The final part of Groan’s predictions for the season ahead sees us look at the top five.
5. Aston Villa (Last season: 6th)
Aston Villa are a team on the up. Martin O’Neill’s team took big strides forward last season and seem to have continued in the summer, getting Friedel in goal, Sidwell in midfield and now Cuellar in defence. Those could be three fantastic purchases, and to top it all off, it looks like Barry is staying. I don’t think they’ll be far from the big four this season.
4. Liverpool (Last season: 4th)
Liverpool have signed Robbie Keane, but already Benitez is talking about putting him on the wings, thus completely negating his threat. Liverpool’s problem is the same as always – reliance on a couple of players. It used to be just Gerrard, now Torres has been added, but both are high energy players on the field and won’t be able to play every match. Rafa continually prioritises the Champions League whenever the fixtures get packed together, and the league matches in between are where they fall down. I expect the same this year.
3. Arsenal (Last season: 3rd)
My heart says that if Arsenal’s first team stays fit all season, we’ll probably win the league. The trouble is, that first team currently includes Rosicky, Van Persie and Diaby, who are never fit, and even Toure has picked up a lot of knocks in the last year. That said, we have strength on the wings for the first time since Pires and Ljungberg moved on – Walcott is improving and Nasri offers far more end product that Hleb ever could. But the danger is the same as always – what if Cesc gets injured? Denilson is still his obvious replacement, and while the Brazilian is a talent, he is a massive step down from the Spaniard. The same is true at full back, where Traore and Eboue back up probably the best pairing in the league in Clichy and Sagna.
If Arsenal escape without too many injuries, the league could be coming to the Emirates. But the back up just isn’t quite there at the moment and this season is perhaps still one too early. However, that hasn’t stopped me putting a cheeky punt on us, and Van Persie to end the season as top scorer.
2. Man Utd (Last season: 1st)
Champions for the last two seasons, United are again being tipped to end the season on top, but there are a few questions. Can Ronaldo score as many again, especially now that he has made his intention to leave so clear? And if he doesn’t, just where are the goals coming from? If Berbatov doesn’t sign, they again have a massive hole up front, which last season the midfield covered for. Tevez scores plenty, but Rooney may have to have a better (and injury free) season this time around.
The other problem is in defence. Ferdinand and Vidic and probably the best central pairing in the league, but the backup is a bit like Arsenal’s midfield – a sharp downturn. If either get injured, they might struggle.
1. Chelsea (Last season: 2nd)
I hate making this prediction, I really do, but Chelsea are the team to beat this season. Last season they had a whole host of injuries, but in the second half of the season they were in ominous form. Much of that was down to Michael Ballack, and it will be interesting to see who plays in central midfield – Deco has arrived and Lampard hasn’t left, and for me neither could have the impact Ballack had last year.
We all hope that Cech continues his abysmal recent form, the midfield combust, and that Drogba’s sulking causes a shortage up front. But somehow I think they’ll tie together and take the league at a canter. But I tell you something – I’m desperate to be wrong.