By Sean Hartnett – August 16, 2013
We’re just one day away from the exciting kickoff of the 2013-14 Barclays Premier League campaign. I’ve carefully thought over who will be crowned champions and who will be relegated ahead what should be an enthralling new season.
Champions: Manchester City
Stability is the main reason why I feel Manchester City are favorites to win the 2013-14 Premier League. The atmosphere became too chaotic under previous boss Roberto Mancini. Newly-installed Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini will bring a fresh sense of calm to Eastlands.
City’s uber-rich Abu Dhabi Group owners deemed it necessary to sack their highly-successful Italian gaffer after Mancini failed to repeat his title-winning magic and disappointments in the Champions League, though his dressing room wars with key players may have proved a much larger factor.
Pellegrini squeezed the most he could out of Malaga all the way to the Champions League semifinals, where they were knocked out by Borussia Dortmund. He also achieved a respectable 6th place La Liga finish in the face of financial turmoil.
At City, Pellegrini will not encounter the same acrimony as his predecessor. This is partially due to outspoken characters like Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez now plying their trade in Italy.
Man City have a very strong spine that includes Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and striker extraordinaire Sergio Aguero. The City owners have once again broke open the piggy bank.
Adding Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Fernandinho to the mix really makes a deeply-talented City squad even deeper and there’s a healthy amount of competition for places.
City’s spending power combined with Pellegrini’s steady hand is why I think the Citizens will lift the Premier League trophy at season’s end.
Second Place: Chelsea
The Special One is back! Yet, I don’t think his squad is special enough to claim the Premier League title in his homecoming return to Stamford Bridge.
I don’t really see the marquee signing that can change the Chelsea’s title chances. Even if they pull off a Wayne Rooney transfer, I don’t see this changing a whole lot of the culture of a club that’s still reliant on the aging veteran core of Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and captain John Terry.
This doesn’t really seem like a Mourinho team on the surface. I think it’s going to take a few years for him to mold the squad in his own image. Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar do not strike me as the sort of players who mesh into Mourinho’s defensive tactics.
Still, Chelsea has plenty of talent and the presence of Mourinho alone will give the lads at the Bridge a real lift.
Third Place: Manchester United
When Sir Alex Ferguson departed in style by winning a 20th first division title, he handed the keys to the shiny Manchester United Mercedes to close friend David Moyes.
Filling Ferguson’s wide shoes will be a tremendous undertaking. I don’t think Moyes is cut out for the task. You don’t hire a friend, you hire the best man possible for the job. Ferguson certainly earned the right to name his successor — though Moyes is a curious appointment.
Moyes has focused most of energy on the pursuit of Barcelona star Cesc Fabregas. It appears that Fabregas is willing to fight for his place at Barca and has no interest in leaving Camp Nou. Moyes is struggling to offload the players he wants out, and is having an even more difficult time attracting fresh talent.
Outside of former Crystal Palace starlet Wilfried Zaha (who was Ferguson’s last signing), there aren’t many new faces at Old Trafford.
Moyes has a lot of questions to answer — most notably the future of England international Wayne Rooney. He’s inherited a deep, talented group from Ferguson. I’m not sold on Moyes keeping Fergie’s magic alive.
Fourth Place: Tottenham Hotspur
The big question obviously is whether key man Gareth Bale stays at White Hart Lane. Even if Bale goes to Real Madrid (for example), Spurs are solid group and have a bright manager in Andreas Villa-Boas at the helm.
Should Bale stay, Spurs are a lock for the top four. Key signing Roberto Soldado is a real, genuine goal-getter. He’s the type of poacher Tottenham have lacked over the years. I think he’s the missing piece and will make a big difference for Spurs.
Hugo Lloris is a top, top keeper. He’ll be far and away the best keeper in the entire Premier League this season.
Fifth Place: Liverpool
Suarez goes? Suarez stays? Looks like Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has won the nasty media battle, and Suarez appears set to begin the 2013-14 campaign at Anfield.
Rodgers has gone about building a team that plays eye-catching football. The Northern Irishman also has a real eye for a bargain in the transfer market. He’s done a top job of quickly putting together a team that plays his “tiki-taka” style.
Suarez serving the six-game remainder of his suspension could hurt Liverpool finding their feet early in the season. Hopes of a top-four place might be an over-optimistic target for the Reds.
I’m also concerned that although Liverpool can play stylish football, they are lacking in physical strength. They want to play the Barca style, but the Premier League places a large emphasis on pure strength and speed.
Rodgers is building a squad for the future. Philippe Coutinho will go on to be a major star. It will need to come together quickly for Liverpool if they are to break into the top four. They’ll need a bit of luck and inspirational captain Steven Gerrard must stay injury-free.
Sixth Place: Arsenal
Like Mourinho and Moyes, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has been chasing in vain after one star player. His pursuit of Luis Suarez has seen Arsenal miss out on a slew of top targets.
Unless Wenger is able to land Suarez — or another world-class star, Arsenal could be doomed to dip down the table in 2013-14. They desperately need a player to fill the void left by losing Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie in consecutive summers.
Arsenal needs a true leading man. They have a bunch of talented supporting cast members in Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott. Eventually, Jack Wilshere will be the man. His time will come, but that time isn’t now. Until then, Arsenal must acquire a player who strikes true fear into the opposition.
