I suppose we'd better get this out of the way before the season actually kicks off, eh?
ST's CUAS Predictions for the 2008/9 Premier League Season
1. Manchester Utd
It's a tough call this. I think Chelsea are likely to improve under Big Phil and they were close enough to Utd last year as it was.... but in the end I think that SAF is well set for another crack this year. What with all the speculation over the summer, it seems unlikely that Ronaldo can possibly be as good (or perhaps as committed) as he was last time out, but if Ferguson manages to sign the striker he's been looking for, then I can't see past them for the title. They've already got the tightest defence and the best attack, but can you imagine Dimitar Berbatov up front for United with Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo running off him? It might be close, but I expect Utd to take their number of titles level with Liverpool's record this year.
One to Watch: Ben Foster. He's back to full fitness and has been tipped by many as England's long term future in goal. The big question is, will he manage to displace 134 year old Edwin van de Sar from the starting line-up? He'll certainly be better protected by this defence than he was by the Watford defence of two years ago, and he excelled then.
Fantasy signing: It's got to be one of the defenders. Take your pick from Ferdinand, Vidic or Evra. Expensive but worth every penny. Ronaldo surely isn't value for money this year and with all the ups and downs of the summer, surely won't be as good either?
If they were a band they'd be....: U2. Ubiquitous, successful and extremely irritating.
You can't help but feel sorry for poor old Uncle Avram Grant, but the plain fact is that Phil Scolari looks better equipped to take Chelsea forward from the mire they seem to find themselves in with vastly overpriced, overpaid and underperforming superstars wallowing about as the owner and the chief executive work to undermine their own management. It remains to be seen how Big Phil can blend a midfield containing the likes of Deco, Essien, Lampard, Joe Cole, Ballack in midfield... especially if he manages to sign Robinho or Kaka.... but they're surely going to be too good for everyone but Manchester United this year.
One to Watch: Big Phil is the most interesting thing about Chelsea by a country mile. He looks like he won't stand any nonsense from player or owner or idiot chief executive. There may be trouble ahead. He's also got a great 'tache, and these things should be saluted. Of the players, it's worth watching Deco to see if he will ever stop looking like he's about to cry.
Fantasy signing: You could take a punt on Anelka scoring a hatful if he's used properly, or fork out for Fat Frank filling his boots from midfield, but you probably won't go far wrong with one of the defenders. Bosingwa is practically a winger, so should be bonus assist points there. I've not picked any of the miserable, sulky gits.
If they were a band they'd be....: P-Diddy. Rich, and successful but without an ounce of class or taste.
Great manager though he is in Europe, if I was a Liverpool fan, I'd be wondering how much Rafa Benitez really wants to win the league. It's not as though they've been showing any kind of improvement and finish miles off the pace. It's all well and good resting the likes of Torres at the start of the season, but when it costs you points you should be winning. I'm not sure that the signing of Gareth Barry (if he ever comes) will take them a great deal further forward, but at least in him and Robbie Keane, there's a decent amount of league experience. Gerrard and Torres aside though, they may ultimately be lacking quality at the very highest level. I wonder how long Liverpool or Rafa will put up with this. A bit of stability in the boardroom would probably help though.
One to Watch: Robbie Keane. Is he really £20m good? Crouchinho's got big boots to fill...
Fantasy signing: Torres is the obvious choice, but it depends on how much Benitez rotates his squad at the start of the season and he may well not play every game. I think a much better bet is the defence: Reina, Skrtel and Carragher will likely be ever-presents if they are fit.
If they were a band they'd be....: The Eagles. Strangely succesful in the 1970s but bloated has-beens living in the past and dining out on former glories.
Arsene Wenger could really do with winning something this year. Anything. He apparently has about £70m to spend on new players, but seems oddly / admirably / stubbornly resistant to spending it, preferring instead to scour Europe for gems in need of a bit of polishing. As a result, this Arsenal side looks a bit callow and lacking in a certain je ne sais quoi. Fabregas is one of the world's best midfielders, for sure, but there are loads of unanswered questions: How fired up will Adebayor be? How will players like Walcott and Denilson step up to the challenge this year? Is Almunia really a top class goalkeeper? Can Gallas show the leadership the side desperately needs? They have a really easy looking start to the season, so I expect a strong start, but surely they're going to fade as we get into the long slog of Winter. They'll probably over-perform, but I think they need some players of stature or they may even be overtaken by Spurs and drop out of the top 4 entirely.
