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English Premier League Preview – 2011/12

A new season is upon us, no one actually enjoyed pre season did they? When trying to determine in some kind of Nostradamus-style way what we are expecting to see in the English Premier League this season, we’ve gone a bit Derren Brown and enlisted the help of some great journalists, bloggers and fans in. We tried asking them for lottery numbers too, but that was a pound we won’t be seeing again.

Let’s get straight into things and introduce the cast:

Neil Jones (@NeilJonesEcho) – Sports reporter for the Liverpool Daily Post & ECHO and tweets predominantly about clubs based in and around Merseyside.

Matthew Campbell (@mattc236) – Writes for The Football Express, focusing mainly on English football – the Championship to be a little more precise.

Matt Furniss (@Matt_Furniss) – Matt is part of a wonderful team at Opta, and for his sins he’s a Watford fan as well.

Chris Allen (@KingPuck) – A passionate Arsenal fan.

Ryan Keaney (@TheFtblProject) – The Football Project is a site that covers World football and includes a recently started podcast that you may wish to cast your attention toward.

Rocco Cammisola (@rcammisola) – Editor and writer for this fair site, you’ll also find him tweeting about Serie A-D. Searching out obscure stories from deep in the Italian leagues, trying too hard to be a hipster.

Simon Walsh (@RokerReport) – Simon is one of the lead editors for Roker Report, the ultimate source for all things Sunderland related. For rumours, analysis and a wonderful podcast all based around the North Eastern club, Roker Report should be your first port of call.

George Ogier (@george_ogier) – Lives the dream country life, a spurs fan who writes about football and boxing. You can read his works at his blog here and follow him on twitter.

Matthias Kaarud (@MathiasKaarud) – A 19 year old Norwegian tweeter, and Manchester United fan.

Charlie Anderson (@CAndersonFtbl) – Charlier possesses a true rapier wit and near faultless knowledge of Scandinavian football. For more Scandinavian gems, check out his own dear blog

Mike Grady (@MikeGrady87) -Senior Writer for Channel 4 Paralympics and a freelance football writer.

Those were the formalities, now on to the predictions…

1. Who will finish in the top four this season, and in what order?

Rocco Cammisola (RC): Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal
Despite not having signed a decent set of central midfielders (yet), I think United will still have just enough to carry them over the line. Manchester City and Chelsea will push them almost all the way though, probably until the last two weeks.

Matthew Campbell (MC): Manchester Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal
In theory, City have the best starting eleven -getting Mancini to pick this eleven, get the tactics right and then have the eleven players perform to the best of their ability consistently is another matter. United could really do with a proper holding midfielder, but still have the strongest squad and the depth should see them retain the title.

Neil Jones (NJ): City, United, Chelsea, Liverpool
Manchester Utd looked very good in the Community Shield, which was ominous. They are still the best team in the league for me, and whoever finishes ahead of them will win it and I have a feeling Manchester City will be up there this season, certainly closer to the top than previously.. They have a way to go, and I believe they are lacking a bit of strength in the managerial department, but their squad is getting better and better.

Matt Furniss (MF): Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool.
I think Man Utd have strengthened a team that were already better than anyone else, plus they’ve bought players that fit in to their system and won’t take long to adapt. It’s always better to have a star team than a team of stars – hence the reason I think Man City will fail to break in to the top two again.

As smug as a champions

As smug as a champions

Chris Allen (CAl): Man City, Man Utd, Tottenham, Chelsea.
City made huge progress last season and I expect that to continue this year. With no buyer to be found for Tevez so far it looks increasingly likely they will have a frightening depth in Argentine talent up top. United will run them close of course, but I expect Chelsea to drop off the pace – their reluctance to invest in some quality out wide and their lack of creativity in the middle may cost them dear. As for Arsenal, there are too many question marks over the squad at the moment and without some big moves in the market, I can see them getting left behind.

