Premiership Preview (Part I)

With eyes appropriately fixed on World Cup qualifying matches this weekend, the international break and the closure of the European transfer window is a good time to take a close look at how the Barclay’s Premier League is going to shape up this season. We’ve had a few games and there won’t be any new signings until at least January – and perhaps later for one team in particular – so assessments and predictions can be made with a relative degree of confidence.

Because its our blog and we get to decide these things, I’m going to start with a general assessment of the league and then go through each team that I place in the top eight. With respect to fans of Fulham and Sunderland, whether I think they will finish in 9th or 13th doesn’t really seem that interesting, so we’ll just stick to the top of the table battles.

Today we start with the League and defending champions Manchester United. Monday we’ll look in depth (forgive the indulgence) at my beloved Liverpool. Tuesday comes the rest of the Big Four –Chelsea and Arsenal. Wednesday I’ll examine the two that almost cracked the top four last season; Everton and Aston Villa. And Thursday I’ll conclude my look at the Premier League season with wheelin’ and dealin’ upstarts Manchester City and (Max’s second—or first!—love) Tottenham.

The Barclay’s Premier League

Only once since 2003 (Everton, 2005) has a team broken the Big Four’s (Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal) dominance on the top four places in the Premier League table. This year poses the biggest threat to the Big Four’s supremacy with several teams, not just one, threatening to compete for the Champion’s League places. And while teams like Man City and Tottenham are pushing to join last season’s biggest challengers Everton and Villa, the Big Four themselves look as fragile as they have in years, with each club facing genuine weaknesses that likely will cause real problems over a 38 game schedule.

It would be a stretch to say that any of these upstarts can win the league, it is clear that the top of the table is much more competitive from 1-8 than it has been in recent memory. That is likely to mean an end to needing 90 points to win and the ultimate winner may push the 2000-01 United team that won with only 80. Regardless, it does look like we are in for a closer race for the title with more teams able to stay in the battle longer. Depending on how you look at it, that means the margin for error will either be higher or lower. Higher if you choose to think that with more teams taking more points off each other, any one poor result is less significant than in past years. Lower if you focus how challenging it could be to make up dropped points against stiffer competition.

A big and important change in the BPL for us here in America is ESPN’s success in picking up the pieces from the bankrupt Setanta Sports. Now ESPN2 is showing live BPL games weekly in HD – giving it a real incentive to begin to give the global game more coverage across its many networks. Its been slowly happening for years, but soccer highlights now regularly appear on SportCenter and scores and news scroll across the tickers. With ESPN on board and a more evenly matched title fight, this season prmises to be the Barclay’s Premier League’s best yet. Should be fun.

Manchester United

2008-09 Finish: Champions

Major Transactions: Ins: Antonio Valencia (Wigan), Gabriel Obertan (Bordeaux), Michael Owen (Newcastle); Outs: Christiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Carlos Tevez (Man City)

Key Issues: For many observes of Man U, the demolition at the hands of Barcelona in the Champion’s League Final last May came as no surprise: United had the weakest midfield of any BPL champion in recent memory. The reason United could win game after game featuring some combination of the decent but unspectacular Michael Carrick, Ji-Sung Park and Darren Fletcher, well-past-their-primes Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, and the underachieving Anderson and Nani was simple: they had the most dynamic attack in the Premier League with its most electrifying player, Ronaldo. United could move so quickly from defense to attack with Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and Tevez that they almost didn’t need a midfield against the lower teams. But they were constantly exposed against better sides, and for a champion, their performance against the other Big Four clubs was poor: 2Ws, 1D, 3Ls – 7 points from 18.

So it’s not just Ronaldo and Tevez’s goals that United will miss, they won’t be able to overcome poor midfield play as easily. That makes it all the more surprising that Manager Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t use any of the £80 million he got for Ronaldo to bring in any new blood for the middle of the park. I’ve always liked Carrick, but he has yet to blossom into a world class player, and while Park, Fletcher, and Anderson are nice, no one would confuse them for Maschereno, Gerrard, Essien, Lampard, or Fabregas.

An unconvincing 1-0 win over newly promoted Birmingham followed by a shock defeat to fellow newcomers Burnley to begin the season points to problems ahead. Not even the 5-0 win over Wigan or the 2-1 victory at Old Trafford against Arsenal should give United fans hope. The Wigan game was 0-0 well into the second half and the Latics even held the possession edge for 90 minutes. And Arsenal were untroubled before they self-destructed in a rash move to give away a penalty and a pathetic own goal gifted United the win. They still have Rooney andBerbatov up front, Ferdinand and Vidic at the back, and SAF, but this season promises to be a real struggle.

2009-10 Prediction: Fourth

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5 Responses

  1. […] Premiership Preview (Part I) […]

  2. […] Preview (Part IV) Posted on September 9, 2009 by Ken On Friday we looked at the league and defending champions Manchester United. On Monday, I put you all through my long discussion of Liverpool’s title hopes (frustrations […]

  3. […] We’re finally here, the last of my Premiership Preview columns. Previously, I have examined Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal, and Everton and Villa. Today, we predict the progress of two clubs […]

  4. Good post, however only some of the points were actually treated really good, I think digging deep for the topic to make it more informative will really help, will be looking forward for more informative post than this. Will suggest some points which are to the best of my knowledge. This might help you bringing more information for all of us.

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