The conclusion of the January transfer window seems like an ideal time to assess and predict the remainder of the 2014/15 Premier League season. All of the teams have now had the chance to strengthen, which some took more advantage of than others. In truth, January is a tough time to do business as the players most clubs want all cost too much. Clubs are much more reluctant to sell in January, with the window being only open for a month the time to draft in replacements runs out fast. On top of that, the FA Cup starts for the big clubs and the Premier League is in full flow hence there are more matches than August meaning managers time is away from transfers and on winning football matches.
This window was the most boring one I can remember. Deadline day petered out with little drama compared to even previous January deadline days. Liverpool, Tottenham, the Manchester clubs and Newcastle chose not to take part with Chelsea concluding their dealings as quick as they could, Everton brought one person in and Southampton made one more loan signing (another – because Everton last year was cheating but Southampton doing it is fine. The hypocrisy in our media is sickening). Even Harry Redknapp couldn’t wind his window down to spite his usual rubbish to Sky Sports. The reporters, who are usually like salivating dogs waiting for their favourite treat, were more like broken records, repeating news about the same deals hour after hour. Essentially, deadline day did nothing to change my opinions on this season.
What are those opinions? Well, before I go into details, the table as it stands is worth a glance:
|8||West Ham United||23||10||6||7||+8||36|
|15||West Bromwich Albion||23||5||7||11||−12||22|
|19||Queens Park Rangers||23||5||4||14||−18||19|
Being five points clear and having played their nearest rivals Manchester City twice, this was a simple prediction to make. I’ve said all along that Chelsea will win the league this year. All that was wrong last year was the lack of a regular goal scorer and the inability to beat sides in the lower half of the table. This season they’ve signed Costa and Fabregas as well as improving their consistency. On top of that, Courtois is probably the best goalkeeper in the country. Defence solid, midfield electric and strikers reliable, it’s tough to see them throwing this away.
With that being said, it is worth pointing out that there is still a chance for Manchester City. I admire Wilfried Bony, he has a real eye for goal and that can only get better now he’s playing alongside Silva, Navas, Nasri et al. Can they close the gap? It is no longer in their hands. Chelsea need to drop points but any team can lose at any time in this league, it is unpredictable at the best of times. For example, Tottenham tore Chelsea apart on New Year’s Day, giving City hope. There’s a chance but it’s slim and I fully expect Mourinho’s experience, pragmatism and confidence to see Chelsea home.
Top Four: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham
The first two were obvious, the second not so. The race for fourth is as fascinating as ever, with United, Southampton, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and even arguably West Ham in the hunt for two spaces. I believe United will nail third place down for the simple reason that they have no European commitments and therefore very few midweek matches. With Di Maria, Falcao, Van Persie, Rooney, Mata and De Gea they really should be getting champions league football. On top of that, the signings of Rojo and Blind have given them the defensive steel they needed. Blind is a player I rate incredibly highly; he can play in midfield or at left back with equal aplomb. His passing is sublime and work rate admirable; he could be the key difference in the race for champions league football.
I said that United will finish third because they have no mid-week matches, well I believe Tottenham will secure fourth because they do have mid-week matches. Bucking the usual trend, the Europa League has improved Tottenham this season. Lamela, Eriksen and Kane have used it to force their way into the first team and now those three are the most exciting attacking trio in the Premier League. Pochettino is a talented young manager who plays an attractive brand of football. He’s getting the best out of last season’s failures (except Soldado who is beyond hopeless) and they have only lost once since the beginning of December. That run could be because the Europa League has gone on a break and the run could finish when europe resumes at the end of this month however it also could be because they have the quality to reach fourth place, which I think is more likely.
It’s worth briefly mentioning my reasons for not including the others here. The team who I think will push Tottenham closest are Arsenal, the deciding factor between the two for me was my gut. The gunners possess the firepower required for fourth and higher; Sanchez, Welbeck, Ozil, Walcott and the Ox are more than adequate for the Champions League however they lack the togetherness that I feel from Tottenham right now. This weekend’s derby will tell us a lot, as my prediction could be based on good form rather than better quality. Liverpool have crept from nowhere to become very much a factor in this race again and with Sturridge back from injury they will feel they have enough to make the leap and secure Champions League football again. They are as good as the teams above them however I see them just falling short. Unfortunately I feel that Southampton will fall away, the sides that aren’t used to Champions League tend to and Southampton won’t be an exception to that. They are unbelievably close to doing something remarkable and I hope Koeman stays to improve them further next season.
