Friday, August 24, 2012

In Which Clint Dempsey Fantasizes About Liverpool, Breaks Up With Fulham, and Bones Down With Sunderland

Full disclosure on two not-so-minor points:

1. I am a huge Clint Dempsey fan. I'm from Texas. He's from Texas. If you're from Texas too this is really all the information you need to understand my affinity for Deuce, but I'll go on for those not fortunate enough to call God's country home. He's an attack-minded, US international who never seems cowed by the moment. He has a tendency to execute the brilliant under the brightest lights. He loves rap music. 

2. I am a huge Fulham fan. I'm not sure which came first. My love of both existed for a time independent of one another, but when they came together it was sort of like Arsenal fans and self delusion; perfect for one another.  

Just so you know where I'm coming from. 

The end of last season was sort of the apex of the Fulham/Clint Dempsey relationship. Three solid seasons capped off by one legendary season and another Fans' Player of the Year Award saw Dempsey flirting with the pantheon of all time Fulham greats. Admittedly, it's not nearly as monumental a pantheon as some other clubs have, but it's respectable and to have an American hold his own with the greats of the contemporary game in the most exciting league in the world was a special treat for both Fulham supporters and US soccer fans. These were the salad days. Sure Deuce had occasionally mentioned that he wanted to play Champion's League soccer at some point in his career, but when he's wearing a Fulham kit and scoring at will against every club in the league, "some day" seems a long, long time away, not tomorrow. 

Well, it's tomorrow. 

Never mind that the club who has apparently been leering at Dempsey from across the bar is that floozy Liverpool and they aren't in Champion's League contention this season...and likely not next season either. Even the most ardent Fulham supporter will admit that Liverpool is a big club and represents a step up the ladder in the hierarchy of Premier League football even if recent seasons have not been kind to the Merseysiders, although I suspect this break up might be easier to stomach were the strumpet interceder a club like Manchester United or Real Madrid. 

What's important here is that a challenge Clint Dempsey wants to take on has (sort of) come calling. What's more important is that it appears Clint Dempsey and Liverpool have severely mismanaged this situation and it looks like it's going to come down to the transfer day deadline to unfuck the situation as it currently stands. 

From where I sit, which is admittedly at a computer in the Midwest of the United States with no inside connections to Liverpool, Fulham, or Clint Dempsey, it looks like things have gone down thusly:

Clint issued a "Come get me!" shout to the bigger clubs in the Premier League. Realistically, this was Arsenal or Liverpool. Arsene Wenger had allegedly gone after Dempsey in the January transfer window of last season in a desperate attempt to keep his side competitive after some epic mismanaging. Fulham put up too large a price tag, Wenger glued together a squad that qualified for the Champion's League, then made some big signings in the summer window, and now doesn't really need a 29 year old in the last year of his contract with a club looking to cash in on the player's massive season. Fair play, Arsenal. 

Liverpool made some of the worst flavor-of-the-month signings last season and is understandably reticent to do the same this season. You would be same way if you woke up next to Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll. They looked great at the bar, but...Plan B. So far, all Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers have done is say they admire Clint Dempsey and admitted to making an inquiry as to what sort of fee it would take to bring him to Anfield. Apparently, Fulham's asking price was a bit much for the Reds and that's where we stand. 

In the meantime, Dempsey has allegedly refused to play for Fulham in an effort to force through a move to flirtatious Liverpool. I can't blame him. He's coming off the best year of his career, he's not getting any younger, and this transfer window is likely as high as his stock will ever be. 

On the flip side, Fulham, in spite of what Mark Hughes has said, is an ambitious club and they want fair money for a player they would otherwise have to let go for free next season. For a club like Fulham, the difference between a $7 million transfer fee and a $15 million transfer fee is enormous. 

On the flip, flip side (Can you have two flip sides?), Liverpool have signed other promising players in recent days and don't appear to be losing any sleep over not having Dempsey paraded out in front of The Kop to do fancy juggling tricks and pose for pictures with a Liverpool scarf strung above his head. 

Basically, Liverpool is the hottest chick in the bar. It's a Thursday night so the bar isn't terribly crowded, but of the men in the bar, Dempsey is the best looking. Of the women, it's Liverpool. Liverpool has glanced Dempsey's way a couple of times and would go home with him if the opportunity presented itself, but there's always ice cream and Sex and the City reruns...and Friday night. Dempsey, for his part, has noticed the glances and suddenly realized that he can do better than the woman he's with and is imagining boning down with the car show model across the bar. For the record, Manchester United and Barcelona would be Victoria's Secret models. Liverpool has a banging body but wears Budweiser bikinis and poses with monster trucks.

