With the start of the Premier League season under a week away, Sports Editor James Beeson predicts what he thinks the league will look like come May next year…
1st – Chelsea
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Key arrival: Diego Costa
Key departure: Romelu Lukaku
Coming into the new season, only one team truly stand out to me as league winners this time around, and that team is Chelsea. The Blues arguably ought to have won last season, only to throw it away by dropping points at home to Sunderland and away to Crystal Palace and Aston Villa.
However, going into the 2014/15 season, Jose Mourinho’s side look a formidable foe, and in Diego Costa they have finally acquired a world class striker capable of terrorising opposition defences in a way Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o never could. The losses of veterans Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole have been more than made up for by the arrivals of Cesc Fabregas and Fillipe Luis, whilst the sale of David Luiz to PSG for £50million was nothing short of a miracle. It will also be interesting to see whether the young Thiabut Courtois is able to usurp stalwart Petr Cech in goal, and whether Didier Drogba can still hack it in the Premier League at the ripe old age of 36. One player I do feel Mourniho has made a mistake in letting go is young striker Romelu Lukaku, who was never really given a chance to shine at Stamford Bridge, but I believe will thrive at Everton.
Nevertheless, on the whole, Chelsea possess a hugely strong and well-balanced squad, with a first team capable of beating anyone in the division. Mourinho is a shrewd and experienced manager and should be expected to lead his side to the title this season.
2nd – Manchester City
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Key arrival: Eliaquim Mangala
Key departure: N/A
Last season’s league Champions have had a relatively quiet summer in comparison to some of their major rivals. The Sky-blues have undertaken a trimming of their squad, releasing the likes of Gareth Barry, Joleon Lescott and Jack Rodwell, whilst signing Bacary Sagna on a free transfer, as well as Porto midfielder Fernando and Malaga ‘keeper Willy Caballero.
Much of City’s fate this season will depend upon the fitness of key striker Sergio Aguero, who has been plagued by niggling injuries of late. If Aguero can stay fit, then City will challenge for the title once again. The future of Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure seemed uncertain, but it looks likely that he will now stay at City, which will also be a major boost for manager Manuel Pellegrini. At the back, City were still short of a world class centre half to partner Vincent Kompany, although Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala has since joined in a £32million move. The arrival of Caballero will keep Joe Hart focussed and provides strength in depth.
City possesses the quality to run Chelsea extremely close for the league this season. However, I feel that Pellegrini will devote more of his attentions to the Champions League this time around in a bid to improve his side’s dire European record. This could mean they slip up more frequently in the league, and will probably mean they fall just short this time year.
3rd – Arsenal
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Key arrival: Alexis Sanchez
Key departure: Nicklas Bendtner…probably Bacary Sagna
Much to the relief of their fans, Arsenal finally ended their eight-year trophy drought last season with a 3-2 victory over Hull City in the FA Cup final. Now manager Arsene Wenger has set about improving his side to ensure their league challenge doesn’t fall away in the same manner as it did last time out.
The standout arrival for the Gunners is clearly Alexis Sanchez, who they will hope can continue his scintillating World Cup form and add pace and power up front. £32million is a huge sum, and Arsenal fans will hope the Chillean’s first season is slightly more successful that Mesut Ozil’s, who struggled to adapt following his £42milion move from Real Madrid last summer. Elsewhere, Wenger will have been disappointed to lose yet another player to Manchester City in the form of Bacary Sagna, but the arrivals of Mathieu Debuchy and Callum Chambers see them adequately prepared in the right-back department. Mexican ‘keeper David Ospina is another excellent acquisition in what has been a productive summer for the North Londoners.
Arsenal now possess a squad that is capable of challenging for honours on all fronts, and I would expect them to be in and around the top come the end of the season, as well as challenging in the cup competitions and in Europe. Wenger must now ensure his players keep their focus and hope they can remain fit throughout the season.
4th – Manchester United
Manager: Louis Van Gaal
Key arrival: Louis Van Gaal
Key departure: Nemanja Vidić (Or David Moyes; take your pick!)
It’s been another busy summer for England’s most successful league side, as the Manchester Club welcomed their second manager in as many years, after having the same one for the 26 previous ones. David Moyes has departed after a disastrous campaign in which United failed to qualify for Europe for the first time since 1990. Louis Van Gaal has arrived fresh from a 3rd place finish at the World Cup with Holland, and has set about galvanising the side.
United have had a phenomenal pre-season, going unbeaten throughout and defeating the likes of Real Madrid, Roma and Liverpool. However, it is clear that this is a squad in serious need of overhaul before the season begins. At the time of writing, United’s only arrivals are Ander Herrera of Athletic Bilbao and Luke Shaw from Southampton. In addition to this, there have been key departures in the form of club captain Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra. More are likely to follow, with the likes of Javier Hernandez, Shinji Kagawa, Anderson and Nani to be told they can find new clubs. United still need to sign at least one central midfielder, as well as two world-class defenders if they want to persist with Van Gaal’s preferred 5-3-2 formation.
Van Gaal has undoubtedly been helped by the low expectations surrounding the club following the disappointment of Moyes’ reign. This, combined with a lack of European football should ensure United have a successful league campaign. I’m backing them to make an instant return to the Champions League, but not to challenge for the title again just yet.
5th – Liverpool
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Key arrival: Dejan Lovren
Key departure: Luis Suarez
What should have been an enjoyable and exciting summer turned into a nightmare for Liverpool fans when talismanic striker Luis Suarez got peckish and decided to take a bite out of Italian defender Georgio Chiellini in Brazil. A four-month ban and a quick fire £75million sale to Barcelona ensued, and left Brendan Rodgers’ plans for Liverpool’s first season in the Champions League since 2007 in disarray.
Rodgers has quickly identified and signed a whole host of players to fill the whole left in his side by Suarez’s departure. Rickie Lambert will provide a more direct option upfront, whilst Adam Lallana, Emre Can and Lazar Markovic are all promising additions. Furthermore, Dejan Lovren is a commanding and intelligent defender, the likes of which Liverpool have lacked since the retirement of Jamie Carragher. However, I cannot escape the feeling that Liverpool will struggle in much the same way as Tottenham did last summer following the departure of Gareth Bale. The only way to truly replace a world class player is with another world class player, and Liverpool have as of yet failed to do this. Throw in extra European commitments and raised expectations, and this season has the potential to be a disaster for the Merseyside club.
Nevertheless, Rodgers is an astute manager, and I still feel as if Liverpool can be successful this season. Perhaps another assault on the league would be unrealistic, but they could spring a surprise in Europe, and will certainly compete in the cups.
(Next time, Part Two: The Pretenders 6th-10th)