2013/14 Premiership Preview

Posted: July 26, 2013 in Football
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Coming to a Ground Near You?

Coming to a Ground Near You?

A world without war; Sky Sports News free of hyperbole; a corrupt-free FIFA – next season’s Premiership promises to trump all of the above in terms of the unimaginable: a Premier league campaign with no Alex Ferguson.

So large has Ferguson’s shadow loomed over the landscape of English football that the great Scot’s departure from the Manchester United hotseat has ensured next season promises to be the most open title race for years. Ferguson’s retirement, it can be argued, will affect the hopes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal just as much as United themselves.

In truth Ferguson’s departure couldn’t have come at a worse time for the great soap opera that is the Premier League. With more and more of the games top stars choosing to ply their trade in Spain, Italy and nouveau riche France and Russia, the last thing the English game needed was to lose it’s JR Ewing. Whether one regarded Ferguson as the greatest manager in the history of the game or a manipulative bully, constantly found out in Europe, there’s no denying the Scot was compelling viewing.

Ferguson’s successor, David Moyes, may well turn out to be a perfect fit, but it will take the former Everton manager time to adjust to his new surroundings and the thousandfold increase in the level of expectation. That is, if he adjusts at all. Moyes is unquestionably a decent manager but the fact remains that in ten years at Goodison Park the Scot won nothing, gained little European experience and spent a lot more than his advocates suggest. The man who astutely acquired Leighton Baines, Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta for just £10m, also saw fit to spend £26m on the likes of James Beattie, Andy Johnson and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

With a new man at the Old Trafford helm the way would normally have been clear for one of United’s main rivals to take full advantage but both Chelsea and Manchester City are also welcoming new head coaches, albeit a familiar one in Chelsea’s case.

While Manuel Pellegrini is undoubtedly one of the brightest managerial stars around after performing admirably at both Real Madrid and unfancied Malaga, it is a tall order to expect the Chilean to hit the ground running in a new country with a whole host of new challenges.

The same cannot, of course, be said of Jose Mourinho, who knows the English game inside out, having won two titles in his first spell at Stamford Bridge. However, the Portuguese may find the going somewhat tougher this time. In his first spell at the club Mourinho inherited by far the best squad in the division, had a blank chequebook and had only a transitional United and declining Arsenal to contend with. This time round he’ll find both City and United with comparably talented squads and several other clubs across the continent able to compete in the transfer market. How big an impact Mourinho’s relative failure at Real Madrid will have on the hitherto cocksure Chelsea boss also remains to be seen.

With each manager facing their own unique set of new challenges, it is no surprise that the bookies are unable to separate Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs, generally offering 9/4 on all three. Indeed, the best value in the title winners market may well come from Arsenal at 10/1 (general). Like all clubs a lot will depend on which players the Gunners bring in between now and August 31st but for the first time in a long while it looks like the North Londoners are prepared to loosen the purse strings with bids for Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez already tabled at the time of writing. Should Arsene Wenger succeed in capturing a few experienced, top class players of this ilk, it could nicely compliment the maturing talent already at the club, notably in the shape of Jack Wiltshire and Theo Walcott (who, at 40/1 with BetVictor, must offer the best value for top scorer). Arsenal’s biggest problem over the past few years has been a soft centre and the capture of a defensive leader would go a long way towards solving this. However, identifying the problem and identifying the solution are two different tasks.

Below Arsenal only Spurs seem properly equipped to break the top four stranglehold. In Andre Villas Boas they have one of the most dynamic and innovative young coaches in the game; in Gareth Bale a player of enormous impact and aura and in Daniel Levy the best transfer dealing chairman in the division. Expect the North Londoners to add astutely to an already talented squad and push the top four all the way.

