With just three hours to go until the curtain falls on the 2011/12 Premier League season, Some Goals Are Bigger Than Others’ Greg and Dan gaze into the near future to predict the potential winners and losers of the oncoming season.
First things first, who are your top 4 this season and where will they finish?
Greg: It has to be a Manchester top two this year, with United just pipping City for the top spot, followed by Chelsea just about keeping in touch in third and Arsenal in fourth.
Dan: It’s more a top 3 for me, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United (hopefully in that order). With Fabregas and Nasri imminently departing I can’t see Arsenal sustaining a title challenge as they have done in the past, Spurs and Liverpool will push them hard for fourth.
Greg: I think Arsenal will benefit from Nasri and Fabregas being moved on. Without the distractions and disruption of Cesc’s ‘will-he-won’t-he?’ Barcelona saga, Wenger will have a much more focussed squad. Its undeniable that losing their two best players is massive for Arsenal, but I think Wilshere and Ramsay have what it takes to replace them both, and drag the team home for fourth. The drop in quality will be countered by a newfound sense of stability and accountability for the rest of the squad.
And who’s getting relegated?
Dan: It’s always tempting to go with the promoted teams, but only 13 of the last 30 have gone straight down after promotion. Following that trend of roughly 1/3, I think Norwich are the most likely of the promoted 3 to go down. QPR have kept hold of Taraabt and have added more goals in DJ Campbell, I think they’ll just about have enough to stay up.
Blackburn and Wigan will make up the other two, they’ve both lost key players without adequate signings after already struggling last season.
Greg: Wigan always seem to scrape it through for another year so my picks would be Blackburn and two of the new boys, most likely QPR along with either Swansea or Norwich. For all the headlines about their mega-rich owners, the board at QPR seem disinterested in the team and their premier league status as they look to sell on. Add to that the sense that Neil Warnock enjoys minimal support from his bosses and QPR could have a recipe for relegation on their hands.
Who are the three teams to watch this year outside of the top 4?
Dan: Swansea will most likely be this year’s Blackpool, winning over the neutral with their fluid, attacking play but being caught up in a relegation fight with heavy away losses.
Newcastle are just a solitary tweet away from imploding so it’s always worth a glance in their direction.
I think everyone will be watching Stoke’s run in the Europa League this season, with Europe’s (second) finest turning up on cold, Thursday nights at the Brittania.
Greg: This could be the year that Wolves rise above the perennial street fighting at the foot of the table to build themselves a solid little beach-head up in the happy no-mans land in the middle of the division.
Fulham, now with Martin Jol at the helm, will be looking to build on from their solid home form with renewed impetus away from Craven Cottage. I half expect Mohammed Al-Fayed to issue Mark Schwarzer with a single white, diamante glove whilst demanding any and all goal celebrations feature the moonwalk. Their season could well be a bit of Thriller (groan!).
My final tip for this terms stable of dark horses is, like Dan, Swansea. Whilst it looks likely they’ll ‘do a Blackpool’ and go down swinging to great applause, their approach to the game resembles the likes of Arsenal more, with their manager Brenden Rogers describing his side as a ‘budget Barcelona’. More entertainment awaits in south wales.
Your tips for signings of the season:
Greg: Stewart Downing is exactly the kind of player Liverpool have been crying out for since even before Rafa’s reign of terror on Merseyside. Downing is an accomplished wide man who will add not only width but intelligence and composure to the flanks at Anfield.
Demba Ba also looks an astute signing with Newcastle benefiting from West Ham’s drop down to Championship. Ba is a strong powerful front man but also a talented player of the ball and looks to be an upgrade on former frotman, Andy Carroll at the spearhead of the Magpie’s season.
Dan: Roger Johnson will be a very effective signing for Wolves, instantly being made captain upon his arrival he should shore up their defence and mean it’s not quite the dog-fight of last season.
N’Zogbia and Given to Aston Villa are also extremely good acquisitions, there’s a lot of pressure on N’Zogbia to be the main creative force of the team, but he’s used to that from his time at Wigan.
…and potential flops?
Dan: Wes Brown at £5m looks a huge outlay for a player who has suffered horribly from injuries in the past few years. With the form he’s shown whilst fit, however, Sunderland fans may wish he was injured more often.
John Arne Riise is also not the player many PL fans will remember from his time at Liverpool, although I’m looking forward to at least one ‘RELEASE THE KRAKEN’ moment this season. http://tinyurl.com/bjver6
Greg: Fernando Torres. Yes he isn’t strictly a ‘new’ signing for Chelsea, but with many pundits claiming the former scouse hit man needed time to settle, this season is the acid test for El Nino and I can’t see him passing.
