanged.  It’s a small squad but well organised and managed.  Unfortunately they are no closer the top four than they were last season.

Key to their success: Being more than the sum of their parts is what got them through last season and it’ll be the same again.  Louis Saha needs to stay fit and the midfield duo of Arteta and Cahill need to keep chipping in with the goals.  But I do worry that they’ll have enough this year.

7th Aston Villa

Last season: 6th

Transfers in: Stewart Downing (£12m, Middlesbrough), Fabian Delph (undisclosed, Leeds), Habib Beye (£2.5m, Newcastle)

Transfers out: Gareth Barry (£12m, Man City), Stewart Taylor (free, Man City), Zat Knight (£4m, Bolton)

There are a few discontented voices doing the rounds at Villa Park at the moment.  It might seem a bit ungracious coming from fans who had to endure the Graham Taylor and David O’Leary years but this is a well-known by-product of relative success.

Villa were a shambles in the last three months of the season with their only wins coming narrowly at home to relegation candidates Hull and Newcastle.  While O’Neill has built a good side there’s something a bit “also-ran” about some of the players he has chosen.  Steve Sidwell, Zat Knight, Marlon Harewood, Stewart Downing, Nigel Reo-Coker, Curtis Davies and (yes, current England international) Emile Heskey are not top four quality talents.  And – although it may be paper talk – links to utter mediocrity like Jermaine Jenas and David Bentley don’t dilute that view for me.

Key to their success: The point I’m trying to get across is that in amongst the few quality talents like Ashley Young, Brad Friedel and John Carew there are a lot of players just not up to it.  The move for Fabian Delph might be inspired but probably not enough to push Villa in to the top four.  I like the club and would love to see them legitimately challenge but I think the ship may have sailed and expectations are now unhealthily high.

8th Sunderland

Last season: 16th

Transfers in: Frazier Campbell (£6m, Man Utd), Darren Bent (£10m, Tottenham), Lorik Cana (£5m, Marseille), Lee

Lorik Cana. Total hardass.
Lorik Cana. Total hardass.

Cattermole (£6m, Wigan)

Transfers out: Greg Halford (£2m, Wolves), Michael Chopra (£4m, Cardiff), Dean Whitehead (£3m, Stoke)

This is my wild card prediction for next season.  Steve Bruce hasn’t always impressed me – his latter days at Birmingham were fairly poor.  But at Wigan, in spite of losing his best players to bigger clubs (Ryan Taylor, Emile Heskey, Wilson Palacios), he managed to keep the ship steadied and safely in the Premier League.

This season his challenge is different, namely guiding a so-called bigger club  who have undergone a rollercoaster few seasons under Roy Keane, to safe waters.  It’ll be his aim to find mid-table with Sunderland this year and further trimming the squad of superfluous talents like Paul McShane, David Healy and Daryl Murphy.  Basically Irish players.

Key to their success: The Kenwyne Jones/Darren Bent double-act will be crucial with Bruce needing about 12-15 goals from each striker.  He’ll probably get goals from midfield too with Kieran Richardson and Steed Malbranque capable wide players with creative guile.  At the back he will probably mould a better unit than either Keane or Ricky Sbragia were able to but I still think he needs a centre back.  The midfield partnership of Lee Cattermole and Lorik Cana should offer more protection to that troubled back four in the meantime.

9th Tottenham

Last season: 8th

Transfers in: Kyle Naughton (undisclosed, Sheffield United), Kyle Walker (undisclosed, Sheffield United), Peter

What is this??
What is this??

Crouch (£9m, Portsmouth), Sebastian Bassong (£10m, Newcastle)

Transfers out: Didier Zokora (£8.5m, Seville), Chris Gunter (£1.75m, Nottingham Forest), Darren Bent (£10m, Sunderland), Gilberto (released)

I am a fan of Tottenham.  I’m not a fan of ‘Arry Redknapp.  I make no apologies for it.

Since he arrived less than a year ago he has brought Robbie Keane, Pascal Chimbonda, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch back to the club.  In the case of Keane and Chimbonda it seems to have been a mistake.  In the case of Defoe and Crouch, well, the jury is out.

The signing of Kyle Naughton looks to be good business in the little bit I’ve seen of him.  But I remain disappointed that he can find no place for Giovani Dos Santos, Adel Taarabt or young players who have looked solid in pre-season like Jake Livermore.

Yet Jermaine Jenas still gets a game.

Key to their success: Last season was relatively successful for Redknapp but I remain unconvinced that he has got it right this summer.  Where is the left midfielder?  Who will partner Wilson Palacios in midfield?  If he persists with Modric on the left and Jenas in the middle then I don’t think Spurs will make any ground on the top four this year.  Good to see Crouch at the club and I don’t buy in to this “his presence forces you to play direct to him” complaint.  If your players are wily enough then they will exploit any gaps that Crouch’s presence helps expose – that’s the theory anyway.

10th Blackburn

Last season: 15th

Transfers in: Lars Jacobsen (free, Everton), Steven N’Zonzi (£500k, Amiens), Gael Givet (£3.5m, Marseille), Nikos

His name is Gael
His name is Gael

Giannakopoulos (£50k, Asteras Tripolis), Elrio Van Heerden (free, Bruges), Nikola Kalinic (Hadjuk Split, £6m)

Transfers out: Matt Derbyshire (£3m, Olympiakos), Roque Santa Cruz (£17.5m, Man City), Aaron Mokoena (free, Portsmouth), Andrew Ooijer (undisclosed, PSV)

Sam Allardyce rescued his reputation at Blackburn last season following his disastrous spell at Newcastle.  His renaissance of the club was done with pretty much the same resources that previous incumbent Paul Ince had and really just underlined how out of his depth the former manager was.

There have not been wholesale changes this time around either.  Gael Givet has come in permanently from Marseille following a loan spell and Hadjuk Split front man Nikola Kalinic has signed up for £6m.  French midfielder Steven N’Zonzi is dubbed the “next Patrick Vieira” (these dubbings never get boring) and Elrio Van Heerden is an established South African international.

Keys to their success: I’m not sure why I rate Blackburn under Allardyce so highly.  I think it may be partly to do with the fact that the rest of the division is decidedly unimpressive and Allardyce himself usually makes the best of meagre resources.  There is no Roque Santa Cruz this year but there wasn’t most of last season either.  Let’s see if Benni McCarthy can keep scoring and Steven Reid and Keith Andrews form a surprisingly effective midfield partnership.

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