Football is coming back!!! It starts up this weekend and I am extremely happy. So happy, that my blog will become completely football obsessed this week. Just warning you in advance. To start with, I have some comments from my friend Gray.
Every year Gray and I get together and talk about the issues we think are really important going into the season. I’ll post my reactions tomorrow but today is Gray’s turn. Questions in bold.
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?
The answer to the first part is a resounding “No”. Spurs came close to breaking it two years ago, and Everton finished 4th in 2005, but its true that the top 4 clubs have to massively under-achieve to miss out. This comes down to money and like most things in English football, money corrupts and money divides between the haves and have nots. This isn’t just a problem of clubs and owners, but with players as well. There is a distinct lack of patience with players who don’t play immediately in the Champions League, feeling that they are somehow demeaning their career and international chances by playing for clubs who finish between 5th and 8th and have to lower themselves to playing in the UEFA Cup. This attitude, exemplified by the likes of Gareth Barry and Robbie Keane this Summer, magnifies the image of a Big 4 whereby playing outside of it is below certain players and not worth their time.
But, clubs like Tottenham have a modicum of ambition in terms of the players they buy. Players like Woodgate, Modric and Bentley are all “top 4” calibre signings, and it doesn’t hurt when you get to play in London as well. Spurs are the team with the ambition presently to challenge the top 4, but as evidenced by the loss of Keane and possible loss of Berbatov, they seem powerless to keep players who want to “step up” to top 4 clubs. It may be a season too early for Tottenham, so in reality the top 4 will probably remain unchallenged in a real conserted way this season.
Who will be the best, and worst teams, to watch this season?
Arsenal are always a joy to watch with the ball, although some of their off-the-ball antics and whinging are hard to take. With playmakers like Modric, Dos Santos, Bentley and possibly still Berbatov I’d expect good attacking stuff from Spurs also, especially at home. Worst teams is a toss-up between half a dozen. Middlesbrough never inspire me, Sunderland equally. All three promoted teams have the potential to be absolutely awful, and a special mention for Chelsea, who have talked a good game all Summer about attacking football but generally revert to playing defensive winning dirge.
Can any of the promoted teams hope to survive?
Yes, but only due to the average nature of the bottom half of the league and not down to anything one of the 3 clubs has done themselves. Despite winning automatic promotion I think Stoke and Hull City are doomed, in a Derby County kind of doomed. Of the three, I think West Brom have the best chance. They’ve been there before, have experienced the pace and extra quality of the top league, and their experiences in the Cup last year will have prepared them for the big games. They can survive, maybe.
Who will be top scorer and who will be player of the year?
Top scorer will be Fernando Torres, this will be his real break-out year because last year he scored the vast majority of his goals at Anfield. If he manages 8-10 goals on the road this year he’ll win the golden boot by a mile. Player of the year will be Steven Gerrard because I’m predicting a real Liverpool title challenge this season. For that to happen he’ll have to be awesome all season. An awesome Gerrard is the best midfielder in Europe, let alone England so he wins it hands down.
Who will be champions and who else will make up the top 8?
2nd: Man United
6th: Man City
7th: Aston Villa