10 August 2009

Third annual ‘Chances are, the final table won’t look anything like this’

1 – Liverpool
2 – Chelsea
3 – Manchester United
4 – Manchester City
5 – Arsenal
6 – Aston Villa
7 – Everton
8 – Tottenham
9 – Fulham
10 – Sunderland
11 – West Ham
12 – Wigan
13 – Birmingham
14 – Blackburn
15 – Bolton
16 – Hull
17 – Portsmouth
18 – Wolverhampton
19 – Stoke
20 – Burnley

I’ll take the blame if I jinx it. Predictions tend to make asses of any and all sportswriters, but I still feel duty-bound to tell you my best guess. FYI: I’ve never picked Liverpool to win it all in print.

I’ll expound a lot more with a preview of Liverpool's season in the next couple of days. Yes, it’ll be tough to take 6 points off both United and Chelsea again. Yes, it’ll be tough to win as many games in the final few minutes, which saved Liverpool something like 12 points last season. But I truly think they can do it.

I’d be a lot more emphatic about this prediction had Alonso not been sold. Whether or not Lucas, and subsequently Aquilani, can fill the void is Liverpool’s major concern. And, honestly, although I fear the early bedding-in process, both have the potential to be excellent players.

I trust Benitez to replace Alonso far more than I trust Ferguson to replace Ronaldo and Tevez. I think Liverpool and Chelsea are narrowly better than United on paper, but as of this writing (really, the transfer window should be from the last day of the season until the first of the next), I don’t think Valencia and Owen can replace what the Mancs have lost. I don't know if Nani can make the leap either, although he looked dangerous in the Community Shield until going off with a dislocated shoulder. United are arguably deeper than their competitors, but for the first time in a long time, I don't think they're as strong in the first XI when everyone's fit.

Chelsea’s the only one of the big four who have “improved,” and that improvement is solely adding Ancelotti and Zhirkov. I think Zhirkov’s a tidy player who’ll give both Malouda and Ashley Cole a run for their starting berth, but it remains to be seen whether Ancelotti’s style will work in England. For all of Ancelotti’s success in Europe, which is clearly Abramovich’s focus, he only won the league once with Milan in eight attempts. That question mark is the only reason I haven’t picked the Blues to win the title. If Hiddink were still in charge, I probably would.

With these three teams so tightly packed, it’ll probably come down to which side can stay the fittest and who can stay in form during the winter doldrums (where Liverpool stuttered last season and saw United overhaul the points deficit).

And I think, not far behind, will be three or four teams competing for the fourth CL spot: Nouveau riche City, Arsenal, and Villa definitely (although Villa will miss Laursen and Barry), and both Everton and Tottenham with an outside shot at it. City will be far better this year after all that spending, but I’m obviously not sure how that attacking-heavy squad will work. They’ll assuredly finish higher than 10th, but how much higher depends on whether Mark Hughes can manage all those personalities.

Arsenal lost Adebayor and Toure, but bought Vermaelen (center back) and have a healthy Eduardo, which seems almost a wash to me. They probably could have done with a couple more purchases, but such is the state of the economy (must be nice to be Real Madrid and City, the only two exceptions).

I’m guessing a six-way struggle for relegation, with Brum and Blackburn also having the potential to get sucked in. But I reckon the Brummies are the promoted side most likely to stay up – although that may just be because they're often a Benitez bogey side. After last season’s draws, I’d enjoy seeing both Hull and Stoke relegated, but now that Altidore’s joined Hull, I’m marginally conflicted. Burnley delighted me during the playoffs, but I don’t know if they can compete week-in and week-out and keep it up for a full season.

Five days until kickoff.


epiblast said...

After watching the Community Shield, I'm not entirely convinced Valencia and Owen have it. Neither produced anything other than yellow cards against Chelsea. I think Chelsea look the team to beat this season.
I'm just too unsure about filling in for Alonso. Mascherano did well against Atletico and he had some "quasi-Alonso" long passes. Lucas was little too slow with the decision-making, and lacks that sense of urgency we need at the moment. But I'm hoping he comes into his own, as Rafa seems to think he will.
I won't blame you if we don't win the league, as long as United don't either. It's a long season, at this point I'm just hoping for a top-two or top-three finish while watching Arsenal get overtaken by City.

Marlon said...

That's a really high Birmingham City finish you're predicting, Nate.

Mike Georger said...

Biggest think for Chelsea this year, I think, is Essien staying healthy. If he plays all of last year I think they would have won. I still think they have the most talented and deep roster in the league, and guys like Anelka and Ballack are starting to prove their worth. But Essien is their best player, and because of him being back, they're my pick.

Let's get some reverse psychology up in this bitch!

Mike Georger said...

Biggest thing*