13 August 2008
Well I first off would like to say what a joy it's been for writing these previews. But alas they must come to an end and tonight I conclude with the final four teams. If you've read up until now, you know I see the big four ending in the top four spots. So how do I see it playing out, let's take a look.
Number 4: Chelsea
Biggest Ins: Deco (can play on the left or in the central midfield, though more comfortable on the left), Jose Bosingwa (someone who is expected to be the season long starter at right back).
Biggest Outs: Claude Makelele (even at his age, could control the midfield and is still an excellent holding midfielder).
Toughest Month: January. Two road matches against the big four sandwiched between two very winnable home games. The start the month at Old Trafford and end the month at Anfield, but their two home games in between see them play Stoke City and Middlesbrough. Oh and let's also not forget about the FA Cup Third Round.
Easiest Month: February. Host Hull City and Wigan Athletic between a road trip to Aston Villa.
Five Questions I Have With Chelsea
1) Can their forwards stay healthy for an entire season? To add to that, do they have a season long right midfielder on their squad? This side was injured a lot last season and need to stay healthy to have any prayer of pushing for the title. I know some of the issues last season also have to do with the African Cup of Nations, but injuries hurt them as well.
2) How does this side adjust to the tactics of Luis Felipe Scolari and will Scolari be able to adapt to the schedule of a club side after so many years at the international level?
3) Is Chelsea's midfield the narrowest midfield in the Premier League? Can Florent Malouda be successful out wide and can Shaun Wright-Phillips be effective on the other wing?
4) Will Chelsea be able to close out wins and not see them turn into draws? It was borderline on ridiculous to see how games would end for Chelsea last season, they have to hold off opposition late if they want a chance to think about the title.
5) How will Petr Cech's mental makeup be after the shocker from Euro 2008?
My Ultimate Reality: This is one loaded squad and I personally feel they will be held back by Scolari and his tactics. Everyone who knows me knows I bleed Chelsea through and through. However I have been very outspoken of his hiring since day one. I think his tactics will end up proving too rigid and are well beyond their sell by date. The one thing that has me concerned about this team is the number of games they have played over the course of the last few years. I think that is what is going to undue them this season. I'm expecting a season of frustration, and I surely hope I'm wrong because as a fan I will not like being a part of it.
Number 3: Arsenal
Biggest Ins: Samir Nasri (Can play anywhere in the midfield and be effective in doing so and can also play up front).
Biggest Outs: Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini (key contributors in the midfield).
Toughest Month: May. Probably the toughest close to the season, and that's with hosting Stoke City at the end of it. They start out at Portsmouth before hosting Chelsea. If that isn't enough, they have a trip to Manchester United on the second to last weekend of the season.
Easiest Month: August. Host West Brom before going to Fulham. They end the month hosting Newcastle United.
Five Questions I Have With Arsenal
1) If Eduardo Da Silva returns this season, how effective will he be? I say he ought to stay out until he is 100 percent certain he can go all out and rushing back could cost him some of his quality of life later on.
2) Is the injury bug going to hit them like it seems to have already hit them before the season begins? Fabregas and Senderos have tweaked hamstrings, Kolo Toure has a hip injury, Diabi is working through a thigh problem and Nasri is trying to get over a little knee knock. While Nasri and Toure should be okay for the season opener, it's going to be these little injuries that could cost them over the whole of the season.
3) Will Theo Walcott rise to the expectations Arsene Wenger has put out for him in the press this season?
4) How long will it take for Samir Nasri to adjust to life in the Premier League? Having Arsene Wenger will help him with that.
5) Will this team try to grind out results late in games?
My Ultimate Reality: Beautiful football aside, their season last year screeched to a halt the moment Eduardo Da Silva was injured. However it became a calling card for them, not being able to get results when it appeared they had it in the bag. This team is really going to have to draw on all the experience of one Arsene Wenger, and on the experience of what could have been last season. While they lost key pieces in the midfield, I think Nasri should be able to fit in just fine. However the little injuries they already have could be what cost them in the end as it seems in my experience of watching any sport when one or two start developing little injuries, others seem to follow. I think this team has a chance at fighting for the title, but will probably be out of it come the beginning of April.
