The new English Premier League season is upon us. However, even though ESPN has taken over the reins stateside, many might have no clue as to what is going on. Here’s a breakdown of all the teams, where they stand, and what you can expect in 2009:
Last Season: 4th Place
Additions: Thomas Vermaelen (Ajax)
Subtractions: Kolo Toure (Man City), Emmanuel Adebayor (Man City)
Key Players: Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Theo Walcott
The season has begun, and if you had to give out an award for the most creative, exciting, impressive team, you’re giving it to Arsene Wenger‘s young gunners. But with over seven key players shelved for varied durations, Wenger will be tasked with shuffling his inexperienced youth into the first-team to make up the numbers. The big-money departures of Toure and Adebayor will hurt, with Arsenal having to rely on a recently healed Eduardo, Carlos Vela, and Nicklas Bendtner to provide the scoring punch. The team clearly has depth, but as has been the case since the departure of Thierry Henry, Arsenal lacks the mettle to win the big games. With Man City on the rise, look for Arsenal to miss out on Champions League action in 2010/2011.
Aston Villa FC
Last Season: 6th Place
Additions: Stewart Downing (Boro)
Subtractions: Gareth Barry (Man City)
Key Players: Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, James Milner
Last year was a tease for pure football aficionados. The Villans came from seemingly nowhere to shock a number of the big boys, storming into the top four by December, yet ultimately succumbing to the rigors of a long and tedious campaign. Villa have lost their Captain in Barry to the riches of Man City, yet the addition of Downing from recently relegated Boro was a smart purchase from Martin O’Neil. With a crop of young English talent, this squad is one again poised to storm the top four. But will they have the depth to handle a season of Europa League activity while maintaining a strong push towards the League? My guess is no, and they’ll fall slightly short of their ambitions for another season.
Last Season: N/A
Key Players: Marcus Bent
Back in the top-flight after a year in the Championship, the boys in blue are just hoping to stay a float for another season. Marcus Bent, whose probably more famous for banging Gemma Atkinson than for anything he’s ever done on the pitch, is the best player of mention on a squad of otherwise regular players. Not saying they couldn’t upset a team or two along the way, but there’s nobody on the planet that’s picking them to do anything substantial.
Last Season: 15
Additions: Franco Di Santo (Chelsea) Joe Hart (Man City)
Subtractions: Roque Santa Cruz (Man City)
Key Players: Morten Gamst Pedersen, Ryan Nelsen, Franco Di Santo
Selling your best player is never a good way to start a summer, and in Blackburn’s case it was one of those terrible off seasons where discontent replaces optimism. However, they have been shrewd in their additions, bringing on a few young starlets that can make an impact for a team that’s lacking a true identity since the departure of former manager and now Man City impresario Mark Hughes. Don’t expect them to play the same gritty defense that defined the team for years. This new iteration is seeking flair and style, preferring the offensive approach over the defensive mindset of years gone.
Last Season: 13
Additions: Zat Knight (Aston Villa)
Key Players: Kevin Davies, Matthew Taylor, Gary Cahill
Scrappy, tough, aggressive, feisty. All fitting adjectives to describe a team that had to claw for every point last season. Hovering in the drop zone this year will be a risky proposition for a team that, like Blackburn, is somewhat adrift in terms of it’s focus on the pitch. Kevin Davies will always work hard, and defenders Taylor and Cahill provide the inspiration on the pitch to fight. Remains to be seen how they’ve truly improved, with no major adjustments on either the coming or going end of the spectrum.
Last Season: N/A
Key Players: Wade Elliot
Another newcomer to the party this season, Burnley will take the place of Stoke FC this year as the upstart team that shocks a few mid-level clubs and eventually finds a footing outside the relegation zone. While they may lack any true superstar power, I believe their every-man status and desire to play team-oriented footy will prevail in an age where the name on the back of the kit is more important than the name of the front. Wade Elliot, midfielder extraordinaire, will have to bring his shooting boots every match, or else they could struggle against the better than average defensive squads in the league.