BEST OF THE REST
Seventh Place: Swansea City
Michael Laudrup has continued the positive football seen under previous boss Brendan Rodgers. The Swans smashed their transfer record to bring in striker Wilfried Bony. He could strike up a formidable partnership with last year’s sensational buy in Spanish forward Michu.
Laudrup is hoping that Arsene Wenger doesn’t raid his squad to land Michu and stalwart captain Ashley Williams. Provided they keep hold of their best players, Swansea could improve on their ninth-place finish.
Eighth Place: Everton
New manager Roberto Martinez is under pressure after filling the void left by beloved former boss David Moyes. Everton must hang on to stars Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines. Both are potential targets Moyes is tracking at Manchester United. The Toffees will struggle to finish in the top half should they need to replace either Baines or Fellaini.
Ninth Place: West Bromwich Albion
Losing Romelu Lukaku after his loan expired will certainly hurt The Baggies. Another ex-Chelsea forward, Nicolas Anelka should keep the goals flowing at the Hawthornes alongside powerful striker Shane Long.
Manager Steve Clarke’s squad isn’t made up of big names, but he’s proven his managerial acumen last season. I have them finishing one spot below their surprising eighth-place finish of last season.
Tenth Place: Norwich City
Norwich are suddenly spending big. The double capture of new strikers Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper is an interesting experiment of adding strikers from foreign leagues. Chris Hughton has laid down a solid foundation, and the Canaries should enjoy a solid 2013-14 campaign.
Eleventh Place: West Ham
Sam Allardyce doesn’t play attractive football. His style may not be a joy to watch, though it is effective. West Ham completed the least amount of passes of all Premier League teams last season. Adding Stewart Downing on the wing to feed crosses into Andy Carroll’s path did not work wonders at Liverpool. I don’t think the Hammers will repeat their 2012-13 success.
Twelve Place: Aston Villa
Aston Villa is everyone’s favorite to be the surprise team of the new season. Keeping hold of star striker Christian Benteke was huge for the Villans. Last season, Paul Lambert battled relegation in order for his young squad could build chemistry — and it will pay off in 2013-14. Villa had to take a step back to take a leap forward.
Thirteenth Place: Southampton
Southampton exceeded all expectations by finishing 14th last season. I see them finishing one place better this time around. Former Lyon defender Dejan Lovren and ex-Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama are tremendous additions. Gaston Ramirez, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert should continue to provide excitement in attack.
Fourteenth Place: Newcastle United
Harming Newcastle are concerns of a dressing room divide. The Magpies have largely invested in French talent. Many leading pundits are pondering whether Newcastle have the togetherness needed to avoid a relegation battle.
Loic Remy and Papiss Cisse will bag their share of goals. Newcastle must prove they aren’t a tumultuous bunch both in the dressing room and at the board room level. Director of football Joe Kinnear and manager Alan Pardew are likely to butt heads over the course of the season.
Fifteenth Place: Fulham
We’re still waiting on new American owner Shahid Khan to make a marquee signing. I’m not sold on Adel Taarabt being a talent that pushes the Cottagers forward. On-loan striker Darren Bent will have the chance to re-establish his striking credentials now that he’s freed from the Aston Villa bench.
Fulham is a largely average squad outside of Dimitar Berbatov. They won’t be dragged into the relegation fight, nor will they push into the top half.
Sixteenth Place: Cardiff City
Cardiff City has spent big this summer after their promotion. Out of the three promoted clubs, I think the Bluebirds have the best chance of staying up. Owner Vincent Tan has splashed the cash, breaking the club transfer record three times to lure Gary Medel, Andreas Cornelius and Steven Caulkner to the Welsh capital.
These additions, along with former Liverpool ace Craig Bellamy and exciting South Korean midfielder Kim Bo-Kyung will give the Bluebirds the push they need to retain their Premier League status.
Seventeenth Place: Stoke City
Stoke City’s owners decided to pull the plug on Tony Pulis, who safely guided The Potters to survival season after season. Mark Hughes is under pressure to improve on Pulis’ consistent reign.
I don’t think Stoke’s squad is built for what Hughes wants to accomplish at the Britannia Stadium. It will be a problem for Hughes to change the identity of a team that was known for a rugged style of play. I think Stoke will struggle to beat the drop. They’ll survive by an eyelash.
WHO WILL GET RELEGATED?
Eighteenth Place: Sunderland
It’s going to take more than in-form signing Jozy Altidore to keep the Black Cats up. Controversial manager Paolo Di Canio isn’t the issue here. Sunderland have a lot of holes to fill. Through no fault of his own, I expect Di Canio to be a favorite to be sacked early — unless he somehow inspires the Black Cats to play far beyond their abilities.
Nineteenth Place: Hull City
Steve Bruce worked wonders to get Hull City to finish second place, earning automatic promotion. He has his hands full at keeping the underdog Tigers in the Premier League.
There are some experienced heads in this Hull squad and a few emerging talents. Ex-Manchester United prospect Robbie Brady is a player to watch. I like the collective experience of this group — especially Tom Huddlestone, Maynor Figueroa and Abdoulaye Faye. Still, I’m betting on them to go down.
Twentieth Place: Crystal Palace
Without the spark of Wilfried Zaha, there’s not much reason to believe Crystal Palace can avoid the drop. Palace largely lacks experience, and they’re without reliable strikers. Inconsistent Marouane Chamakh and 40-year-old Kevin Phillips won’t score enough goals to keep the Eagles in the top flight.
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