The Top 4 Enigma

As the exhilarating 2012/13 Premier League season comes to an end, we take a look at what may happen this time next year! The top 4 of the Barclays Premier League is one of the most dynamic and exciting of any league in the world – with the title race and the marathon run for a Champions League place. Of course, there is a consolation prize of a Europa-League place for the 5th placed team, but it is a world away from the prize of playing in Europe’s biggest competition! The race for the top 4 in the upcoming 2013/14 season looks to be the most eagerly contested yet, with United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton and Liverpool all aspiring to be ready for a big push!

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Let’s start with the most entertaining battle in the Premier League: the title race. For the past decade, Manchester United have dominated the league – winning it 5 times. The other 5 years saw 3 titles won by Chelsea and 1 each by Arsenal and Manchester City. However, things have changed. A new era has begun, due to the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and the arrival of David Moyes at Manchester United. The managerial saga has put Manchester City, Chelsea, and Everton in a bit of a roller-coaster. For Manchester City, the obvious target is Manuel Pellegrini, the Malaga manager, who may leave due to Malaga’s ban from being eligible to play in Europe as they have failed to pay both wages and taxes. As for Chelsea, Roman Abramovic is keen to bring ‘The Special One’, Jose Mourinho, back home, which could surely benefit them, as he knows Chelsea like the back of his hand and would have the full backing of the fans. In addition, Everton are targeting Roberto Martinez, whose relegated Wigan side will be playing in the Europa League next season. As for Liverpool, who are certain to stick with Brendan Rodgers who has done fantastically in turning around the sinking ship,  they could surely be a candidate in fight for Champions League football.

Manchester United

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2012/2013 season’s position: 1st place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 1st place

Key men: David de Gea, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Robin van Persie

The only reason why I have said that Manchester United’s expected position is first place is because they are consistent. Consistency is key in a league like the Barclays Premier League – you cannot afford to slip in standard in any way. Manchester United’s team may consist of a couple of 30 year old’s, but they’re fit as ever and have a lot of experience, in Europe and in the Premier League. With David Moyes’s arrival, United could be targeting a few midfielders to partner the unsung hero, Michael Carrick. They have been linked with some signings such as Marouane Fellaini, Thiago Alcantara, Kevin Strootman, Viktor Wanyama, and midfield general Cesc Fabregas. David could also have a look on Tottenham’s star Gareth Bale as United’s wingers lacked ambition throughout the season (*cough* Antonio Valencia *cough*). On the contrary, Moyes could bring in very few signings, as the current players are keen to impress; the likes of Anderson, Antonio Valencia, Luis Nani, Tom Cleverley, Fabio da Silva, Alexander Buttner, Ashley Young, and the young wing wizard Wilfried Zaha will all be keen to nail a place in the starting XI. As for Wayne Rooney, Moyes’ options are limited,with Robert Lewandowski’s agent stating that his client is joining the champions of Europe, Bayern Munich…but who knows? This leaves Rooney either staying at United (increasingly plausible) and keeping on winning titles, or going abroad – where his likely destinations are Paris Saint Germain or Real Madrid, who both can afford his wages and demands. As for the goalkeeping issue, if Manchester United want to keep Ben Amos, then they should sell their Dane, Anders Lindegaard. This can benefit both Ben Amos and Sam Johnstone, who can step up his game and become United’s third goalkeeper. This is highly likely to happen as David Moyes believes in the development of youth. All in all, Manchester United are the most consistent team in England and that is why they’re highly likely to win the league again.

Manchester United will not only fight for the title, they’ll want to fight for the Champions League title.

Chelsea

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2012/2013 season’s position: 3rd place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 2nd place

Key Men: Petr Cech, David Luiz, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku 

Chelsea started off the campaign flying high, scoring goals galore which made everybody think that this was their year. However, they crashed out of the Champions League early, which affected their morale as a team. As a result of the premature end to their Champions League title defence, Chelsea’s manager, Roberto Di Matteo, who won the Champions League a couple of months earlier, was sacked. This rather unsurprisingly angered almost all Chelsea fans, but not as much as Rafael Benitez’s appointment as an ‘Interim’ manager by the trigger happy Roman Abramovich.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Chelsea v Fulham - Stamford Bridge

A Chelsea fan protesting about Rafael Benitez’s appointment as an Interim Manager

