Exciting time! The English Premier League starts tomorrow, so before I get into my fantasy league review, I thought I would give you a nice little preview of this year's English Premier League. It's always a bit premature to make any predictions before the end of the transfer window at the end of the month, but all give it a try anyways.
1. Chelsea – This pick may be a bit of a surprise, but I like Chelsea. They have only added a few role players, but that is what they need. You shouldn’t take too much stock in the preseason, but Chelsea has looked pretty good. Drogba seems ready and committed, Anelka looks like a video game player, and Lampard and Terry are always more than solid. I look for Chelsea to continue their Hiddink form under Ancelotti. They will get back Ricardo Carvalho and Joe Cole, both who missed much of last season due to injury.
Player to watch: Ivanovic – This young kid looks pretty solid. He can play in the central or on the wing and may soon take the place of Bosingwa
2. Manchester United – Champions for the past 3 years will now have questions with the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez. Still an amazing team capable of winning the league and the Champion’s League. Look for Rooney to step up and for Berbatov to have a much better season than last. Defense and ‘keeper (once Van der Sar is back) are the best in the league. What also sets Man U apart is its array of young talent. You have Jonny Evans, Rafael, his brother, and a few young strikers who are ready to step in and perform at a high level on any given day. Carrick is a stud in midfield who makes things happen and watching Michael Owen will certainly be interesting.
Player to watch: Vidic – An amazing defender, in the Premier League Top XI if you ask me. This guy defends and scores on set pieces, definitely has over taken Rio Ferdinand as the heart of the Man U defense
3. Liverpool – Lots of hype for Liverpool in the last few years. They were very close last season, but their away woes, especially against lower level teams have really prevented them from taking the top spot. One could argue that they have the best striker (Torres), best midfielder (Gerrard), and best keeper (Reina), but I still do not think they have enough depth to take the title. Their defense, always impressive, is very much based on a strong team aspect, rather than individual brilliance you see from other top teams, but the constant changing of the starting XI, similar to Ranieri a while ago at Chelsea, could cause inconsistency.
Player to watch: Beneyoun – This guy always seems to pop up in the right place at the right time. Constant motor, big game player
4. Manchester City –
I think it is time, for the first time since 2005, for a new team to enter the top 4. No more “big four”. I was skeptical of Man City last year. The sprayed a lot of money all over the place, but not that wisely. This summer was a different story. They obtained proven Premier League players – Tevez, Adebayor, Toure, Barry, Santa Cruz. I think Barry will be the key, holding things down in the middle, distributing to all the strikers and goal scorers. Too many stars? Could be a problem. And I see the defense preventing them from seriously challenging for the title.
Player to Watch: Tevez – let’s see if he can return to his West Ham dominance.
5. Arsenal – I can’t remember years when multiple top teams – Man U, Arsenal, Villa – seemingly got worse, losing players and not really buying any top notch replacements. Arsenal have lost two of their top players – Toure and Adebayor – and should again be marked by the inconsistency that plagued them last season and saw them barely manage 4th place. They still have loads of young talented, fun to watch players – Fabregas, Arshavin, Van Persie, Walcott – but I believe they do not have the toughness to maintain their champions league spot.
Player to watch: Arshavin – Eduardo – Croatian Sensation. Only played a few games last year, but if healthy, watch for him to score loads of goals as he does for Croatia.
6. Tottenham – It seems like every year Tottenham spend lots of money and have aspirations to challenge the top four and end up being utterly disappointing. I hate to say it but I think Harry Redknapp is finally shifting the Spurs in the correct directions. 4 solid strikers with the addition of Peter Crouch. A strong midfield with Modric and Lennon playing well. And the defensive woes that plagued them during the first half of last season seemed to be righted as well. Again I am looking at the form of the end of last season, so I see the Spurs taking 6th
Player to watch: Aaron Lennon – this kid is sick. So much speed down the wing
7. Everton – I hate to say this, as most of my readers know Everton are my team, but Everton have added little this summer except for a bit more audaciousness to their hair. Save maybe Hibbert, the first choice starting 11 is as solid as any. Everton are definitely a TEAM, all playing equally well and equally hard with a tremendous work ethic instilled by manager David Moyes. But lack of depth and injuries from last campaign will see Everton start very slowly, much like last year. Starting without Arteta and Jagielka will hurt. I hope to see a hungry Yak as usually, but missing 10 months is a long time. Lescott will not leave. Baines is stepping it up and hopefully Yak, Jo, and Saha can put some goals in the net.