Number 2: Liverpool
Biggest Ins: Robbie Keane (someone who can partner with Fernando Torres) and Andrea Dossena (effective player on the left side either at the back or in the midfield).
Biggest Outs: The only real big loss of note is Peter Crouch, but it wasn't like he was going to crack into the starting eleven with the formation Rafa Benitez was using.
Toughest Month: December. At Manchester City where they went nil nil last season before hosting Wigan in the only winnable game of the month. They then go to Stamford Bridge before ending the month hosting Portsmouth.
Easiest Month: April. Only one difficult challenge. They start at Fulham before hosting Blackburn. They then host Arsenal before ending the month going to Hull City.
Five Questions I Have With Liverpool
1) Will Fernando Torres have a better second season in the Premier League than the first? If not, is Robbie Keane the guy to pick up the slack?
2) While only losing four games last season, they drew thirteen times. Can they turn draws into wins when things just aren't going their way?
3) Does this team have the least amount of depth amongst the 'big four'?
4) Will we see Rafa the Rotator again this season?
5) What will be this team's first priority this season? If it isn't the Premier League, could Benitez be out of a job come season's end?
My Ultimate Reality: They may not have gotten their man in Gareth Barry (yet), but I don't know if he was really all that needed. I don't see much of a trade off between Alonso and Barry. While in hunt of Barry, Rafa may have accidentally done something right and that is get rid of some of the surplus requirements at the club. That will prevent him from making whole sale changes it seemed like Benitez would do between games. I don't think it will take too long for Mascherano and Babel to readjust to the club once they get back from Olympic duty. Really in the end, Rafa knows he better put all his energy into winning the Premier League title. If they are out of it early, and also out of the Champions League, I could see Hicks and Gillette cutting ties with Rafa and starting anew. However I see them making a deep run into the Premier League season with a chance at the title but falling just short.
Number 1: Manchester United
Biggest Ins: Sir Alex said he was only going to bring in one guy this summer. It hasn't happened yet, but Berbatov has been mention since it seems the beginning of the rumor mill this summer.
Biggest Outs: Gerald Pique (not much of a loss really as he was surplus requirement at the back).
Toughest Month: September. At Anfield and Chelsea before ending the month against a little bit of a bogey side in Bolton. While it's at Old Trafford, they seem to give Manchester United a tougher game than most teams do.
Easiest Month: December. Host Sunderland before their toughest trip of the month at Tottenham. They then host Wigan. The 48 hours of madness see them travel to Stoke City before hosting Middlesbrough.
Five Questions I Have With Manchester United
1) What kind of form will Manchester United have without Cristiano Ronaldo? Will they have to rely on him as much as they did last season? And will Ronaldo
2) Will Nani continue the progression he showed through last season? Will Anderson start that same progression this season?
3) I have to give Sir Alex credit for saying he needs to define Wayne Rooney's role this season, what will it ultimately be?
4) Can Manchester United secure the services of Dimitar Berbatov? If that happens, could we just declare the title over?
5) Can Edwin van der Sar have another season like last year?
My Ultimate Reality: Sir Alex Ferguson knows when to not mess with a good thing and has identified their only major need and is working to secure that need. If they get Berbatov, I don't think the title chase is close. However if they don't get Berbatov, it's going to be interesting to see who scores the goals. We know Ronaldo will score them when he gets back, however it's going to be interesting to see how he's marked this year. Carlos Tevez can score and Rooney can if he's played in position to. The problem is Rooney has played so many positions of late I think he's confused and Sir Alex has to quickly define his role this year. The only thing that could possibly put them behind the eight ball is if injuries pile up, something that really didn't happen until Vidic was hurt towards the end of last season. When it's all said and done, I expect them to have the title secured by the end of April into the first game of May.