Season after season we try, more often than not we are left-red face. Atleast you have to hand it to us for trying! Three Outside of the Boot editors put their intelligence to the test and look ahead to the 2014/15 Premier League season.
Stick your neck out! Who will win the Premier League?
Sami: The loud shouts across the Premier League support base has once again been of “best title race yet”; I don’t see that happening and very few races will out-perform the close three-horse one seen last season. The 2014/15 one will be a rather dull one comparatively, Manchester City & Chelsea the obvious contenders; with a shout or two from a couple of others, none of note. I predict a two horse race between the two mentioned, with Mourinho and ‘his’ team with it’s new faces coming through.
Arnab: The title is as wide open as last season, if not more so in my opinion. City are obvious contenders as they’ve built on a title winning squad with shrewd acquisitions. Arsenal have spent big, Liverpool have signed good young talent, United have an enigmatic manager and will be hoping to complete more signings. Having said all that, I’ll have to opt for Chelsea. They’ve addressed the areas of concern from last season and look like a scary team.
Vishal: It will be a close contest again, and I see 3, maybe 4 teams in the race. But, I would have to plump for Chelsea. The team finally looks like it has the essential elements to win the title, and it should come together for them this season. There’s a lot of quality, and depth in that squad.
The next best. Who’ll secure the coveted Champions League spots?
Sami: Near impossible to predict, and I write this without convincing my own self. Chelsea, City top two ofcourse. A close three-horse race between Arsenal, Liverpool and United. Writing Arsene Wenger off has never proved to be successful, surely not this time either. Rodgers & Van Gaal’s side for the final spot, the former to squeeze into it.
Arnab: Well there’s still time to go before the transfer market slams shut. Chelsea and City are ahead of the rest of the competition in my opinion so they’re my top 2. I’ll back Arsenal to finish 3rd leaving perhaps Liverpool and United to battle it out for 4th. I may be ignoring Everton and Spurs at my own peril though!
Vishal: This is a very tough question. Chelsea and City should make it quite easily, and the same can be said of United in my opinion. But Liverpool and Arsenal are both tremendous, and it’s very difficult to choose between them. For me, Wenger’s experience will trump Rodgers and his exuberant side. So Chelsea, City, United, and Arsenal.
Down and out. Whose getting relegated this season?
Sami: If we were to divide this into newcomers and old guard, Leicester & Burnley don’t really inspire confidence to survive a 38 game Premier League season, I suspect the former is down for sure. QPR have, for a change, made smart signings rather than just picking up names because they can, they should be safe. Based on latest developments, Crystal Palace will struggle too. Neither of Villa & West Brom are particularly impressive either. Leicester, Villa & Palace for me (subject to change, soon; can never call these).
Arnab: Villa look like they may be in trouble again and West Brom are an easy target. I’m a big fan of Dyche but I’m not sure that Burnley are equipped to put together a relegation thwarting campaign. I’m curious to see how Leicester fare too. 3 out of those 4 for me.
Vishal: Generally, one looks at the new teams to answer this question, but from the old batch, the midlands clubs look quite miserable. Both Villa and West Brom look set to go down according to me. QPR and Burnley seem to have enough about themselves, especially QPR, led by Harry. So Leicester to join Villa and West Brom.
Poster-boy! Who’ll be the best individual player this season?
Sami: Philippe Coutinho, Juan Mata & Mesut Özil will have exceptional seasons, they’ll win the creativity award. In terms of goal-scorers, Diego Costa would fit right into Mourinho’s (what I believe) title winning side. But it’s those three creators that’ll be a joy to watch for their respective sides (hopefully all are played in that #10 role, though I suspect Özil won’t). If any of Arsenal, Liverpool or United have a significant say in the title race, it’ll be because of those three.
Arnab: Having backed Chelsea to win the league, I’ll stick my neck out and say Diego Costa. A lot depends on how he fits in at Chelsea and adapts to the Premier League but given the number of times the goalscorers secure the big awards, I’d think Costa was a good outside bet.