On the contrary, not all was bad for the club. some Chelsea fans did come to the realisation that their temporary gaffer could surely improve their £50m “flop”, Fernando Torres, as they had both worked together very successfully at Anfield in the past. He’s not entirely a flop; 22 goals in all competitions is good for a player who’s under pressure week in, week out. However, the Chelsea fans were wrong when complaining that Fernando was their main striker, as Benitez’s first signing was Newcastle United’s star man, Demba Ba. Ba is undoubtedly one of the best finishers in the Barclays Premier League, I mean, Newcastle ended their season with him as their top scorer… poor Alan Pardew. As for next season, their on-loan prodigy, Romelu Lukaku, who spent the entire season under Steve Clark at West Brom, hit a fantastic number of 17 goals and 4 assists, including a hat trick against Manchester United on the final day. If Chelsea have Lukaku as their main striker for next season, or even alongside Demba Ba in a more traditional 4-4-2, expect a minimum of 20 goals from the big man.

Jose Mourinho’s seemingly imminent arrival could turn Chelsea into a consistent team, who are surely good enough to compete for the title. However, Jose is known for believing in fielding big names over youth, (with the exception Raphael Varane at Madrid). He could set a few transfer targets to improve the club’s goal tally further next season. With Radamel Falcao going to the newly promoted Ligue 1 team AS Monaco, this leaves Mou with limited options. Chelsea have been linked with Edinson Cavani for quite some time now so they could look to bring him to the Bridge. Also, they have been targeting Bayer Leverkusen‘s Andre Schurrle for the past 2 years who is looking much more likely to sign for them this summer. To sum it up, Jose can lure all the stars he wants, but if he does, expect Chelsea in the Europa League because he has to satisfy all of the players, and some of their stiflingly large egos. However, if Jose plays his cards right, and allows younger players such as Piazon and Lukaku to flourish, Chelsea should ease their way to a top 2 finish.

Manchester City

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2012/2013 season’s position: 2nd place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 3rd place

Key Men: Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Sergio Kun Aguero 

The past season for Manchester City has been terrible compared to the 2011/2012 campaign, as they failed to win a Champions League game during the group stages, as well as failling to retain their Premier League crown. You cant blame them, an inexperienced team in the Champions League in a group with Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax – winning 0 games out of 6. To add to their misery, they also failed to win the FA Cup final when the relegated Wigan Athletic crushed their aspirations of a second win in 3 years, in the 90th minute, when aBen Watson header left Joe Hart in its wake. Moreover, with only 2 games left of the campaign, Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed sacked Roberto Mancini, due to the reports suggesting Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, and Alexander Kolarov approaching the owner and putting him in ‘Us or him’ situation.. Surely their team isnt full of ego’s. Mancini’s assistant David Platt also left the club which leaves them with Brian Kidd. The most likely candidate to fill Mancini’s shoes is Manuel Pellegrini; we all know that Pellegrini and money together does not always ensue success, as has been proved in the past, when he was previously the Real Madrid manager.

City have lacked consistency from their strikers, even though they have one of the best finishers in the league, perhaps the world! Surely Aguero,  Tevez, and Dzeko are good enough to score goals, right? The inconsistency at City has also come from their midfield, such as the lapses in form from David Silva, who was sublime during the previous campaign. Samir Nasri was most probably the biggest culprit though, often failing to maintain a performance for 90 minutes, or just not having any kind of influence on the game more often than not. City’s defense has been vulnerable as their captain Kompany missed large chunks of the season along with Micah Richards – leaving them with the unsatisfied Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure, and the inexperienced Nastasic. Their situation at the back was unfortunate – nobody wants an injury crisis, but it highlighted what Mancini lacked: Plans for the near future, for example, back-ups for multiple positions. This is an area in which United obviously have the upper hand – their reserve team epitomises the importance of having a prosperous youth academy.

City’s transfer targets, as always, have to be big names such as Gareth Bale, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, Gonzalo Higuain, and much more. I expect City to make a clear-out and sell Edin Dzeko, Lescott, Alexander Kolarov, and perhaps Samir Nasri in order to bring those stars. Their expected position is 3rd as these players surely need time to adapt to such league as the style of play diversify in each country is very different. In addition, there is a chance of silverware, surely either the FA Cup or Carling Cup, but nothing more. They will be financially busy in the market. Expect big names.

