Who will win the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League?
With over five weeks left until the transfer window closes, it may be premature to give predictions for the Premier League season because those 35 days could be pivotal to the success or failures of clubs depending on signings to be made. Nevertheless I thought it’d be interesting to do a post now on my predictions for the season and one after the transfer window closes – to see what impact the first few weeks of the EPL make on my initial expectations and the signings made in that time.
We’ve been treated to an enthralling World Cup this summer in the carnival atmosphere of Brazil which will long be remembered for being one of the most exciting in living memory, if only due to the sheer number of goals and moments of drama. The World Cup definitely eased the hangover that the abysmal 2013/14 Premier League season left as a United fan, but now it’s time for the Premier League to recommence. All the teams in the league have renewed vigour and hope this season with new signings and new managers. As a result, fans from nearly every club being overly ambitious and optimistic at this time, often escaping from reality and going into their own fantasy world picturing their team winning the league or qualifying for the Champions League.
As a cautiously optimistic, yet realistic United fan, this is how I think the teams at the top of the league will fare this season if it were to start this weekend. This year after some big managerial changes and some massive summer signings strengthening competitors, the battle for the Champions League places in the Top 4 and the title itself is going to be fiercely competitive and is going to be an incredible spectacle for all football fans.
‘The Chosen One’ has become ‘The Chosen Gone’ and now there is another new era beginning, this one starting with rejuvenated ambition with a proven world-class manager in Louis Van Gaal. After success at Bayern, Ajax, Barca and impressing recently with Holland – it’s hard not to get your hopes up as a Man United fan. The loss of 4 club legends (Rio, Evra, Giggs and Vidic) in one window has left a massive hole in an already depleted squad hence the squad has been somewhat weakened, concerning the more pessimistic fans like myself. Nevertheless the signing of the 2013/14 Premier League left back of the season Luke Shaw and young Spanish sensation Ander Herrera has put the Old Trafford club in the right direction. Both signings will massively improve the team now and for many years to come, from what we’ve seen in their first few games for the club, the two will be brilliant additions. The team will be playing the adventurous 3-5-2 / 3-4-3 formation under Van Gaal which will make for fast-flowing, possession-heavy football. This will be hugely more exciting to watch – a welcome change from the rigid, defensively-minded 4-4-2 that Moyes deployed. The Carrick injury has highlighted the existing squad problems though. United are in desperate need of 1 or 2 quality centre backs, at least 1 high quality central midfielder and a top winger / wing-back to get back to the summit of the Premier League in my estimation.
I believe Van Persie will thrive under Van Gaal and will be scoring goals for fun once again, becoming a potential contender for the Golden Boot this season, with the likes of Rooney, Mata, Herrera and Januzaj providing additional quality in attack. Even though the squad lacks quality in depth in all areas, I feel that Van Gaal will get that extra 10-15% out of every player at the club like Sir Alex did, even out of the dead wood like Young and Cleverley if they stay. He is widely considered as a tactical genius and it is this football intelligence; in addition to his ability to convert the youth / reserve players’ potential into success, which I believe will be the telling factor in United’s success with a visibly weaker squad than some of their top Premier League competitors.
Last season they won the league because they had the best squad in the country, as simple as that. This summer they’ve bought Bacary Sagna, Fernando, and seemingly Eliaquim Mangala, plus the 6 month loan of veteran Frank Lampard. Buying Sagna means they now have the strongest right-back duo in the Premier League as they could easily rotate him with Zabeleta with the team not weakening a great deal. Fernando is an addition that I don’t think will strengthen the team, but yet again he will strengthen the midfield in terms of squad depth. He isn’t a top world class signing by any means, after being scouted he was turned down by Real, United and Chelsea because it was perceived that his passing wasn’t good enough. A world class centre back hasn’t yet been finalised by City, which could be the final jigsaw piece to Premier League dominance once again I think. The major worry is the injury-prone star striker Sergio Aguero. This World Cup, he proved for the umpteenth time that he is a delicate and injure-prone striker. He can be compared to fine china; very valuable for the owner but needs looking after because it is so delicate and can be broken easily. Aguero and Yaya are pivotal to the club’s success therefore if they can keep fit and find form again, City will be right in the title mix once more.