Ryan Football Project (RFP): Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea
United have responded to their departures far too well; Sir Alex has bought exactly the players he wanted to get. For all the Fabregas transfer speculation, he is still at Arsenal and so is Nasri. They are a better and more experienced squad than last year. I think they have been written off but I see no real reason to do so.

Simon Walsh (RR): Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal
A familiar snooze fest.

George Ogier (GO): Manchester Utd, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool
I think that other teams will have to pull off something special to replace Ferguson’s charges at the top of the Premier League tree. As a Spurs fan it pains me to say it but I can’t see Tottenham being too involved in the “Battle for Fourth“. It is going to be a straight fight between Arsenal and Liverpool again, and looking at how the respective teams have strengthened there would appear to be only one winner

Charlie Anderson (CAn): Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea
I like Man City to win the title. Mancini is doing things the right way round – get the defence organised first, then wait for the attack to slowly click into place. I think that approach will pay off this season, and David Silva will be the key to it.

Mike Grady (MG): Manchester Utd, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal
Sir Alex has built another dangerous looking squad. City look better than last season and second place will be a fine achievement.

Mathias Kaarud (MK): Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool
Chelsea, will benefit from the arrival of Andre Vilas Boas and are the major contenders alongside Man Utd. Nevertheless, the key players in the Blues squad, are getting older and it will be vital for Chelsea that Lampard, Drogba and Cech be at the top of their game. If AVB can get the team in form, Chelsea will be a thorn in the side of Man Utd.

2. And for relegation?

MC: Wigan, QPR Swansea
QPR are overly reliant on the temperamental talents of Adel Taarabt; he won’t be nearly as effective against superior defences and will likely be seen taking his ball and going home. Swansea will have a bloody good crack at it, but I think they’ll fall just short. Norwich survive on inspiration drawn from a cracking home crowd and Grant Holt’s physique.

MF: QPR, Newcastle, Wigan.
QPR will go down as they have a Championship team: Adel Taarabt is a unique talent, but in games that I’ve seen, he can quite often go missing if things don’t go his way – and they probably won’t for the majority of the season. Newcastle are the least obvious selection of the three, but however talented their French contingent are, if they struggle to adapt, they’ll be in big trouble. They are also massively lacking goals in the attacking department.

CAl: QPR, Wigan, Swansea

RFP: Blackburn, Norwich, Wigan
Steve Kean just hasn’t been backed in the transfer market by the owners. The squad really struggled towards the end of last season and I can’t see them reproducing the first 45 minutes of their game with Wolves on a regular enough basis to stay up. Where a Caldwell brother is involved in the heart of a team’s defence, trouble won’t be far away: Martinez’s team were incredibly lucky to stay up last season and they are not a better team three months on.

RC: Wigan, Blackburn, Wolves, Norwich, West Brom, Swansea and QPR are facing the drop. I am struggling to decide for three from these seven but I’ll plump for:
Wolves, Swansea, Blackburn Rovers

MK: Wigan, Norwich, QPR
Wigan have run out of luck and their time is up. Many are of the opinion that Swansea will be relegated, but I believe that Swansea will surprise this season.

RR: Swansea, Norwich & QPR
I’d like a promoted team to stay up, but on paper they still look among the weakest teams in the league. Here’s hoping I’m wrong and Newcastle or Wigan or someone as equally dull go down!

NJ: Pretty sure at least one of the promoted clubs will drop. I think QPR will struggle. They’ve not made a lot of good signings in my eyes, and though they were dominant last season, they relied a lot on one or two players, one of whom (Taarabt) will likely have gone by the end of August. Wigan have some decent players, but are capable of losing lots of games. Others that may struggle – Norwich, Swansea, Newcastle, Bolton and Blackburn for me.

GO: Wigan, Norwich and Newcastle
Newcastle have lost their best players and it could all end in tears at SJP.

CAn: QPR, Blackburn, Swansea
I’m looking at QPR’s squad and seeing what’s basically a very, very good Championship side; they’re going to fall short by some distance. I can’t look past Swansea for the final relegation spot. I think they’ll really add something to the league, but it’s difficult to see who they’d finish above.

