Premier League Preview - Part 1

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Very sorry that there hasn't been much posting on here over the last week, but I have been busy working on my preview for the season ahead. Today I will take a look at the first 10 teams, from Arsenal to Hull. Enjoy.

Arsenal

It’s not how you start, its how you finish, that maybe something you hear Noel Edmonds say daily on Deal or No Deal, but it was very much true to Arsenal last season. After a poor start to last year’s campaign the Gunners managed to go on a 21 game unbeaten run, which saw them climb their way up the table to their usual 4th place, along with reaching FA Cup and Champions League Semi-Finals. Only to be beaten in both cases. Meaning another trophyless season for the Londoners.

This summer has seen another two key players leave Arsenal, with Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor to moneybags Manchester City. They have received £40million in fees from those transfers, but have only brought in one new player, defender Thomas Vermaelen from Ajax.

Despite losing Toure and Adebayor, Arsenal still have a squad that contains Andrey Arshavin and Cesc Fabregas and with youth players like Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsay shining in pre-season, means Wenger’s young squad could be a dark horse.

The fans are now frustrated with Wenger’s dealings in the transfer market, considering that all the players from the 2003-04 ‘Invincibles’ era have gone on to pastures new. There was a stage last season when the fans even called for Wenger’s head. They will want a trophy this season, having not won anything since the FA Cup in 2005, failure to do so could mean Wenger the Gunner, could become Wenger the Gonner.

Their best hope is a good cup run, certainly not strong enough to win the League.

Touchline Views Prediction: 4th


Aston Villa

He may have been passed over for the England job, but that didn’t matter to Martin O’Neill having now built his very only squad of home-grown talent at Villa Park.

The Irishman who has led Villa to two sixth place finishes in the last two seasons, but after losing key players this summer can he manage to do it for a third time?

Having lost, (or said good riddance) to Gareth Barry, O’Neill replaced him with the Stewart Downing from relegated Middleborough, but will be without the midfielder until Christmas due to injury. He has also added promising teen Fabien Delph, taking his total of players who can play for England to 14.

This season Villa will be looking avoid a repeat performance of the mid-season slump that they encountered in the absence of Martin Laursen who has since retired. The current squad still looks to be a bit threadbare, and is something that will have to be addressed. Villa used just 21 players last season, the joint-lowest in the Premier League, and is a key reason why the failed in their challenge of a Champions League spot.

With the Manchester City juggernaut in their rear-view mirror, this could be the first time Villa disimproves under O’Neill.

Touchline Views Prediction: 8th

Birmingham City


After one season away, Birmingham City are back and raring to go under manager Alex McLeish. Since 2002 they’ve won three promotions to the Premier League and twice been relegated. Their main aim for this season will be securing their Premier League status.

McLeish has spent almost £20million on new players for the season ahead, breaking the club transfer record for Columbian striker Christian Benitez, at £7.7million. Mixed with experienced players who have Premier League pedigree such as Lee Bowyer, James McFadden, Lee Carsley and Stephen Carr, City certainly seem to have the winning formula to stay up.

Two key issues that will need to be addressed is scoring at one end of the field, and keeping them out at the other. Relegated Norwich scored more goals in the Championship than Birmingham. Also when they last appeared in the Premier League 2 years ago they only managed 2 clean sheets out of 38 games.

The pressure will be on former Rangers boss McLeish, having come under fire many times last season from managing director Karren Brady, and with a trip to Manchester United first up, no wonder the Scot is one of the favourites to be first sacked this season.

I wouldn’t be surprised if McLeish is not in charge come the end of the season, depending on if the results don’t go his way. If he secures their safety then he can look forward to another season in the top-flight.

Touchline Views Prediction: 16th

Blackburn


Since arriving back in the Premier League back in 2001, Blackburn has been a rollercoaster team providing more ups and downs than Jordan and Peter Andre’s relationship. From the highs of 6th place, right down to the lows of last season’s 15th Blackburn could be now back on the up under Big Sam Allardyce.

