Predicting the top five finishers in the 2013-2014 edition of the Barclay's Premier League...
Like both Manchester clubs, Chelsea will enter the 2013-2014 Premier League season with a new manager. Unlike at United and City, the new manager is also the old manager and is immensely popular at the club. Mourinho’s incredible achievements in his first spell as Chelsea boss mean he’ll be looked at with less skepticism from the supporters and media than either David Moyes or Manuel Pelligrini and should therefore allow the squad to go about their business with minimal distraction. For the first time since the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti, there’s been a sense of calm confidence surrounding the club in the buildup to the campaign. While I believe Manchester City’s summer transfers have given them the most talented squad, I expect it to take them some time to get used to playing with one another and to adjust to Pellegrini. Likewise there will be a learning curve for Pellegrini in his first season in England. Chelsea’s first 11 will look similar to last season so they should already have a decent chemistry that should translate to a fast start. New signings Marco van Ginkel and Andre Schurrle, along with Kevin De Bruyne, Michael Essien and Romelu Lukaku returning from loan will make Chelsea a deeper side and provide Mourinho the squad rotation options to navigate a busy fixture list. If Chelsea fail to pry Wayne Rooney away from Moyes at United, the striker position could still be a question mark. Lukaku was fantastic in his loan spell at West Brom last season but I’m still not certain he’s ready to be the main option up front for an entire season while Demba Ba and Fernando Torres failed to impress in 2012-2013.
2. Manchester City
New signings Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic will give City a new look this season as all four are expected to receive significant minutes. Jovetic and Negredo have been brought in to provide goals for a City team that managed just 66 last season, tied with Tottenham for fewest among top 6 teams and 20 less than their Manchester rivals. Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko will provide competition for what will likely be two forward starting spots. Finding the best partnership will be an important early task for Pellegrini. For me Fernandinho and Navas are the more important of the two signings. Navas represents a significant improvement over James Milner and the inconsistent Samir Nasri down the right hand side. Fernandinho impressed with Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League season and is an improvement on Gareth Barry. Like Toure he is mobile and enjoys breaking through the midfield with the dribble. One concern though is that a Toure-Fernandinho pairing could become too fluid if both advance forward and fail to protect the back four from counters. City’s league position will likely depend on how quick of a start they get off to. If they stumble early as they adjust to new players and a new manager the gap may well become too big for them to bridge in the second half of the season. If they get off to a flying start they certainly have the talent and depth to win the title.
3. Manchester United
Managing the weight of expectations that comes from replacing arguably football’s greatest ever manager after 26 successful years is not an enviable task, even if it means the opportunity to coach a club with the history, support and resources of Manchester United. How quickly Moyes manages that pressure and convinces supporters he’s up to the task will go a long way in determining the near future for United. So far he’s had a difficult time navigating the transfer market as United have failed to land targets Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona and Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines from Moyes old side Everton. It is the failure to land Alcantara and Fabregas that will hurt United the most. Although I rate Shinji Kagawa highly and Michael Carrick is consistently solid, I don’t think Anderson or Tom Cleverley are good enough and feel United have a weaker midfield than Chelsea and City. Moyes inexperience chasing trophies and lack of squad depth relative to their closest competitors mean United finish outside the top two for the first time since 2004-2005.
For a couple of years now folks have been predicting Spurs will pip Arsenal yet it hasn’t happened. But with Spurs making some excellent summer signings in midfielders Paulinho and Ettiene Capoue, winger Nacer Chadli and forward Roberto Soldado, and Arsenal failing to secure a major signing, Spurs are in a better position to make that happen than last year even if Gareth Bale makes a big money move to Real Madrid. Between Paulinho, Chapoue, Moussa Dembmele, Sandro, Lewis Holtby, Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker, Tottenham have tremendous depth in the middle of the park and Soldado will provide more ruthless finishing in the box than Jermaine Defoe or Emanuel Adebayor managed last season. They could lack depth at the back however. With the excellent Jan Vertonghen set to miss Spurs opening fixture at Crystal Palace, Younes Kaboul will likely get his first start in almost a year. A lengthy injury to Michael Dawson or Vertonghen could see Spurs Champions League aspirations thrown off course.
Having gotten some 60-70 players off their books this closed season and signed just one, Arsenal’s squad is looking a little thin to start the season. Injuries to Abou Diaby, Tomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal have compounded that problem while it also looks like Mikel Arteta is set to miss the opener Saturday to Villa with an injury. Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud struggled to have a big impact in their first season at the Emirates.* While only Manchester United and Chelsea scored more goals than Arsenal last season, the Gunners scored fewer goals against top five opposition than City, United, Chelsea and Spurs. More importantly, their results were poor against top five opposition where they managed just 5 points in eight matches. By contrast, Spurs finished with 11, United with 12, and Chelsea and City both with 14. Having only added 20 year-old Yaya Sanogo this closed season- a player unlikely to feature much anytime soon- it’s difficult to see how Arsenal will avoid a further dip this time around.