Fulham is on Dempsey's right arm and has caught him leering at Liverpool and blowing LL Cool J kisses across the bar. Although she's pissed at Dempsey and a little hurt, she gets it. She's mostly a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl and isn't a fan of thong underwear because, you know, they're impractical. To deflect Liverpool's interest, she watches Dempsey like a hawk, makes it a point to get all schmoopy with him, and makes fuck off eyes at Liverpool every time she gets a chance. 

Liverpool, sensing a fling with Dempsey might be more drama than it's worth, starts trolling around the bar and notices a couple of Euro trash guys playing Tiesto songs on the jukebox. They're not really her type, but what the hell, right? 

Dempsey realizes his chance with the car model is slipping once he sees the Euro trash guys air humping Liverpool in their man capri pants and snaps at Fulham to back off. Like any self respecting woman, she says something like but not necessarily, "I loved you, but I'll be fine without you," and marches out of the bar. By the time Dempsey has extracted himself from his quarrel with Fulham, Liverpool has long since left the bar and may or may not be booking a room at Sybaris with the Euro trash guys.

Sitting at the bar alone, Dempsey orders a beer and wonders if he missed his chance with Liverpool and, if so, whether or not he can mend fences with Fulham and her friends. That's when a 38 year old divorcee and with bleach blonde hair and cut rate breast implants saunters up, lights a cigarette, and says something delicate like, "My name's Sunderland and I fuck like a tiger."

Double bag it, Deuce.          

Monday, August 20, 2012

Premier League: Insane Conclusions (And a Few Sane Ones) From Opening Weekend

The view outside Old Trafford moments ago
I love first match impressions because they're essentially worthless. Players are trying to find their feet and see where they fit in with their new teammates; new managers are discovering what they've gotten right and what they've gotten wrong in a live fire situation; and fans are a boiling, boisterous cauldron of unrestrained hope; rather than a whole season in a ninety minute microcosm, the first match of the campaign is the opening, frantic salvo is what is in actuality a protracted and unpredictable endurance event (see: Bolton, Swansea 2011-12)... but that doesn't seem to stop anyone from drawing ridiculous conclusions about each team/player/manager's fate over the coming nine months.

Fulham v. Norwich - As  a Fulham fan, I can hardly contain myself. We're on pace to score 190 goals en route to a 114 point season with a plus 190 goal differential. We'll have our first Premier League title sown up by Christmas. Of course, our many 5-0 wins in cup competition could necessarily result in a dip in league form, but I'll believe it when I see it. Clint who? It's heady days at Craven Cottage.

QPR v. Swansea - For QPR, this was a repeat of last season's opening home bloodletting against Bolton. What's alarming for Ranger's fans is that this season's hoops incarnation is, on paper, much better than the side that started the 2011-12 campaign. Whereas Fulham and Swansea will likely not score 190 goals and go undefeated in the league, QPR may really allow 190 goals and be relegated by Christmas if they can't find at least one functional defender. My playing days are well and truly over, but if anyone can get ahold of Mark Hughes, I'm available on a free transfer. Just let me know ASAP so I can arrange for someone to watch my dog while I'm gone.

The flip side of this coin is that Bolton, after throttling Rangers to open the season last year, were eventually relegated. What are the chances that a modest side from Wales can replace Joe Allen, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Brendan Rodgers and still stay up playing a similar fluid, attacking, possession oriented style? That's a rhetorical question that I'll answer with a not-so-rhetorical, "They can't." Trust me, Michu. It gets a lot, lot harder. Bonus points for Swansea though on the ridiculous Christmas themed uniforms.

Reading v. Stoke City - I confess, I didn't watch much of this match, mostly because this match was Reading v. Stoke City.