Last Season: 3rd Place (FA Cup Winner)
Additions: Yuri Zhirkov (CSKA Moscow) Daniel Sturridge (Man City) Ross Turnbull (Boro)
Subtractions: Franco Di Santo (Blackburn) Michael Mancienne (Wolves) Scott Sinclair (Wigan)
Key Players: Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, John Terry
A new year, a new coach, and a new resolve. That seems to be the motto emanating from South Kensington, as the Blues prepare for Carlo Ancelotti‘s inaugural campaign in the English top-flight. With few adjustments to the squad that rallied under temporary manager Guus Hiddink last term, Chelsea are poised to pursue trophies on four fronts. With the former AC Milan maestro already claiming his focus is on the league and less on the Champions League, Chelsea will no doubt utilize their depth and new diamond-centric midfield formation to bring a style of offensive attacking the game has lacked of late. A pre-season favorite before they stormed through the United States, Chelsea are hungry for more glory under owner Roman Abramovich. After years of throwing big-money contracts at over-the-hill players, Chelsea seem to have come to the resolve of building from within, loaning their three most promising youngsters to Premier League opponents for some much-needed experience. With key players like Didier Drogba, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel, Florent Malouda, Ashley Cole, and Joe Cole all recently extending their contracts, the future looks bright for Carlo’s first year at the helm.
Last Season: 5th Place
Key Players: Maroune Fellaini, Joleon Lescott, Tim Cahill
They’re always knocking on the door to the top four, and last year was no exception. Yet manager David Moyes seems to lack the charisma or capacity to recruit top-notch talent to the Merseyside it appears, as this will be the second season in a row that they’ve failed to bolster the ranks. Brimming with an excellent mixture of young and old talent, Everton will always be the team you love to root for, going into battle fearless and ready to tackle the giants. Hated rivals Liverpool may well fail to beat their over-the-river opponents in either of the two Derby’s this term, which would be a massive morale boost to a group of vocal supporters that have remained consistent over a decade of steady growth. Expect them to replicate their success, yet fall short once more of the top four. They’ll happily settle for Europa League footy, however.
Last Season: 7th Place
Key Players: Clint Dempsey, Danny Murphy, Simon Davies
I have a soft spot for Chelsea’s Derby rivals, perhaps because of the US Soccer footprint that’s firmly rooted in their personnel, past and present. US International Clint Dempsey leads a squad that surprised just about every major pundit last term, under the watchful eye of manager Roy Hodgson. They’ll always be a good squad capable of winning their matches on most days. The key for their success will be momentum starting the season, as well as consistency. Injuries have robbed them of key players over the years, and perhaps this will be the year that Andy Johnson finally emerges as a scoring threat for the club. If American Eddie Johnson can continue his bright form from a loan spell at Cardiff City last year, perhaps Fulham can recreate some of the magic that propelled them into the Europa League.
Hull City FC
Last Season: 17th Place
Additions: Steven Hunt (Reading) Jozy Altidore (Villareal)
Key Players: Jozy Altidore, Geovanni
Phil Brown is the British Byron Scott. No really, he is. He has the ability to walk into a sticky situation, turn the tide and fortunes of the team for a brief period, cash in on a long-term extension, and then fade to black. Not to say he doesn’t have the chops, as he clearly does, BUT, Hull are not a team to take anyone by storm. The addition of US sensation Altidore is a shrewd pick-up, even if he’s only there for a single season. I would expect him to grow tremendously as a player, but the team may never repeat their early season success of last year, when they stormed the castle and secured a top 4 spot by December.