One to Watch: Theo Walcott. If he really is the next big thing in English football, it looks like this is his chance to shine... there are openings in the Arsenal team this year and Wenger could really do with someone opening up the defences and weighing in with some goals. As he showed in fits and starts last year, little Theo could be that man.
Fantasy signing: Adebayor was a shoe-in last year and has been scoring in pre-season, but who knows how motivated he will be after his move to Milan fell through. The defence should be ok, with Sagna a decent choice if he's fit.... but I've gone for Denilson. There are gaps in the midfield at the moment following the departure of Flamini and Hleb and the injury to Diaby, so he'll probably start alongside Fabregas and could be a bargain.
If they were a band they'd be....: Radiohead. Capable of genius but awkward and determined to do things their own way, even if that means detonating their chances of success.
I'm wary of predicting a top 4 finish for Spurs this year. I did the same thing last year, and they had an appalling season. Still, one good thing to come out of that was the arrival of the Special Juan: Juande Ramos looks like he is on the way to shaping a half-decent side. They may be a touch short on strikers though, especially if Berbatov follows Keane out of the door and leaves them reliant upon Darren Bent... but in Modric, Bentley, Lennon and the like, they should have the guile to open up Premier League defences. In Woodgate, Bale and King they have an injury-prone defence and must be hoping that they all stay fit for the season. If they don't break in to the top 4, they should at least be capable of beating the sides above them.
One to Watch: Luca Modric. Good enough to rip England to pieces and to shine in Euro 2008. Could be a great replacement for Robbie Keane, but will need to be more robust than he looks if he's going to survive the hurly-burly of the English game.
Fantasy signing: David Bentley - a reliable source of points last year and playing with a much better team this year. If Berbatov stays, the pair of them should be a great combination.
If they were a band they'd be....: Amy Winehouse. Talented, but fragile, prone to self-destruction and unlikely to last the course.
6. Aston Villa
Martin O'Neill is a good manager and Villa have been making real progress since he arrived. For me, this was confirmed with his stance to Liverpool over Gareth Barry - a player Villa must surely want to keep if they seriously want to break into the top 4. He didn't make a huge fuss, he just highlighted to Liverpool that if they wanted the player, they would have to pay what he thought that player was worth. If Hargreaves and Carrick, players behind Barry in the England midfield pecking order, are worth £18m, then Barry is worth £18m. Sounds reasonable enough to me. The whole saga higlights Villa's problem though: they are improving but are ultimately struggling to hold onto their best player. I think this could be a season of consilidation rather than real development, but for now, I expect that's enough.
One to Watch: Gareth Barry. One of the most tedious transfer sagas of the summer and may well yet move on. If he stays though, how will he knuckle down to the task?
Fantasy signing: Ashley Young. If he builds on last year, then he should be a steady source of goals and assists. The defence might have lost Olaf Mellberg to Juventus, and it's a bit short of cover, but the addition of Brad Friedel and Luke Young to the squad should see them keep a few clean sheets this year.
If they were a band they'd be....: The Magic Numbers. Chippy mid-table triers. The odd burst of melody hidden by unattractive and unfashionable exterior.
David Moyes is clearly doing a great job at Everton. Compared to some, he doesn't have a great deal of money and is forced to pick up admirable players like Phil Jagielka and Joelan Lescott as well as the odd overlooked gem like Arteta rather than being able to compete at the top end of the market. He also has to contend with all the boardroom disruptions and the ongoing saga over their proposed move to the Tesco Stadium (or whatever). The club may have had a relatively successful season last year, but I think all the strain of producing results in this environment is perhaps starting to tell on David Moyes, and I wonder how much more of this he has the patience to take. The side themselves look solid enough, if a bit lacking in invention. They need Cahill to be fit and scoring goals, but Arteta and Yakubu are both good players at this level and they should be as mean at the back as ever. It's a bit hard to get excited about them though, isn't it?
One to Watch: David Moyes. I have a feeling that he may let his frustrations get the better of him if things go as badly on the pitch as they appear to be going in the boardroom. A bad start and you never know.... he might just walk.
Fantasy signing: Yakubu will be good for goals and for local pie shops. Jolean Lescott should also be a good source of points, even if he surely can't score as many goals as he managed last time out.
If they were a band they'd be....: The Proclaimers. Tryers with one or two decent tunes and a tendency to wear checked lumberjack shirts.
