Back Of The Net With Ray North: Two Days To Kick-Off Part 1 – The Challengers

by Ray_North on August 13, 2014

images-6It doesn’t seem like five minutes ago that we were watching the incredible World Cup Match where Germany dismantle Brazil 7-1. No one, absolutely no one saw that coming.

But, the World Cup is now in the past. A distant memory, a future conversation, sporting nostalgia, regret and half-remembered statistics. Now, once again, we’re back home, the League, Tuesday nights at Crystal Palace or Derby or Dorchester, Saturday afternoons listening to Five Live in the car; slagging off the manager the board or the rubbish South American striker who cost an arm and a leg and gets paid more in a week than you get in a lifetime and he’s still bloody rubbish.

We. Love. It.

And, apologies to those who don’t support teams in the Premiership but, welcome to my annual bit of punditry as I predict which teams will be challenging for the honours in this years Premiership.

And, let’s start with the teams who are in the running.

Manchester City are the reigning champions – they are massively strong, have a wealth of international class players in every position and are well managed by the cool Manuel Pellegrini. They’ve purchased a new keeper in Willy Caballero, a new Brazillian midfielder called Fernando to go with the one they’ve already got called Ferndaninho, an incredibly expensive centre-half called Mangala and, Frank Lampard for reasons known only to themselves. Will they be there or thereabouts this year – yes, do I think they’ll win the league again – no – I don’t think they will, for the simple reason that I don’t think that their collection of highly paid imports will have the hunger to repeat the success in successive years.

Manchester United on the other hand will be very hungry having monumentally messed up last season. They have a great new manager in Van Gaal and in the likes of Mata, Rooney and Van Persie are always going to be a handful. So far, they’ve added Herera, who is highly rated, and Luke Shaw who is very young, to their squad, but other than that, they still look weak in the centre of defence and in the middle of the park. I think Man United will be better than last year, but, of the big six, I think that they are the weakest, especially now that they have lost their previous air of invincibility.

So what about Chelsea – they’ve strengthened their squad with the acquisition of experienced players in Fabregas, Diego Costa and Felipe Luis, who are all great players close to, or at, the peak of their powers. The most experienced of all however is the returning Didier Drogba which is an interesting signing, which could prove to be a very shrewd one. Jose Mourinho will always set up his teams in a way that is difficult to break down. The big question for Chelsea will be goals – if Costa can deliver them, or even Drogba or Torres, then Chelsea could well finish top of the tree. It’s a big if though, and I have to say, I fear that Diego Costa may be the type of striker who needs a lot of chances before he sticks the ball in the back of the net – something that Mourinho’s teams aren’t always set up to do.

Liverpool, on the other hand, if last season is anything to go by, will create a lot of chances. True, without Suarez, they will lack that utter brilliance and ability to deliver the unexpected. Liverpool haven’t replaced him – probably because it would be impossible to do so, but, they have strengthened their team in other ways – Lovren, Manquillo and Moreno will definitely strengthen their defence, whilst Lallana and Can look pretty handy in midfield. However, perhaps for Liverpool, their season may depend not upon the new signings, but on three old boys Sterling, Sturridge and Coutinho, if these three fire then Liverpool, with their new look defence could be even better than last year.

Arsenal will also be better than last year – their midfield of Ramsay, Wilshire, Ozil and Sanchez looks amazing, and I have sneaking suspicion that Sanogo will start to prove more than just a raw colt this year as well. But, Arsenal still have problems in defence and in goal – and there is a lack of steel that means that once they go behind, they tend to get a hiding. I’ve a good feeling about Arsenal this season though, and if they can keep the likes of Ramsay and Wilshire fit and firing then Arsenal could finally mount a serious challenge throughout the season.

Arsenal’s North London rivals, Spurs have changed their manager and, judging by his success with Southampton, Pocchettino will have the White Hart Lane faithful purring with delight – Spurs undoubtedly have a good strong squad- and the likes of Chadli, Lamela and Soldado (who I predicted to score a hat full of goals last season), surely can’t do as badly as they did last year. They have added Welsh full back Ben Davies to their squad, and still look a little fragile up front – if Spurs get off to a good start then they could do well, but if they’re struggling in the Autumn then the Winter could be a long one.

Everton fans will be looking forward to the new season – they have done extremely well to sign Lukaku and, though they’ve lost the young lad from Barca, they have added the robust Bosnian Besic to an already tough midfield, whilst some of their youngsters, like Stone and Coleman will continue to improve, whilst Goodison Park faithful have high hopes for young striker Chris Long.

I expect that these six will finish in the top six – whilst the rest of the premiership will be battling to get amongst them. Of the rest, I expect the following to finish in the top half – Stoke City, who are well managed by Mark Hughes, and have a solid dependable look about them; as do Hull City who will have gained confidence following their FA Cup final win and have added some speed and width in Robert Snodgrass and Tom Ince. I also expect Sunderland to have a much better season than last year – Gus Poyet will have been buoyed by the fact that he kept them up and by the end of the season the Mackems seemed to know what they were doing; Newcastle will also stay in the right side of the league – they haven’t added much to their squad, but, in the likes of Pappa Cisse, Yoan Guanfran and Chieck Tiotte, they have a fair bit of true class. I also think that QPR will do pretty well, and predict that of the three promoted teams, they’ll prove to be the most belligerent. Harry Redknapp knows all about the Premier league and has done well to add Steven Caulker, Rio Ferdinand and Mauricio Isla to his squad. Goals may be hard to come by, especially if Loic Remy decides that he doesn’t want to play, but if he does, and if they can get him scoring, then QPR will do ok.

So, here’s my prediction for the top half of the table:

1. Arsenal
2. Liverpool
3. Chelsea
4. Man City
5. Everton
6. Man United
7. Spurs
8. Hull City
9. Stoke City
10. Newcastle United
11. QPR.
12. Sunderland

So, there you have it, I predict that Arsenal will win the league.

Tomorrow, I’ll turn my attention to the bottom half.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East August 13, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Damn you Ray. That’s the Gunners fucked, then.


George_East August 14, 2014 at 3:59 am

Also Hull lost the FA Cup final and you have 7 clubs in your ‘top 6’.


Mike Killingworth August 14, 2014 at 6:14 am

Of course the Gunners are going to do it this year. My son says so, and I daren’t argue with him…

Anyway, I know sweet FA about footie…


Ray North August 14, 2014 at 6:55 am

George – my pre-season review is trsditionally written in front of the 10 o’clock news – I feel that adds to it!


Geoff Elliott August 14, 2014 at 9:58 am

So the Premier League has increased from 20 to 24 teams without my hearing about it. And 7 doesn’t go into 6 (at least not in terms of whole numbers). The devil is, as ever, in the details and Ray just gets overexcited and his ability to count goes out of the window.

I’ve no idea who’ll win but I can’t see much beyond Chelsea and City in the top 2. 3rd or 4th will be fought over by the other 4 (Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton & Utd) I suspect. The former two if I’m pushed.


nino August 14, 2014 at 11:49 am

Arsenal like their North London rivals Spurs develop nosebleed at too high a position. Gunners at 3rd max. Spurs have a great manager and exciting players but Daniel Levy is a liability. But I still expect them to do better than 7th. You have underestimated Man U as they will probably reach 4th or even 3rd. Newcastle have serious problems which they have failed to address and will have a relegation fight on their hands. Looking forward to your next instalment


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