My turn to talk football. Because I’m a jerk, my answers are a bit long.
Is the strength of the so-called “Big 4” a good or bad thing for
the league? Can any team from the second tier of the league break into the top 4 this season?
It’s unquestionably a bad thing. Every professional league needs its aristocrats, the teams that will always be up there, or at least won’t be gone for too long. However, the worth of these dynasties is devalued hugely when four clubs are the only competitors with any chance of winning the league. Nobody outside of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea has any chance of winning the league. When you throw in rising ticket prices, and subsequently a steadily older season-ticket holder, and the game is in trouble. English supremacy in the Champions’ League might keep people happy for now, but the long term health of the game is being neglected.
I’ve already answered the second half of this question then. There is no team that can break into the top four. Everton have been sluggish in the transfer market, Harry Redknapp has brought Portsmouth as far as they’re going to go, and Spurs….. ah, Spurs. Tottenham have to hold on to Berbatov to be relevant this year, or else Modric and Bentley will be playing beautiful passes into nobody. Even with Berbatov, and assuming a big improvement under Ramos, Spurs are fifth at best.
Who will be the best, and worst teams, to watch this season?
Arsenal are an obvious answer, always wonderful to watch, especially for the purist. I’m tempted to say Manchester United as well, but in the last two years Ferguson’s team tends to beat up on small teams and grind out wins against their rivals. Not sure how entertaining that really is. West Ham and Spurs are the traditional entertainers but both will have issues of their own this year. As far as being consistently good to watch, game after game, I can’t go beyond Arsenal.
There are a lot of bad teams in the Premier League. Watching Chelsea can be like pulling teeth, but they do play a bit of football here and there. I think Sunderland will be utilitarian, and Middlesbrough are always painful. Hull could be the worst team to watch if they become the Derby of 2008-2009.
Can any of the promoted teams hope to survive?
Well, they can all hope. People will say that WBA have the ‘experience’ of being in the top division most recently, but I think the promoted teams’ chances rest with how badly the incumbent bottom-half regulars do this year. Hull could be in trouble; it’s been a long time since a team rose through the divisions as fast as they have, and it’s a different footballing world now. Wigan will be in trouble and if Paul Ince doesn’t settle very quickly at Blackburn then Rovers could be a surprise struggler. Stoke and WBA to stay up.
Who will be top scorer and who will be player of the year?
I don’t believe you can look beyond the big four again for this one. Torres will get top scorer. I didn’t expect Cristiano Ronaldo to match last year’s performance anyway, and he won’t be able to catch up from the early injury. Not to mention the fact he may still go to Real Madrid at Christmas. Fabregas will be amazing this season and Torres will be a contender for player of the year as well. I think it will go to Rio Ferdinand though. Manchester United will win the league, nobody will be sure how, and Vidic will continue to make Ferdinand look like a top player.
Who will be champions and who else will make up the top 8?
It breaks my heart but I think Manchester United will win it all. Alex Ferguson understands the league and how it works better than Benitez or Scolari, and Wenger is pushing through with his youth policy. Liverpool will look more likely than at any time since 1990, Arsenal will play great stuff, and Chelsea will be lukewarm.
Outside the top four, holding on to Berbatov make Spurs a sure thing for fifth place, in my opinion. Ramos is a good coach and I can’t see last year’s collapse again. Manchester City will take sixth on the back of strong performances from Richard Dunne and Mark Hughes enhancing his reputation still further. Newcastle will reach seventh thanks to a strong attack with Owen and Duff returning to form, and Villa will finish in eighth with no Barry and dreams of year on year improvements in tatters.
1. Manchester United
6. Manchester City
8. Aston Villa