We try to keep you in the loop each and every EPL season. And for the most part, we’re wrong. We always overrate Tottenham and believe this is the year Liverpool wins the title. And every year we’re wrong.
There’s a lot to like about this upcoming season from an American fan’s standpoint. Tim Howard looks like the best goalie in the world, Jozy Altidore will most likely start for Hull City, Clint Dempsey is an icon at Fulham and ESPN will get involved in EPL broadcasts, meaning more lazy hours in front of the tube.
But what else can you expect? Without further ado, TheBaker’s Annual Premiership Preview.
There are just too many top international players on Chelski for this team not to win the title, and the Blues’ main rivals all lost key components. Manchester United sold Cristiano Ronaldo, Arsenal lost Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure, and Liverpool saw Xabi Alonso bolt.
From top to bottom, Chelsea has the most talented team. Health, as always, will play a big part, and if Michael Essien can remain in the Starting XI the Blues will be celebrating at the end of the year. New Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti seems keen on pairing Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka up front, which frankly isn’t fair. Anelka, last year’s top EPL scorer with 19 goals, is most dangerous when he drifts wide and cuts in from the wings. While Drogba’s strength and speed allows him to score from anywhere. Frank Lampard will get double-digit goals and Michael Ballack and Deco comprise a star-studded midfield.
Joe Cole is nicked up, but new signing Yuri Zhirkov is more than capable on the wing. Plus, fullbacks Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole will provide the width as Ancelotti will go with a diamond midfield with Lampard in a more attacking role.
A defense anchored by John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho with Petr Cech between the sticks promises to be stingy yet again. The Blues tied with Manchester United for the least goals allowed in 2008/09 with 24.
Champions League: Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City
Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard make sure Liverpool remains in title contention late into the season, and new signing Glen Johnson becomes an absolute terror at right back. But there just seem to be too many possible distractions for the Reds to win the title. Javier Mascherano hasn’t been shy about his desire to follow Xabi Alonso to Spain and new signing Alberto Aquillani won’t be ready for two months. Plus, it always seems manager Rafa Benitez and the English media get into a tussle or two.
Things should be quite interesting in Manchester this season, with the sky blue half of the city spending at alarming rates in attempts at relevance. United, the defending three-time champions, took the biggest loss of the offseason with Cristiano Ronaldo heading to Real Madrid. Edwin Van der Sar’s injury is a major concern for any Red Devils’ fan, who saw Ben Foster struggle in Sunday’s Community Shield. Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen were both astute signings by Sir Alex Ferguson and expect a big season from Ji-Sung Park. But losing the best player in the world along witth Carlos Tevez will put a greater onus on Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney to smash in the goals.
Tevez took his tenacity to crosstown rivals City and the new richest club in the world dove head first into the transfer market. Adding Tevez, Kolo Toure, Gareth Barry, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz to a squad that picked up studs Vincent Kompany, Nigel de Jong and Shay Given midseason last year, and City has an All-Star Starting XI. Now, how Mark Hughes manages to use his plethora of attacking options will be a challenge. There is too much proven talent to doubt City can crack the top four. And don’t undervalue a full season with Given in goal. He’s world class.
Surprise Package: Sunderland
Under new American ownership, the Black Cats are spending money this offseason, and doing so wisely. Spending $16.5 million on Darren Bent is just good business. Despite spotty playing time, Bent still scored 12 goals for Tottenham last year, and pairing him with a bull like Kenwyne Jones up top gives Steve Bruce a front-line that will trouble opposing defenses. Adding exciting youngster Fraizer Campbell to the mix also was a good move. Under the radar signings of Paulo Da Silva and Lorik Cana might be just as big as Bent’s arrival. Anytime you add two players who captain both their club and national teams (Da Silva captained Toluca [MEX] and Paraguay and Cana captained Marseille [FRA] and Albania), you’re adding not only quality but leadership. Bruce has proven to be a keen talent evaluator and solid manager. The resources provided to him by Ellis Short and Niall Quinn have a top-eight finish as a realistic goal.
Going Down: Stoke City, Burnley, Hull City
Stoke and Hull both defied the oddsmakers last season by staying up, though Hull managed to survive despite a wretched second half of the season. Stoke’s uninventive style of play will get old and Premier League defenses will adapt to the “throw it into the box and pray someone, anyone can knock it in the net” approach. Burnley has made some cheap signings indicative of a promoted squad ill-prepared for the Premier League. Who knows? Maybe they impress like Wigan and Reading did in their inaugural campaigns, but I just don’t see enough quality in the side. And it pains me to include Hull City in this group, for the sole reason it means American teen Jozy Altidore didn’t score enough goals to keep the Tigers up. Phil Brown is still trying to add to his squad, but it’s paperthin and if Liverpool poaches the team’s best defender, Michael Turner, things will get awfully dismal at the KC Stadium.