Last season's FA cup winners will do well if they can have half as productive a season as they managed last year. It's rare indeed that one of the major trophies goes to a side like this, and although they only faced Cardiff in the final, they did have to beat some decent sides on the way through. Their success was largely founded on a tough defence and some incredibly strong and muscular players throughout the side. Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch are both quite a long way from being muscular, but they should be capable of scoring more goals this time around. They're going to need to though: that defence isn't getting any younger.
One to Watch: Glenn Johnson's hair. Absurd and getting absurder.
Fantasy signing: Defoe or Crouch. Their defence has always been good value, but they getting a bit long in the tooth and better value may be available elsewhere. This side should score goals though.
If they were a band they'd be....: Danzig. Muscular but not really big league even if they get the odd track onto Guitar Hero.
9. Manchester City
Mark Hughes looks like a good manager, but this looks increasingly like a thankless task. By almost anyone's standards, and certainly by City's, Sven looked like he had done a pretty decent job last year and had finally built some foundations for the club to move forwards for once. It wasn't enough and he was sacked in pretty poor circumstances. Hughes doesn't look to me like he has a high tolerance threshold for boardroom interference, but if he can ignore all of that nonsense, in players like Elano, Petrov, Micah Richards and Jo, he may well have the playing staff to make some progress in the league. They started well last time out, but faded badly. A little bit of consistency this year will go a long way.
One to Watch: Thaksin Shinawatra. In what world is Trashcan Sinatra considered a fit and proper person to run a football club? Ah yes, the crazy world of the Premier League. He's rich and that's all that matters, right?
Fantasy signing: I'm sure the likes of Elano, Petrov and Jo will catch the eye, but I wonder if Mark Hughes might make the defence a bit meaner this time around. I'd be tempted to go for Richards or Dunne or someone like that. I'm recommending a lot of defenders this year, I notice.
If they were a band they'd be....: the KLF. Money to burn, might have the odd success but it's all destined to end badly
10. West Ham
I used to quite like West Ham, but for some reason I have lost a lot of the affection that I once had for them. Having players like Dyer, Bellamy, Neill, Carlton Cole and Lee Bowyer probably doesn't help, but they also seem to have stopped being those plucky underdogs with the nice style of play and became a bunch of big-time charlies with nothing much to talk about in the way of achievements. That's pretty much what I expect to happen this year too. If they are a bit luckier with injuries than they were last year, then they may do okay in the league without really bothering anyone much. Mid-table. Any worse than that and I fear for the manager.
One to Watch: Curbishley. Surely he's out if they falter this time around? Of the players, Bellamy is always worth a look, and not just for how he plays on the pitch. He's a spiteful little bugger, isn't he?
Fantasy signing: Valon Behrami. The swiss David Beckham, you know.
If they were a band they'd be....: Towers of London (the one with Donny Tourette). Annoying and stupidly bolshy. Lacking almost any substance... Unbelievably crass frontman.
What does it say about Blackburn that they have lost the likes of Friedel, David Bentley and Mark Hughes? They probably over-achieved under Hughes, and I think that they may revert to the norm
One to Watch: Ince. He's genuinely the "guvnor" now and has built up a track-record of success in the lower leagues.... but all eyes will be on him now. Money is tighter here than it used to be and Mark Hughes is a tough act to follow. Worth keeping an eye on Paul Robinson too to see if he can resurrect his career filling Friedel's big boots.
Fantasy signing: Roque Santa Cruz is the only real choice here really, isn't he? Even then, it's partly because he might have caught the eye of a bigger club....
If they were a band they'd be....: Hear'Say - pretty big and very successful for a bit after extensive record company investment, but after a period of mediocrity and a general lack of public interest, in serious danger of disappearing back into the obscurity from whence they came. At least they're not One True Voice though, eh?
