The following is our (Joe & Dylan) preview of the 2013-14 English Premier League season
The Jose Mourinho saga ended on the 3rd of June when the 50-year old Portuguese man joined back with The Blues for his second go around, and now the expectations have risen once again for a side that finished third in the Premier League and won the Europa League this past season.
Mourinho has yet to make a truly big name signing since arriving back with Chelsea, but one would be hard pressed to find too many weaknesses in the current squad. A quick overview of the West London side:
GK: Petr Cech (Hey look! Mark Schwarzer, too!)
D: Azpilicueta, Bertrand, Cole, David Luiz, Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill (Holy cow.)
M: Frank Lampard, Juan Mata, Victor Moses, Ramires, Oscar
F: Demba Ba, Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard.
Frank Lampard had his own saga of sorts this past season, as the discussion of him leaving Stamford Bridge lingered for most of the season as Lampard continued to play stellar football until Chelsea was forced to put an end to transfer rumors by signing the 35-year old to a one year contract this past May.
Fernando Torres had many trials and tribulations himself this past season (reflected by his many different hairstyles) and with Rafael Benitez joining as Interim head man in mid-season, there was speculation that Torres would regain his top scoring touch. But at the end of the day, Torres finished the season with 8 goals and 10 assists in 36 league contests and remains a bit of a question mark.
All that said, Chelsea are again a certain contender for all competitions this season, including the Premier League title and the Champions League title, especially with Mourinho back at the helm.
Manchester United are the defending Premier League champions and are bringing back practically their entire squad from last season. United had one of the best seasons in the history of the Premier League last season and it would only seem logical for them to be the favorites to retain their title this season. Although United have lost long-time manager Sir Alex Ferguson to retirement and brought in former Everton boss David Moyes, the actual impact this has on the quality of play should be minimal. Over the years Manchester United has developed a culture of excellence and striving for nothing less than perfection and it is very unlikely that one man will be able to come in and change the thinking of a club like United in one season. Consistency is a vital part of success in European soccer, the teams that are the most successful are the ones that have the smallest among of change in their squad from one season to the next. As of now, the only changes of importance are the retirements of Ferguson and Paul Scholes. While it will no doubt be difficult to replace these icons on the field and in the dressing room, United still have the perfect blend of experience and drive to make yet another run at a title.
After winning the 2011-12 Barclays Premier League title, the hopes and expectations of supporters were high and with City participating in four competitions, there was plenty of room to display their greatness, though of course the Premier League and Champions League would be valued the most. September 25 saw their first run end, as Aston Villa defeated them 4-2 AET in the third round of the League Cup. City went without a win in the “Group of Death” in Champions League action, and lost to the soon-to-be relegated Wigan in the FA Cup Final, 1-0. The following Monday, Roberto Mancini – who had led City to their first Premier League crown in 44 years just a season before – was sacked, and City finished the season in 2nd place, 11 points shy of their rivals in red, Manchester United.
Many would say that City’s undoing was the lack of significant additions following their Premier League title, and along with the addition of Manuel Pellegrini at Manager, along with the additions of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Stefan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo, Sheikh Mansour and Manchester City have made sure that criticism can’t be leveled this time around. There is no guarantee however, that this will be enough to topple the reigning champs (yet again) Manchester United – or even the Blues from London – but with Joe Hart in goal, Vincent Kompany on the back line, and a whole host of other talented players, there’s plenty of reason for optimism for Manchester City F.C. again this season.
Others who have hope:
The Gunners are one of the “big name” sides in the Premier League with a huge worldwide following. Though neither of us are “fans” of Arsenal, we can quite readily concede that there are a number of talented young players on the team. And yet, the last trophy Arsenal won was the 2005 FA Cup. 2005 was Eight Years Ago. Arsene Wenger has managed to keep them playing Champions League football for years now, but the lack of silverware must be extremely disheartening for their fans, and frankly, it may not be coming to an end this season. As Wigan and Swansea proved last season, the FA Cup and League Cup are always up for grabs, though the League Cup isn’t much of a prize, and the FA Cup is always difficult to win. As always, anything can happen in sports, but the chances of Arsenal coming out on top in the Champions League or the Premier League – boy, those are pretty slim.
