If you’ve read this blog on a regular basis, you’ll know I’m the resident soccer fan here, and an ardent supporter of Chelsea FC. Last years second half collapse in the EPL, followed by our shocking exit from the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona was a tough 3 months for Blues fans to endure. Before the offseason had even really begun, Chelsea’s swoop of Carlo Ancelotti seemed like the perfect transition from Guus Hiddink…With Manchester United loosing Ronaldo and Tevez the stage seemed relatively set for Chelsea to reclaim its title as the best team in England.
Fast-forward to December 1st , after four months of results, Chelsea fans were bullish that the season was shaping up to be one of the most successful in club history. Easy Champions League qualifications and massive wins over Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal made Chelsea seem almost invincible. Two weeks later Chelsea head into……..(shall I really say it? Okay here it goes)…..a must win game against Everton to stem the tide of three miserable results. A 3-3 tie with Blackburn, a 2-1 loss to Manchester City, and a hapless high scoring 2-2 draw at home against Apoel Nicosia was a flood of goals and equally bad results. Is this the opening for Manchester United was waiting to exploit? Is the loss of form a flash back to the rein of Luiz Felipe Scolari and his sudden turn of fortune in 2007?
Sure maybe I’m totally panicking for no reason, three games in a row in such a long season is nothing, right? I’m not so sure……..
I’ll argue that this weekends match against Everton is a must win affair not because three points are simply at stake, but because Chelsea’s next 7 EPL opponents are equally as bad if not worse (Burnley, Portsmouth, Hull, Birmingham twice, Sunderland, West Ham). Getting three points this Saturday sets up a run of opponents we should being taking maximum points from, dropping points at the start to a depleted Everton team would make it officia, Chelsea are in trouble.
In the end however, Look for Chelsea to win 3-0 this Saturday, as well as take 25 points out of a possible 27 over there next 9 games…..United better be spot on…Chelsea aren’t going anywhere!
Portsmouth vs. Everton
When Soccernet of all publications, is breaking stories about you and labeling your club “in disarray, crisis stricken, being on the brink of bankruptcy,” you know things can’t get much worse. Despite a recent takeover, Portsmouth would appear to be on the cusp of extinction in some various form or another. These internal club issues never equate to a settled locker room, and you can be sure David Moyes and company are looking to take full advantage, and snap up 3 points at Fratton Park. Everton come into this game having finally found there footing in recent matches , while Portsmouth are deseverldy at the bottom of the EPL.
Everton 3 – Pompey 0
Blackburn Rovers vs. Aston Villa
Although the Premier League season has just begun, Blackburn can’t be happy with the start they have made. Rover’s will be remiss to have only 4 points to date, and stuck in 18th. Villa meanwhile, with European ambitions squarely on there radar for them this season should so far be content with 12 points sitting in 5th. With a Healthy Heskey and Ashley Cole returning from injury, Villa will be expecting 3 more points from this game, but a road game at Ewood Park is never easy.
Villa 2 – Blackburn 1
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Burnley
Spurs hot start to the season should leave many fans exited about the prospects of European football . However, to accomplish anything of the sort this season, Tottenham must win games like this against bottom half clubs. Burnley, whose early season highlight was a shock win over Manchester United, must right the ship when playing on the road. There form is dour when traveling, and they are still looking for a point away from home. With question marks surrounding Tottenhams backline, Burnley may have a chance to sneak out a result.
Spurs 1 – Burnley 1
Birmingham City vs. Bolton Wanderers
Birmingham always faced an uphill battle to stave off relegation this season, and a quick 7 points to start the season should give ample hope to City fans that reaching the all important 40pts is achievable. Bolton meanwhile may finally be facing the relegation dance they’ve been lucky to avoid in seasons past. I’ve always believed Bolton have over achieved in past campaigns, and avoiding relegation issues with the type of talent they put out on the pitch has been an accomplishment byself. I think this is there season of reckoning.
Birmingham 1 – Bolton 0
Wigan’s early season results can be described as lifeless at best. A horrific loss to Wolves, a beat down by Manchester United, a comprehensive Carling Cup loss to Championship side Blackpool, and another drubbing at the hands of Arsenal will not leave Wigan in the best of moods witch Chelsea coming to town. The Blues sport a maximum 18 points, with a crisp flowing form that should lend itself to an easy victory. Having said that, it was games like this that derailed Chelseas title push last year and Carlo Ancellotti will be looking to avoid any similar slip ups. A missing Drogba should have little impact on the outcome of this match.