Surely to goodness this season can't be as eventful as last year, can it? No offence to any fans reading this, but this is a real car crash of a club. For some reason, I find myself wishing Newcastle nothing but good things, but time and time again I see them ripping themselves apart and generally being their own worst enemies. Of all things, I was even driven to feel a bit sorry for Big Sam Allardyce last year, and that takes some doing. It's an old cliche that the fans deserve better here, but after watching them shouting at Allardyce that he was a disgrace barely ten games into last season instead of trying to get behind the team, I'm not so sure that I believe that generalisation at all. Keegan is always good value though and seems like a pretty nice bloke, so I hope that this is the season that things really start going well. Where are the big signings though? How much more solid is the defence going to be this year? They can't always rely on the magnificent Shay Given to bale them out of trouble.... I'd also love to see Joey Barton being given a chance too. His repeated violent outburst are bad enough for anyone, nevermind a multi-millionaire footballer, but the scrambling for his blood has also left an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Should Newcastle have sacked him? Do you really think there isn't another Premier League club that would have snapped him up if they did? Keegan did the right thing by him, I think, and I hope Barton rewards him with performances on the pitch. They finished surprisingly high last year, and if they get off to a better start (and it could hardly be worse), then they may do okay this year too.
One to Watch: Keegan. He must be due an explosion soon if Mike Ashley keeps angling for a sale and if things don't go well on the pitch. Michael Owen still has a lot to prove up here as well. Of course, Joey Barton is the one you really want to keep your eyes on... just to know where he is, if nothing else.
Fantasy signing: Jonas Gutierrez. Apparently his spider-man goal celebration has been banned... but we'll see..... if he scores any goals.
If they were a band they'd be....: Kiss. Ridiculous. Lot of fans.
Always the pick of the promoted clubs last season, but it will be a real test of Roy Keane's management skills how they cope this season. Signing big name players seems to have been something of a struggle this year, but Keane has picked up one or two reasonable looking players (mostly from Tottenham) and will be hopeful that they can build on last year's performances. Again, not the most thrilling of sides to watch, but if they stay up again, how many Sunderland fans would moan about that? I get a nagging feeling that 13th looks way too high a prediction for them, but I'm not sure the quality down below them in the table is up to all that much, to be honest, and a team fired up by Keane himself may give them more of an edge than some of their rivals.
One to Watch: Juande Ramos. How many more players will he sell to Roy Keane? Of the players, England international Keiron Richardson owes Roy Keane a few performances.
Fantasy signing: Steed Malbranque. Looked pretty good at spurs last year and at his best is a magician. Will surely get more of a look-in at deadball situations at the Stadium of Light.
If they were a band they'd be....: Dogged, determined, ugly and refusing to go away..... it must be Supergrass
14. Bolton Wanderers
Say what you like about Megson, and plenty of people in Nottingham would be more than happy to do so, but he did an undeniably good job in keeping Bolton in the division last year. Sure, devaluing the UEFA cup in the way that he did was hardly edifying, but even the most romantic Bolton fan would surely understand where he was coming from. He also managed to cope well with the loss of his top scorer in January and still survive. No mean feat. If his track record is anything to go by, Megson will hit a brick wall before long and alienate both fans and board alike, but given the lack of quality in the division this year, I think they could do an awful lot better than some people are predicting. It won't be pretty, that's for sure.
One to Watch: Johan Elmander. Quick, highly rated and signed for a club-record £10m. Quite what he makes of playing alongside Kevin Davies remains to be seen....
Fantasy signing: Matty Taylor. I'm not sure Bolton will score many goals, but Taylor's got an eye from distance, and they may never get that close to the penalty area... TYou certainly don't want their defenders, anyway.
If they were a band they'd be....: The Hold Steady. A direct, straight-forward pub outfit got lucky.
Gareth Southgate may well be the most promising young manager in the league... but he's dull, dull, dull and the team has been built in his image. They've got a few decent players, and they may well be able to cope with the loss of players like Boateng, Schwartzer and Cattermole, but.... well, they're a bit nothing much really, aren't they? I expect them to stay up, but that's about all I've got to say about them.
One to Watch: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Fantasy signing: Stewart Downing is the only choice.
If they were a band they'd be....: Eric Clapton. Plodding, earnest MOR. Seen better days.
Roy Hodgson did an amazing job last season cleaning up the mess that Lawrie Sancez left behind him in his doomed attempt to recreate the Crazy Gang / Norn Iron down by the River Thames. A lot of the crap from last season has been flushed away, and with a proper manager at the helm, I think they should be a bit better this season. They'll miss Brian McBride though, even if I never could understand David Pleat's obsession with him, and I'm not sure that Bobby Zamora is exactly the striker of your dreams. Nothing fancy this year, but progress would be good enough for now... unless Al Fayed is as much of a prat as I think he is, he'll leave well alone for the time being and let Hodgson get on with the job in hand.