For reasons unknown, QPR have signed physio’s assistant Keiron Dyer in an attempt to shore up their midfield with some Premier League proven quality. The perpetual crock will either warm the treatment table for another year or burst the bubble that is his over inflated reputation with some decidedly luke-warm performances.
Who will be wearing the golden boot come next summer?
Greg: Hernandez seems the obvious choice, although this season he should be looking to a add more to his game than just goals. Its doubtful Berbatov will repeat his scoring feats too as squad rotation becomes even more stringent this term. Tevez too looks unlikely to be the main man, but his compatriot and new team mate, Sergio Aguero could well shoot his way to the top of the strike charts benefiting from “Apache’s” tireless work ethic and Silva’s invention. Fortunately for us United fans Mancini still reigns at Eastlands meaning that City’s true attacking potential will remain largely untapped.
Dan: A lot seem to be tipping Javier Hernandez, but I’m not convinced he will be quite there just yet; Peter Odemwingie outscoring the young Mexican seems to have been largely and unfairly glossed over in what, I’m sure West Brom fans will take no offence to, is a worse team.
Hernandez will certainly be in contention, but I’ll be putting my hypothetical money on Kun Agüero. Agüero carried Atletico Madrid last season, and with the service a fully settled David Silva will provide, there’s no reason he won’t take the league by storm.
Which teams will win promotion to the Premier League?
Dan: Sven’s Leicester have made some shrewd signings this summer, with Gelson Fernandes showing last season at Chievo that he is capable at playing at a much higher level that the English second tier. There aren’t many players around who have beaten the European and World Champions, Spain in the past year, let alone Championship players.
West Ham’s squad also looks superior to the rest of the division, with Allardyce’s pragmatic approach effective, albeit the complete antithesis of ‘the West Ham way’ so often cited.
As for the play-off spot, I think Brighton could surprise a few people and take 6th place. A lot rides on the new stadium’s feel-good factor translating into a formidable home fortress and Craig Mackail-Smith progressing his impressive goal scoring from League One into the Championship.
Greg: Leicester and West Ham are good shouts, as well as potential dark horses Brighton but I’m going to go all contrary and pick three other teams just to be difficult.
Both my head and my heart think that Blackpool could sneak in through the play-offs once more. Whilst they may have sold off their star attractions, the tangerine dream is alive and well with a gutsy and well adjusted squad that combines industry, spirit and smarts. The signings of Kevin Phillips will bring goals in the Championship whilst Barry Ferguson and Tom Ince bring quality and refreshment respectively to the side. Bojan Djordjic will be the typical Holloway surprise package signing.
Leeds came close last year and are as good a call as any to finally make the step up this season. The loss of Kasper Schmeichel to Leicester and Bradley Johnson to Norwich are their only major losses in terms personnel whilst the likes of Max Gradel and Robert Snodgrass remain to drive the team towards the top.
My final pick is Ipswich where Paul Jewell has begun to resurrect his managerial career and bring results in the southeast. They too would most likely have to qualify via the play-offs but they and their manager could surprise many this season and make the leap up to the big league, or at least stay in contention near the top.
And your front-runners for the managerial sack race?
Dan: Steve Kean is an obvious bookie’s choice, but I can’t see Venky’s sacrificing someone who is plainly a ‘yes man’ so easily.
Sunderland’s second half of the season was abysmal. Bruce blamed injuries but I have to wonder about his management technique. He clearly felt that the squad needed an overhaul, with the profits from Jordan Henderson’s sale to Liverpool providing the funds for 10 new signings. Unless they get off to a good start I can see them struggling at the wrong end of the table and Bruce seeking a new team to turn into Manchester United B.
Greg: I think that’s harsh on Steve Bruce who continues to do a job at Sunderland and has all the resources available for a successful season on wearside.
Whilst Steve Kean is the obvious choice, this is Venky’s we’re talking about! They could well stick with ‘their man’ all the way down to the conference north. Instead I’m going to plump for Neil Warnock who could well be sent packing from QPR regardless of results.
Then again, if City don’t start the campaign how their owners expect, Mancini could well find his P45 in the post, or handed to him at the final whistle Mark Hughes style. With Mancini gone a manager able to utilize the attacking talent City now possess would be a truly frightening proposition.
Dan: I do find the speculation Mancini still has to face as bizarre. Even Hughes was given 18 months and millions of pounds to spend despite not being appointed by ADUG. In the three years the new owners have been in place they’ve shown an understanding to the importance of stability; a kneejerk sacking for the manager who finally delivered a trophy and the Champions League seems unlikely.