One week to go until the big kick off, so welcome to Part Three of my Premier League Preview ahead of the highly anticipated ’09/’10 season. In Parts One and Two I’ve looked at the first 10 teams who will be scrapping it out this season, from Arsenal to Hull, so if you missed them make sure you check them out. Also, remember to get yourself a Fantasy Football team and join the ‘Ttiao… league’!
Today’s penultimate part of the Preview should be an interesting one, as I look at title challengers Liverpool and Manchester United, as well as the club that everyone now loves to hate and who could do absolutely anything this season: Manchester City. Completing today’s lineup are Portsmouth and Stoke, who will be looking to build on last season’s survival… can they do it?
Last Season: 2nd.
Target: Rafa has been at Liverpool for quite some time now, and has sure spent his fair share of cash. However, despite a Champions League victory, he has still yet to deliver the Premier League title that the fans in Norway are desperate for. Last season however, they pushed United as close as they have done for many years and made serious strides towards finally picking up that title. Nothing less than Champions will do for the Reds this season.
Squad Analysis: Well, Liverpool certainly have a decent squad, and Rafa seems to have finally bought a decent full back in Glen Johnson this summer (albeit massively overpriced). However, the loss of Xabi Alonso and possibly Mascherano will hit them heavily, while Aquilani is exciting but unproven. They still have Gerrard and Torres of course, but if they struggle with injuries again, Liverpool will struggle.
Key Player: Steven Gerrard. I feel like I don’t even need to justify this. Gerrard has carried Liverpool for many, many years. He is quite simply brilliant for them, and if he doesn’t play, they struggle. Torres’ goals are crucial too, but Gerrard is absolutely crucial to everything they do, especially now Alonso has gone.
Ttiao… Prediction: A frustrating 3rd, which could spark changes.
Last Season: 10th.
Target: Well, well, well. I suppose their target should be to win the title. They’ve certainly spent enough money and if you want to listen to all the talk of ambition coming out of Eastlands then they’re aiming for the very top. Personally I think they should target steady progression, which would see a Europa League place as a decent return, and a top four spot as a great season. Whichever way you look at it though, this is going to be a big season in Manchester.
Squad Analysis: City certainly have an ample squad. Unfortunately, about half of it seems to be made up of strikers, of which they frankly have too many. They can’t keep them all happy and that will be bad for the club as a whole. They have lots of quality though, and should be guaranteed goals with the likes of Ireland, Barry and Robinho providing good service. Questions over their defence still need answering with rumours aplenty, but overall, it’s undoubtedly a very strong squad.
Key Player: Breaking with tradition a little here, I’m gonna say Mark Hughes. He has a massive job ahead of him. Somehow he needs to find some balance in this squad and manage to keep all of the egos under control. They have a lot of star players, but it’s such a new squad that no one player stands out as being crucial. This will be Hughes’ make or break season though.
Ttiao… Prediction: I think they’ll do well, but it will take them a while to gel and so they’ll settle for 5th.
Last Season: 1st.
Target: They will want to make it four Premier League titles in a row, and Ferguson will be desperate to prove that there is life after Ronaldo. He will also be dying to show up Manchester City: make no mistake, they’ve got him riled (see his comments on City being a small club for proof) and he will want to continue the United dominance in face of the threat that City now pose.
Squad Analysis: Take Cristiano Ronaldo from any squad and you have a big hole to fill. I despise Ronaldo, he’s a cheat and a scumbag, but he’s also a fantastic player, I have to admit that. Ferguson has brought in Valencia who has done well in pre-season but he won’t provide the goals that C-Ron brought. Then there’s the loss of Tevez – Rooney and Berbatov is still a top notch partnership but Berba can easily go missing and there are obvious questions over Owen’s ability at the very top level. In defence Rio and Vidic are solid, but they are susceptible to injuries as last season proved.
Key Man: This has to be Wayne Rooney’s season. I saw him come through at Everton, and I knew then he was destined for the top. However, since joining United his progression has slowed – at Everton it was all about him, he was forced to improve, but he hit a comfort zone at United. Now he has to step up and fill Ronaldo’s shoes, and I think he’ll thrive on that extra pressure and responsibility.
Ttiao… Prediction: 2nd. Close but no cigar for Fergie’s boys, not enough goals.
Last Season: 14th.
Target: Portsmouth had a very unsettled campaign last season, with three managers (Redknapp, Adams and Hart) and continual speculation about the financial stability of the club, it’s a wonder they survived at all. Going into this new season the 40 point mark will be Paul Hart’s only major target, and it will be a long hard slog of a season.
Squad Analysis: It’s been a fairly negative summer for Pompey, though Paul Hart has been confirmed as the permanent manager he hasn’t been able to add to his squad beyond veterans Steve Finnan and Antti Niemi, and with Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch having left and David James rumoured to follow them, their squad looks a bit short. Niko Kranjcar provides some real quality in the middle and Dave Nugent may get chance to prove himself, but otherwise, there’s not much to excite the fans there.
Key Player: I’m tempted to say Nugent because they need to get some goals from somewhere, but I think the key will be Krancjar, who has to shoulder creative responsibilities. He has a stunning delivery on him and can be a real goal threat himself, but he can’t win games on his own. Hart needs to add to his squad.
Ttiao… Prediction: 17th. The phrase ‘skin of their teeth’ comes to mind.
Last Season: 12th.
Target: A 12th place finish was a massive achievement for Pulis’ men last time out. They were nailed on certs to go down according to every man and his dog but they found a way to survive in the Premier League and the Britannia Stadium was an absolute fortress. It wasn’t always pretty (in fact it rarely was), but it worked, and the Stoke faithful will be wanting more of the same.
Squad Analysis: Stoke will be going into this season in a similar state to how they finished the last. James Beattie had a great half season with them after joining from Sheffield United and Ryan Shawcross was hugely impressive last season, proving a solid defender and a potent threat from attacking set pieces. Rory Delap remains a central figure too, his ‘Delapidators’ will no doubt test defences again, while Matthew Etherington and Liam Lawrence provide some creativity. I wonder if they’ll have enough though, because even when playing well, they only really play one way.
Key Player: James Beattie I think will be key to Stoke’s season. It was when he joined them and started scoring goals that they managed to pull away from the relegation zone and the likes of Ricardo Fuller and Dave Kitson aren’t proven scorers at this level. Beattie needs to score plenty of goals if Stoke are to survive again.
Ttiao… Prediction: Sorry Stoke fans, but I think you will just be too predictable. 18th and relegated.
That concludes Part Three of the season preview but be sure to come back tomorrow for the fourth and final installment when we look at the final five: Sunderland, Tottenham, West Ham, Wigan and Wolves.