2012-2013 English Premier League Preview Part Four: Who Will Win It All?
Alright, folks, it's time for the main event. We've covered the transfers. We've covered the three new entrants into the Premier League. We've covered who is the most vital to their team's success. Now it is time to pick the winner, Champions League spot earners, relegated teams, and everything in between in the English Premier League for this upcoming season. We'll start with last place and work our way up.
They were a great defensive team in the Championship, but this is the big leagues. You need to score goals, and Reading don't score that many. I see their time in the Premier League ending quickly.
19. Queens Park Rangers
QPR needed help on the final day of the season to secure their spot in the Premier League this season and, while they will always have a place in my heart after how valiantly they fought on the final day, I don't see them having similar luck this year. I do, however, see Joey Barton strangling someone on the pitch this year. So there's that.
18. Swansea City
This breaks my heart. I loved watching the Swans and their ball dominating, short passing style of play as implemented by manager Brendan Rodgers. They were even known as the Welsh version of Barcelona! However, Rodgers is gone to Liverpool, and I see this season being Swansea's swansong in the Prem as a result.
Not Relegated, Not Relevant
17. Stoke City
These guys are easily my least favorite team in the Premier League. They just don't score goals. Stoke boasted a snore inducing 36 goals in 38 matches last season. That is the very definition of pathetic. I don't see their Peter Crouch-centric offensive strategy keeping them away from a relegation scare this year, but they will survive.
16. Wigan Athletic
Wigan needed an absolute miracle to survive last season. Manager Roberto Martinez earned a lot of respect for dragging his team out of the fire in the latter stages of the year. He earned plenty from me, hence me not sending them down in this column.
15. West Ham United
I see West Ham doing just enough to stay safe, but it won't be pretty, as is customary of the team over the last few years. They are one of my favorite squads, but without much firepower relative to the rest of the league, this should be their ceiling.
14. Norwich City
Losing manager Paul Lambert hurts after a relatively successful season last year, but I think that was a bit of a flash in the pan either way. They will stay out of danger, but will be slightly below last year's standards.
The highest of the recently promoted teams in my probably-wrong series of predictions, I think Southampton will put together a decent season this year. Richard Lambert scores at a decent rate, and they have a great home crowd. That alone will keep them up.
12. West Bromwich Albion
Peter Odemwingie is good, but the team as a whole doesn't do a whole lot of scoring. They will be in the middle of the pack, but won't be overly impressive either.
Everyone already knows what they are going to get from Sunderland. They don't score many goals, but they don't give many up either. Last year they allowed just over 1 per game, and played very well at home defeating Manchester City and giving United a run for their money. Losing Asamoah Gyan and Nicklas Bendtner will hurt up front, but they will find a way to be mediocre as usual.
So Close, Yet So Far
I would love to put Fulham higher, but the Clint Dempsey drama (he says he will not play for Fulham, wanting to move to a Champions League team) has me worried, as nobody else on the roster had 10 Premier League goals last year. If they can't manage to keep him happy, Fulham fans had better be ready for mediocrity.
9. Aston Villa
Villa fell well below their normal expectations last year, having to worry about relegation late into the season. They picked up former Norwich manager Paul Lambert, who will turn it around with the talent on this squad.
Everton was unreal after the start of the new year, accumulating the third most points in the Prem after January 1. Tim Howard is still getting it done in goal and Marouane Fellaini emerged as a solid scorer last year. I like to think of him as the European Ben Wallace thanks to his crazy hair. I like what they are putting together in Mersyside.
The Second Least Desirable Place in the Premier League (That Isn't Relegation)
7. Tottenham Hotspur
This is by far the worst spot to be in the Prem. Seventh place means you did well, but just one spot away from European competition in the Europa League. Spurs get rid of Harry Redknapp for not being able to get to the Champions League, then hire Andres Villas-Boas, who needed to be fired so Chelsea could start winning last year. They also lose Emmanuel Adebayor, whose loan from Man City is up, and are prepared to lose Luka Modric and Gareth Bale at any second as they were last year. I can't see things ending any better than this for them.
Stuck in the Europa League
6. Newcastle United
Sure, being in a European competition is nice, but there's one problem: the Europa League is the wrong one to be in. Nobody cares about it except for Spain, Portugal, and obscure countries who can't compete in the Champions League. Newcastle will be good as they were last year, but not good enough to break into the top four. Ba and Cisse will be a treat to watch once again.
The Least Desirable Place to Be In the Premier League (Including Relegation)
Fifth hurts even more than seventh. You get stuck in a tournament you don't want to be in, and one point here or there could have put you where everyone wants to be. Just brutal.
Bear with me on this one. Yes, Chelsea won the Champions League last year. That was impressive. However, they lost the best striker in the history of the club in Didier Drogba and now have to rely on Daniel Sturridge (who they don't fully trust yet), Fernando Torres (who finishes worse than Rafael Palmiero before finding that blue pill), and Eden Hazard (who put up big totals in the soft French league). Their manager is still not guaranteed a job long term, despite dramatically turning around the team last year. John Terry anchors the defense at approximately 237 years old. Is this really a top four quality team? I say no.
Champions League Qualifiers
Brendan Rodgers worked wonders with Swansea last year with players of a far lower caliber than Liverpool boasts. And here's the scary part: Liverpool's guys fit in with his ball control oriented system.
Lucas comes back from a knee injury, Joe Cole is back from loan, and (maybe) Luis Suarez won't be suspended eight games for using racial slurs in the middle of a match. Depth is an issue, but I think this is the year Liverpool gets back into the top four. If Lucas tears his knee up again, I'll just go ahead and delete this and pretend it never happened.
Robin van Persie is gone, but there is still a ton of talent at the Emirates. Lukas Podolski will fill in capably, and the young guns Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mikel Arteta will help him out when he needs it. Santi Cazorla will help out in the midfield, and the Gunners will make their sixteenth straight Champions League appearance after this season.
2. Manchester City
This breaks my heart to put City in the two spot. But a ton of things worry me about them coming into the season. First, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez can be the best scorers in the league, but will probably get angry and quit on the team for a few months at some point. Second, Roberto Mancini plays favorites to the point that Edin Dzeko was the team's top scorer early on, but was benched for Balotelli anyway during the season while he was leading the team in goals. Things worked out last year, but the way Mancini rotates players is just awful. And finally, they had plenty of concerns to address (cough, getting rid of Joleon Lescott), but are now to afraid of the threat of UEFA implementing Financial Fair Play laws to spend on anyone. All of this equates to second place in my eyes. But I'll still have last year, and that's okay.
1. Manchester United
I hate Sir Alex Ferguson. Seeing his face when word spread that City had pulled off the comeback to win the league last year was probably my favorite moment in the history of the EPL. But, with a heavy heart, I can't pick against United this season.
They bring in RVP to unite the league's top two scorers at Old Trafford, and they bring in Shinji Kagawa to feed them from the midfield. Howard Webb will give them all of the penalty kicks they need to get through any rough patches during the year, and United will claim yet another championship.
No matter what happens (and how wrong these predictions are), we are just 12 hours away from the start of the English Premier League. Enjoy the season, everyone.