Normally each year I post my predictions for the upcoming season. Sometimes I'm successful going against the assorted media masses, such as United winning last year or Liverpool's fall from grace and occasionally (yes West Ham I'm looking at you) I miss by a place or 10. This year there were so many potential late transfer window moves that it made any kind of reasonable prediction moot.
I am, truth be told, rather surprised by the fast start of United. "You never win anything with kids" noted Alan Hansen many years ago and the former Liverpool defender has had that thrown in his face ever since. And yet, Hansen is fundamentally correct. The United crop of Beckham, Scholes and co was, if not unique, then incredibly rare.
The thing about youngsters is that they have no fear and no experience. Certainly that's a double edged sword. You can get the fast start that United has experienced this year, but it can also get you bounced out of the FA Cup on a wintery evening in the third round against a League One opponent. Now Ferguson, being a smart builder of teams, has brought in youth such as Phil Jones that has already played in the Premier League which should mitigate that.
Jones may well turn out to be a very special player. The comparisons that have already started to Duncan Edwards are of course ridiculously premature, not least because the Edwards was the greatest player ever to play the game. However you see the style of play that Jones has and wonder how he would have played as an old fashioned wing half. I think Jones is wasted at the back and should be playing in midfield, but the next England manager should take Joe Hart, Jones, Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney and make it his spine of the national side and build around them.
United will ultimately go as far as David De Gea will carry them. I've been singularly unimpressed with the positioning of goalkeepers in La Liga and De Gea seems to have that problem. Quality reflexes of course, but I'd expect teams to fire from distance often to test the youngster.
While United have the tradition of continually adding youngsters to their setup, Chelsea do not. Carlo Ancelotti worked absolute miracles the past couple of years with their aging squad and his firing may be one of the more unjust in Premier League history. You can see Andre Villas-Boas moving quickly to add new recruits. My instinct says that Chelsea will struggle this year and if I had to pick one of the Big Five to miss the top four then it would be Chelsea, not Arsenal.
What to make of the Gunners? As good as a player as Fabregas was for Arsenal there was this sneaking suspicion that they were never going to win with him. I much prefer Wilshere and Ramsey as a midfield combination long term. For all the doom and gloom a lineup of Szczesny in goal, Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Gibbs as a back four, Song as the DM, Wilshere and Ramsey in the middle with Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain outside and Van Persie up front is pretty darn good. With Arteta, Arshavin and Benayoun filling in as needed. That's a top four side and a core of Vermaelen, Wilshere, Ramsey and Van Persie is a group you could build a championship around. The injury to Wilshere of course amplifies the loss of Fabregas and Nasri, but if the Arsenal fans have a little patience this side will be a lot better than some of them seem to think.
Liverpool are probably a year away, but make no mistake the club is back after enduring the reign of Rafa Benitez. Sorry Liverpool fans, you were blinded by the Champions League success and were never going to win with him in charge even with all the transfer money in the world. We have a lot of smart Liverpool fans hanging around Soccernet and their comments about Andy Carroll have been very interesting. There's an abundance of talent that Kenny Dalglish is collecting in the north west and it's Liverpool more than anyone else that I think could outperform expectations this year.
Also collecting talent is Harry Redknapp at Spurs. It says a lot about what is wrong with football today that the club is focused on getting back to the Champions League rather than embracing their place in Europe this year. Harry to England and Mourinho to Tottenham is still a situation I'd love to see. You'd end up with six clubs truly battling for four Champions League spots. And for those that don't see Mourinho to Spurs, where else is he going to go? England is his next stop after Real Madrid and a move to United, and I'm not convinced that would happen regardless, requires Ferguson to depart. SAF shows no indication of doing so and if the managerial posts of City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea are set then the only remaining big club are Spurs who may lose their manager to England and are willing to splash the cash. There's also the fact that Mourinho loves London and there's only one club that makes sense.
Which brings us belatedly to City. It's kind of hard to post about City at the moment as I keep seeing issues, even while most fans are in utter delirium about the start of the club. Case in point the game against Wigan. On the surface an excellent 3-0 victory, but there were acres and I mean acres of space in front of the back four that a United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Spurs would have exploited ruthlessly. Bluntly put, same team and formation selection and City would get rolled.
The form of the front six, particularly of David Silva, has blinded most to the defensive deficiencies that are there for all to see. And yes, the argument can be made that if you are banging in goals at the one end, you have to worry less about prevention - the Keegan theory of football tactics which makes for great games. But the absence of Nigel de Jong is going to bite City hard one of these days. Kompany does not play as well when having to deal with the plays coming through the middle.
Aguero has made a phenomenal start to his time in the Premier League and equally as important, seems to have been the catalyst to jumpstart Edin Dzeko. Their understanding with Silva is the kind of play that can lead City to trophies. That being said as good as Aguero has been I can't get over the play of Silva. Best player in the Premier League, bar none, and the pass to Milner for City's second against Everton may be the best "vision" pass you'll see all year.
So you see my dilemma? United have made a fast start with youngsters, City have taken a step forward on a brilliant newcomer (who tend to fade over a long Premier League Season), Chelsea are rebuilding as quickly as they can, Liverpool have an abundance of talent, Arsenal are unwisely being written off and Spurs are back to focusing on the league. Any one of these six have the players, when healthy, to put together a run at the title while also having issues that could knock them completely out of the Champions League places. Yes even United who sacrificed experienced squad versatility and depth for youthful squad versatility. It's turned out well for them so far, but you saw against Stoke what happens to United with a couple of key injuries.
I don't know who will win the league this year. The hot start of City and United, while taking me back to the old comic book days of Jack and Jimmy, may say they are the only contenders, but I'm not so sure.
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