The English Premier League is back under way. The usual suspects- Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United are once again in the hunt for the most coveted prize in the land.
The Champions League spots have never been so keenly contested. Where the EPL once boasted of the Top Four, it now settles a tug of war between the Top Seven with Everton and Tottenham joining the Fab Five listed earlier.
The trio of Burnley, Leicester and QPR join the big boys hoping to avoid the drop immediately.
Welcome to the most unpredictable series on earth. The English Premier League.
GoalDig looks at the quality of the different teams, the history between them and the level of desire within each squad to make an attempt at predicting the league’s final standing come the end of the season.
1. Liverpool out of Top 4
Liverpool were only a victory away from winning the Premier League last term. They seduced many with their pacey, productive style of football ripping defences to shreds. Luis Suarez’s trickery, Sterling’s pace and Sturridge’s finishing combined to produce one of the most devastating attacking piece of play the league has seen in years.
They scored goals at will and many fans can be forgiven for believing that this might just be the year the Reds would go a step further and become champions.
Sadly, that view is myopic. In selling Suarez, Liverpool have lost their x-factor. Yes, they’ve got Sturridge who was the EPL’s second highest league scorer after Suarez last season. And yes they’ve made good money from the sale of the Uruguayan. But no, Sturridge alone can’t shoulder the goalscoring burden. And no, it’s hard to find a like-for-like replacement for Suarez.
Expect new signing Dejan Lovren to help strengthen a shaky defence. Balotelli is a quality addition if his youthful rascality is curtailed. But it is in midfield that Liverpool will likely get outclassed by the EPL’s big boys.
A good run in the UEFA Champions League will stretch a squad lacking in genuine depth.
Final League Standing Predicted: 5th
2. Manchester city and Chelsea in for title struggle
The defending champions have never won the EPL title twice in a row.
With a raft of solid reinforcements and proven fighters, Manuel Pellegrini clearly wants to change that. Sagna was snapped from Arsenal to battle with Zabaleta for the full back slot. The purchase of Mangala to partner Kompany and help block the hole in defence that nearly cost them the title last time.
Thanks largely to City’s millions and Pellegrini’s man-management, a really strong team has become even stronger. Even the famed China Walls at their peak would not stop the Citizens attack.
But in Chelsea, City will face a foe worthy of the challenge. The Stamford Bridge lords have welcomed Spaniards Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa two men who may just have made the Blues ten times stronger.
Mourinho’s side has solidity at the back, two of the world’s best goalkeeper, an assorted midfield with enough grit, guts and guile, together with a strike force made more potent with the return of Didier Drogba.
Final League Standing Predicted: Man City wins
3. Aston Villa’s Fortunes
2013-14 season, Fulham were finally stripped of their Premier League status after spending the last few years in the top flight leaving many analysts predicting it could be Aston Villa’s turn this year.
The Villans struggled for a large chunk of that campaign. Judging by their lack of genuine activity in the transfer market, not much will change about their fortunes this new one.
Paul Lambert remains their key man, though, and he will have to call upon every single tactical know-how he can muster from the bench to guide them to mid table safety. A European spot may be too high a yarget to aim for but with Agbonlahor and Benteke spearheading their attack, Aston Villa should be truly disappointed if they get relegated.
Final League Standing Predicted: Aston Villa survives the drop
4. What About Manchester United?
While their City rivals were cruising to their second EPL title in three years, Manchester United were busy changing managers and releasing experienced players.
Ferguson retired. David Moyes was chosen and un-chosen. Ryan Giggs suited up after him before Louis van Gaal was drafted in on a permanent basis.
You don’t lose Giggs, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra in one swoop and replace only with one teenager and a pint-size foreigner. Even if you are van Gaal, you need champions and battle-hardened warriors to win the EPL these days.
The signing of Rojo, Di Maria, Blind and Falcao in the last few days of the transfer window has changed the complexion of United, though.
They possess rather versatile players in Rojo and Blind and Falcao is as good as any you can get anywhere on this planet. But it is in Di Maria that they have a true champion and a creative talent better than most.
The onus is now on Louis van Gaal to extract the most out of this group and get them firing again.
Final League Standing Predicted: Man United finishes 4th
5. Is Arsenal Ready?
Arsenal have broken tradition three seasons in a row now.
First, they paid nicely to bring Santi Cazorla to England penultimate season. Last term, Gooners were wowed when Mesut Ozil arrived at the Emirates in record-signing fashion. This time, Alexis Sanchez has been added to the playing staff in a move seen by many as the deal of the summer.
Arsenal, on paper, look stronger than ever.
Last campaign for over 100 days, Arsenal reigned supreme atop the Premier League table and yet again they faltered in the run-in and ended the season in the last Champions League spot.
Is Arsenal equipped enough to win the EPL again? Maybe. Maybe not.
This current Arsenal side would have strolled to the EPL title in the early 2000s but the quality of opposition they face in Chelsea and Man City is like no other that boss Arsene Wenger has seen in his almost two decades in charge of the Gunners.
Arsenal’s Achilles’ heels will likely be in who leads the line. Giroud has often shown he’s no big game player. Sanogo is not ready yet for the big time. And late, late signing Welbeck is not a 20-goal a season striker.
Their ever present defensive frailties persisted throughout pre-season and Wenger seems satisfied with the ageing duo of Flamini and Arteta to provide the shield for his defence all season.
Final League Standing Predicted: Arsenal to end up in 3rd
6. Sterling, A Shining Star
The youngster emerged from the shadows of Sturridge and Coutinho last season to earn his place in a Liverpool team that was the favourite of many neutrals.
Sterling’s fine displays didn’t go unnoticed as Hodgson, England’s manager named him in the squad that made the trip to Brazil for the World Cup.
Fast, smart and aggressive, Sterling and not Sturridge could be the man to lead Liverpool out of the ditch Suarez’s departure has left the Anfield giants.
There’s Wilshere, Shaw, Chambers, and a host of budding stars about to be unleashed on the Premier League but Sterling could well emerge as the best of the lot this term.
7. Burnley Are Going Right Back
QPR, Burnley and Leicester are the three sides promoted from the Championship this season. And after a gruelling campaign last term, no one can fault that they deserve their place among the country’s best.
Yet it’s one thing for a one-eyed man to be the king in the land of the blind. The Premier League is a different ball game. Even the rich struggle here.
So it would surprise few of us if all three newcomers get sent back down at the end of the day.
However, if any would manage to beat the drop, Leicester appear the best bet.
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