Last Season: 2nd Place
Additions: Alberto Aquilani (AS Roma) Glen Johnson (Portsmouth)
Subtractions: Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid) Arbeloa (Real Madrid)
Key Players: Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano
So goes the Red Engine, ready for a new term under the stewardship of gaffer Rafa Benitez and his latest additions to a squad that looks to be on the verge of transitioning from the old guard to the young. There’s the ever-present Steven Gerrard, who by all accounts will bleed the blood red colors of the club for all eternity. As if his powerful drives from the midfield weren’t enough to concern yourself with, Liverpool have arguably the best pure striker in the land with Spaniard Fernando ‘El Nino’ Torres, a lightning-quick slasher who can finish with either foot. For sturdiness, the team has consistently relied on Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel, Javier Mascherano, and a cast of others to provide strength and defensive tenacity. Adding Aquilani and Johnson further strengthen the teams ability to defend, but questions must be asked of their ability to find the back of the net. Many die-hard fans of the club will admit that the departure of Xabi Alonso to Madrid was a devastating blow, as he served to balance the offense and initiated many of the mazy runs perpetrated by Torres, Kuyt, Babel, Riera, and Gerrard. My estimation remains that Liverpool will finish in the top 4, fall from the Champions League in the quarterfinals, and send Benitez packing back to Spain once and for all.
Last Season: 10th Place
Additions: Kolo Toure (Arsenal) Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal) Gareth Barry (Aston Villa) Carlos Tevez (Man Utd) Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn)
Subtractions: Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea) Elano (Galatasaray) Joe Hart (Blackburn)
Key Players: Toure, Adebayor, Barry, Ireland, Tevez, Robinho, De Jong, Kompany, Wright-Phillips
Ladies and Gentleman, meet the Real Madrid of England. Meet Chelsea 2.0. Meet the epitome of blood money. Meet Manchester City. By all accounts, the Citizens and their fans should be pretty damn proud of their summer. Manager Mark Hughes has been blessed with an unlimited budget to recruit talent from all across the globe and hasn’t wasted any time in building a brand new squad. Having failed at luring Chelsea skipper John Terry, and Real Madrid’s Kaka to the north, Hughes went on a rampage, scooping up talent and failing to blink at the costs involved. Here’s the kicker though: they’re not done with their purchases, yet. It’s clear that the club is still seeking defensive cover for the aging Zabaletta, and have made serious overtures to Everton for the services of Joleon Lescott. Rumors persist that West Ham defender and England International Matthew Upson is an additional possibility. As a fact, Manchester City have what I like to call ‘FUCK YOU MONEY’. Essentially, they can outbid everyone else on the market with their never-ending coffers of oil cash. Arab owners notwithstanding, this will be fun to watch evolve. Can a squad of large egos coexist without a dynamic manager at the helm? Time will tell, but my money is with the Citizens gate-crashing the top four and qualifying for Champions League footy next year.
Last Season: 1st Place
Additions: Michael Owen (Newcastle) Antonio Valencia (Wigan)
Subtractions: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) Frazier Campbell (Sunderland)
Key Players: Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Rio Ferdinand
A new era is donning in Manchester, and it has nothing to do with Cristiano Ronaldo for a change. After finally getting his dream wish to The Bernabeu, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are prepared to hand the keys to England’s own Wayne Rooney. In short, this season will not be kind to the reigning champions. Ronaldo, for all his petulance and otherwise useless antics, was sensational on the pitch- nobody could deny that he would bring his best every time he played. That being said, it will be fascinating to watch which young/role players rise to the occasion and make the leap for themselves. Provided Rooney and Bulgarian striker Berbatov can bag the goals, Nani, Anderson, Hargreaves, Carrick, Park, Scholes, Giggs, and Fletcher will have their work cut out for them. What Ronaldo was so good at, and it fails to be mentioned more often than not, was his passing, and movement off the ball. He would consistently make the smart play to open up a teammate or himself for a chance on goal. Not to mention, he had the technical ability to flash past any defender in the country. Now, missing that element, United will rely on a more direct, mechanical approach that can stifle creativity. It will be fascinating to watch how Rooney accepts his newfound responsibility, and if it helps him to become more of a natural scorer than a utility player as he has been used in the last three seasons. The season will not be kind to the Red Devils, but they won’t fall of the plateau just yet. Expect them to stick around and play Champions League footy next year.
