Monday, August 17, 2009

To much excitement and expectation around the world, the English Premiership season is back. We may have been critical of the EPL in this blog before, but that’s not to say we don’t look forward to it as well! It still captivates and excites, despite it’s flaws.

It was an interesting opening weekend, with some surprises and some cracking goals (Rodallega’s volley for Wigan and Assou-Ekotto for Tottenham are already contenders for goals of the season).

ARSENAL looked immense in their 6-1 demolition of EVERTON, but let’s face it, they didn’t have to work all that hard as the Toffees were all over the place. Everyone was wondering how the Gunners would cope with the loss of several key players and where would the goals come from without Adebayor. Well, now we now - from everywhere! It was the most surprising performance of the weekend for me and sets up a mouthwatering Champions League clash with Celtic on Tuesday. You don’t really want to be the team to face them after that performance. Keeping the consistency together for the whole season has been what’s plagued Arsenal the last two seasons, so it will be interesting to see how they look 6-8 weeks down the road. Keep this up though and they could be surprise title contenders.

I’ve been a fan of Everton’s exciting and attacking football the last few seasons but they were woeful on Saturday. The whole Joleon Lescott situation can have done nothing but disrupt the team but David Moyes has gone way up in my estimation for the way he has handled everything so far, with Mark Hughes coming across as a bully and a man of few scruples.

His big money MAN CITY side were no great shakes on Saturday and BLACKBURN could have really made them pay if they’d taken their chances. The City defence in particular seemed all at sea at times, but with a squad of such depth the big problems that’s going to lie ahead for them is keeping everyone happy both on and off the pitch. So much is expected from the fans and owners that failure will not be tolerated well.

Their cross city rivals UNITED also looked shaky in defence and full marks to BIRMINGHAM for taking the game to them. Ben Foster looks like a liability in the United goal, but they do have that habit of scraping through when not playing particularly well.

Of the other “big” teams. No one impressed so far, but of course, give it time. CHELSEA will be hard to beat this year and if they can get off to a good start then watch them go. I think LIVERPOOL will struggle to repeat last season’s feats. I know they have injuries, but that was one hell of a weak bench they had out there yesterday. Not exactly one to turn the game in their favour when they needed it. Torres will get goals, but he may be doing most of it with just Gerrard as support.

Everyone always wants to speculate on who is going to face the drop come May and even at this early stage, there’s some obvious contenders.

BURNLEY are already weakened by injury, and although I’d love to see them stay up, it’s going to be tough for them. In Owen Coyle though they have a manager who can get the best out of the players at his disposal, so they may yet surprise. WOLVES are my tip to finish bottom and continue their yo yo existence, but the likes of BIRMINGHAM and HULL have shown that they’re prepared to battle for every point, but they need to convert their chances if they want to stay up.

Hull are a hard side to predict for this season. They fell away so bad last season, but the signing of Stephen Hunt could be their most important one in having another season of survival. Let’s hope so.

I think the two things that a lot of fans look for each Premiership season is some team making a surprise run for the title/Champions League place and at least one of the bigger teams to get relegated.

We got the latter last season, but despite teams like Everton and Villa making runs at it, it’s still a rarity to see a surprise package up there.

Probably unlikely to see that this year, but the best of the rest of the teams that will make a push for Europe at least are TOTTENHAM, who look well organised under Harry Redknapp and have some impressive striking potential. FULHAM always look well organised under Roy Hodgson and could claim the last European spot on offer.

WIGAN might be the real surprise package. They looked really exciting against a poor ASTON VILLA side (who will be mid table strugglers this season) and Roberto Martinez is perhaps the most exciting new manager in the League. He has them playing some nice passing football, which is always a joy to watch at any level.

As a WEST HAM fan, I’d love to see them make a push for Europe but feel they may be muscled out of the places but still finish in the top half.

So AFTN’s predictions for this season’s Premiership campaign…

Well, we’re tipping Chelsea for the title, with Man United a close second and Arsenal third.

At the bottom end, we’re looking at Wolves to be bottom, then Birmingham just above them and Burnley unfortunately making it an immediate return to the Championship for the three promoted teams. Portsmouth could the established Premier side to get dragged into a relegation battle this time around and may fill that third bottom place instead of Burnley.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be one hell of a season.

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