Field of Play

Building From the Back: The 2015 EPL Season Cometh

Ladies and gentlemen it’s that time of year again. Enjoy those early Saturday mornings where you make that awkward but appropriate decision to crack open a beer before your kids are up. The English Premier League is back and continues to hold its place as the most competitive league in the world. Top to bottom there is no better collection of teams capable of knocking each other off on any given day. It may no longer boast the best teams in the world, but every game is an adrenaline charged showcase of pace and power. I am not going to give the entire rundown, but I am going to pick the Top 6 and those teams that will be cashing in their balloon payments next year.

Top Four – European Glory

1. Arsenal
This seems an odd choice given their recent run of disappointment, but I think they finally have the team to do it and more importantly, they have to be due for some good luck. The addition of Petr Cech is huge and I think they have one of the best defensive midfielders in the game in Francis Coquelin (my favorite non-Red Devil). They may have issues up front, as do most teams in the EPL this year and it’s their solid backbone that leads me to believe they will just nip #2…

2. Chelsea
Chelsea were dominant last year without looking dominant. They have done little to strengthen a side that struggled down the stretch last year. There is no more organized side in the EPL, but they rely too heavily on the finishing of jazz hands Diego Costa and I don’t think he will be able to replicate his run of decent health this year. I also wonder if there will be a greater focus on the Champions League this year as Abramovich is desperate for more European glory.

3. Manchester United
Crazy to think with all the money they have thrown around that they won’t rise any higher than third, but I just think this team is a bit short. The transfer saga around world class keeper David De Gea also disturbs me greatly. He is the only thing that kept LVG from an awkward off season still in search of European football. I love the addition of Morgan Schneiderlin to eventually take the reins from Michael Carrick who is still the most important piece of the puzzle for United. I think Memphis Dupay will provide the creative spark they have lacked and take some pressure off Sir Rooney. Either way, they will be fun to watch and I think there is a very real possibility they are the last team left in Europe making it all the way to the semi-finals. I think they are a year away as a true threat, but I hope I am wrong.

4. Manchester City
Interestingly, they have a better finisher in Sergio Aguero than the three clubs I have tabbed to beat them out, but they also have the weakest spine with an aging Kompany and Toure. It’s also hard to shake the feeling that Manuel Pellegrinni is not a ‘dead man walking.’ All in all, I just don’t get that feeling from the citizens this year.

Almost There

5. Tottenham
I feel like they are a feisty bunch and they may be putting together one of the best defenses in the EPL. Pochettino has had time to embed his philosophy of possession and attacking. They have the talent, but not enough to push for the top 4.

6. Liverpool
Yikes, I just don’t know. I feel like they shock and challenge for Top 2 or it all goes to shit and Rodgers is out before Christmas. Either way he has no clue on the defensive end, but there is enough dynamism offensively to keep them out of too much trouble. Will it be enough for a hungry fan base? The title run in 2013 may have been the worst thing to happen to crazy Mr. Rodgers.

The Bottom…

18. Aston Villa
19. Watford
20. Norwich City

It is going to be a long year for Villa who lost most of the crucial pieces to a squad that was already suspect. Everton and West Ham could struggle to stay out of the drop this year, but will ultimately survive. It will be a long year for the newly promoted sides and I think ultimately, only the exciting Bournemouth survives. Until next year, enjoy the ride.

Field of Play

Hair of the Dog

As many of us try to recover from the World Cup hangover there is no greater cure than the Premier League (EPL), which kicks off Saturday, August 16th. With the TV rights migrating to NBC Sports last year there is no reason to miss any of the action as every match is now broadcast on the NBC family of networks. Gone are the days of only seeing United or Arsenal on an early fall morning. You can now look up Leicester City on a map and become a Fox, or become a fan of the club no one knows is in London, Crystal Palace. I am of course a fan of the bandwagon express, Manchester United, due in large part to the fact that when I began watching the Champions League in the late 90’s they were the only team on ESPN. Enough defending my fandom, its time to move on to the season at hand. As you may or may not know, I hate prediction columns, even if I am better than average. There will be plenty of predictions columns out there so I will simply give you the top 4 and the bottom 3 (I’d recommend against selecting a team from the bottom 3)

Top 4

1. Chelsea – They have made some smart buys (Fabergas, Costa, and Luis) and some head scratchers (Drogba on a free), but they have the best manager and weren’t far off last year. The re-signing of Matic should give them some grit in the midfield which is always the fulcrum for the Special One’s special teams.

2. Manchester City – The noisy neighbors lifted the trophy last year and have done nothing to hint at a dip in form. They also have Yaya and as long as he is making his marauding runs through the midfield I will be scared, very scared. I just think Chelsea have done a little more.

3. Arsenal – They have made the most noise in the offseason adding Chile star Alexis Sanchez and Debuchy to provide cover. If they can find a way to sign Sami Khedira, I believe they can challenge for the top 2. Wenger is still a great manager and he always finds a way to play beautiful football.

4. Manchester United – After the unmitigated disaster that was David Moyes 10 month tenure, the crazy Louis Van Gaal takes the helm. He is a nut and will give Mourinho’s ego a run for its money (this guy claimed he was responsible for Argentina’s Sergio Romero making the key penalty saves in the World Cup Semi’s since he coached him in the Netherlands 10 years earlier), but he is quality. Rooney is at the top of his game and they have added Luke Shaw and the one that got away last year in Ander Herrera. These signings along with a couple more that are surely to follow should give United enough to sneak back into the top 4.

Just Missing Out – Liverpool (No Suarez), Tottenham (they are Tottenham), Everton ($45m for Lukaku?)

Bottom 3

While no one wants to be a part of the relegation fight, it often produces some of the year’s best matches. Generally, two of the promoted teams get sucked back down and one will survive to fight in the top flight one more year.

18. Southampton – This is the trickiest of the predictions as I am tipping QPR to stay up at the southern club’s expense. We still don’t know what they will do with the bags of cash they have received from their fire sale, but we know they will have to pay a premium for whatever they buy. It will take time for the team to gel and while the former Dutch star turned manager Ronald Koemen may be a star in the making, it may all be too late.

19. Leicester – Leicester have spent some money and after winning the Championship have the chops to win, but I am not sure it will be enough.

20. Burnley – It is going to be a long year for the Clarets

In order to enhance the experience and keep up with the action, I highly recommend you check out the Men in Blazers and their weekly pod on the Grantland Network as well as all the Guardian’s football coverage including Football Weekly.

The Premier League is a grind, but well worth the follow so pick a team and get the beers in.

Photo Credit: “Stretford End” by Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.