Europa League: Liverpool, Arsenal (possibly Southampton too depending on FA Cup)
The problem with the previous paragraph is that it has outlined my reasons for these spots in the league. Liverpool are currently four points behind Southampton, so why do I think they will overhaul that deficit? Simply put, experience of being in and around the top of the table. I believe Koeman is a better manager than Rodgers however Liverpool possess the better players. The key difference between Arsenal & Liverpool and Southampton is the strike force. Pelle has proved himself to be a good goalscorer however is he in Sturridge’s, Sterling’s, Welbeck’s or Sanchez’s league? No, he isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Southampton are an incredible side who have surprised everyone this season and I am praying that they finish fourth, I just can’t see it happening. A positive for Southampton should be that they’ve recently come through a tough set of fixtures while remaining in fourth place. If, and it’s a big if, they continue to pick up wins then they might just upset the apple cart.
Now, I contradicted myself by saying Arsenal would push Tottenham closest however then stating they will finish sixth. I’ve done that because if one team can push a side close for fourth and then drop away to finish sixth, it will almost certainly be Arsenal (or Everton). Despite all their positive qualities, the flaw that still remains is the ability to self-destruct and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them finish behind Liverpool by a point after being ahead of Tottenham by 3 or 4 going into April.
Relegation: Aston Villa, QPR, Leicester
Firstly, Palace and West Brom both did the sensible thing and appointed Pardew and Pulis respectively at the right time in the season and that will be enough to see both safe. They were proactive rather than reactive and that attitude is rewarded more often than not. Another side that were proactive in January was Sunderland, who probably did the best business out of any of the 20 by swapping Altidore for Defoe. In goal-scoring terms that is like swapping a Ford Focus for a Bugatti Veyron, replacing a Henry with a Dyson. It’s not that Altidore is a bad player; it’s more that he lacks the striker’s instinct to score goals.
Hull and Burnley are in deep trouble. Hull’s supposed strengthening in the summer hasn’t helped and Bruce’s men look closer and closer towards the exit door of the premier league. I, however, think they will pull themselves out of it at the very death of the season. I haven’t looked at fixtures, nor is it time to yet. I simply believe that a strike force of Jelavic and Hernandez will get you goals more games than not and that will be enough for them to survive. Burnley would be the favourites to replace them in the drop zone but it is more hope than good judgement that I’ve plumped for Villa instead. I admire Sean Dyche and would love nothing more than to see the plucky underdogs defy the pre-season expectations and stay in the promised land. Using logical arguments to back this theory up, they’ve gambled on losing Ings on a free by keeping him until the end of the season. Goals, goals, goals are what survival in this division is all about. Sunderland have Defoe, Hull Jelavic and Burnley Ings. Goals are money in this league and the transfer fee received for Ings wouldn’t have covered the money survival brings. It is once again sensible thought from a club who seem very grounded.
Goals are precisely what Aston Villa lack. In Benteke, Weimann and Agbonlahor they have the best strikers of teams in the mix but they can’t buy a goal this season. They are currently on their second goalless run of the season, having failed to score between the 13th September and the 2nd November (thereby cancelling their October goal of the month award); they now haven’t scored since the 20th December (presumably they haven’t bothered with a January award either). In recent weeks they have lost to West Brom and Leicester and for me, I can’t see how they can turn this around and survive. As for the other two, QPR and Leicester both appear down already. While mathematically that is far from the case, both sides lack the required quality in all departments to match those directly above them. If either will pull themselves out of the mess they are in, it will be Leicester. QPR’s financial problems meant they weren’t able to spend money on players during the window and a load more were reluctant to come on loan. Despite what their chairman says, they are a side full of mercenary’s who care little beyond the amount of money they receive at the end of the week and I won’t be sad to see them depart this division. The saving grace for them is that finally the biggest fraud and nastiest man in football has resigned, maybe with a better manager they will improve but I highly doubt it, Redknapp has ruined yet another football club
And Finally… Everton
Where will we finish? Safely mid table, probably the top half and hopefully 8th. Disappointing in many ways is the way we haven’t been able to keep up with Tottenham, Liverpool and Southampton as we have the squad to challenge them. Unless we win the Europa League (we won’t) there is no way we will be in Europe next season, which will probably see Mirallas and one or two others leave. This will break up the best Everton squad of my lifetime, which will obviously be a massive shame. You can do nothing but shrug your shoulders and say “hey ho, this happens every now and then”. It’s frustrating but life goes on. If we can keep McCarthy, Coleman, Lukaku, Stones and Jagielka fit then there is a small chance we will make it into 7th place but it will require something spectacular from now until the end.
So, there we have it – my thoughts on how the premier league will finish up. No, it’s not hugely controversial and it is incredibly unlikely to all be right however at this point in time this is the most likely outcome of this season. The EPL has a way of throwing up results you don’t see coming and therefore I still expect a few twists and turns in the last 15 games of the season. Usually the place you occupy now is one or two away from where you finish however recent seasons has shown this is not always the case. If a side goes on a good run, they could finish anywhere. Let me know what you think about this, I want to hear disagreements (or agreements) and your reasoning why. The beauty of sport is the many different angles you can approach while trying to predict it. I believe goals will decide this season’s standings while someone out there will believe it to be defences. For that reason, I encourage you to get in touch and ridicule or praise my views.