MG: QPR, Blackburn, Bolton

3. Surprise package of the season?

NJ: Fulham. Martin Jol is a good manager, and they have good players. Combine the two (does David Brent “fusion” face).

MF: West Brom
Roy Hodgson is a great manager and although he had a hard time of things at Liverpool, he is fantastic at getting the best from so-called ‘smaller’ sides. If Peter Odemwingie & Shane Long can click as a partnership, they’ll score lots of goals plus they’ve got one of the most underrated midfielders in the Premier League in Chris Brunt. Only two players created more goalscoring chances in the Premier League last season than Brunt – a fact that not many people are aware of!

CAl: Norwich
I think their pleasing style of football will hold them in good stead in the Premiership, a la WBA / Blackpool (for half a year)

MG: WBA to sneak a top ten finish. Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie up front should provide the goals, Chris Brunt and Zoltan Gera the assists and Roy Hodgson sides don’t usually concede too many goals.

West Brom: can Brunt and Odemwingie inspire the Baggies to top-half glory?

West Brom: can Brunt and Odemwingie inspire the Baggies to top-half glory?

RFP: Swansea
In Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge they possess pure, unadulterated pace which will get in behind every defence in the league. No club possess two full-backs able to keep up with them and I suspect they will cause a few teams some trouble. Joe Allen’s range of passing last year was spectacular and he’ll have fun picking out the wingers ahead of him.

RC: They’ve spent a lot and many have thrown truckloads of abuse but I think Liverpool will be knocking on the door of Champions League once again. Once their signings start to build a relationship together on the field they could be a formidable outfit.

RR: Everton.
Not so much of a surprise as in they’ll be challenging for the title or anything like that, but every year people write them off saying “they’ve got no money, they haven’t got depth” and so on. I think they’ll be in the top 7. Again.

GO: I’m not sure we get surprise packages in the Premier League these days, but I think Swansea will survive with reasonable comfort and entertain plenty on their way.

Could we be in for a big surprise from the new boys?

Could we be in for a big surprise from the new boys?

MK: Newcastle.
Alan Pardew has completed some interesting signings in Demba Ba, Gabriel Obertan and Yohan Cabaye: players that may lift the Magpies to another level, perhaps even fighting for a European spot.

CAn: Norwich’s squad does look exceedingly second-tier, particularly in the striking department, but Paul Lambert is an intelligent and upwardly-mobile coach, and I think he’ll manage to get the best out of what’s at his disposal. Signing Bradley Johnson on a free could turn out to be a great bit of business, too.

MC: Can’t see any major shocks, but Stoke could do quite well, maybe even as high as 7th. They can actually play a little bit, and of course have an exceptional number of colossal specimens to fall back on.

4. Underachievers?

CAl: Arsenal – Wenger still seems to be holding out for bargains in the defence when history would tell him he’d be better off paying a premium for some undisputed quality at the back. Unless this is addressed, and quality replacements are found for the outgoing captain and Nasri, I can see an inconsistent season in store.

RFP: Sunderland – I don’t think Steve Bruce will be able to gel his players together quick enough. Nine new signings is about three too many in my opinion.

RC: Stoke City – There appears to be another summer of luxurious spending at the Britannia but the style of play will continue to be dour and soul sapping. A thirteenth place finish beckons.

MC: Liverpool. Just an inkling that Dalglish’s expensive rebuilding program could prove to be an abysmal failure; a fantastical sum of money has been splurged on players who aren’t special, just British (Adam, Downing, Henderson). The team feels unbalanced and doesn‘t have enough top quality to pose the desired title threat.

NJ: In terms of money spent, anything less than a title challenge from Manchester City will be underachievement for me. In terms of league position, I fear for Newcastle.

MF: Arsenal – I like Arsenal and think Arsene Wenger is one of the top three greatest managers in Premier League history, but they needed to strengthen in the transfer market this summer and if anything, their squad is weaker now. I’ll probably be proved wrong, but I can’t see them finishing in the top four.