Vishal: Another difficult question, with a lot of possible winners. This is hard to call even at the end of the season! Maybe a bit of bias here, but Hazard, if he lives up to potential, is a safe call. Rooney and van Persie should also be up there, along with players like Aguero, Silva and Toure. But final choice, Eden Hazard.
Talent Radar. Three of the best young players?
Sami: Merseyside will once again be the home of talented individuals. Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling for me are set for big roles at Liverpool up in the table. Coutinho, as mentioned, needs to be deployed in that central #10 role. His creativity and ability to combine players in the final third will be exceptional.
Raheem Sterling ofcourse has surprised even Liverpool supporters with his growth into what he is now. Never looked a Premier League player 12 months back, but now is set to play a key role even in the Champions League. His impact higher up the pitch in advanced areas and in the box will increase this season. Coutinho to set-up more, Sterling to score more than last season.
The little that I have seen of Muhamed Besic has certainly impressed me, and he deserves a mention here but I haven’t seen enough to form a convincing opinion. One that I have seen enough, who has convinced me and won me over is Besic’s team-mate, Ross Barkley. One of the most impressive young players i’ve seen recently. His all-round game right from his tackling to his driving at opponents is exceptional. Both he and Sterling have more to their game than meets the eye.
Arnab: A couple of seasons ago, I thought all the hype around Sterling could be the typical case of a young English player being built up. He’s proved me wrong and then some with eye catching performances throughout the course of last season. He’s not dependent on his pace unlike players of his age and speed. He’s evolving into one of the game’s best young players.
Januzaj was one of the few positives to emerge from United’s turbulent season last time around. There’s been a change of roles for all the wingers with the likes of Young and Valencia now looking to impress as wing-backs. Januzaj though can fit into any of the front 3 positions and even with the stiff competition in that area, should have chances to impress this time around too.
Lukaku’s Chelsea career may have come to a premature end but Everton certainly won’t be complaining. Disappointing World Cup notwithstanding, the Belgian had a memorable 2013/14 campaign. He still has to improve on parts of his game but he’s still 21. Considering the fact that he’s already at home in Merseyside, the signing is a real coup for Everton.
Vishal: Raheem Sterling has to be at the top of any such list. The player currently has confidence, the trust of his manager, and the respect of his colleagues, and this, coupled with his natural talent, is taking him to the next level.
Calum Chambers is also one to watch. The new Arsenal signing had a great debut against City, and his positioning looks very good. Physically too, he is quite strong. The guidance of Wenger is only going to take him forward, and hopefully he’ll make great strides this season.
A little lower down the table, Romelu Lukaku is the dark horse. The Belgian has a point to prove to Chelsea, who let him go without much of an opportunity really. He did well last season, but an older, wiser, and possibly hungrier Lukaku could spell trouble for the opposition.
Between the post, Who’ll be the best goalkeeper this season?
Sami: Carrying on from my previous points, Chelsea will be helped in their league win by conceding the least goals. That’s where keeper Thibaut Courtois and his defence come in. The control he has over the penalty area, the organisation he commands from his defence is quite remarkable for such a young keeper. He’ll be a major reason for their league victory. If I were to pick another then I’d go with Wojciech Szczesny.
Arnab: Excited to see Courtois play in the Premier League finally. His numerous attributes are well known of course, and with a solid defence in front of him, Chelsea could be looking at a large number of clean sheets this season. Lloris and De Gea would be my other picks to shine this season.
Vishal: A number of good keepers in the league this season, with the likes of Ospina, Willy and Courtois adding to the stiff competition. Courtois is very highly rated, and for a good reason, but with the style of play we might see at Tottenham, Lloris will be important. The Frenchman will have another great season as keeper-sweeper (False 1, anybody?)
Man at the back. Who’ll be the best defender this season?
Sami: With Chelsea forming the rock I expect them to, Gary Cahill takes the cake here. Another modern-centre back who is still so ‘traditionally’ good at the back. Excellent defensive intelligence, and an upcoming leader in the side. Chelsea’s Spanish full-backs are convincing too, both should have crucial defensive roles this season.
Arnab: Laurent Koscielny. The Frenchman has emerged as a great defender and forms a good pairing with Mertesacker ( with the obvious exceptions of a few games ). He reads the game well and will be important if Arsenal are to challenge for the title.