After poor results under rookie manager Paul Ince, Blackburn were lying in 19th place, and were in danger of becoming embroiled in a relegation battle. Enter Sam Allardyce. Ince was sacked before Christmas, and Big Sam in his place and in his 26 games in charge Blackburn managed not to lose in 18 of those games.

During the close season they may have lost the highly talented Roque Santa Cruz, but they have gained £17.5million from his sale, which Allardyce has spent wisely.

Having failed to score in 15 of their 38 Premier League games last term, Rovers have brought in two new strikers, Franco Di Santo on loan from Chelsea, and Nikola Kalinic from Hajduk Split.
Blackburn are a very similar side to Bolton, Allardyce’s former club, where he managed to keep them above the top 10 for 4 seasons, along with leading them to the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history. I can see him replicating that success with Rovers.

First up for them is Manchester City, who have former Blackburn legend Mark Hughes at the helm, this will be a crucial game for Rovers. If they start as they mean to go on, October might not look so bad where they face 3 of the top 4. A bad start and they might just be back to where they started last season. However I don’t think that will happen.

A top 10 finish is what they should be aiming for.

Touchline Views Prediction: 10th

Bolton Wanderers


Quite clearly Gary Megson is not Sam Allardyce, and the fans made that known on numerous occasions last season. Bolton enjoyed a great deal of success under Allardyce, but since he has left they have battled with mid-table mediocrity and relegation.

Last season Bolton had a squad that was thin on the ground, like Villa, using only 21 first team players. They have been busy in the transfer market bringing in Zat Knight, Sam Ricketts, Sean Davis and Paul Robinson, all experienced players in their own right.

Finishing below last season’s 13th, could mark the end of Megson’s reign at the Reebok. He managed to keep Bolton up last season, despite his rocky relations with the fans. When he took over in 2007, the Trotters were a sinking ship, and were on their way back to the Championship, surely saving them has changed their opinion? Obviously not.

He will still have to justify his acquisition of record signing Johan Elmander, who only managed to score 5 of Bolton’s dismal 41 goals last term.

No return to European football just yet, but an improvement on last season.

Touchline Views Prediction: 12th

Burnley


After 33 years away, Burnley are back becoming the 43rd team to play in the Premier League. However there are fears that they may surpass Derby’s record-breakingly bad season of 2007-08.

They hail from the smallest town to feature in the Premier League, (8,500pop.), had the smallest average home attendance, (13,000), and had the smallest group of players in the Championship (23).

Despite those grim statistics Burnley have got experience against Premier League opposition. Last season saw them reach the League Cup Semi-Final’s, as well as the 5th Round of the FA Cup. In those fantastic cup runs, they saw off Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Fulham and West Brom, which is no mean feat.

Many people wrote off Hull’s chances last season, so Burnley could well be a surprise package for the year ahead. But there is a bit of a romantic air about their Premier League appearance.

Perhaps the Claret’s biggest gain in the close season is keeping manager Owen Coyle. Celtic were interested in the man whose previously managed in Scotland at Falkirk and St. Johnstone, however he opted to sign a new contract at Turf Moor instead.

I am hopeful about Burnley, they could become involved in a relegation battle, but they should do enough to stay up. Last season’s cup run will have given them the much needed experience for the year ahead.

Touchline Views Prediction: 17th


Chelsea


Another season, another new manager takes charge at Stamford Bridge. Carlo Ancelotti becomes Chelsea’s sixth manager since owner Roman Abramovich took control of the London side in 2003.

Ancelotti is certainly a man accustomed to success, having won 3 Serie A titles, and 2 European Cup’s as a player and 1 title and 2 Champions League’s as a manager.

Chelsea has appointed a Champions League winning manager before, and look what he did. Back-to-back Premier League titles, and while they have been successful at home, it’s been a failure in Europe. 2008 saw them reach the Champions League final only to lose on penalties, while last season saw them beaten by eventual winners Barcelona in that highly controversial semi-final.

They will be looking to Ancelotti to finally bring home the Holy Grail to Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool have lost Alonso, United have lost Ronaldo, and Arsenal, Adebayor, but Chelsea are unique, they’ve lost nobody, if anything they have gained.

