With the start of the new Premier League season just days away, the Concrete Sport writers decided to get together to create a final predictions table. What follows is an amalgamation of the predictions of Concrete’s Sport’s contributors and in no way wholly reflects (in many ways it wholly diverges from) the viewpoint of any one person.
Enjoy, debate and look back on how ridiculous these all seem when Burnley lift the trophy in May…
Jose Mourinho can no longer fall back on his “little horse” analogy this season, as Chelsea have spent shrewdly to rectify last season’s third-place finish. The most significant new boy, the powerful Diego Costa, will no doubt score more goals in five minutes than Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba managed last year. Drogba has also returned in a part-player, part-mentor role. In defence, they’ve bought Filipe Luis from Ateltico Madrid to play alongside John Terry and Gary Cahill.
Chelsea now boast a holding midfield partnership of Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas, and German star Andre Schurrle might not even make it into the first time with the likes of Oscar, Willian and Eden Hazard having first dibs when it comes to the attacking midfield positions.
2. Manchester City
The blue half of Manchester had done very little in the transfer market until they bought Eliaquim Mangala and somehow snapped up Frank Lampard from franchise brothers New York City FC. But the additions of Bacary Sagna, Willy Caballero and Fernando will also be useful as they attempt to balance the books after their Financial Fair Play failure. What might let Manchester City down in the league is their focus on Europe’s top prize, the Champions League.
This is a competition they’ve never really had an impact on for one reason or another, whether it be harsh groupings or Carlos Tevez refusing to come on from the bench. Of course, they’ll be there or thereabouts, but a run in Europe could see them suffer.
3. Manchester United
Last season was an absolute cataclysm for Manchester United fans, and an absolute laugh for anyone who had grown up with their monopoly of Premier League football. They’ve moved quickly to replace David Moyes with the brilliant but mad Louis Van Gaal. United are recovering by building for the future, having signed left-back wizard Luke Shaw and long-term target Ander Herrera.
They certainly need some defensive certainty before the window shuts, but with King Louis in charge and no European midweek distractions, they should finish in the top four.
THEY’VE ACTUALLY WON A TROPHY. With this new found confidence, they should go into the season full of optimism. Not that the Concrete writers have noticed, placing them in their usual comfortable, but disappointing fourth-place finish. Arsenal are on a pre-season high after picking up the Community Shield to add to their trophy haul (of sorts). They even somehow landed Alexis Sanchez, along with Southampton’s starlet Callum Chambers. Let’s hope all this bubbling optimism doesn’t end with the usual collapse, injuries and frustration.
Taking up the position as every football hipster’s new favourite team in 2013/14, Liverpool galvanised much of the league with their inordinately energetic attacking style. But now they’ve lost their star turn Luis Suarez, whose third biting incident was one too many for all-round nice guy and David Brent-esque, inspirational manager, Brendan Rodgers. The Reds have bought heavily from Southampton, snaring Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren.
However, here at Concrete Sport, we still don’t think that they’ll have enough to fill their bite-sized hole in order to repeat the exploits of last year, even if Emre Can and Lazar Markovic also look promising.
As is often the way, Tottenham provided great entertainment for all the wrong reasons last season, spending over £100m on players to try to make up for Gareth Bale’s exit. This hasty experiment failed, with such a massive raft of new players unable to gel, especially Erik Lamela, who barely made it on the pitch. They have been quiet in the transfer market, but this is probably for the best as it has given the team and their new manager, Mauricio Pochettino, time to work out a less frantic game plan for the new season. We think they won’t finish any higher than last time out, but a strong Europa League run might just be enough for fans.
Nobody was expecting Everton to retain the dizzy heights of David Moyes’ reign in 2013-14, but they had an excellent season under Roberto Martinez which saw them narrowly miss out on a Champions League spot due to a poor run in their last few games. Martinez seemed like a great choice who believed in the young talent of Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman and John Stones. Everton have finally spent big money, acquiring the services of Romelu Lukaku on a permanent basis. They should steer well clear of mid-table mediocrity, but we don’t think they will quite have enough to repeat the dizzying heights of last year.
An obvious choice for best of the rest, Newcastle have just about bought every promising French footballer who hasn’t been snapped up by a Champions League side. What Newcastle do need to invest in is a goal scorer. Cissé and Gouffran simply don’t score enough, while loyal servant Shola Ameobi has left the club to join Gaziantep Büyükşehir Belediyespor in the Turkish second division (words fail us). Siem De Jong could be the answer to their problems, but one more striker wouldn’t go amiss.
Swansea can sneak a top-table finish, particularly if they can keep hold of Wilfried Bony.
Swansea might struggle at the back without Michel Vorm and Ben Davies, both of whom have moved to Spurs. However, they hope this will be counteracted by the signing of Bafetimbi Gomis, who comes in from Lyon. Gylfi Sigurdsson has returned to South Wales, and the somewhat erratic Lukasz Fabianski has been placed between the sticks.
How chips-‘n’-gravy, “get-stuck-in”, long-ball Stoke City became the hipster team of the Premier League is a transformation that only Mark Hughes could explain. He’s worked miracles by somehow persuading failed Barcelona youth product Bojan Krkic to join the Potters in a move which further signals a complete overhaul of philosophy at the club since Tony Pulis’s departure. We’ll ignore the signings of Phil Bardsley and Steve Sidwell for now, and dream of how standout performer Marko Arnautovic might thread an intricate pass to the little Spaniard. If all else fails, Steven N’Zonzi can always knock a long throw onto the head of Peter Crouch anyway.