Vishal: I would put my money on Branislav Ivanovic. The burly Serb doesn’t get the credit he deserves all the time, but he’s someone who’s very versatile, solid, good in the air, improving going forward, and very very passionate. This is the season of the Bran.
The Middle. Who’ll be the best midfielder this season?
Sami: Fitness is key, or else Aaron Ramsey would have been my pick. Unfortunately, those injury concerns might just hold him back. So again, as explained above, one of Philippe Coutinho, Juan Mata or Mesut Özil.
Arnab: I’m going for Yaya Toure. It looks like ‘Birthday Gate’ was just a flash in the pan and he’s ready to dominate games on his own once again. His defensive work rate can be questioned but there’s no doubt that he’s a player capable of turning a game on its head.
Vishal: Last season, it was Yaya Toure who was the best, by a bit of a margin too (sorry Liverpool fans). But the player who had this in the bag for a large part of the season was Aaron Ramsey (sorry again, Liverpool fans). If he can stay fit, I believe Ramsey can be the best midfielder in the coming season.
The goal scorer. Who’ll be the best forward this season?
Sami: As again mentioned earlier, Diego Costa was a pure scorer last season for Atletico and he’ll continue on with that in England. If Sergio Aguero maintains his fitness then he’ll be stiff competition. Can also see Sturridge up there among the goals with added responsibility now.
Arnab: Having already somewhat controversially backed Costa, I’ll stick to him. A definite risk but given my knack for downright horrible predictions, I might as well try something different.
Vishal: Van Gaal is a serious coach. Add Rooney’s passion for the game to the discipline and focus van Gaal will bring, and you have a potentially winning combination. The responsibility of being captain should motivate him, and he will be a dangerous player, especially if United do play the 3-5-2/3-4-3 everyone thinks they’ll play.
The hipsters favourite! Team that’ll surprise the most?
Sami: For all the stick the Newcastle board have received, they’ve made some pretty good additions to their side. De Jong certainly stands out, and there’s a lot in Cabella too. Nice to see they’ve stuck by Pardew through it all. Biggest threat to last season’s top 7, and a genuine one.
Arnab: Sunderland could surprise a few sides. I thought they were goners at one point last season but they finished the season well including a long cup run. Rodwell is a great signing and Poyet will be hoping to sign Borini too. A mid-table finish could be on the cards.
Vishal: It’s a tough call, with QPR and United both being potential surprises for me. Redknapp has a fairly strong team at his disposal, and has been unusually quiet so far on the transfer market. For all the stick he gets, he’s a pretty good manager, and will keep this side up comfortably. United too, aren’t half as bad as that 7th place indicates. Players like Mata, van Persie, and Rooney aren’t just going to disappear. Too much quality to not perform.
Let down! Which team’ll disappoint the most this season?
Sami: Crystal Palace. So much promise last season, excellent foundation built to carry on from, all thrown away with Pulis’ departure. They looked like going down before him, they will after him.
Arnab: Villa for me. Not that too many people will be backing them to do great things but I see them as genuine relegation contenders. Paul Lambert could well have a troubled season ahead.
Vishal: Swansea City. For a team with so much quality in its players, and its style of play, I can see them fighting a tough battle against relegation. They just about avoided it last year, with Bony pulling them out after scoring a lot. It looks tough though this time.
Gaffer. Which manager do you see impressing the most (besides the obvious title winners)?
Sami: Has Pochettino received enough credit in English football? I think he is one of the brightest young minds in the league, and he’ll show how to get quality individuals to work together. Side note, but expect him to get the best out or Erik Lamela.
Arnab: Louis van Gaal. He is one of the most respected figures in World football. The United squad has some very good players but is unbalanced as he’s pointed out himself. Old Trafford is definitely going to be an interesting place to be this season.
Vishal: Burnley had a very impressive campaign last year, making it up to the top flight ahead of a much richer QPR. A lot of this came from their excellent manager Sean Dyche. One hopes this young manager gets the chance to bail his team out of trouble, when they do hit a rough patch. He probably does have the quality to keep the team up.