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?

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