….Man Utd. Losing Vidic and Fletcher for the majority of the season as well as a few additional injuries has meant that Sir Alex had to play some personnel out of position. Valencia at right-back, Carrick at centre-back, these were choices United could do without and yet somehow they are still in the hunt to capture their 20th league title. What goes in United’s favour is the experience they have; that winning mentality of ‘never say die’ which will stand them in good stead during the run of fixtures later in the season, when the games will become more tougher with clubs in a relegation battle upping their performances. The debate over United’s midfield will continue to persist and Sir Alex may well decide to buy in the transfer window despite saying otherwise, but in bringing Scholes back this suggests that he would rather invest in the summer when the quality of players available is naturally much higher. As United know all too well, nothing is ever set in stone and they will have to work hard to make sure they beat their ‘noisy neighbours’ to the Premier League. It certainly makes for some interesting viewing in the coming months as there is every possibility that the league can come down to goal difference. However, as things stand, Man City must be given the benefit of the doubt considering the quality in depth and fixtures they have yet to play (at home). 28th April 2012. Man City vs Man Utd. Mark it on your calendars now.
It’s hard not to replicate the current league standings when predicting who will complete the rest of the top four. Tottenham have been playing some of the best football in England right now and have obtained an ability to get results on a consistent basis. Spurs’ next few fixtures will assess their title credentials but it seems one step too far this season. Manager Redknapp will have only dreamt of a top 3 finish at the start of the season and can be very proud of his squad should they complete the job. In Bale, Modric, van der Vaart and Parker, they possess, arguably, the strongest midfield in the league and have adequate cover in all positions. Who’s to say they can’t become the top London club this season?
Chelsea might. Personally, it was difficult in deciding who would finish higher, Chelsea or Arsenal? The former has been given the nod here simply because you don’t become bad players overnight. Terry, Lampard and Drogba – who recently stated he will be at the club until atleast June, form a core which is still worthy of racking up points. The club are in transition and are still coming to terms with Villa-Boas’ philosophy; there has been some criticism of players such as Luiz and Torres but the likes of Ramires have flourished under the new manager. The West London club may well fail to qualify for the Champions League next season but one feels they may have just enough to clinge on to a top-four berth.
Winners: Man City; Second: Man Utd; Third: Tottenham; Fourth: Chelsea
Arsenal have what it takes to make the top four but they heavily rely on Robin van Persie for goals; with Arsenal’s luck regarding continuous long-term injuries, fans must be hoping RVP is wrapped in cotton wool. Over the past few months, he has shown what he can do if he stays fully fit and if the trend continues until May then Arsenal will provide a strong challenge for that fourth spot.
Alan Pardew has, rightfully, been praised for his work at Newcastle this season. Under him, Coloccini has come on leaps and bounds in a defensive line which has been their saviour this season. Coupled with shrewd signings such as Cabaye and Ba, they have surpassed all expectations and find themselves situated towards the top of the table. Krul has been one of the standout goalkeepers of the campaign while Ba has been banging them in on the other side of the field. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it may well see them gain European qualification.
Liverpool have significantly relied on Suarez this season. Besides Bellamy, the Reds lack pace in their squad, and while they have creative outlets in midfield, Suarez is the one who brings it all gel together. They have been drawing too many games at Anfield, and undoubtedly their biggest problem this season has been a lack of goals – so much so, that Dalglish may be tempted to go into the market for another striker. Suarez was never finding the net even before his suspension, Bellamy is placed on the wing and when they play Carroll up top, they still seem to want to stick to plan A and play the ball forward instead of playing to his strengths.
While it’s hard to differentiate between teams at the very top of the table, it gets a little easier when it comes to looking at the rest of the table. Both Fulham and Everton had started the season finding themselves placed firmly in the bottom half of the table. However, their fortunes have apparently changed and it’s difficult to see either club being part of a relegation battle. Fulham have finally found their feet under Martin Jol, however despite the talent in their squad they are just too inconsistent and may have to wait another year to relive the ‘glory days’ of the Hodgson era. Everton, as usual, under David Moyes continue to impress despite the lack of funds to invest in new players. In players like Baines, Fellaini and Cahill they have enough to regularly pick up points but it will most likely be a quiet season for the Toffees.
Since the start of the season, we have seen two new managers come into the fold in the name of Mark Hughes at QPR and Martin O’Neill at Sunderland. Simply put, there is good reason to suggest that these managerial changes will prove a stroke of magic come the end of the season as they look to avoid relegation. Warnock is a fine manager but his talent seems to be suited towards clubs aspiring for promotion as opposed to consolidating in the top-flight. Hughes may be better placed to bring the best out of his players and find that extra bit of quality in the transfer window. At the time of print, they are still in for defenders Alex and Onuoha as well as recently acquiring AC Milan full-back Taye Taiwo on loan. With regards to O’Neill’s appointment, it seems to have brought a welcome breath of fresh air. Using the pace of McLean and Sessègnon, Sunderland are effective on the counter-attack – as they were in their victory over Man City over the Christmas season. The players were always there at Sunderland, it was just a case of using them as best as possible. It seems that Martin O’Neill knows how.
End of season woes
The interesting thing about the relegation candidates this season is that most of the teams are actually playing some decent football. Some are better at it than others, and it’ll probably show come the end of the season. Steve Kean’s Blackburn has received a lot of negative press this season, for admittedly justified reasons. The main worry is how the Venky brothers have allowed their manager to take the criticism, while they don’t even make an appearance at crucial home games. Having said that, football is a results business and Blackburn may have what it takes to get those results. They’ve played good football through the entire season and have been unlucky both with injuries and the goals conceded. The defending is a concern, however, and the speculation regarding Samba’s departure must be resolved sooner rather than later. On the whole, Blackburn have a squad of extremely talented players and it’s reminiscent of West Ham last season when they were ‘too good to go down’. We all know how that ended up, but have some faith Rovers fans.
Wolves have been performing heroically, but they have paid the price one too many times due to individual mistakes. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Wolves chairman Steve Morgan has said that McCarthy’s job is safe. And so it should be, as he’s the right man to save them from the drop. Whether he will, however, is a completely different story.
The statistics do not lie, and for Bolton, they show that they have lost the most games this season (15) and also conceded the most goals (47). These are hardly numbers that fans can take heart from, but Bolton boss Owen Coyle has tried to tighten his back four after Gary Cahill’s departure by pursuing USA defender Tim Ream. However, goals are also a problem for Bolton.
Like Bolton, Roberto Martinez’s Wigan must be applauded for the way they play their football. Few believed they would ever see a Bolton team which didn’t lump the ball down the field and hope for the best. However, to play football with such a mindset at the bottom of the table is very ambitious. Martinez has survived relegation for a couple of seasons now and he will be wondering when his luck runs out. His squad does not possess the technical abilities to play the way he wants and would be better suited to use a different approach. Having said that, a change in philosophy seems unlikely and that may end up being Wigan’s demise.
Relegated: Wolves, Bolton and Wigan
As mentioned, these are just some personal predictions. Where do you think your club will end up?