MG: Champions League quarter-finalists Spurs could struggle this season. With a queue of players lined up to leave, no one has actually left. Daniel Levy’s business model is sensible, but obstructive and this lack of movement has prevented Harry Redknapp from making any serious approaches in the transfer market.

MK: As in every season, Everton is the team that I fear will underachieve. They’ve got the players, but they must start playing the football they want to play quicker than they have the last couple of seasons.

RR: Liverpool – A lot of money spent, however I’m not convinced Dalglish’s messiah act can get him through another season. Also, I think Spurs are pretty buggered if they can’t hang on to Modric.

The likelihood of any cash being spent on exciting new players seems slim: the Hoops will stay up because there are three teams worse than them in league, but don’t expect Warnock’s finest to be kicking in the doors of the Champions League party any time soon.

CAn: Bolton.
I’ve never really understood the idea that Owen Coyle has got them playing football the right way (whatever that means); perhaps it’s just because his predecessor was so unpopular. Their slump toward the end of last season was of little consequence and they finished fourteenth, which is about where I think they’ll finish this time.

5. Three players to watch this season

MG: Kyle Walker, Stephane Sessegnon, Yossi Benayoun
Benayoun could be the secret behind Fernando Torres rediscovering his goal scoring form. The pair worked together at Liverpool and the Israeli could be the missing piece at Stamford Bridge. He’s an intelligent, classy creator who can also contribute some goals,

RR: Stephane Sessegnon – a great player in the making, and I can see him outshining Asamoah Gyan for Sunderland..
Sergio Aguero, I’m keen to see how he’ll adapt to the Premier League, and how City plan to use him.
Gervinho – I’m just wondering if his waterballoon-esque head will explode under the pressure of having to do literally everything for Arsenal this season.

MF: Josh McEachran – could make as much impact as Wilshere did last season, given the time.
Kyle Walker – looks like he could be a fantastic player for both Spurs & England.
Being a Watford fan; I have to say Danny Graham; hard-working, clever and deceptively quick, Graham has the attributes to score enough goals to keep Swansea in the Premier League.

RFP: Shane Long, David de Gea and Scott Sinclair
Sinclair’s pace is frightening and he can back it up with nice moments of skill and an eye for an goal. He’ll torment his fair share of full backs.

RC: Daniel Sturridge – break out season for the Chelsea striker, if he is allowed game time.
Sergio Aguero – He could be the best player in the Premier League this season. No pressure then.
Connor Wickham – The youngster’s big money move to Sunderland should provide some interesting viewing. His first pop at the big time, hopefully not the last.

NJ: AARON RAMSEY will be eager to make his mark after his injury, and is a class act. There could be plenty of space in Arsenal’s midfield for his talents. ROSS BARKLEY at Everton looks a precocious talent; physically strong and with a lovely touch and attitude. I was very impressed by RUSSELL MARTIN at Norwich last season; he could be the new Steve Finnan (if such a thing is possible).

GO: Gareth Bale, Scott Sinclair, Charles N’Zogbia
A make or break season for Bale: great displays in the Champions League were often followed up by anonymous league performances. If he really is the name on everyone’s transfer wish list, now is the time to prove it.

Everyone's (almost) favourite, Scott Sinclair

Everyone's (almost) favourite, Scott Sinclair

CAn: Yohann Cabaye, David Vaughan, Ryo Miyaichi
Arsenal need an impish, jinking playmaker, so thanks heavens Miyaichi got his work permit. Also, Japanese footballers almost always have really terrific hair, so I’m really looking forward to that.

MK: Tom Cleverly, Edin Dzeko, Scott Sinclair

MC: Gervinho, Scott Sinclair, Kyle Naughton
Naughton signed for Spurs in the same deal as his namesake Walker. Despite being the elder of the two Kyles, he has yet to emerge in the same way. Named in the PFA Championship team of the season, he could push on this year at Norwich and perhaps direct a few admiring glances his way.

