The Barclay’s Premier League (EPL) is back on Saturday morning with Manchester United playing Swansea City at 7:45 a.m. on NBCSN. With the nation wrapped up in an all-time high dose of soccer fever, let’s take a look at the league and make some predictions, even though the transfer window is still open two more weeks. A lot of changes could still happen, namely Arturo Vidal to Manchester United. (As if on cue, minutes after the digital ink dried on this post’s original draft on Thursday afternoon, Crystal Palace and manager Tony Pulis parted ways.)
1. Chelsea … Top much of everything, save for a self-inflicted meltdown or Jose Mourinho falling out with management.
2. Arsenal … Gooners be grateful for what you have instead forever pining for that one missing piece in your brains. This team is really good.
3. Manchester City … Plenty of depth, sure, but something says City puts most of its emphasis on the Champions League this term.
4. Liverpool … Brendan Rodgers deserves to commission another velvet self-portrait if he keeps Liverpool from falling out of the Top Four without Luis Suarez and the added burden of a Champions League campaign. The key here is Liverpool being judicious with club legend Steven Gerrard and Rodgers not being afraid to rest him on the bench when the situation arises.
5. Manchester United … So long as Robin van Persie is healthy and new club captain Wayne Rooney forgoes his annual October transfer request, the United attack should be great, with the Juan Mata investment paying dividends. That defense, even in a three or five-man variation still worries me.
6. Spurs … More Europa League fun awaits. The good news? By now traveling Spurs fans likely have all the best hotels in the far reaches of Eastern Europe scouted out.
7. Everton … Meanwhile a Europa League campaign likely costs Everton a position (if not more) in the league due the extra games/travel. Fortunately Roberto Martinez inked Romelu Lukuku on a permanent basis and is establishing depth at most positions at Goodison Park. Adding Christian Atsu on-loan from Chelsea is a sneaky move, helping offset the loss to Gerard Deulofeu.
1. Arsenal … Go bold or go home. The Gunners added quality and depth, may have resolved their mental hangup with the FA Cup win and may have resolved their perpetual injury crisis. They have a well-rounded blend of youth and experience.
2. Manchester City … Nothing really to fault. But the club never quite equal the sum of its parts. Doubt Yaya Toure will be a 20-goal scorer again.
3. Chelsea … A strong, disciplined squad. But, they just seem to be missing something. Diego Costa should regress to the mean somewhat. Chelsea has little behind him.
4. Manchester United … Van Gaal will have the balls. Still holes in the squad, but no European football will help them the way it did Liverpool last year.
5. Liverpool … Lost Luis Suarez. Have not replaced him with a top-class player. Too much squad turnover to handle in one year. Increased demands from playing in the Champions League.
6. Everton … Signed Lukaku on a permanent basis. Signed others to long term contracts. That’s great. That also means they spent heavily to be as good as they were last year.
7. Spurs … Not sure this is the right set of players to thrive in a disciplined Pochettino pressing game.
18. Crystal Palace … Congrats to West Brom, who occupied this space until Tony Pulis and Crystal Palace decided to part ways on Thursday. The Welsh manager was, umm, kinda, sorta important at Selhurst Park.
19. Burnley … On the plus side, the Clarets have only forked out $5 million in transfers, so those EPL parachute payments will mean nothing but pure profit for the next couple seasons at Turf Moor (which hopefully still plays Tom Hark following goals for the home team.) If nothing else manager Sean Dyche provides the best nickname of the season — “The Ginger Mourinho.” (Disclosure: West Brom is probably a better candidate, but I wanted to put those two Burnley links in there.)
20. Aston Villa … Christian Benteke is the only hope, and he’s coming off knee ligament tears.
18. Swansea City … Punching above their weight. Moving to a third, inexperienced manager.
19. Burnley … They’ll be back for more cash, in about five years or so.
20. Aston Villa … Philippe Senderos had a good half season with Arsenal… nine years ago.
1. Robin van Persie, Manchester United
2. Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool
3. Wilfried Bony, Swansea City
1. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
2. Olivier Giroud, Arsenal
3. Romelu Lukaku, Everton
First Manager Fired
Alan Irvine, West Brom … A 56-year-old on a 12-month contract with no previous Premier League experience? Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound like a good recipe for sustained success.
Paul Lambert, Aston Villa … His replacement has already been appointed. In a stormy sea, clubs want a captain, not someone who looks like an accountant.
Raheem Sterling, Liverpool … If there’s a beneficiary of Suarez’s departure from Anfield, it’s the 19-year-old attacker. Out wide or centrally, he should improve on last year’s nine-goal output. The on-field chemistry between Sterling, Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho is a reason for Liverpool fans to remain optimistic.
Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal … He may technically be “out.” But this is the year he stays healthy and puts it all together into a dominant season.
Best Summer Move
Chelsea signing Cesc Fabregas .. A younger, better, slimmer Frank Lampard for Jose Mourinho to deploy. The Diego Costa move drew more headlines, but snapping up Fabregas and keeping him from either United or Arsenal will prove a coup.
Arsenal signing Alexis Sanchez … He’s the player Arsenal needed. A really, really rich man’s Lukas Podolski. Sanchez is a viable option up front. He can play off the lead striker or on the wing. He should inject the pace and dynamism Arsenal were lacking when Walcott went down.
Worst Summer Move
Newcastle United keeping Alan Pardew … With a better, more inspiring, competent manager the Mapgies have the talent to push for a Europa League spot.
Philippe Senderos, Joe Cole and Kieran Richardson to Aston Villa … Just reading that is depressing. Villa are the Premier League’s Cleveland Browns.
Southampton … If new manager Ronald Koeman gets Morgan Schneiderlin to make peace and stick with the club, the cupboard isn’t completely bare at St. Mary’s. How could the club say no to close to $100 million worth of transfers? Without the backing of a mega-rich owner like Chelsea or Manchester City, Southampton wouldn’t be able to crack the league’s unofficial glass ceiling. Might as well profit and re-stock from the academy that continues to turn out player-after-player. In mid-August many are thinking Southampton are a relegation candidate, so finishing 14th wouldn’t be so bad, would it?
Stoke City… The Potters finished strongly under Mark Hughes, after it looked like they might be in the weeds around the middle of last season. A few wins on sunny, weekend afternoons. Maybe Sparky works some of his Bentley/Santa Cruz magic with Barcelona-reject Bojan. A second Top 10 first division finish since 1970 could be in the cards. Maybe even a domestic cup run.
Hull City: An unnecessary and inevitably fruitless Europa League campaign coupled with “second season syndrome” will likely undo Steve Bruce’s mustard Tigers. The Tom Huddlestone/Jake Livermore partnership in the center of midfield is strong but there’s not much that screams out growing on last year’s FA Cup final loss which masked a 16th place league finish.
Liverpool: They raised hopes last season and sold off the only conceivable hope of meeting them. Sturridge gets exposed in Suarez’ absence. Liverpool has to rely on its defense, which conceded 50 goals last season.
No idea. Maybe Jack Wilshere gets pissed off at a fan trying to film him sneaking in a cigarette during a night out with the lads, causing 2-3 English tabloids to spontaneously combust simultaneously.
Jose Mourinho gets arrested for obstructing police after leaving a Chelsea Awards Dinner to help his Yorkie escape custody. Oh wait, that already happened. John Terry achieves international infamy for parking his Bentley in a handicapped space? Happened as well. We’ll go with Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross flying across the sidewalk with his studs up and maiming a random passerby. Lawyer’s defense: he’s not that sort of pedestrian.
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[Photos via Getty]