This seems like the time to make them.
The promoted teams will struggle. As I have mentioned in previous posts, last year’s Premier League was both balanced (very low standard deviation of points) and strong (excellent UEFA coefficient). It would be tough for even very good Championship teams to break in and secure a place. However, it is not clear that the three promoted teams are even that good. Below is a table that shows the z-scores of promoted teams’ points in the Championship the previous season and whether or not they achieved survival. As you can see, things do not look very good for Norwich and Swansea, as only Hull City had a worse score and survived (by the skin of their teeth, I might add). QPR looks to be in a better position, and is certainly in a better financial position if they should have to spend to stay up. At this point, they are the only promoted team I’m backing to stay in the Premier League.
Fulham will struggle. Fulham were actually underrated last year, mainly because they had 16 draws, the most in the league. Their goal differential (+6) was the same as Everton’s, and close to Tottenham’s (+9). However, there are three sobering facts about Fulham:
1) They had the oldest average age of their starting eleven of any EPL team.
2) They had only 14 outfield players start 10 or more games.
3) They are playing in the Europa League this year.
This seems to me to be a perfect storm of having more games to play with a small and old squad. It is bound to take a toll on their performance. People have questioned Mark Hughes for leaving, but I think he was quite smart to leave on a high. I don’t see them finishing in the top half again.
Liverpool will make the top four. Yeah, I know, I said this last year too. But unlike last year, when I was stepping out on a bit of a limb, this year everyone and their mother have Liverpool challenging for the title. That I don’t see. During the second half of last season, after Dalglish replaced Hodgson, Liverpool were undeniably a better team. In fact, they had the third-highest goal differential over that period. The problem is that only some of this resulted from Dalglish and his signings and some of it was luck. For example, the number of shots on goal per game allowed by Liverpool was exactly the same in each half of the season, but the percentage that were goals was higher in the first half. It’s hard not to see that as luck. Liverpool did improve offensively over the course of the season (they averaged about a shot per game more under Dalglish), but I don’t see any evidence that they are close to United at this point. I think they will finish third.
United will win the league. I know, for a City blog, I’ve been fawning on the scum far too much. That doesn’t change the fact that they still have the best squad. The null hypothesis is that the previous winners are the best team this season. I don’t see enough evidence to reject that hypothesis.
One of Wolves or Wigan will go down. They finished 16th and 17th last year, they were much closer to the relegated teams in the table than to the teams above them, and neither have improved their squads. If I were a betting man, and I am, my money would be on Wigan to go down. Not only did Wigan lose some of their best players, but they were incredibly lucky last year. Last year, the average shot distance of Wigan’s goals was far longer than anyone else. Scoring on long-range strikes, while impressive, is not exactly a recipe for sustained success because it is much harder to repeat. This is reflected in their abysmally low finish rate (goals divided by shots on goal), and without N’Zogbia and his penchant for scoring ridiculous long range goals, I see them struggling. Of course, I predicted that both of them would go down last year.
Chelsea will drop out of the top 4. I feel that the fourth spot will come down to Chelsea and Arsenal, and Chelsea will ultimately lose out. This is a tough one though, because we don’t have all the information about transfers. I’d feel more optimistic about Chelsea’s top four chances if they grabbed Modric, or if Arsenal sold Fabregas and Nasri. However, at the moment, Chelsea look like the team to make way. Arsenal didn’t perform as well as Chelsea last year, but they had a ton of injuries to key players. I think Arsenal’s first-choice starting eleven was stronger last year and I feel Chelsea may decline because they, like their neighbors Fulham, are a very old team. I also think Villas-Boas might have a hard time dealing with such an old squad, particularly since that was one of the strengths of Ancelotti.