West Bromwich Albion v. Liverpool - I'm pretty sure everyone but The KOP understands that turning Liverpool back into a big four side is a multi-season project. They strike me as a side that hasn't really had an identity for a number of years (other than underachieving) and Brendan Rodgers is asking them to play a finesse game that isn't in keeping with their striking underachievement. Having said that, Saturday has to be a write off for The Reds. The match had that it-just-isn't-our-day feel to it as soon as Zoltan Gera swiveled and fired home what could be the goal of the season come May. And in case West Brom fans are getting ahead of themselves, pump the brakes. As a Fulham fan, I can tell you Zoltan Gera will make you want to punch a baby. He'll finish an impossible flying volley against Manchester United and then he'll lash those little side footed legs at a sitter and knock it out for a throw in. Romelu Lukaku looks a good bit of business however, and West Brom may be just the place to get his career back on track.

West Ham United v. Aston Villa - I didn't watch this match at all, but if I'm Aston Villa and I could find a way to fire Alex McLeish again, I'd do it.

Newcastle United v. Tottenham Hotspur - I've said it before and I'll say it again: AVB = 6th. I don't know what it is about the Portuguese. He has all of the style of Jose Mourinho - the fitted shirts, flawless hair, fashion stubble, unmitigated arrogance - but absolutely none of the charm. He looks the part but has none of the chops. I kind of hate him. Spurs need another striker as badly as QPR need a center back. Newcastle on the other hand? They have to be the front running dark horse for a Champion's League spot.

Arsenal v. Sunderland -  Arsenal fans went from, "We'll be fine without Van Persie," to ,"Jesus, we're going to miss Van Persie, I'm off to buy batteries and bottled water," in the length of time it took Olivier Giroud to blaze his potential winner ten yards wide of the Sunderland goal. You just cannot seamlessly replace thirty some odd goals with two guys who have never played in the league before.

I don't have much to say about Sunderland other than what the hell is up with their shirt sponsor? Invest In Africa? Over/under 60% chance someone in the Sunderland front office fell for a Nigerian Letter?

Dear Sir,

We are top officials of the Federal Government Contracts Review panel who are interested who are interested in the importation of goods into our country with funds which are presently confined in Nigeria. In order to commence this business, we solicit your assistance to enable us to transfer into your account the said trapped funds. We just need your account number, PIN, and permission.  

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Akeem Biobaku 

Dr. Biobaku,

This sounds like a cracking idea! We've enclosed the requested information and look forward to doing a fair bit of business in Nigeria! 


Sunderland Football Club

I imagine Dr. Biobaku and his coconspirators were so chuffed by this (and maybe a little shamed) that they got together and came up with an Invest In Africa logo. It was the least they could do.

Wigan v. Chelsea - Let's not shit ourselves just yet, Chelsea fans, this was Wigan and we all know Wigan are the worst side in the league until they absolutely cannot afford to be. Moreover, one of the goals came from a very savable Frank Lampard penalty and the other came from a guy who should have been serving a suspension.

Manchester City v. Southampton -  I can't believe I survived three months without this kind of stimulus. Even my girlfriend, who could be generously described as a casual football fan, was screaming Rickie Lambert's name and Googling him as soon as he made a game out of it. Hopefully, I never have to write again that my girlfriend was screaming Rickie Lambert's name [insert emasculated facial expression here]. City can't do this for a whole season and defend the trophy, can they? And what of Southampton? The next Blackpool or the next Swansea? And Rickie Lambert, stay away from my girlfriend!

Everton v. Manchester United - Everton looked every bit as good as they did at the end of the last campaign. Marouane Fellaini was a beast. Granted, Michael Carrick was forced into a center back berth, but neither he nor Vidic had an answer for the big man. Ian Darke made the Duncan Ferguson comparison, but I don't ever recall Big Dunc showing off the delicate touch and pinpoint control Fellaini had today. In fact, I mostly remember Ferguson looking likely to head butt someone and chew his face off so I'm not sure Darke's comparison was entirely flattering of Fellaini whose holdup play was world class tonight. Also, is there a better Premier League atmosphere than Goodison Park on a Monday night?

As for United, Kagawa and Cleverly looked the part, but the makeshift back four was a serious issue. Not only was much of the defending suspect, but Valencia was sorely missed on the wing and Nani's service was horrible. Even if he had gotten the ball in the area, you know...once, Jagielka, Distin, and Howard were dealing with everything. When Van Persie finally came on to put Nani out of his misery, he never found the game and looked a little confused as to how and where exactly he was supposed to play. I'll hold off on drawing any insane conclusions from this match. Everton away with a injury ravaged team is a tough match up for any team in the league. Having said that, David De Gea kept the score respectable with a number of stellar saves in spite of United's near monopoly of possession....