2 seasons without a trophy is unchartered territory for Jose Mourinho and he will be hell bent on not making it 3 trophyless years in succession. The signings this summer has exemplified the ambition from Abramovich and Mourinho. In my eyes, they have done the best business in the transfer window thus far. Matic needed a world class, forward-thinking centre midfielder alongside him and now he has it in the form of Cesc Fabregas. The former Barcelona man is a proven central midfielder in the Premier League and he has arrived at Stamford Bridge on the back of a fruitful La Liga campaign. He was the 2nd top in the assist charts with 13 assists and scored 8 goals from a midfield position – very impressive return from a player who was not a regular in the first XI. Fabregas and Matic could be the best midfield duo in England this upcoming season. Then there was a raid of the La Liga 2013/14 Champions – Atletico Madrid. Bringing back Courtois now means Chelsea have the strongest keeping pair in the league, as Cech still has the ability to be Chelsea’s no.1 but that position will be seriously challenged by one of the best young ‘keepers in world football. Ashley Cole left the club this year, but that void was filled more than adequately by the signing of the best left back in La Liga last season – Felipe Luis. He will be a great addition to statistically the best defence in the league, and perhaps make it even stronger. Chelsea were one world class striker away from winning the league in my opinion, and now they may just have found the last piece to the title-winning puzzle in the form of Diego Costa. Quick, strong and a potential target man that will suit the Chelsea system perfectly, he was signed on the back of a season where he scored goals with consummate ease. As such, he became one of the hottest properties in world football. 27 goals last season in La Liga and with the mountain of number 10s at the club, Costa could capitalise on all the ammunition behind him to spearhead a Chelsea title win.
Arsenal spent 128 days at the top of the league last season – more than any other team in the league. For the first time in years, Arsenal looked like genuine title contenders before plummeting and retaining their annual 4th placed trophy. The Gunners have never characteristically been a team to make ‘big marquee signings’ but they’ve made 2 in 2 seasons now. The stand out signing for me this summer isn’t Suarez to Barcelona, it is Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal. Everyone thought Ozil would be the signing to propel Arsenal into the title picture and he did, as shown by the days they stayed at the top but unfortunately for the Emirates faithful, he didn’t consistently live up to his £42m price tag. I think it will be different with Sanchez however. I had some reservations whether Ozil could cope with the physical demands of the Premier League despite his clear playmaking abilities. Sanchez on the other hand is a powerhouse, one of the fastest players in the world, he is strong on the ball, has a rocket of a shot, with 19 goals and 10 assists in 27 games for Barca. He is a world class forward capable of playing anywhere in attack. He will adjust to life in the Premier League faster and easier than Mesut Ozil in my opinion and if he hits the ground running, an attack of Sanchez, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain will be the fastest in the league, capable of causing any defence problems. Debuchy was another astute signing to replace Sagna, as he is France’s number 1 right-back and is a proven Premier League player. Ospina; a star for the Colombian team at the World Cup will give Szczesny much needed competition and now Arsenal can feel as though they’ve made the goal-keeping position as strong as they can now. If Arsenal can keep their injury list as small as possible (which is often something they can’t manage) and use Sanchez effectively, they can challenge for the title once again but this time a sustained title challenge rather than one petering out to the usual 4th placed finish.
Last season Liverpool had their best season in 5 years as they finished 2nd for only the third time in Premier League history. Top of the league for 49 days, the Anfield outfit’s fans often used the infamous words ‘This Is Our Year’ throughout the season believing they would win the league. They came incredibly close but ultimately failed in their pursuit of the title. Suarez was arguably the best striker in the world for parts of last season and was unstoppable at times scoring an incredible 31 goals and notching up 11 assists in 33 games. Even as a United fan, I couldn’t help but admit he was a world class striker that could have taken Liverpool to title no.19. However, now the club will have to push-on without him, following his big-money move to Barcelona. Granted the signings will improve Liverpool’s squad and help for their Champions League return but I still feel the massive hole left by the Uruguayan still hasn’t been adequately filled. Sturridge and Sterling will impress again this season, but I feel the title challenge they had last season won’t be emulated this season with so many new arrivals and their absence of their main protagonist – Luis Suarez.