One to Watch: Mortiz Volz. A footballer who takes the bus, coaches youngsters in the area and who genuinely seems like a nice man. Fan of the Hoff, you know.
Fantasy signing: Jimmy Bullard. Prize angler and dynamic midfield genius, now recovered from injury and presumably raring to go. Zoltan Gera is worth a look too as he's a genius with the dead ball.
If they were a band they'd be....: Neil Diamond - always glitzy and showy, but it took a steady old hand to come in and polish their work to give them hope of a career renaissance.
Steve Bruce is another manager who came to a club late in the day and quietly went about his business saving them from the drop. In his case, he was also clearly delighted to have escaped the boardroom nonsense at Birmingham and go to a club that actually seemed to want him as a manager. In footballing terms, they're yet another one of those clubs in the division who probably aren't going to set the world alight and who would be happy finishing 17th. There are a lot of them in the Premier League this year, and I don't think it would be an exagerration to say that many of them would struggle to challenge in the Championship.... Wigan are definitely one of those clubs. Was I the only one who was agog at seeing dear old Mario Melchiot turning out for the Dutch in Euro 2008?
One to Watch: Emile Heskey. Coco the clown is always great value. He managed to break a bone tripping over his own feet last year.
Fantasy signing: Um. I usually plump for Jason Koumas on the grounds that he has talent to burn... but he's a frustating player and probably not worth the effort.
If they were a band they'd be....: Nizlopi. Made it to the big time but have absolutely no idea what they're doing there...
18. West Brom
Hailed as the "Manchester Utd" of the Championship, West Brom come back into the top division having (in the end) dominated last year on their way to promotion. It's not a great comparison though: they scored a lot of goals last year and played some free flowing football, but their defence was often appallingly slack and I imagine that unless that has been substantially improved this year, they are going to get some heavy beatings. Kevin Phillips probably had the right idea by electing to stay in the Championship where the goals are easier to come by. They may well be a better footballing side than Wigan, Bolton, Sunderland and the likes, but I very much doubt that they've got as much ability to hang on in games and to drag out unlikely results. I think they'll have a short stay, do well again in the championship and then yo-yo back. In spite of the fact that I'm a Wolves fan, I wish them nothing but the best and hope they prove me wrong.
One to Watch: Paul Robinson. The full back was named in the Championship team of the year last season, but is somewhat fiery and is liable to pick up more than his fair share of red cards as all the soft, foreign cheats roll around at his feet after his "robust" challenges.
Fantasy signing: Scott Carson is a decent keeper, but he's likely to be kept quite busy by a defence somewhat prone to lapses in concentration.
If they were a band they'd be....: Darius Danesh. Superficially smooth and with some small talent, but basically a small town charmer: more comfortable in provincial theatres and liable to crumble under pressure.
It's a fairy story, but although they undoubtedly deserved promotion in the end, I still can't quite believe how they got out of the Championship last year. I can't bring myself to believe that they're going to be able to step up another level, and it's hard to see how they're going to do anything but go straight back down again. I think their fans probably know this, so I expect they will be looking to make the absolute most of their season in the sun. Good luck to them. Shame they ditched that tiger skin away stip though - that was brilliant!
One to Watch: Dean Windass. Hard to miss him, anyway. I think he's even available on Google Earth.
Fantasy signing: Dean Windass again. He may be fat and forty, but he's an absolute legend.
If they were a band they'd be....: Shed 7. Lower division chancers who got a surprising shot at glory before disappearing without a trace.
To be fair to them, the absolutely deserved automatic promotion last season.... but I think the best they can hope for is to beat Derby's points tally from last year. Enjoy your season in the sun boys, and I sincerely hope I'm wrong. In fact, if Hull, West Brom and Stoke were to finish above Boro, Sunderland and Bolton, I'd be one of the first to celebrate... but it seems unlikely. Sorry.
One to Watch: Tony Pulis. He took the team to the unbelievable heights of the Premier League and yet the fans still don't like him.... what more do they want?
Fantasy signing: Dave Kitson scored goals and points for Reading, so if Stoke are going to get any goals....
If they were a band they'd be....: Status Quo - it's all quite basic and a bit old fashioned and whilst they might have a core following, no-one likes them much
So, in summary.... and with LB's predictions for the season added on:
|#||ST's Predictions:||LB's predictions:|
|10||West Ham||West Ham|
It's anyone's guess really, right?
Enjoy the season, y'all.