The Premier League is back! At least it will be this weekend, when the excitement of actual football will trump everything else. But for now, we have to deal with prediction season, when pundits, and myself, turn to prognostication and hope everyone forgets what they said come the end of the season (like the many who thought Southampton was in big trouble last season). Here are a few thoughts in no particular order on the season to come.
1) Everton are dark horses. Keep in mind, this is essentially the same team that pushed Arsenal all the way in the fight for fourth place two years ago. Assuming they keep John Stones (who I think is a really top defender), I think their first eleven is stronger than Spurs, Liverpool, or Southampton. Plus, they don't have Europe to deal with this year, a key component of their early struggles last campaign. If Tim Howard improves from a nightmarish 2014-15 (or Martinez sends him out to pasture), I think they should easily make the top 6.
2) Cech will be worse than Ospina was last year. I don't quite understand why Arsenal fans were so excited by this signing. After years of substandard goalkeeping, it seemed Arsenal had finally stumbled into a good one in Ospina, who helped Arsenal post an absolutely excellent 19% Opponent's Finish Rate since he replaced Szczesny in January. While Cech did post good save percentages last year, he only started six games, and that was against the murderer's row of Everton, Hull, Newcastle, Swansea, Sunderland, and Arsenal, none of whom are really known for their finishing. He's also 33, and if Mourinho cuts loose a defensive player, it's probably a sign they are past it. Say what you will about the man, he has an eye for defensive talent.
3) Southampton will finally fall apart. I feel bad about this prediction, particularly since I enjoyed them proving me right last year. All congratulations to them for making the Europa League, but there's no doubt it is a drag on a Premier League campaign. Plus, the subtractions this year will hurt a lot more than last, especially since they haven't bought nearly as well. Schneiderlin was their key man in midfield, and Nathaniel Clyne was one of the best right backs in the league. They won't be near the relegation battle, but I think midtable is more realistic than a repeat in the European spots.
4) City will win the title. Not a terribly surprising prediction, given that I've already expressed my doubts about United and Chelsea in previous posts, and Arsenal earlier in this one. With the De Bruyne move edging closer, I think it's safe to say that City will have an incredible attack this time around. The Sterling-Silva combination already looks deadly, and De Bruyne will only help add to the mix. The defense has a Kompany problem, but I think Denayer and Mangala can emerge as a force with Demichelis acting as a tutor. I also think Delph will really help provide more protection than any of our central midfielders did last year, and Yaya will have a bounce-back year with no African Cup of Nations distractions.
No matter what happens, I'm looking forward to watching and having City football truly back in my life. Game on!
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