Wait! here's my insane prediction: Van Persie is a carrier of a rare, horrible, and highly contagious disease. It's called The Arsenals. It afflicts top Premier League sides and its symptoms are beautiful, fluid, possession oriented attacks combined with an inability to score against physically imposing opposition and a tendency to give up goal scoring opportunities due to injury afflicted back lines comprised of attack minded makeshift defenders.

Jesus. Robin Van Persie is Patient Zero. God help us all.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Holy. Shit.

Well, that happened. And I'm not just talking about the super gay fan art some United supporter has already photoshopped on the internet, although that clearly happened too. Robin Van Persie is on his way to Manchester United. Every United fan in the world right now must feel like every Manchester City fan in the world last year at this time and I'd venture to guess that maybe they're each just a little bit fonder of the Glazers than they were yesterday.

Although the Manchester clubs are clearly in an arms race (feet race?) for the Premier League title this year, I don't quite believe that the league is down to a two team fight. Depending on how Arsene Wenger invests the $44 million dollars he's reportedly getting from the RVP deal, Arsenal could make a  run at some silverware this season. A deal for Fernando Llorente is already rumored to be in the works.

It's going to take me a while to wrap my mind around what exactly this means for the league and United and City and Arsenal, but I do have some initial thoughts.

1. Someone please put Dimitar Berbatov on suicide watch. Seriously. The vampiric Bulgarian is still on the books at United and now even his Capital One Cup starts have been snatched from his cigarette stained hands. Rooney, Chicharito, Welbeck, and Van Persie?! Jesus.

2. Nicklas Bendtner is probably over the moon right now because Nicklas Bendtner is Nicklas Bendtner's biggest fan and Nicklas Bendtner probably thinks this is a great chance for Nicklas Bendtner  to finally take the reins at The Emirates.

3. How do United line up this season? You pay $44 million for a guy, that guy is going to play (unless that guy is Dimitar Berbatov). Does Rooney finally shed his last semblance as a striker and operate in midfield behind a front three? I can't see United playing a 4-3-3 all season, especially without a proven destroyer in the middle of the park. And if Rooney does play a midfield role, where the hell does Kagawa play?

4. Arsene Wenger is either incredibly shrewd and that Llorente deal is going to get done as soon as the ink dries on RVP's sale, or he's essentially ceded this year's title challenge to one of the Manchester clubs and will invest his recently acquired truckloads of cash in talented youth players who most likely speak French. If it's the latter, Arsenal fans are going to have to do some serious self delusion (they're good at this) to convince themselves they're anything but a really, really good feeder team. Why else sell your best player to someone you once called a rival?

5. What must it be like living in Manchester right now if you're not a supporter of either City or United? Fuck. My. Life. This would be like the Red Sox and the Yankees both calling the same city home, both with real life fantasy squads, and both at the beginning of the season when expectations haven't yet been muted by injury or results...but in a city with the population of Austin.

6. Andre Villas-Boas is throwing a hissy fit. He has one recognized striker on the books at the moment. City and United both have multiple strikers better than Jermain Defoe who can't get a game.

7. None of this matters and will go down as one of the biggest gaffs in transfer history if RVP succumbs to the injury bug that has plagued him every year of his career, save for last year, and misses huge chunks of time.

8. Lastly, what happens when City and United play one another for the first time and one of them loses? I think that first match is in early December? Can you imagine? It's Manchester in December. If you've never been to Manchester, it isn't exactly a beautiful, sunny city. Did I mention it's December? You wake up with a massive hangover. Your team, a team you've supported since you were a little boy, has just lost to a team and a group of supporters you hate with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. Despite spending Scrooge McDuck volumes of cash, you're second best. Did I mention you still live in Manchester? You feel helpless, alone, listless, and defeated. Next week's fixture against Who Gives a Shit FC means nothing to you even if your team wins by twenty goals. You roll out of bed and mutter something to the wife. You find a stale scone in the kitchen and sit at the breakfast table. You chew dispassionately and contemplate your erectile dysfunction as you stare out the window into the dreary, winter sky. You've felt low before, but never this low; never this defeated....aaaaaaaand scene.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In Which I Try to Redeem Last Year's Predictions: 2012/13 Premier League Predictions

If the Premier League were the Men's 100M Olympic sprint, right now Manchester City would be jumping around all Usain Bolt style, posing like lightning, and hamming it up for the cameras; Manchester United would be staring down the finish line like Justin Gatlin knowing that even a record run may only be good enough for second place; and the rest of the league would be that poor, sun deprived white guy from somewhere in Eastern Europe who's known since the prelims that on a perfect       track with a strong tailwind his best hope is third place...or at least not last.