Arsenal

The Invincibles

The Invincibles

2012/2013 season’s position: 4th place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 4th place

Key Men: Wojciech Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski

Without a doubt Arsenal are one of the best clubs in England, but where has it gone wrong for them? Perhaps the sale of Robin van Persie, Thierry Henry, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Patr.. okay I’ll stop now. As we all know, Arsene Wenger is very fond of French players, but he really needs to diversify his search in the market.. A few targets Arsenal have been tracking are Jovetic, Loic Remy, Ashley Williams, Christian Benteke, and Lyon’s young star Clement Grenier. However, Arsene Wenger should consider the options he has such as Gervinho, Chamberlain, and Podolski. How will they feel if an another striker comes along? What suits them best? Should they leave the club? Another thing Arsene needs to consider is to tighten up his defence, as Vermaelen hasn’t been extremely impressive of late – hence why Arsene is after Swansea’s captain Ashley Williams. Also, what has happened to Bacary Sagna? He has been linked to 2 Italian giants, Inter Milan and AC Milan. If he seals a move there, Arsenal should consider a defender who is a long-term solution and loyal if possible. Firstly, there’s Gremio’s fullback Mario Fernandes who can play both right-back and centre-back. Arsene should have competed with Chelsea for Cesar Azpilicueta, who is such a hard-working lad and is both attacking and defensive.

Arsenal have lacked the ambition to fight for title and they instead seem to concentrate on the possibility of playing Champions League football each year. Some of Arsenal’s goals conceded should be perhaps blamed on Szczesny, as he has been poor for a period of time, therefore Arsene has went in for numerous goalkeepers in the league and abroad such as QPR’s Julio Cesar and Barcelona’s Victor Valdes. The Arsenal squad also lacks encouragement which caused them to be inconsistent throughout the season.

As you may have noticed, I have picked Lukas rather than Giroud or Theo as the key man from the strikers as he has the potential to cause the defenders a problem. As much as Olivier is good in the air and all that, pace is sometimes the important factor (Unless you’re Robin van Persie. Let that sink in Gooners…oops I diverge!). Ever since Arsene brought Podolski over from the relegated Cologne last summer, he hasn’t played a hefty amount of games as the lone striker. Wenger preferred to see him as a winger in order to be able to play the Frenchman, Olivier Giroud, upfront. As for the midfield, Santi is surely the main man as he has been terrific for a foreign player in a Premier League debut season. He has enough experience to control the midfield, unlike Wilshere, who’s still young and naive, not to mention injury-prone.

I hate to see a club like Arsenal to ‘fight’ for Champions League football nowadays. They should fight for the league title, the Champions League title. They should win a piece of silverware every year. That’s the Arsenal everybody knows. The Invincibles..

Tottenham Hotspur

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2012/2013 season’s position: 5th place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 5th place

Key Men: Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Gareth Bale, Jermaine Defoe 

Tottenham were a bit inconsistent, as seems characteristic, this season past, however, when they are flying high, goals galore occur. A large amount of their goals came from one player, Gareth Bale. Bale was outstanding throughout the campaign, but did he deserve both the ‘Player of the Year’ and ‘Young Player of the Year’ awards? He did deserve the ‘Young Player of the Year’ award, but as for the other trophy, it should’ve definitely been presented to Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, or Juan Mata all of whom had brilliant seasons. Contribution matters. Andre Villas-Boas’s side failed to reach the final of the Europa League, after Basel knocked them out on penalties. This was in some ways a benefit, as Spurs then had less chance of players becoming fatigued or obtaining injuries, which would have been disastrous because they had been aiming to qualify for Champions League football since the campaign began. However, their efforts weren’t enough, as Arsenal were determined to clinch 4th place. The only reason why I said 5th place is expected for next season is because of the $1,000,000 question: will Gareth Bale stay? Furthermore, are Tottenham a “one man team”? You might think they are, but who delivers the crosses and passes to him? Surely he hasn’t scored all of his goals this season from his own elbow grease, so to speak? To be honest, I think Gareth Bale will either stay for an another one or two seasons at White Hart Lane, or will try to seal a move to his preferred destination, which is rumored to be Real Madrid.

As for Jan Vertonghen being elected as the key man above all of their central-defenders and full-backs is because he has been extremely impressive for a “new kid on the block” – he scored 6 goals and had 3 assists in all competitions throughout the season. An another candidate that caught my eye is Danny Rose, who spent the entire season on loan to Sunderland. The loanee has been exciting to watch as he has shone under both Martin O’Neil and Paulo di Canio. He may have not played a good amount of games under Martin, but Paulo recognized the talent he has and hopefully Andre Villas-Boas recognizes it too.