11. Crystal Palace
With a confident squad, managerial knowhow and a very loyal, loud fan base they really shouldn’t have any problems avoiding the drop. Like most Pulis teams, Palace were built on a very solid rear guard action last year. Yet, what was perhaps most impressive about Palace was their midfield, with Jedinak dominating games, and Puncheon and Bolasie exploding down the wings. The one thing they do need is a goal scorer. Dwight Gayle showed fleeting glimpses of brilliance, but Chamakh, Murray and Jerome had a lot to answer for.
12. Hull City
The major worry for Hull this year comes off the back of their excellent FA Cup run: they’ve qualified for the Europa League. The squad will need serious rotation for these games, but Bruce has tentatively tried to add depth to his squad by acquiring Jake Livermore, Robert Snodgrass and Tom Ince. They’ve still certainly got the quality to steer clear of the trap door; it’ll really just depends if their energy levels drop from the Thursday games to the weekend. We think they’ve got enough, as long as they focus mainly on survival.
It was the miracle of miracles for Gus Poyet last season, as Sunderland somehow survived with a game or two to spare despite having Manchester City, United and Chelsea in their final stretch. They haven’t got to worry about sacking any maverick managers at the beginning of the season this time around (unless Poyet loses the plot), and early matches against West Brom and QPR will indicate how they might fare over the 38 games. Jack Rodwell is their obvious piece of big business in the window and if Fabio Borini does decide to move to Wearside, they should really have enough to get over the line early on.
14. West Ham
Demanding more attacking play from a Sam Allardyce team might not end well, but with the addition of Teddy Sheringham as attacking coach and the signing of Ecuadorian Enner Valencia, West Ham might begin to have enough to start progressing up the pitch on a more regular basis. They’ve obviously got a very solid defence, but that won’t be enough for David Gold and David Sullivan if they start to notice long balls involving an Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan combination creeping back into West Ham’s play. Allardyce might be a favourite for the sack this year despite the owners’ loyalty last year, but West Ham should survive whoever ends up sitting in the dugout.
How the mighty have fallen. There has been an exodus of Biblical proportions at Southampton with the sales of (takes deep breath): Lovren, Lallana, Lambert, Shaw, and Chambers. Oh, and they’ve lost their manager. Replacement Ronald Koeman has been brought in to pick up the pieces of this apocalypse and he’s still got to deal with keeping hold of the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, whose artistic growth has been stifled by his failed move to Spurs. Fraser Forster seems like their best bit of business coming into the club so far. He will surely take the number-one keeper slot from the often unreliable Artur Boruc. With the money they’ve still got they could easily make a big money move (Di Maria for the Saints anyone?), but even a few more additions won’t see them repeat their hip position of eighth last time out.
16. Aston Villa
Villa have had a shocker in the transfer market so far. They’ve brought in Philippe Senderos, a player who was part of a relegation-destined defence last year that let in 85 goals on its way to the Championship. This is without mentioning the signings of aging tricksters Joe Cole and Kieran Richardson, whose loss of pace leaves them just about defunct in any contemporary Premier League midfield. The big problem for Villa has been the fact that their academy products, who looked promising, have failed to gel as they have developed into the first team. Added to all this is the fact that Randy Lerner is trying to sell the club. We don’t blame him.
17. Queen’s Park Rangers
Everyone’s least-favourite, big-spending, big-failing Premier League outfit are back in the Premier League with their wheeler-dealer manager… Hooray!? However, QPR seem to be a slightly different outfit this time, a more unified squad, playing to win football matches rather than to take home the next pay cheque. Harry Redknapp has done well to snap up Rio Ferdinand and has spent wisely on Cardiff’s Stephen Caulker and Jordon Mutch, who were the obvious stand-out performers of their abysmal season. It isn’t going to be easy for QPR, but they will just about keep their heads above water.
18. West Bromwich Albion
West Brom ended the season very badly with three straight defeats in May, the kind of form which saw them almost relegated under the seemingly hapless Pepe Mel. They’ve moved swiftly to bring in Alan Irvine, a highly regarded youth coach who has never quite proven himself at senior level. The squad seems to have very little depth, even with the signings of Joleon Lescott, Craig Gardner and Brown Ideye. We don’t think they have quite got enough to remain in the league. West Brom to go down and Irvine to get the sack might be a decent bet.
19. Leicester City
Leicester were the very entertaining winners of the Championship this year, and fans will be hoping that they bring some of their youthful bravado to the top league. The problem is that they haven’t done anything spectacular in the transfer market, with Matthew Upson and Leonardo Ulloa their most notable additions. If their stars of last season can start firing they might have a chance at survival, but they lack good old-fashioned Premier League experience.
The obvious choice for bottom spot, but Burnley deserve to be commended for an excellent Championship season, where they amassed 93 points to grab the second automatic spot. Manager Sean Dyche looks like an army drill coach, sounds like one, and probably acts like one on the training ground. If there is any chance of survival then Danny Ings, Sam Vokes and Kieran Trippier have to be in tip-top form for every single of their 38 games. None of their signings look like they will provide much, so that core squad from last year is their only hope in beating the drop.