Chelsea 2 – Wigan 0
Fulham vs. Arsenal
My upset pick of the week (yeah maybe I’m crazy), and a match I just have a hunch about. Arsenal love to impress and leave you depressed on any given match day. With a London derby at hand, I have a sneaking feeling Fulham get a result. Such a feeling runs completely counter to the form that each club has going at the moment, so I may look foolish for this. Arsenal lead the league in goals scored, and Fulham have been struggling to find any consistent goal scorer. Shock result or not, this isn’t going to be any sort of classic.
Fulham 2 – Arsenal 1
Stoke City vs. Manchester United
Recent reinforcements not withstanding, Stoke face a massive test with Manchester United coming to town. Stoke fans should have little optimism about getting any sort of result from this matchup, and maybe just be happy to avoid it getting out of hand. It won’t help that the Trotters will be without there starting front two of Fuller and Beattie who are out with ankle injuries. United coming off a spectacular Manchester derby, will be looking to get out of the gates early, and take the game to the opposition. This is over in the first 30 minutes.
United 4 – Stoke 1
Manchester City vs. West Ham
A question that has been asked a million times, and one that is so interesting its worth mentioning a million more is ‘what are City going to do when there 6 strikers are healthy’? The number of 1st team forwards is crazyand by my count five of them will fully expect to be starting each week. Yikes! Anyhow, on to the game at hand. I wish I could go out on a limb and pick West Ham to get a result of some kind in this math. But alas, I just don’t see anything of the sort happening. City boast far too much class in midfield, and upfront with Bellamy and Tevez for West Ham to cope. Zola who spent much of the off season looking for reinforcements on a shoe string budget and was rather unsuccessful in the process. That failure is starting showing with results on the pitch.
Manchester City 3 – West Ham 1
Liverpool vs. Hull City
Snooze alert…..snooze alert! I don’t know what it is about this matchup but this just reeks of a dour game for some reason. American football fans will take interest however with Jozy Altidore playing up front for Hull. U.S. fans having been hoping for more young Americans like Jozy to get world exposure and 1st team playing time against top European clubs, and this is a unique opportunity to watch just that. Hull unfortunately, doesn’t offer up much more to watch. Liverpool will be looking to take an easy 3 points in this game. It must said however, is anything easy for Liverpool though these days? Something tells me a ultra defensive Hull makes this a boring game to watch.
Liverpool 1 – Hull 0
Sunderland vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wow, how little do I care about this one….?
Sunderland 3 – Wolves 1
Two weeks into the new Premier League season: One win, two losses, five goals scored, six conceded, & three measly points. A start like that is enough to shake the confidence of the stoutest of Liverpool fans. After last seasons flirtation with an EPL title, Liverpool seemed poised to take the last step to the top of English football, thus far it’s been two very big steps back.
In the two losses against Tottenham and Aston Villa, Liverpool lacked cohesion and confidence that has been a trade mark of their football most notably seen in Europe under Rafa. Strong commitment, pressure on the ball, creativity moving up the pitch, and confidence in the back has been lacking. Its usual stars not withstanding, Pool have been bleak. The two most note worthy suspects who would seem to encompass all of Liverpool’s ills are Lucas and Martin Skertel. In three games since taking over for Alonso in the middle of the park, Lucas has tallied up more own goals then Goals scored and assists combined….he also leads the squad in fouls committed, the most notorious of which lead to an immediate own goal of his . Skertel meanwhile he been devoid of any presence in the back, slow of place, heavy touches and lack of positioning has been noticeable. Monday’s loss to Aston Villa however was a team effort, far to many passes were errant, set piece marking was horrendous by all, even Steven Gerrard chipped in with a clumsy challenge that was an easy penalty call.
It’s far too early for Rafa and company to sound the alarm, Liverpool has three very winnable games ahead of them, nine points against Bolton, Burnley, and West Ham would quickly right the ship. But a quick return to the basics is needed, a solidifying of tactics, and some defensive touch ups maybe all that is needed.
The margin for error however is getting smaller by the week.
