Premier League Predictions: City Back to Glory
By Alex Fairchild
Come May, a new club will be crowned the best in England.
With Sir Alex Ferguson watching Manchester United matches from afar this season and no big time signings ready to grace Old Trafford with their presence, the Red Devils will not repeat as Premier League winners. According to multiple studies cited in books like Soccernomics and The Numbers Game the gaffer accounts for 15% of a club's performance. As small as that 15% may seem, it is the difference between a title win or loss, or a Europa League place and Champions League spot. With essentially the same team ready to do battle this year, there is no doubt that Moyes is no Sir Alex and cannot produce the same genius needed to produce a first place finish.
Chelsea got a huge boost in the managerial department over the summer, by getting Jose Mourinho back on its side. The Blues's offense is already one of the league's deadliest, with Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, and Oscar as a possible front four and Andre Schurrle being an additional attacking option. Ramires and Frank Lampard will be an excellent pairing if Mourinho were to play a 4-2-3-1, as both are solid midfielders that can be deadly on the break if need be. The Special One has a versatile defense, with out-and-out centre-backs like John Terry and Gary Cahill. However, Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz are dynamic footballers that will make the difference in their title hunt. Ivanovic has the ability to tread out wide, while Luiz can burst through the middle of the pitch with the ball at his feet. It has been proved on several occasions that three stellar central defenders are needed to win a competition - Chelsea have four. Additional tactical discipline will be a must for this side, but Mourinho is the king of organization, so expect the Londoners to play as unit in due time.
The Noisy Neighbors look a lethal side after another summer spending spree. This year's signings were smart though, as Stevan Jovetic, Jesus Navas, and Fernandinho will be impact players in their first season at the Etihad. These men are footballers, not names meant to sell millions of jerseys. Manuel Pellegrini has the perfect midfield duo in Yaya Toure and Fernandinho. Both intelligent box-to-box players, Pellegrini can give one license to head forward without having much of which to worry if the other is left to defend. The 4-2-3-1, if that is how the Chilean chooses to summon his squad, is meant to put six men on the attack and six in defense. With this pair, it will be difficult for opposition to thwart City when they are heading forward, or to penetrate them in defense. Each player in the '2' has superb all-around skill and is perfectly suited to make this shape exemplary of how 4-2-3-1s should be used. If all goes according to plan for the new gaffer, his side should surely hoist the Premier League trophy come the season's final days.
Competing with those three are Arsenal, without doubt, alongside Tottenham and Liverpool. Those latter squads have two of the league's top players and their success may hinge on the pending stays of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez. For that matter, the final standing of each team in the division's top half will depend on where this terrible two reside come September 1. Despite Suarez's excellence as a potent striker, Liverpool did quite well without him over the first few games of his ban. Daniel Sturridge was dangerous up top, and the Reds have brought in Iago Aspas to soften the blow if Suarez's Anfield exit occurs. Though it is yet to be seen whether or not the Reds can handle an entire season without its creative force, the help of Philipe Coutinho could propel them forward in the Uruguayan's stead. Liverpool were not nearly as far away from a top four finish as it seemed last year. It was not necessarily the losses that took Liverpool down the table, but the unlucky draws against sides like Reading. After all, who could forget the brilliant 10 save performance of Alex McCarthy that day. The Reds out shot multiple opponents. If they can display the deadly touch they showed off against the likes of Newcastle and Swansea, they will surely do a few spots better than last season, and if Bale ditches Spurs, it will be one less team to fight for Champions League football.
Meanwhile, whether or not Spurs can succeed without Gareth Bale is yet to be seen. When their Welsh winger was sidelined against Inter Milan in the second leg of those side's Europa League clash, the absence of Bale led to Spurs collapsing. If not for a late Emmanuel Adebayor strike, the Lilywhites would not have advanced on the away goals rule. Tottenham have the potential to finish in the top four with their star man, but a question mark certainly stands if the talisman's services are sent elsewhere. Not having Bale may not hurt Spurs as much, if they can quickly, and responsibly, spend the absurd fee they are sure to incur after seeing Bale go on his merry way.
Going further down the table, the hunt to stay out of the league's bottom half will be just as competitive, as Swansea City continue to improve. The acquisition of Wilfried Bony will help them pick up some additional points. Their central defenders are just as strong. Ashley Williams will look to keep impressing if he hopes to land a move to a bigger club and Chico was one of the league's top defenders during the last campaign. Jonjo Shelvey is a good investment for the team's future, while regulars like Nathan Dyer and Leon Britton will help the side to another solid league finish.
Norwich City, who posted an 11th place finish last season, return with the highly rated Robert Snodgrass. The Canaries will also introduce Gary Hooper, formerly of Celtic, and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who used to play for Sporting, to the fold. Both hover in their mid-20s and should be primed to light up Premier League opposition this year.
Additions have been made on Tyneside, at least for Sunderland who signed in form forward Jozy Altidore and ex-Juventus midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini. However, a top half finish will be a challenge, yet a decent goal for, what was last campaign an ailing club.
Southampton brought in Victor Wanyama this summer in their bid to improve on an excellent reintroduction to England's first division. They will also have a first team England international in the squad. Rickie Lambert was excellent for the Three Lions this week and will have the assistance of Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez once again.
West Ham United will have interesting outlook this season, as Big Sam looks to make John Henry's fantasy pairingg work. After adding Liverpool dropouts Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing to his roster, Sam Allardyce will have to make the prolific crosser read from the page as the pony-tailed giant. While that team have been based around route one football for quite awhile, they have now acquired two high profile players to carry out the orders of Big Sam, though it will not get them to the top half of the table.
In the basement, the promoted Championship teams will struggle. Hull City have reinforced its squad with multiple additions, but it is hard to believe that the likes of fading sensation Danny Graham, who is on loan, and the aging Maynor Figueroa, will see them stay up without much trouble.
Crystal Palace and Cardiff City should not expect much from their Premier League stay either, as their squads are equally bereft of top flight footballers.
That being said, my complete predictions for the 2013/14 Premier League season are below, and assume that Gareth Bale leaves Spurs (reports now say Suarez will be staying at Anfield). If Bale stays, look for Tottenham to swap spaces with Liverpool, with Arsenal remaining in 5th:
1) Manchester City
3) Manchester United
8) Swansea City
9) Norwich City
11) West Bromwich Albion
12) West Ham United
14) Newcastle United
15) Aston Villa
16) Stoke City
18) Hull City
19) Cardiff City
20) Crystal Palace
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