By Gareth Hopkins
According to the bookies, favourites for the 2010/2011 EPL are; Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal – respectively. For certain, my money will not be placed on Man City who, in my opinion, are priced in ridiculously at third favourites. Given their exuberant spending and substantial media coverage let us begin with the prospect of Man City becoming EPL champions. One must assume that the acquisition of David Silva, Yaya Toure and others included in the £80 million spending has reduced the odds of Man City. However, this somewhat Marxist approach – that is, very simplistically, money equals power – is far too mono-causal an explanation. In fact, we have seen this (relative) spending before – let us use Leeds Utd as a case study. Prior to the 1999/2000 season, Leeds Utd spent a massive £28.3 million; a huge amount pre-millennium. That season, Leeds finished third – a colossal 21 points behind eventual winners Man Utd. It will be a similar story with Man City – close but not close enough. Things got worse for Leeds who finished 5th in the 2001/2002 campaign; 15th in 2002/2003 and were eventually relegated in 2004. The only silver lining for Leeds during this turbulent era was, of course, the Champions League semi-final against Valencia in 2001 – a big price to pay, however, for your EPL membership. With huge contracts on the table, such as, £200 000 a week for Yaya Toure, a similar story is likely when Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan gets bored and wants a new toy to play with – but that’s another story.
Of further concern for Man City is how their new imported superstars are going to adjust to the EPL; in my opinion that will take at least a couple of years. I’m sure all can remember the likes of Andriy Shevchenko, Diego Forlan and Jose Antonio Reyes who all struggled with the EPL climate. Either way, the squad will need time to adjust and will do well to achieve a top-four finish this year. So, if Man City are not going to win the title, what about Chelsea?
Now, I think Chelsea will do better than Man City (a lot better) but will fall at the last hurdle in what will be the most competitive EPL for years. Chelsea have a fantastic squad but, unfortunately for Ancelotti, it is aging rapidly.
Towards the latter end of the season I expect a lot of the above players to tire and/or pick up injuries. Nevertheless, a large number of the Chelsea squad have played together for several seasons now which, undoubtedly, increases understanding and, in turn, a slick/fluid team. On the contrary, Arsenal have been out with the old (William Gallas) and in with the new (Laurent Koscielny). In fact, there is a distinct possibility that Arsenal could end their 6 your drought without a trophy by winning the EPL.
Arsenal have had a similar crop of players for 2 or 3 seasons now and, not for a long time, have they had such a strong spine. With Vermalen/ Koscielny at centre-half; Fabregas/Denilson in the middle and Van Persie with the newly appointed Chamakh up top it looks promising for the Gunners. The Arsenal squad still looks light, however, and their title charge will depend on the majority of their ‘spine’ being fit for a majority of the season. One must highlight that a lack of movement in the transfer market can be stabilising for teams. Too much emphasis is placed on how much business is done in the transfer market as, of course, there are an amalgamation of other variations that determine success. To expand on this point, an unchanged-ish squad can create a harmonious team capable of some serious damage. Another team not flexing the credit card are my tip as winners, Man Utd.
Like Arsenal, Man Utd should have an excellent 2010/2011 season even though little money has been spent. Wayne Rooney is likely to bang in 20 plus goals and Dimitar Berbatov has looked outstanding pre-season. Other names that have stood out pre-season include Luis Nani and Gabriel Obertan who both look sharp. Like Arsène Wenger, Alex Ferguson has been grooming his current crop of players for a couple of seasons and, in my opinion, both will mature next season. However, for me, it will be Man Utd that pips the EPL title with Arsenal a closely run second. Again, though, the Utd first XI needs to stay fit as the squad looks a little hollow. That just leaves Liverpool. It is going to be a tough season for Liverpool – very tough. Nonetheless, Roy Hodgson has been a godsend to the Liverpool faithful. Hodgson is an outstanding manager with an abundance of experience who has punched below his weight for a number of years. As Inter Milan manager he took the relegation-avoiding club to third in Serie A and the final of the UEFA Cup. Although Liverpool’s position is not as drastic, they certainly need someone to steady the ship and Hodgson will do just that. Hodgson seems to work very well with small squads and has excellent player-management skills. Indeed, Gerrard and Torres seem to have committed themselves to the club which, undoubtedly, is thanks to Hodgson.
My worry for Liverpool is their over-reliance on Steven Gerrard who, by his standards, was very average last year. Pressure on Gerrard increased last year as he tried to fill the gap left by Xabi Alonso – an absolute killer for Liverpool. However, the coup of Joe Cole from Chelsea should alleviate some of the pressure on him this year though; Cole was a steal for a freebie – he will shine this year. Don’t expect Liverpool to be in any of the Cups for very long as the Premier League will take full focus – Liverpool just don’t have the strength to compete in all competitions. Having said that, I’m sure Liverpool will finish 5th at best, perhaps dropping to as low as 8th. It is certainly a period for consolidation at Liverpool and it will be at least several seasons before they challenge for the EPL again.
So, in my opinion, the bookies have got it wrong. From the argument given above the favourites should run in this order – Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea then Man City. Let’s hope I don’t end up with egg on my face come Sunday 22nd of May. . .