No, it’s not the NFL. No, it’s not the NBA. No, it’s not MLB, and no, it’s certainly not the NHL… So what is the greatest sports league in the world? Easy. The Barclays Premier League. Some might dispute that socc… No, this is my column, we do this my way… FOOTBALL is the greatest sport in the world, but in terms of ultimate skill, competitive nature and sheer unpredictability, the Premier League eclipses all others.
I was delighted when I was asked to write this column. I’ve finally been given a platform to talk about my most favourite thing in the world. So, here we are. Let’s have a look at this year’s Barclays Premier League and what lies ahead.
Top Four: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal
Sorry to be predictable and boring, but these four are pretty much enshrined in the top four spaces in my mind. Liverpool has strengthened with the addition of Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim, and with Philippe Coutinho in sparkling form already, they may push Arsenal for fourth place, but Alexis Sanchez, Mesut à–zil and Santi Cazorla’s creativity in attack should see the Gunners remain in their Champions League position. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could have a real breakout year if he’s given the chance, but Arsenal’s Achilles heel will always be their back four. The addition of Petr Cech will save them some points, as he did versus Liverpool this past Monday, but defensively they’re just too fragile to crack the top four. Man United has improved on last year’s performance, and despite lacking a goal threat in their first few games, once new signings bed into the team (Memphis, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin) and with manager Louis Van Gaal in his second season, United should push the top two a lot closer than they did last season. However I think the title race will, sadly, be a two horse race between the two blue powerhouses of Chelsea and Man City. The strength and depth in these two squads is just unmatched by anyone else in the league. In the end, I’ve learned never to bet against Jose Mourinho. He just proves you wrong whenever you do. It’ll be close, but Chelsea will beat out Man City and claim back to back titles.
Relegation: Aston Villa, Norwich, Sunderland
For Villa and Sunderland, this is long overdue. They’ve been poor teams for many seasons now, only just steering clear of relegation on a number of occasions. Dick Advocaat’s great escape with the Mackems last year was incredible, but I feel like this year, they’re just too average across the board. Without much additional strength coming in, Sunderland appears doomed.
Only a career year from Jermaine Defoe would give them any chance of survival. Aston Villa, despite Tim Sherwood’s tactical revolution, are once again just not that impressive. Jack Grealish is the bright light in a sea of darkness, and new-signing Rudy Gestede might chip in with a few headed goals, but the loss of both Christian Benteke to Liverpool and Fabian Delph to Man City leads me to feel like they’re really under the cosh at Villa Park. And Norwich? Norwich are a yo-yo team. They go down, they come back up and then they go down again. It’s just what they do. Expect no different this time around.
Surprise Packages: Stoke, Watford, West Ham
Stoke are having a little Catalan revolution, leading to them being dubbed “Stokalona,” owing to them now boasting more Champions League winners than any other Premier League team. Bojan Krkic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Marco Van Ginkel, Joselu and Marko Arnautovic are are superstar players that will catapult Stoke into the top 6 or 7 for the first time in their history. Brilliant signings by Mark Hughes. West Ham signed well too, with Dimitri Payet already showing his class in the Hammers 2-0 win over Arsenal on opening weekend. The Hammers will also break the top 10 comfortably and push for the Europa League spots. However, the most interesting of all the surprises will be made by the Hornets of Watford FC. It’s been almost a decade since Watford were in the big league, but they’ve signed impressive players (Miguel Layun, Valon Behrami), and with a very good opening performance against Everton being followed by two 0-0 draws, Watford are unbeaten in three games. It’ll be tough, but the Hornets should be able to avoid relegation and survive for another season in the Premier League.
Disappointments: Tottenham, Everton, Newcastle
These three clubs are not necessarily disappointments, but they should all do better than they will considering their stature and the players in their squads. Everton will really need to hang onto centre back John Stones and keep feeding Romelu Lukaku up front until he becomes the goal machine he can be. Ross Barkley is the real highlight of the team, but I’m not sure they’re mentally strong enough to challenge the top four like they really should. Tottenham, on the other hand, just never seem to quite get it together when it matters. Harry Kane is going to suffer second season syndrome and struggle to reproduce his flying performances from last season. Christian Eriksen is their big hope, but they won’t have enough quality to usurp their North London rivals. Newcastle has improved as well. Giorginio Wijnaldum is a fantastic signing from Holland, and Aleksandar Mitrovic, the big Serbian striker, will score some goals as well. Steve McLaren’s revolution on Tyneside may have to wait another year to really catapult themselves back to success.