There is room for hope, though. Jack Wilshere is still only 21. Theo Wolcott is a top quality striker at age 24 and is coming off a season in which he had 21 goals and 14 assists across all competitions. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will turn 20 on the 15th of August, and he may be due for a breakout season. The 28-year old Santi Cazorla had 12 goals and 11 assists in Premiership action this past season. We’d be remiss to not mention Mertesacker and Koscielny’s partnership in the center of the back line, one of the better combinations in the league. And there are of course the persistent rumors of an attempt to pry Luis Suarez away from Liverpool.
But without a significant move, we’re left to feel that Arsenal are still missing something, that the holes are too significant for this to be the season that they finally return to the top class of English football sides, not to mention European teams.
Tottenham has been on the cusp of breaking into the top 4 for many years now. Two seasons ago they actually finished in 4th place above Chelsea only to miss out on Champions League play after Chelsea won the Champions League and thus earned themselves automatic qualification. Last season provided Spurs fans a glimpse of what the future could look like, although they once again fell short of their ultimate goal of Champions League play.
Spurs will be battling on many fronts this season, and with the possibility of losing star Gareth Bale (along with the already departed Clint Dempsey) it looks like Spurs best chances of Champions League qualification have passed them by. They will challenge for domestic cups and Europa League qualification, but it is hard to see them truly challenge the top 4 after losing 2 of their best players.
Middle of the Table Finishers:
Swansea City, the Welsh club who many predicted last year prior to the season to return to the Championship, became the darlings of the Premiership by holding their own against the heavy hitters in the league, playing some of the most fluid and entertaining attacking soccer seen from a smaller club, hoisting the Capital One Cup (League Cup) their first taste of silverware in their 101 year history, and boasting the signing of the season in the versatile attacking midfield monster known simply as Michu. After securing a respectable 9th place finish in the table, Michael Laudrup’s side, more so than Brendan Rogers’ team, is on everyone’s radar. Along with this added target, Swansea will have the added pressure of competing in the Europa League, a competition that the Swans are in the midst right now and cruising. After earning a spot in the qualification round through their Capital One Cup triumph, Swansea demolished Swedish side Malmo last week 4-0 to take control of that tie. Laudrup knows as we all do that this competition and the soccer calendar in general is marathon by all accounts, but you can bet that he will be eager to improve on what already has been an impressive start at Swansea.
There was a time in Premier League history where Liverpool were simply unbeatable. Until being overtaken by Manchester United, Liverpool held the record for most titles in England. Since Rafael Benitez’s departure the club has found it very hard to find a manager capable of elevating Liverpool back the iconic status it deserves. With star players like Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez along with youngsters Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool does have a good mix of players and with manager Brendan Rodgers entering his 2nd season at the helm Liverpool does have the resources to once again make a run at a Champions League spot.
The winds of change blow strong along the River Mersey as this summer has seen the Scottish David Moyes, who coached The Toffees from 2002-13, has left for Old Trafford and has been replaced by the reigning FA Cup Champion manager Roberto Martinez. Moyes, who took over at Everton after a five-year spell at Preston North End from 1998-2002, won the Premier League Manager of the Month award on 10 separate occasions including three times during the 2010 calendar year. (Insert their highest finish under Moyes and the furthest they made it in Europa League).
Among those brought into the side so far by Martinez – who has spent a fair portion of the summer stateside between providing analysis for ESPN and now taking part in the ICC – are Arouna Kone and Antolin Alcaraz who followed Martinez from Wigan, as well as Gerard Deulofeu who has arrived on loan from Barcelona. The new additions will join Everton stalwarts Leighton Baines, Leon Osman, Phil Jagielka and Marouane Fellaini, who was the team’s top goal scorer this past season with 11 goals in 31 Premier League appearances. The X factor may be Nikica Jelavic, as Martinez will attempt to lead the former Rangers man back to his goal-scoring touch (Jelavic scored 14 goals in 21 games with Rangers in 2011-12).
Martinez’s coaching abilities are highly respected and with a squad featuring a number of talented players, a finish in the top 5 is not out of the realm of possibility, though somewhere around 7-9 may be more likely.
Those who will fight to stay up top:
Hull City will return to the Premier League after a three-year absence, having achieved promotion via a second-place finish in the Championship with Steve Bruce at the helm. The Tigers didn’t have the most impressive campaign, managing just a +9 goal differential, but they were buoyed by a mid-season 8 match unbeaten run, followed by a late stretch of 8 wins in 12 matches. Hull will struggle to score goals and keep the opponents out of the net. As you can guess, Hull seems a prime candidate to make a swift and unceremonious return to the Championship.
