By Kevin Koczwara
Champions: Manchester United
I just can’t pick against two time defending champions. Manchester United just has too much depth. Their squad lost a world player of the year, but still have that champion’s swagger, Sir Alex Ferguson, and a bench full of players that could start at just about any club in the world.
The depth is what really seals this pick up for me. No matter how many stones I throw into wishing wells for Liverpool’s first league title in 19 years, I just can’t pick them to take over the top spot. United can play for the FA Cup, Carling Cup, the EPL and Champions League with strong squads for every match with a different starting 11, and not many clubs in the world (other exception being Barcelona) can boast about that.
Top Four: (1) Manchester United, (2) Liverpool, (3) Chelsea, (4) Arsenal
Notice: Manchester City is not in my top 4. I picked the usual suspect, and that is because each of the squads has depth and great managers.
Who can pick against Arsene Wenger and Arsenal? His squad may not be as strong as others at first glance, but he always picks up players who fit into his system and sell players when their luck is running up. Someone with the strategic planning and confidence that Wenger has is a major plus for a side in any league or competition.
Chelsea is third in my ranking because they just don’t have all the parts that Carlo Ancelotti needs for his system. He has wing players and a surplus of midfielders, but are they the ones that fit into his plan. The other question I have is up front. Didier Drogba can score goals, but can he score like he did in the second half of last year and keep the club afloat offensively? Can Anelka do what he did in the first half of last year? Anelka is getting up their in age and games played, and the Premier League runs players down. Drogba is emotionally unstable, and he has lodged a lot of time upfront, alone, and working hard to score one goal a game, how will his body hold-up this year? This club baffles me every year, there is a lot of talent, but the pieces just don’t fit the way I would picture them too.
Liverpool are being picked to win the title after coming so close last year. The end of the year the squad looked unstoppable. But that doesn’t mean the mid-season lapse, where they couldn’t beat bottom table teams, is not a sign for concern. Teams need to beat who they are supposed too and show up every week, or you won’t be crowned champions.
Liverpool also need to live with Lucas or someone else filling in the middle for a while, seeing as Aquilani won’t be ready until maybe October. The huge hole that Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid left won’t be easy to fill, and Aquilani’s injury is a major concern to the Reds Championship chances. I wish I could pick them to win, and would be in heaven if they did, but I just can’t see them surpassing United until they get some financial backing from their owners.
I wish I could predict the teams in the middle and their placement, but who can? And why bother? Manchester City and Aston Villa will be the 5 and 6 finishers, but as for the rest, I have no idea. I know City have the talent to make a UEFA bid. And Villa has a good manager and some of the best English youth. But neither looks to me like a top 4 team, yet.
Relegation: Hull, Bolton, and Stoke
This is a crapshoot. No one knows what can happen during the course of the year. Who would have thought that Newcastle would be in the Championship this year? This is a gut feeling thing.
Stoke and Bolton struggle to score goals and you need to score goals to win games. Hull has been struggling to acquire the tools they need to keep going in the Premiership, and key parts to their squad are wanted targets from bigger clubs. To stay in the EPL for more than one year is not easy, now teams know your squad, strategy, and are not surprised.
Stoke are the ones I see of the three that can stay up due to their physical play.
Bolton made this list because they don’t have any strikers, and are my least favorite team to watch (outside of United).
Kevin Koczwara is a contributing editor and writer for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. This column is a part of series about Kevin’s struggles and successes in a Co-Ed League in Massachusetts.