s the British Premier League enters its second month, it’s time to predict how the standings will look eight months from now. I’ve ranked my Premier top four, as well as the bottom of the table.
- Chelsea The “Special One,” José Mourinho, is back in his spiritual home and he’ll be just as confident about wresting the title off Manchester United as he was nine seasons ago when he followed Arsenal’s invincible season with a record Premier League points total (95). The Blues have a more settled side now and they looked happier together in the latter third of last season. Winning the Europa League last season was an important experience for this team and, with Mourinho at the helm, they should be able to go one better with the domestic title. Despite the question marks still hanging over strikers Fernando Torres (form), Demba Ba (injuries) and Romelo Lukaku (not quite ready to replace Didier Drogba), the attacking midfield will make up any shortfall. New recruits Willian, Andre Schurrle and Kevin de Bruyne (returning from a very successful loan spell at Werder Bremen) will provide plenty more competition to the likes of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar — certainly more than the outgoing Marko Marin.
- Manchester United The difference between losing inspirational, world-class manager Sir Alex Ferguson (replaced by David Moynes) and seeing one of your major rivals regain theirs will most likely manifest itself in United falling to second place. Contrary to the dramatic fall from grace forecast by some pundits, I can’t see United falling any further behind the pace, simply because the club’s winning mentality, ingrained in them from Ferguson’s era, will see them grind out victories on a regular enough basis. Wilfried Zaha has the ability and attitude to make himself a fan’s favorite at Old Trafford. I can see him teaming up very nicely with last year’s top goal scorer, Robin van Persie.
- Manchester City For the third consecutive season, Manchester City can lay claim to the strongest team on paper. The only trouble is that the beautiful game is played on grass and it may take a little while until all the club’s stellar signings (Alvaro Negredo, Stefan Jovetic, Fernandinho and Jesus Navas) begin to gel. That said, if there is any manager capable of proving me wrong it’s Manuel Pellegrini. A shrewd tactician, not unaccustomed to succeeding with various clubs in different countries in the past, the Chilean will be looking to do away with any doubts that he lacks what it takes to manage a big club. Let’s not forget that he guided Real Madrid to 96 points in his solitary season at the Bernabeu. My sense is that 15 fewer this time around would be more than enough to push Chelsea and United all the way.
- Tottenham Tottenham may be in the process of losing their star player in Gareth Bale, but they have strengthened the squad immeasurably in preparation for his long and keenly anticipated departure. Spurs will not be nearly as dependent on one man as in previous seasons. In Roberto Soldado, they have signed a natural goal scorer, more than capable of matching Bale’s goal tally. The club recently acquired Erik Lamela of Roma and Ajax’s Christian Eriksson is on the horizon. The two would add real attacking prowess to a midfield that has been strengthened by the more robust and workmanlike Paulinho (one of the stars from the Confederations Cup this July) and Etienne Capoue. Meanwhile, the team’s two star Belgians, fleet-footed Nacer Chadli and Moussa Dembele, vie with each other for first team status on that country’s national side, with Chadli still ahead. Spurs have genuine depth this season, unlike their main competitors, Arsenal and Liverpool.
Now then, further down the table, in relegation territory:
- 18. Crystal Palace Ian Holloway will challenge and most likely defeat Mourinho to the award of Premier League’s most captivating post-match interview. His Eagles will show the sort of passion that made Blackpool the division’s surprise package three seasons ago. However, somewhat regrettably, the Premier League faithful will most likely be waving goodbye to the so-called “Ollie,” with fingers crossed that he can make yet another dramatic return in the not-too-distant future.
- 19. Sunderland Paolo di Canio was the perfect solution to reversing Sunderland’s plight last season. His no-nonsense attitude ruffled many feathers among the Black Cats’ ranks and he effectively managed to terrorize his players over the line and secure their Premier League status. But I have my doubts about the Italian’s ability to complete any long-term project on Wearside. I fear that his stay will be as short as his temper.
- 20. Hull The Tigers (as they like to be known) are one of those clubs that seem rather difficult to take seriously — an unfortunate by-product of Phil Brown’s comedic tenure at the KC Stadium. This is a shame, as Steve Bruce did a marvelous job getting this group of players promoted as runners-up in the Championship last season. He has added some quality to the midfield with Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore arriving from Tottenham, while Ahmed Elmohamady brings Premier League pedigree to Hull’s right side. However, they will do well to stay clear of trouble come May.
Surprise Team: Norwich Given the caliber of Norwich’s summer signings, it would actually be more surprising if the Canaries didn’t perform strongly this season. Whereas the side struggled for goals last season, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper (from Sporting Lisbon and Celtic respectively) should bring plenty of firepower to the attack, while Leroy Fer from FC Twente looks like a great addition to the midfield and former Blackburn defender, Martin Olsson, brings pace and top division know-how to Norwich’s left side.