CAl: Yohann Cabaye, Gervinho and Kyle Walker.

6. Player you wouldn’t miss if he left these shores

CAn: Michael Carrick. Not because I don’t like him – I think he’s tremendous – but because his talents aren’t suited to the Premier League. He’d thrive in a slower-paced league, where he can drop a little deeper and find a pocket of space from which to pick his passes. It’ll never happen, but I’d love to see him in Serie A. At the moment it seems like the game just passes him by.

RC: If he’s not already gone, Cesc Fabregas – just piss off already. Otherwise I would not miss Nemanja Vidic: many will celebrate joyously every time he makes a challenge, but I’d argue that the man is a cynical and thuggish oaf.

NJ: I wouldn’t miss Mario Balotelli or Emmanuel Adebayor, that’s for sure. Give me Craig Bellamy any day.

Nobody loves Mario

Nobody loves Mario

MF: El Hadji Diouf. – go….and don’t ever come back. I’d have said Pascal Chimbonda, were he good enough to pick up a Premier League team.

CAl: Balotelli, for not appreciating his own talent.

RFP: Dimitar Berbatov – I read a piece last week that summed up the Berbatov situation; “If you love him, let him go.” The system at Man United has changed and he won’t get enough game time this season if he stays.

MK: A good player, but Didier Drogba, no doubt. Diving, complaining, attitude – all make me sick.

RR: It’s cliched almost to say so at this point, but Joey Barton. Yeah he plays for Newcastle, but I was enjoying seeing him lash out at the club until he started with the faux-philosophy crap and the whole “woe is me” rubbish. If you want to go, then go. And don’t bother coming back.

MC: Watching Stilyan Petrov really annoys me: off the pace, out of position and his solution is to charge over and foul someone..

MG: It might be easier if I name players who I would miss? Can I do that?
Oh, go on then, Carlos Tevez.

GO: I don’t like Crouch. I don’t mean this personally, he seems like a perfectly pleasant man. I just can’t stand watching him play the game and for that reason I’ve pushed the passenger seat as far back as it will go and set the Sat Nav for Bratislava. Jump in, Crouchy!

Someone's keen

Someone's keen

7. Most attractive WAG?

RFP: Lorena Bernal, Mikel Arteta’s better half

RC: Something about the Geordie accent and those “you’re worth it” curls probably gives it to Cheryl Cole. Looking away from these fair shores, Juventus striker Alessandro Matri and his girlfriend Federica Nargi are making a decent claim for the ‘most effeminate couple’ award

GO: I love Rafael Van Der Vaart but I love his wife Sylvie even more.

NJ: Haha you’ll get me into trouble! I can’t go judging the Merseyside clubs’ WAGs, for fear of comeback. But I’m a Rooney fan – smiles are better than pouts, after all.

MF: Sandra Redknapp; she’s experienced and I’ve heard that she can score headers from a couple of yards out.

CAl: Pippo Inzaghi’s playmate, Alessia Ventura.

MC: Keeping it purely domestic, it’s tough to look beyond Cheryl Cole now she’s back on the scene.

MG: WAGs? Not for me I’m afraid. Show me one without either peroxide hair, fake tan and who hasn’t been featured in The Sun and I’ll pick her.

CAn: Whoever Dimitar’s other half is. No idea what she looks like, but if she’s good enough for the Berb then she’s good enough for me.

MK: Natalie Suliman. Don’t know if she’s still dating Kieran Richardson, but my God what a beauty!

RR: I can honestly say I don’t know any! Does Cheryl Cole still count? She wouldn’t have to say please. How about Scarlett Johansen, has she boffed a footballer? If not, and I’m sure your reading Scarlett, I used to play Sunday League…

That’s it, enjoy the season.

Once more, I’d like to thank everyone that took part. Giving up their time has been very much appreciated by us. Please post your appropriate ridicule below, assuming you’ve read this far. We would love to hear your predictions as well.

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