I made the mistake last season of picking against Usain Bolt, mostly out of spite, and wound up cursing myself for trying to be that much more clever than everyone else. Not so this year. I saw Manchester City trounce Chelsea in the Community Shield and all I can say is...damn. Sure it finished 3-2, but come on. Roberto Mancini's team talk at half time was likely some version of, "Ahhh, Chelsea. So cute. But seriously, this is a man's game." 

In the second half, City looked quick in thought and action, but above all they looked ruthless. They attacked with purpose and did anyone else see Zabaleta lose possession and then sprint back sixty yards to destroy a Chelsea player at midfield with a sliding challenge to win back the ball? It was sort of a That's-ours-and-I-didn't-say-you-could-play-with-it-now-watch-us-go-score moment that seemed to be lacking from City's play for long stretches last season. 

Conversely, Chelsea looked old, tired, and slow. At times it was like they were playing underwater and Ivanovic, Terry, and Lampard seemed to be in a competition to see who could put in the most tardy tackle and get away with it. It would bode better for Chelsea fans if they really were, but the reality is that was Plan Z after plans A through Y had failed. 

What I'm getting at here, is that I'm calling Manchester City to win the title and to do so much easier than they did last season. At the moment (foreshadowing alert), I don't see anyone posing a serious, sustained threat to their dominance. And although Roberto Mancini has expressed anger at the lack of incoming players this transfer window, it can be argued that the continuity this has created will be good for the blue side of Manchester. Football isn't a game that responds well to plugging big names into a team sheet just because you can. Legendary teams have taken seasons, with maybe a tweak here or there, to coalesce into juggernauts. I think City could be on the cusp of being one of the game's great teams. 

So, clearly I'm picking Manchester City to defend the title. What about the others, you ask? Well, two through six I see finishing like this:

2. Manchester United - It's not for no reason that I made the Justin Gatlin/Usain Bolt comparison. Did you watch the 4x100M men's final at the Olympics? The USA, with Gatlin as the anchor, ran a world record time...and lost to Usain Bolt, et al. What must that feel like? Spoiler alert, it feels like shit. Guaranteed. If I have any reticence in putting United here, it's that the transfer window doesn't close until August 31st. As United is presently comprised, I think they're better than everyone but City. However, it looks like a one Robin Van Persie - Side note: is that not the most foppish name you've ever heard? - is about to join United from Arsenal. This falls into the "Holy Shit" category of transfers. I love it for a few of reason. 1 - I get to die laughing as I watch Arsenal supporters try to convince everyone and themselves that they're better off without him. 2 - It takes the Manchester Derby/Title Race beyond light speed and ludicrous speed and pushes it directly into plaid. You heard it here first: City and United have gone plaid. Seriously, this has the feel of two dudes playing Xbox who have compiled super teams that couldn't actually exist in reality and now they're playing one another in epic matches in one of their mom's basements...except they do exist and the matches will be beamed to a global audience. 3 - Theo Walcott is probably out there thinking, "Finally. My time to shine." Sweet, Theo. Sweet, sweet Theo.

My one caveat to the Manchester arms race is that Van Persie was really only a god for one season. If this is an arms race, Van Persie is a technologically advanced super weapon with unbelievably destructive powers.  Unfortunately, he's very hard to maintain in the field, jams frequently, and has a lot of moving parts that require horse placenta for proper lubrication. Fingers crossed. 

3. Arsenal - With Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, and Santi Cazorla arriving at The Emirates, the potential loss of RvP becomes much more manageable, especially if boatloads of cash for reinvestment come Wenger's way. I can't believe I'm about to write this because it smacks of all the ridiculous, delusional talk I've been hearing from Gunners' fans, but in a certain way, losing RvP could make Arsenal more competitive. Last season, RvP was the first and last option up top and now Podolski and Giroud provide some depth. Additionally, if Wenger decides to use the theoretical transfer funds from Van Persie's sale to bring in young talent (Hopefully somewhere in the back, for Christ's sake!!!!), Arsenal could be set up well not just for this season, but into the following few seasons. 