Liverpool 

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You’ll Never Walk Alone

2012/2013 season’s position: 7th place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 6th place

Key Men: Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge

As a Manchester United fan, nothing pleases me more than seeing our old rivals pulling a Titanic manouvre, however, as a football fan, it hurts to see a club like Liverpool to not compete for the Premier League title. What has happened to Liverpool? Do they lack confidence? Ambition? Ever since their stars and legends left such as Milan Baros, Harry Kewell, Luis Garcia, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, etc. They haven’t been very competitive. However, not all is bad. If you look at their team, Liverpool are trying to build a team that has a future, unlike Manchester City, with all due respect. If you look at players they’ve brought in and produced, you’d recognize that they are trying to build a team. Such as Andre Wisdom, Jesus Fernandez Saez (Also known as Suso), Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Ibe, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Pacheco, etc. Brendan Rodger’s arrival meant that Liverpool’s youth will have a go every now and then during Cup matches and so on. The reason why I chose Daniel Agger as the key man for Liverpool’s defense is because he has to fill Jamie Carragher’s shoes. He has to be the leader for them at the back. He has to take responsibility. That’s what made Jamie Carragher heroic to the Liverpool supporters. As for the Coutinho, the little Brazilian has been oustanding ever since he arrived at Anfield. He may be overlooked by some due to Steven Gerrard’s evergreen presence in the midfield, but I think Coutinho is the one that can replace him. Not Jordan Henderson. Jordan has been used as a false winger rather than a central midfielder due to Sterling’s injury and Downing’s lack of form. As for Daniel Sturridge, this is because badboy Luis Suarez is highly likely to leave Anfield. Perhaps Bayern? Barcelona? Madrid? Who knows? Daniel Sturridge now has to fill in Suarez’s boots and start scoring goals galore for Liverpool as he is now their star man upfront – not Andy Carroll, who looks like he may not return to Merseyside in a red shirt anyway.

Liverpool have targeted many players in order to enhance their squad – they have already signed Kolo Toure on a free transfer and are now said to be targeting Popodoupolos to replace wantaway Martin Skrtel. Another target for the Reds is Christian Eriksen who apparently just declined a contract extension at Ajax, according to the Daily Mail (not the most reliable, I know, but a source is a source!). They are supposedly battling for the Danish playmaker with 2 Premier League giants, Manchester United and Manchester City. Also, according to the Daily Express, Liverpool are targeting Malaga’s Chilean midfielder Manuel Ittura. A player who Liverpool may not be targeting and wouldn’t is Edin Dzeko. Dzeko is reportedly unhappy at City due to the lack of playing time. If Liverpool go in the hunt for him and were able to sign him, then expect a lot of goals from them..

The reason why I said Liverpool may finish at 6th place is because they still have young players who cannot handle all of the pressure and stay consistent throughout the season. Just have a couple of experienced players who’s influence may seem not enough. 6th place is realistic at  the moment..

Everton

everton

2012/2013 season’s position: 6th place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 7th place

Key Men: Tim Howard, Leighton Baines, Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas

As an era has ended at Everton due to David Moyes’ departure and everything may not turn out the same as last season, as he knows Everton like the back of his hand. The most likely candidate to replace him is Roberto Martinez who submitted his resignation and is leaving Wigan with his own staff to the Merseyside team.

David Moyes’s departure may cause other stars to leave such as Marouane Fellaini, Jelavic, and their youth star Ross Barkley. However, Roberto Martinez is determined to lure some of Wigan’s stars over such as Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman perhaps, or even James McCarthy as they have all been superb for the Latics.

The reason why Everton’s expected position for next season to be 7th is because they may lose their star man Marouane Fellaini as he has hinted for a move to Manchester United. Chelsea are apparently interested in him as well, alongside other European outfits.

The man who can have the same impact if Fellaini leaves is Steven Pienaar, as he is dangerous on the flanks, in the middle, and does go back and defend.

Last dance? Steven Pienaar (Left) - Marouane Fellaini (Right)

Last dance? Steven Pienaar (Left) – Marouane Fellaini (Right)

Another candidate who can have a go in this new era at Everton is Ross Barkley, who has a bright future as a professional footballer. He has proved himself well under David Moyes and hopefully he can do more under the new manager, and fulfill his exciting potential.

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Please note that everything I have said is based simply on the premise of my opinions as a football fan, and  does not contain bias towards Manchester United. This should be obvious through neutrality in tone throughout the piece.

Thank you for reading this article – do not hesitate to contact me on @robinsleftfoot or @Vantage_Futbol, or email us at vantagefootball@hotmail.co.uk

POLLS: Feel free to place your votes and give us your feedback! – comments also welcome below!

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3 thoughts on “The Top 4 Enigma

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