The Pochettino era is beginning at Spurs, so will he be the manager to take Spurs back into the Top 4 and live up to the sky-high Levy expectations? I think not. Spurs were at times completely average last season under Villas-Boas and Sherwood, who often looked like a fan put there after winning an online competition. In saying that though, they did show signs of promise with the revivial of the mercurial Adebayor and Eriksen made an impression as one of the best number 10s in the league. This summer, Michel Vorm was one of the strangest signings of the window because seemingly he has gone from a no.1 at Swansea to a rotating bench-warming Spurs keeper. He has improved their squad but Spurs need to improve their first team and signing him won’t have done that with Lloris the number 1 and one of the best in the league. However Ben Davies is a signing that will strengthen the team; he is brilliant left-back with great attacking potential, and a step in the right direction for the Spurs team. Spurs do have quality in their ranks, if they can get Lamela, their record signing who promised big things from his big money move from Serie A, firing then they could potentially mount a serious challenge for the Top 4. Nevertheless in comparison to the aforementioned competitors I’m not sure if the Spurs squad has enough quality throughout to finish in the Top 4 regardless of who is managing them.
Everton impressed massively last season, playing some of the most attractive football in the league, often employing a new 3-5-2 formation with an ambitious manager in Roberto Martinez finishing 5th last season. Lukaku was the key with 15 goals in 29 appearances and Barkley emerged into the media spotlight as the future of England; skilful, quick and a fearless attacking midfielder. He has since become one of the hottest properties in English football. This season the addition of Besic will re-strengthen an already strong midfield, but the success of the season I feel is dependent whether Everton can sign Lukaku permanently. He is linked with Wolfsburg, Athletico Madrid and even Real Madrid so Everton would do brilliantly well to land him. They have the best attacking full-backs in the league with Coleman and Baines and a strong midfield with the likes of Mirallas and Barkley, so now that they have secured a top striker like Lukaku, like last season they will be a team challenging for the Champions League spots.
So if the league was to start tomorrow this is my prediction:
1st – Chelsea
2nd – Manchester City
3rd – Arsenal
4th – Manchester United
5th – Liverpool
6th – Everton
7th – Tottenham
Right now, I think Chelsea are the clear favourites for the league title, I perceive the 3 quality new signings and a top manager determined to end his uncharacteristic trophy drought to be a title-winning combination. If Costa can adjust to life in the Premier League quickly, Chelsea could run away with it, but I think it will take him a few games to get going, hence it’s going to be another tight race for the Premier League title. Manchester City will be Chelsea’s strongest competitors if they can make an Etihad a fortress once again but I think the lack of a world class CB partner alongside Kompany will result in a 2nd place finish. Man United, as of now I don’t think have enough quality throughout the squad to mount a title challenge but I feel that Van Gaal will be the main perpetrator for a strong Man United season, his tactical flexibility and ability to get every ounce of talent out of his players means I think we would pip Liverpool to the final Champions League place. Liverpool will struggle to cope with the demands of Champions League football and a Premier League title race with the squad they have right now hence I think they will be going through the season in the race to finish 4th, interchanging in 4th with Arsenal, United and Everton but will be edged out in a tight finish by Van Gaal’s Red Devils. The signing of Sanchez will lift the Arsenal squad out of their usual 4th to the lofty heights of 3rd, but not enough to topple the incredibly strong squads of City and Chelsea. Everton and Spurs will have similar seasons from last year, hovering around the Champions League and Europa League places to finish just outside the Top 4 due to not enough quality in their ranks – with both teams not strengthening massively but others surrounding them, improving their teams / squads in comparison drastically.
In the next 5 weeks, this prediction will fluctuate because I know there will be a lot of new signings within these top 7 teams and the pre-season games to follow will, without doubt, be a potentially persuasive influence in changing my mind. One thing is for sure, every football fan is eagerly anticipating the start of the Premier League season and is delighted that it’s back.
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