Will Manchester City break into the top four? Will Carlo Ancelotti make a triumphant start to life at Stamford Bridge? Will Michael Owen rediscover his form of old? Will Phil Brown and Rafa Benitez dispense with their questionable facial hair?
With the start of the 2009/10 Premier League season just a week away, the anticipation levels are fast approaching fever pitch. With the majority of teams diligently strengthening their squads over the summer, it looks as though this season could be one of the most competitive, tightly contested Premier League campaigns for a long while. Here’s our verdict on how the teams might fare between now and the 9th May.
This is part one of the 09/10 season preview – find part two of the 09/10 premier league season here.
Even before they have kicked a ball in a competitive match, Arsene Wenger’s side have seemingly been written off by large swathes of the media who seem to think that The Gunners will struggle even to make the top four this season. To dismiss Arsenal in such a fashion is pure folly, the North London outfit looking perhaps even stronger going into 2009/10 than they did at the beginning of the 2008/09 campaign.
Former Ajax captain Thomas Vermaelen has been brought in to strengthen an already dynamic-looking back line and, in the shape of Arshavin, Van Persie, Rosicky, Walcott and Nasri, Arsenal possess some of the best wide players in Europe. The team’s main weakness still remains defensive midfield, but if Patrick Vieira is brought in and rediscovers his form of old then that particular problem will be solved. A lack of strength-in-depth has also been cited, but Arsenal’s youngsters are surely the best crop in the Premier League and are ready to step up to the first team when required. If injuries to key players can be avoided then there is absolutely no reason why Arsenal can’t be challenging for the title come the latter stages of the season.
An excellent 2008/09 season for Villa saw Martin O’Neill’s side finish sixth and secure Europa League football for the forthcoming campaign. However, the loss of Gareth Barry to Manchester City and the failure of O’Neill to bring in a suitable replacement combined with the extra games European football will bring could see Villa struggle to replicate their fine performances of last season.
O’Neill has made two major signings so far this summer, bringing Stewart Downing in from Middlesbrough for £12m and Habib Beye from Newcastle for £2.6m, although Downing will be out until December with a broken foot. The promising Fabian Delph has been signed from Leeds, but it could be a while before he establishes himself as a first team regular at Villa Park. More players will need to be signed to provide cover if Villa are to make a success of their season in both the Premiership and in the newly-formed Europa League. If O’Neill does not act then The Villains could struggle to finish in the top-six for a third consecutive season.
Alex McLeish has spent wisely over the summer and Birmingham go into the new season as perhaps the best prepared of all the promoted sides. Barry Ferguson, Roger Johnson, Lee Bowyer, Scott Dann, Joe Hart (on loan) and Christian Benitez have all been signed to give the team both added strength and quality.
As most promoted teams do, The Blues will doubtless struggle for consistency at times during their return to the top-flight, but they look well-equipped to survive and play some good football along the way. They might just surprise a few people this season.
The recent departures of Roque Santa Cruz and Matt Derbyshire to Manchester City and Olympiakos respectively will doubtless hurt Blackburn, but the money to two transfers have brought in (£20m in total) gives Sam Allardyce the freedom to make some key signings before the season gets underway.
Lars Jacobsen and Gael Givet have been signed, the pair coming in to shore up what was a fairly leaky defence last season, with Allardyce surely looking to construct a far more consistent side than that of last season. Franco Di Santo, Chelsea’s prodigious Argentine striker, has also been brought in on loan and could, if he begins to fulfill his great promise, become a short-term replacement for Santa Cruz.
One potential worry is that Blackburn’s squad looks a little short on true quality, and although the team might not have the ability to challenge for European football, it is, however, full of battle-hardened players with plenty of Premiership experience which should see the club through to a relatively comfortable mid-table finish.
Despite a degree of hostility from some fans towards the manager, Gary Megson, Bolton enjoyed a relatively comfortable season in 2008/09 which eventually saw them finish 13th, well clear of the relegation scrap which had at one time looked as if it might engulf them.