Five Players Primed For A Breakout Season:
Jack Wilshere, Arsenal
He’s only made one appearance for the Arsenal first team, but the 17-year old Wilshere is bound to work his way into Arsene Wenger’s rotation if his preseason displays are any indication of what’s to come. A star for Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup champions last year, Wilshere has dazzled during the Gunners’ preseason matches and has caught the eye of England manager Fabio Capello. Wilshere took home Man of the Match honors in both of the Emirates Cup contests against Atletico Madrid and Rangers, including a two-goal performance against the Scottish champions. He’s been likened to Wayne Rooney because of Rooney’s teenage emergence with Everton. He’s not as stout as Rooney, so the comparison isn’t really fair. But Wilshere will soon make a name for himself. Watch.
Nenad Milijas, Wolves
The Serbian answer to Frank Lampard, Milijas joined Mick McCarthy’s squad on a $4.3 million deal – a relative bargain for a free-scoring central midfielder. The 26-year old scored 22 goals last season for Red Star Belgrade in his homeland and was the Serbian league’s top scorer and MVP. That earned him 10 caps with the national team and a bright future in the country’s quest for World Cup qualification. (Serbia currently leads Group Seven with six wins in seven games, with the French trailing in second.) Milijas is a confident and strong player, who has the knack for scoring goals from outside the box with long-range efforts. Premier League defenses will learn quickly not to give the 6-foot-2 Serbian much space 35 yards from goal. Watch.
Fabian Delph, Aston Villa
Just 19-years old, Delph impressed mightily at Leeds last season and hopes to be the next in a line of young talent to emerge from the Whites’ ranks (Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Alan Smith and Matthew Kilgallon). Economically conscious Villa shelled out more than $13 million for the youngster and expect big things, much like they got from Ashley Young when they poached the vibrant winger from Watford.
Martin O’Neill just continues to collect young English talent, mixing Delph with Gabriel Agbonlahor, new $20 million signing Stewart Downing, Curtis Davies and the aforementioned Milner and Young. The step up from League One to the Premiership is an enormous one. It’s like jumping from Double AA to the MLB. But Delph’s qualities are obvious and for the past two seasons, a number of EPL clubs were linked with the midfielder, including Arsenal.
Jozy Altidore, Hull City
Like Delph, Altidore is just 19. However, where Delph will be worked gradually into a loaded lineup, Altidore will be counted on heavily to ensure Hull’s survival. Tigers manager Phil Brown’s striker options are about as thin as Calista Flockhart after a colonic. Diminutive midfielder Geovanni led Hull last season with eight goals, many of which were from set pieces. That’s never a good sign. Daniel Cousin and Craig Fagan, they of the seven combined goals, return up front and shouldn’t pose much of a threat to Altidore, who was handed the all important No. 9 jersey.
Altidore’s loan move to Hull is great for both parties. Training against some of the best players in La Liga at Villareal is good and all, but at 19-years old and with the World Cup around the corner, Jozy needs to be playing games. His stature and physicality is a natural fit for the Premier League and there wasn’t a team more in need of goal scoring than Hull. He’ll play and more than likely, he’ll score. He’s proven that much. Now, only if the team’s manager and chairman would stop referring to him as “Jose,” we’ll be getting somewhere.
Nikola Kalinic, Blackburn
Portsmouth’s loss was Blackburn’s gain. Pompey had eyed Kalinic and even brought him in for a trial, but the club’s financial problems allowed Sam Allardyce to swoop for the Croatian target-man. Allardyce got a combined $34 million for strikers Roque Santa Cruz (Manchester City, $29 million) and Matt Derbyshire (Olympiakos, $5 million), and wisely spent $10 million of that on Kalinic, who has drawn comparisons to Zlatan Ibrahimovic (though they are most likely overblown).
Despite just two appearances for the senior national team, Kalinic has a fan in Croatian national team manager Slaven Bilic, a man not impervious to exaggeration. (Remember when he touted Luka Modric to be Euro 2008’s best player? Yeah, about that…) Bilic, part-time coach/part-time rock star, calls Kalinic “the future of Croatian football.” And it seems the 21-year old is bound to break through with an impressive strike rate for both club and country. In 59 games with Croatia’s Hajduk Split, Kalinic scored 32 times. Representing Croatia at the youth levels, Kalinic has notched 30 goals in 35 matches. At 6-foot-1, he’s strong and comfortable with the ball at his feet. He has a true poacher’s instinct and should provide a profitable compliment to his speedy attack partners Benni McCarthy, El-Hadji Diouf and Jason Roberts. Watch.