Mr. Chelsea, John Terry who was subject to a cheeky bid from Man City, only to flirt outrageously with them before deciding his loyalty lies at Stamford Bridge. They’ve brought in Yuri Zhirkov from CSKA Moscow to add to their already powerful midfield.

How will Ancelotti cope coaching outside Italy for the first time? Very well I think, he’s got a strong squad, they might be ageing but they’ve still got the hunger and desire. First blood has gone to Chelsea, having already won the Community Shield last weekend, beating Manchester United on penalties.

Chelsea will challenge on all fronts this season, but failure to win the Premier League and Champions League and we could be saying arrivederci to Ancelotti. They will just have to settle for second best this season.

Touchline Views Prediction: Runners-up

Everton


Here is an interesting stat, since the 2004-05 season no team has broken into the top 4 of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. The team last to do so was Everton.

Since then they have come tantalisingly close, finishing 5th in successive seasons, along with an FA Cup Final appearance last term.

What Everton lack is a capable and proven goalscorer, with no striker scoring more than 20 league goals in 23 years at the club. In contrast their defence has proved to be impenetrable, racking up a new club record of 17 clean sheets last season.

David Moyes has been at the helm for eight years now, and has established both himself and Everton as a major force in the Premier League. His name has been thrown into the ring as a successor to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

He has turned Everton from relegation strugglers, into a top 6 club during his reign, and he has done it on a limited budget. Moyes gets the best out of his players, but they lack the pedigree needed to crack the top 4.

Another consistent season from the Toffees, but they will have to watch out; Manchester City will be hot on their tail.

Touchline Views Prediction: 5th

Fulham


What a difference a year makes. 2 years ago Fulham pulled off the great escape, and a year later finish 7th place taking a well earned place in the inaugural Europa League.

Their success story is down to one man, Roy Hodgson. After managing in six different countries Hodgson comes back to England saves Fulham from relegation and leads them to their best ever finish in the Premier League.

Hodgson has crafted a defensive nucleus worth of a Top 4 side, only conceding 34 goals, held together by Aussie Number 1 Mark Schwarzer, who saved 80% of all shots on target last season, and the towering 6ft 4in Brede Hangerland in central defence.

The future looks bright for the season ahead, however they will need to discover some consistency in front of goal, scoring only 39 goals in 38 games, less than relegated Newcastle.
They may not have found consistency in front of the net, but what Hodgson has done is built a team with limited funds, and minimum fuss. He certainly found the right formula, fielding the same starting XI 20 times last season.

Fulham have showed they are no pushovers having beat Manchester United and Arsenal last season, and drawing against Liverpool.

If they find form and start bagging goals, they might just grab a second European place, but I think they could be just a one trick pony.

Touchline Views Prediction: 9th

Hull City


Everybody wrote off Hull City’s chances of survival last season, and when after 9 games they had taken 20 points out of 27 it looked like we were all wrong. But instead of going forward, Hull went three steps back, taking only 15points from their last 29 games, finishing the season on 35 points. Avoid relegation on the last day of the season.

The statistic that perma-tanned Phil Brown will be clinging to is only 4 teams since the Premier League began in 1992 have gone down in their second season.

Unfortunately for Hull, they look set to become the fifth. Their Premier League form is woeful, failing to win any of their last 10 games, conceding 64 goals in the season, and finishing on a goal difference of minus 25.

The idea of Phil Brown singing on the pitch at the end of the season is enough motivation for Hull to do better this time round. It’s also why Brown is a decent bet to be the first manager sacked this season.

While most people see him as a bit of a joker, he has down some really good deals in the transfer market. Brown has signed American international Jozy Altidore on loan from Villarreal and Stephen Hunt from Reading to name but a few.

However, I don’t see much hope for Hull, and they most definitely will suffer second season syndrome.

Touchline Views Prediction: 19th

PART 2 - Liverpool - Wolves - TOMORROW.

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Touchline Views

This is a football blog by Ian Walsh, covering all aspects of the game - from the Premier League and La Liga to the slightly mental football stories we all love.

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