The goals of Kevin Davies and an improved season from Johan Elmander will be crucial if The Trotters are again to steer clear of the threat of relegation. New signing Sean Davis, brought in on a free from Portsmouth, may well prove to be instrumental in the midfield alongside Fabrice Muamba, and the brilliance of Jussi Jaaskelainen in goal will again be crucial to the team’s fortunes. If the fans can be patient with Megson and give him time to find the ideal system for his team then Bolton should again be able to bypass the traditional end-of-season relegation dogfight.
Without deliberately sounding patronising, Burnley should be congratulated in their feat of reaching the Premier League. For a club with very limited financial resources from such a small town to make it into the top flight in this day and age is incredible and their achievement should be widely applauded.
Now they are in the top division, however, things may well prove difficult for Owen Coyle’s men. Without the resources with which to greatly strengthen the squad – the £3m signing of Hibernian’s Steven Fletcher broke the club’s transfer record – Burnley will surely struggle to pick up regular points against the majority of clubs in the league. Add into the equation the fact that there are very few players in the squad with substantial Premier League experience, and the campaign could well prove to be a painful, if extremely valuable, learning curve.
Prediction: 20th (Relegated)
Chelsea’s team for the coming season looks, on paper at least, to be one of the most well-balanced in the entire league. With several players entering their thirties, this could be the season which defines this particular group of players, a last chance for the surviving talismen of the Mourinho era to stamp their authority on the Premier League before changes begin to be made and the future of the club, the next generation, begins to take shape.
All areas of the team look strong and powerful, with Bosingwa, Terry, Carvalho and Cole constituting what is probably the best back four in the league. Yuri Zhirkov has been signed from CSKA Moscow over the summer and should add an extra threat down the left side of midfield, combining with Mikel, Lampard, Essien et al as part of a midfield which is, as we have seen in recent years, as creative as it is strong. If Anelka and Drogba can find their shooting boots then Carlo Ancelotti’s first season in charge could well prove to be a very successful one.
Whether or not this team has the ability to win the league we will have to wait and see, but they will surely be one of the major challengers for the title by the time May comes around and I have a sneaking suspicion that they might just pull it off.
Prediction: 1st (Champions)
To say that David Moyes has “worked wonders” during his time at Everton has become something of a cliché over recent seasons, but the Scotsman truly has turned the Blue half of Merseyside into a consistently competitive outfit at the top end of the Premier League.
Moyes’ side, made up of highly effective, often underrated players such as Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta and Phil Jagielka, has consistently played to its full potential and secured European football on a regular basis in recent times. The signing of Marouane Fellaini last season gave the team an added attacking dimension, as did Brazilian striker Jo who’s had his loan from Manchester City has renewed for the 2009/10 campaign. With Moyes set to remain at the helm for the foreseeable future, expect to see more of the same from The Toffees this season.
Last season saw Fulham exceed everyone’s expectations and finish a highly impressive campaign in seventh place, bringing Europa League football to Craven Cottage for the 2009/10 season. Although the prospect of the Europa League is a thrilling one for all involved with the club, Roy Hodgson’s side could be in danger of serious burnout towards the end of the season if their inscrutable manager doesn’t reinforce the squad before the end of the transfer window. Having said that, Fulham do not need to make wholesale changes. A few shrewd signings and keeping hold of the likes of Brede Hangeland and Clint Dempsey should be all the club needs to maintain its position in the top-half of the league.
For Fulham to repeat last season’s heroics would be an incredible achievement, but with a relatively small squad and (potentially) a lot more games of football that may prove difficult for The Cottagers this time around.
After initially stunning the league with a series of unexpected results at the start of their first season in the Premiership, Phil Brown’s side endured a wretched second half to their campaign. Only winning two out of their last twenty-nine games, Hull looked vulnerable in all departments and their fans will be hoping that the form with which they finished last season will not carry over into the start of 2009/10.
Hull are a club desperately in need of new signings, but Phil Brown has struggled thus far to attract the calibre of player required to bolster his fragile squad and help his side more firmly establish themselves in the Premier League. Jozy Altidore, the talented young American striker who impressed at the Confederations Cup, has been brought in on loan from Villarreal, but Brown will need to strengthen more fully if Hull are to remain a competitive Premier League outfit. It could be a long, hard season for the Humberside club.
Prediction: 19th (Relegated)
This is part one of the 09/10 season preview – find part two of the 09/10 premier league season here.