Player to Watch: Pienaar – Stephen Pienaar was on fire at the end of last year, providing the allusive playmaker the Toffees needed. He continued this great play in the Confederations Cup, so look for another exciting season for Pienaar
8. Aston Villa – They challenged for the top four for much of last year, but the loss of Barry and Laursen will hurt a lot. Great attacking options – Heskey, Carew, Young, Agbonlahor, Milner – but not a great goal scoring team, seem to falter in the big games. You got to love two American goalies, but defense is a big question mark. I don’t see the same success as last year.
Player to watch: Ashley Young – another great young attacking winger. Will he keep newboy Downing out of the lineup?
9. Fulham - Fulham definitely over-achieved last year and should enjoy their European football while it lasts. Defense keeps them in most games and often times they only need one goal to take the three points. Solid mid-table team
Player to watch – Mark Schwarzer – one of the best ‘keepers in the world
10. Sunderland- Look for Steve Bruce to turn Sunderland into a dependable mid-table side. Two nice new additions with Darren Bent, who seems to score everywhere he goes no matter how much playing time or if the coach likes him or not, and U-21 midfielder Lee Cattermole. Nothing special really, flying the flag for the Northwest now, and shouldn’t need to sweat it out on the final day of the season.
Player to watch: Kenwyne Jones – This Trinidadin has strength, pace, and quality in the air and solid dreds.
11. West Ham – I’m not buying all the Zola hype. I see average defense, and average midfield, and an average at best strikeforce. There is a lot of excitement at Upton Park, but I’m not really sure why.
Player to watch: hmm, it will be fun to see how many matches Dean Ashton plays
12. Bolton - The mediocrity continues. Bolton are solid. They play route 1 football with Kevin Davies up top and have an adequate back line with the addition of Zat Knight, but are really lacking in the midfield. Nothing too exciting, but with the second half of the league so poor, should really not be in the relegation fight.
Player to watch – Matthew Taylor – this guy scores lots of quality goals.
13. Stoke – Defied many by staying up rather easy last season and finishing 12th. Similar to Everton before Moyes sans Big Dunc – hard work, route 1 football, strong workmen in the midfield and solid D. Beattie and Fuller are quality strikers.
Player to watch – Rory Delap – he makes throw-ins exciting!
14. Birmingham – This team has a enough Premiership rejects – Lee Carsley, Lee Bowyer, Marcus Bent, Kevin Phillips, James McFadden, Stephen Carr, Stuart Parnaby, Franck Queudrue, Liam Ridgewell – to field an entire side. That should be enough to stay up.
Player to watch: Barry Ferguson – watch for profane hand signs from the sideline
15. Blackburn – Wow, pretty unremarkable here. Decent in a few spots with Gamst Pedersen and McCarthy, but lacking flair and play making overall. Can’t even tell you who starts in the midfield. Look for the Rovers to remain in the relegation fight the entire season.
Player to watch: Christopher Samba – he is a massive man at the center of the D, but also gets the occasion start up top when changes are needed
16. Wigan – Each year I expect Wigan to be relegated, but they over perform and are usually not even in the discussion. I expect them to be in the discussion, but I see their defense and ‘keeper to allow them to stay in the Premier League for another season.
Player to Watch: Jason Scotland - 2nd leading scorer in the Championship last year oh, and Titus Bramble. Will he get more goals or own goals? Tough one.
17. Portsmouth – Many of the experts are picking Pompey to go down. I think they will be very close, selling top striker Peter Crouch and top defender and midfielder Glen Johnson. But that money is going to debts, not to bettering the squad. Goals will be very, very tough to come by. Look for the veteran, albeit slow and old back line of David James, Sol Campbell, and Sylvan Distan to keep them up.
Player to Watch: Piquionne – Goals need to come from somewhere and this could be the source
18. Burnley – I don’t know much about Burnley. They could be like last year’s Stoke or last year’s West Brom. I don’t think they have enough class to stay up
19. Wolves – Wolves start the year at the bottom of the table (last alphabetically). Will they end there? It’s a distinct possibility. They are hoping they will fair better than their previous and only time in the Premiership, 2003-2004, finishing dead last.
Player to watch: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake
20. Hull City –
Only once this decade has the team that finished 17th the previous year been relegated. Look for Hull to pull a West Brom and be the second. I just don’t see a strong enough side. In fact, the team was rather dreadful the final 5 months. Hopefully Jozy Altidore will get some much need playing time.
Player to Watch: Jozy