With the gap between Liverpool and the Champions League clubs growing ever wider with each passing year and owners FSG prioritising a balancing of the books over all else, it’s hard to see the Anfield side having anything other than yet another meandering, mid-table season. At a time when the Reds need an exceptional manager to get the team punching above their weight in order to close the gap on their top four rivals, they have instead, in Brendan Rodgers, a rookie manager learning the ropes. Frustratingly for Liverpool fans there is an exceptional manager with a history of getting teams to punch above their weight and who has a great affinity with the club, but he’ll be starting the season on Napoli’s bench. It’s interesting to note that most bookies have Liverpool’s title odds at exactly the same as the odds on Rodgers being the first manager to leave his post (33/1).

At the bottom end of the table it comes as no surprise to see the three promoted clubs as the favourites to go down. In the case of Crystal Palace and Cardiff City, this may be justified but in Steve Bruce, Hull City have a canny manager with bucket loads of Premier League experience. Remember, it was Bruce who established Wigan Athletic as a top flight club long before the fashionable Roberto Martinez came along. Expect Hull to stay up, leaving at least one relegation place free. Both Norwich City and Fulham look capable of losing their Premiership status, with Chris Hughton’s side only securing top division football on the final day of last season and a cloud of inertia having long since settled over Craven Cottage. Indeed, the best value in the Next Manager to Leave market would appear to lie with these two; Martin Jol can be backed at 14/1 (SkyBet) and Hughton at a generous 20/1 (various). Of course this market will depend heavily on the Carry On movie that passes for the Newcastle boardroom. Jol’s situation at Fulham could also be further complicated by the recent acquisition of the club by American billionaire Shahid Khan.

Elsewhere Everton and Stoke welcome new managers in the shape of Roberto Martinez and Mark Hughes respectively. With massive question marks over the Spaniard’s ability to get his teams to defend in a less than comical manner, Betfred’s offer of 4/1 on Everton finishing in the bottom half seems generous. As for Stoke, it’s hard to imagine much changing with a surly Welshman renown for overly aggressive, unpleasant-on-the-eye football taking over from a surly Welshman renown for overly aggressive, unpleasant-on-the-eye football. Expect top flight consolidation and no more.

At the Stadium of Light Paulo Di Canio’s Sunderland revolution is already capturing the imagination with the Italian overhauling his squad and, it would seem, the mentality of the club. Patronisingly dismissed as an eccentric hothead by many, Di Canio is a far more wily manager than most give him credit for (as he proved with Swindon) so don’t be surprised to see the Mackems ruffle a feather or two. At the very least they should be box office viewing.

As for surprise packages, both Aston Villa and West Ham offer excellent value to finish in the top half (Villa 21/10 with StanJames and West Ham 11/4 with Betfred). Paul Lambert’s side will be all the stronger for their season-long flirtation with relegation last time out. The experience his young side will have gained from a season of pressure games will stand the Villains to good stead, and a couple of canny additions to supplement the considerable promise of the youth already at the club should comfortably see Villa finish top half. As for West Ham, in Sam Allardyce the Hammers have a proven top flight manager and in Andy Carroll potentially one of the signings of the season. Although never a £35 million player, he is nonetheless considerably better than his wretched spell at Liverpool suggested. Should the Hammers secure European football (Allardyce’s Bolton side routinely finished top six) then the 50/1 available on Allardyce to be named Manager of the Year would appear to represent the bet of the season. Remember, this is an award that has only ever been won by one non-UK manager and is seen by many as nothing more than an annual carve-up among the British coaches, among whom Allardyce is a very popular figure.

Of course all of the above is little more than the stacking of the eggs that will no doubt adorn the face of this particular armchair expert come next May. In a game of a million variables, there is only one certainty about the 2013/14 Premiership season – it will be a duller place with no Alex Ferguson.

The Surly Times Predictions:

Champions: Chelsea

Top Four: Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City

Europa League: Spurs, West Ham, Liverpool

Relegated: Crystal Palace, Cardiff City, Norwich

Top Scorer: Theo Walcott

Manager of the Year: Sam Allardyce


Article first published in Dublin’s Best magazine, August, ‘13

  1. Graham says:

    Great post Paulie, I fancy Villa for Europe this season.

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