With less then a week remaining before the start of the new English Premier League season, I figured there is no better time to throw some questions out on the table to discuss. It’s been some time since the EPL has had so many different story lines taking place all at one time, and mainly concerning transfer activity. And for once teams seemingly are downgrading (maybe staying stagnate at best) instead of upgrading with new talent (minus Manchester City of course).
Question # 1: Who is the front runner to win the Premier League this season?
Currently I don’t see a change to the top three clubs of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool. All three teams have either stood pat, or have had to accept unreal transfer bids for a few of there star players (Ronaldo, Alonso, and Tevez being the most prominent names). One thing we are not accustomed to seeing are these three giants of the Premier League not being active buyers on the transfer market. Manchester United has made some small purchases but nothing you would consider extremely note worthy, and Chelsea’s lone purchase of Yuri Zhirkov only figures to be a squad player at this point. None the less, the essence of each squad is still fully in tact and a United, Chelsea, Pool finish in that order seems to be in the cards yet again this season.
Question # 2: What will Manchester City accomplish this year?
Win the FA Cup? Win the League Cup? Something tells me those two competitions aren’t on the radar….Having spent well over 100 million pounds in the transfer market and scooping up such well know players such as Gareth Barry, Kolo Toure, Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Tevez, and Adebayor, Manchester City’s single and massively important target this season is to displace one of the big four, and qualify for the Champions League. Anything less will certainly been seen as a total failure, and cost manger Mark Hughes his job in the process. Now the real question, can they do it? Initially, my impression is no. Aston Villa, Everton, and Tottenham all seem to be improving clubs that should provide ample road blocks to City’s quest. Arsenal, although not active in the transfer market still holds the majority of its young squad in tact, and maybe most importantly still has Arsene Wenger at the helm. Manchester City’s transfer activity can’t be underestimated however,if that squad gels early in the season, and Hughes keeps his players happy with playing time, Arsenal could be the odd team out heading into next seasons Champions League draw…….Only time will tell.
Question #3: Can Chelsea win the Premier League this season?
(First off, a small confession here before I go on any further. I’m a life long Chelsea fan, and must disclose my bias to anybody reading this before hand!)
Of course they can, why not? United hasn’t gotten any better, and Liverpool seems to be unloading more of their stars with each passing day (and getting richer in the process). Meanwhile Chelsea by and large has stood pat, content to roll into next season with the same squad, a fact that I believe to be very understated heading into the season. A healthy Ricardo Carvalho will also feel like a new transfer after his injury plagued campaign last season (and stop you’re bitching were not selling you to Inter this season). Additionally, judging by the early preseason tour in the United States, Carlos Ancelotti has made a seamless transition at the club. Ancelotti is a master tactician, which will be essential in the battle to over haul a confident United squad. In the end however, I believe Chelsea will most likely come up short. It’s been well documented that Roman Abramovich’s single most important goal for Chelsea is too finally (and Chelsea fans understand the word FINALLY) win the Champions League. I have a sneaking suspicion that ultimately, this quest for European glory will cost Chelsea something domestically in the process.
Question # 4: Who makes the relegation radar to start the EPL season?
Early season favorites for relegation in the Premier League are always the three teams coming up from the Championship. I don’t think many people could make a convincing case for Wolves, Burnley, or Birmingham to stay up before a ball has even been kicked this season. Stoke City and Hull have also done little this summer to convince me that the cross hairs of the drop aren’t centered squarely on them. A few other surprise contenders make my list for relegation watch: Portsmouth and Bolton. With Portsmouth in “sell for survival” mode with their entire squad, they seem to be an ideal candidate heading into the new season. I don’t know what to say about Bolton, every year I feel like the talent they run out on the pitch should get them relegated. But some how they find ways to grind out results, get their 40 plus golden pts, and escape.
Question #5: Who will be the biggest surprise in the EPL this season?
I know Tottenham is considered one of the bigger clubs in England; however recent results in the league have been anything but impressive. Last year’s flirtation with relegation in the beginning of the season being perhaps the most illustrative. With Harry Rednapp in firm control at White Hart Lane, and several miscast characters exiting late last yearand during the summer I have a feeling this might be a good year for the Spurs. So, what would qualify as a major surprise for this club? I’ll go on record and predict a 6th place finish, and a return to Europe.