4. Chelsea - Of all my predictions, this is the one about which I am least confident. Look, I know Chelsea won the Champion's League last season and I know Di Matteo was a great story and I know Fernando Torres and his deliciously well sculpted jaw line look like they're refinding their form and I know some exciting players have been brought into Stamford Bridge. I get it. I also get that John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Peter Cech are prunes and pensions old and that Didier Drogba rode off into a zillion dollar Chinese sunset as a fucking legend and that Roman Abramovich is itching to throw massive sacks of ill begotten Russian oligarch money at the latest quick fix at the first sign of trouble. I guess what I'm trying to say is, does anyone else feel like the Champion's League win last year was sort of the capstone on a brilliant generation of Chelsea players and that pushing forward from there is a little like the Rolling Stones still touring? 

5. Liverpool - Followers of the blog may recall that last year I predicted Liverpool to win the league. On paper, I still stand by that prediction as not entirely irresponsible. In practice, it was a total shit show. Onward and upward though, no? I predict the Liverpool that bit me last season rebounds on the philosophy of Brendan Rodgers - which among other things has no use for Andy Carroll - and possibly even challenges for a Champion's League bid. That last bit is contingent on one or two more signings before the transfer window closes, but so far it looks like Rodgers is on the right track. Borini and Allen are great signings and getting Lucas back will be a huge boon to the way Rodgers wants to play, but there's definitely the possibility of addition by subtraction. If Rodgers can cut some of the dead weight from a top heavy roster, funds could be cleared up to bring in one or two players who could really send The Kop into delirium.

6. Tottenham - Andre Villas-Boas - Luka Modric + Gylfi Sigurdsson - Ledley King + Jan Vertonghen = sixth. Modric, Sigurdsson, King, and Vertonghen cancel each other out. That leaves you with one AVB. One AVB is equal to sixth. Don't get mad. It's math. 

As always, places seven through seventeen are largely inconsequential. Bottom line, they live to fight again another day. Places eighteen through twenty though? Here's who I have:

18. Wigan - I hate to do it because I love Roberto Martinez, but this is the season his luck or gypsy magic or sacrifices to Odin finally lose their potency. Hugo Rodallega is gone, Victor Moses looks to be on his way out, and Ryo Miyaichi is coming in on loan from Arsenal...from whom he was previously loaned to Bolton...who were relegated last season. With this information and bones, goat's blood, and boiling spit I have divined that Wigan's stay in the Premier League is over. Over!! Overrrrrr!!!!!!!! Muahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

19. Swansea - This is another math problem, but it's pretty easy as it is comprised solely of subtractions. Swansea - Brendan Rodgers - Joe Allen - Gylfi Sigurdsson = Nineteenth. Michel Vorm probably does enough ridiculousness to keep Swansea up until the last few matches, but eventually the Welsh club succumbs to its wounds and everyone realizes how awesome it was to watch them in the 2011/12 season. 

20. In all honesty, I put Wigan here. But out of respect for Roberto Martinez, or as I call him, Bobby M., I slotted them up as a final weekend eighteenth. This kind of puts me in a pickle because I don't really think any of the teams I could put here (Norwich, Southampton, Reading) will actually finish twentieth. That being said, I have to pick one of them. And that one is Southampton. I think the up and staying up trend is broken this season and Southampton sadly pay the price. Also, I don't like their uniforms. 

Possible Shockers:

1. Fulham go down - With Dempsey seemingly on the verge of joining Liverpool, Pogrebnyak, Murphy, and Etuhu gone, and Real Madrid apparently making fuck me eyes at Moussa Dembele from across the English Channel, things could get rough at The Cottage this season.

2. Carlos Tevez wins the golden boot - Everyone's saying it's going to be Aguero, but why not Tevez? Especially sane, settled, now-I-love-Manchester Tevez?              

3. Newcastle United claim a Champion's League Spot - I had this here initially, but then took it off as not much of a shocker. Then a reader pointed it out as a potential shocker and I'll be damned if I let him say, "I told you so," at the end of the season. Thanks, Ryan. Newcastle have almost no subtractions in their squad (Save for Alan Smith...legend!) and a couple of quality additions, most notably in Amalfitano. With a year to settle they may be set to ascend even higher...or they'll realize how much they overachieved and come crashing back to earth.

4...Dear reader, what do you think?