41 points and a 14th place finish last year might not be considered much of a success for most Premier League sides, but for Southampton it was a solid enough return for a club that only two seasons before was playing in League One while just getting out of administration.
Back-to-back promotions under Nigel Adkins put the Saints back in the top flight after seven seasons away. Adkins struggled with Premiership management and was sacked in January with the team in 15th place. He was replaced by Argentine Mauricio Pochettino. Pochettino managed a one-place improvement, but more importantly achieved Premier League survival. Having maintained top-flight status the club look to continue building a new foundation. Southampton’s last period in the first tier lasted 27 seasons, and while that streak might not be matched this is a side that should at least stick around the Premier League for another season.
Newcastle United’s fall from grace over the past 5 years has been astronomical. They went from battling for European places in the Premier League to being relegated to the Championship. Although they enjoyed somewhat of a re-birth 2 seasons ago while qualifying for the Europa League, their play last season exemplified their true standing much better. After selling top scorer Demba Ba to Chelsea in January, Newcastle simply could not find a way to put in the ball in the net. They will rely heavily on the goal-scoring prowess of Papiss Cisse but it remains to be seen if he can carry the load for a full season.
Our opinions on Newcastle are not unique, and the boys in the black and white stripes are significantly lacking in terms of new additions at this point in the silly season. The acquisition of the embattled Loic Remy on loan from QPR may help, but it certainly wouldn’t seem to be enough.
After three successive years of crashing out in the Championship Play-offs, Cardiff City finally earned their promotion to the Premier League by passing over the fickle tournament completely, winning the league in a dominating fashion that isn’t really accurately reflected in their final 8 point margin. Cardiff were a force to be reckoned with in the Championship. They grabbed first place in Week 18 and never looked back, making promotion a foregone conclusion by the time spring rolled around. They’ve got a strong defensive foundation, led by captain Mark Hudson, and the midfield really makes the team go. Last season some old hands proved they still had some gas in the tank, as Craig Bellamy and Peter Whittingham combined for 15 assists. On paper, the Bluebirds appear to be the strongest candidate among the three promoted teams to stick around for a bit, and that’s not just because they are last year’s champions. They’ve got a strong mix of youth and experience, and more importantly, an owner who will be willing and able to invest in the club should the need arise this winter.
In terms of transfers, Cardiff have pinned their hopes to the two biggest acquisitions in team history; Defender Steven Caulker from Spurs, and Midfielder Gary Medel, the Chilean international with over 50 caps to his name, from Sevilla FC. Time will tell if these moves will pay off for Holloway and the boys.
Wilfried Zaha, the talented 20-year old from the Ivory Coast, helped lead the Eagles back to the Premier League, ending an eight year absence. Crystal Palace will have to fight in the top flight this season without their star forward however, as he will play for Manchester United this season who had purchased him during the 2012-13 campaign but had loaned him back to Palace for the remainder of the season.
At the helm of Crystal Palace is the 50-year old Englishman Ian Holloway, whose accomplishments include guiding QPR to a promotion to League One in 2003-04, Blackpool to promotion to the Premier League after winning the play ff in 2009-10, and now Crystal Palace this past season. Holloway will look to the 23-year old Englishman Dwight Gayle to replace Zaha as the top scorer, after making the move for Gayle from League One side Peterborough United back in early July. Gayle, who scored 13 goals in 29 appearances for Peterborough in 2012-13, will be joined by Spanish midfielder Jose Campana, who joins Crystal Palace from Sevilla where he made 20 appearances from 2011-13. Campana also captained Spain’s U-20 side this past summer in Turkey. Fans will also likely recognize the 40-year old Kevin Phillips, who rejoins Crystal Palace after being loaned to the Eagles this past season by Blackpool.
Aston Villa finished 16th last year, spending the majority of the campaign mired in a relegation battle, but some positive performances down the stretch kept their final match against Wigan Athletic from mattering. Christian Benteke was the breakout player of the season in the league, and his seemingly inevitable departure never happened. Now Villa have a valuable piece to build around in their quest to stay away from the bottom of the table.
Our Final Picks:
Dylan – Chelsea
Joe – Manchester United
Remaining Champions League places:
Dylan – Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur
Joe – Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal
Europa League automatic qualifier:
Dylan – Arsenal
Joe – Tottenham Hotspur
Three destined for relegation:
Dylan – Hull City, Southampton, Crystal Palace
Joe – Hull City, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa
EPL team most likely to win UEFA Champions League:
Dylan – Manchester United
Joe – Manchester United