Last Season: 14th Place
Subtractions: Glen Johnson (Liverpool) Peter Crouch (Tottenham)
Key Players: David Nugent, David James, Sylvain Distin
I have no desire to write about this team, other than to mention that they practically gave away their best players for nothing, and readily admitted that they’re not planning on spending big cash to lure talent to the squad any time soon. As a fan, all you can do is hang your head in shame, knowing that your owners really don’t care enough to do anything other than live somewhere above the relegation zone. Quite sad.
Last Season: 12th Place
Additions: Dean Whitehead (Sunderland)
Subtractions: Seyi Olofinjana (Hull City)
Key Players: Rory Delap, Abdoulaye Faye, Matthew Etherington
They deserved to survive last year. But will that ‘we shall overcome’ attitude translate into a second term with the big boys? My guess is no, even though they tend to surprise me with their play off of set pieces. They spend wisely, which is the the sign of a club looking to build from within. Their major flaw is that they lack a true striker that you can rely on for 15-20 goals in a season. Without that, I’m afraid they’re destined to struggle for a while.
Last Season: 16th Place
Additions: Lee Cattermole (Wigan) Darren Bent (Tottenham) Frazier Campbell (Man Utd)
Subtractions: Dean Whitehead (Stoke)
Key Players: Darren Bent, Kenwyne Jones, Keiran Richardson
Nothing special from these guys. Bent will score, Jones will score, Cattermole will foul people- a lot. Ferdinand will never be as good as his brother, and Fulop will make plenty of mistakes between the sticks. They’ll beat a good team, perhaps even one of the big four, but they’ll be meek challengers. I’ve always considered them my favorite dark horse squad, and this season will be no different. Perhaps, then, they might actually make a significant impact instead of breaking down under sustained pressure from the better clubs.
Last Season: 8th Place
Additions: Peter Crouch (Portsmouth) Sebastian Bassong (Newcastle)
Subtractions: Darren Bent (Sunderland) Didier Zokora (Sevilla)
Key Players: Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe, Luka Modric, Aaron Lennon, Roman Pavlyuchenko
Best set of strikers in the country, no question about it. They have firepower, an excellent coach in Harry Redknapp, a squad brimming with young talent, and a few players that can set themselves apart in the face of adversity. I wrote at length last year about how Tottenham would come out blazing and light the league on fire. We all know how that ended, but this could very well be the year they do take that leap, having already slipped past Liverpool on opening day. It remains to be seen if Heurelio Gomes can keep his shit together for more than two games in a row, but if he doesn’t completely suck, which is pretty hard for him to do, they could have a great chance of making some waves this year. Expect Modric to play a large role in their future success, and hopefully, Redknapp will find a way to get Mexican starlet Gio Dos Santos some minutes.
West Ham United
Last Season: 9th
Key Players: Gianfranco Zola (Coach)
It’s true, the coach is probably the team’s best player, which isn’t saying much for a squad of first-team players in England. That being said, they do have a few decent players that did a pretty good job of fighting through to their final resting place last season. This year may not be as kind to the ex-Chelsea man and his squad, but if he can replicate the same energy and passion that he put to such good use as a player and last season on the whiteboard, perhaps WHU make another sustained push for Europa League footy. Don’t be surprised if rumors persist that Eidur Gudjohnssen will join up with the squad, as it seems Zola is keen on brining someone with a larger body of work into the fold to push his young squad for greater heights.
Last Season: 11th Place
Additions: Scott Sinclair (Chelsea)
Subtractions: Lee Cattermole (Sunderland)
Key Players: Rodallega, Thomas, Sinclair
Middle of the pack, nothing more, nothing less. That’s about as far as I can forsee the Lactics going, and a lot of it will depend on the performances of their young talent that they’ve assembled. They’ve got some nice pieces, but clearly they’re not ready to make the leap to the next level. Still, I’ll give them a lot of credit if they qualify for the Europa League.