I look forward to the first weekend of The Premier League and express my views on my predicted results.
As the Olympics came to a close this week, sport fans around the world will be turning their attention to the upcoming football season. Managers have now had 3 long months to wheel and deal, putting together the side they think is best suited to compete in 2012/13 and the fans will be ironing their replica shirts in anticipation.
Arsenal vs Sunderland
Arsene Wenger has been busy this summer, singing Koln striker Lukas Podolski, Frenchman Olivier Giroud and most recently Malaga's Spanish attacker Santi Carzola. Whether it is an attempt to impress Robin Van Persie to sign a contract extension or Wenger is simply planning on life without the flying Dutchman, Arsenal's squad is certainly in good shape for the new campaign. We are likely to find out in the next few days whether or not The Gunners will be keeping hold of Van Persie and Barcelona target Alex Song which is likely to decide Arsenal's finishing position.
Martin O'Neills 'Black Cats' will be hoping to get off to a good start this term as they look to end a run of 9 Premier League games without a win, a torrid string of results carried over from the end of last season. They have sured up the defence by bringing in Carlos Cuellar on a free from Aston Villa but apart from that, O'Neill has been frustrated with lack of transfer activity so far and is looking to bolster his squad by the time the season kicks off, on Saturday 18th August.
Prediction: If Sunderland set up defensively and look to press arsenal into making sloppy passes, then I see it being a close game. However with the fire-power up front I believe Arsenal will have enough to send Sunderland back to wear side with as many points as they came down with; zero.
Arsenal 3-1 Sunderland
Fulham vs Norwich
Fulham ended the season in a respectable 9th place last time round after Martin Jol's first season with the west-London club. They will be looking to build on that and will be hoping to make a perfect start by taking all 3 points in their first game, as they push on towards their goal of a place in Europe. The one time Wigan Athletic striker Hugo Rodallega has joined the Whites, along with Mladen Petric from Bundesliga side Hamburg and German defender Sascha Reither on loan from Koln. Jol has put together a creative squad that looks strong enough to compete for at least a top half finish, as long as injuries do not disrupt that.
Second season syndrome is something you hear about a lot. The promoted sides lose the 'surprise factor' which leaves other teams working out their style of play, leaving their results purely based on the quality of their squad, something a lot of promoted teams simply cannot compete with, considering the amount of money available to the bigger teams in the league. A sense of something to prove also deteriorates and a lot of the time, a clubs second season in the Premier League does not match their first, often leading to relegation.
I think this will be a problem for Norwich City this season and I expect to see them finishing in the bottom 3. Chris Hughton's men lack a certain Premier League experience needed which could hinder their chances of remaining in the top flight, but you cannot fault how hard The Canaries' squad work for one another. New signings Robert Snodgrass, Steven Whittaker, Michael Turner and former Barnsley captain Jacob Butterfield, along with the rest of the squad, will be doing everything in their power to keep the Yellows away from the drop zone.
Prediction: I think Fulham have too much quality for Norwich especially in the final third, throw in the home advantage and, for me, The Cottagers will come out on top.
Fulham 2-0 Norwich
Queens Park Rangers vs Swansea City
I'm expecting a big improvement for QPR this season. Probably one of the most impressive list of signings I've ever seen for a side that only retained their Premier League status on the last day of the season, despite QPR eventually losing the game to Manchester City in the 93rd minute. Mark Hughes has strengthened every position of his squad with a mix of experience and youth in the transfer market with quality players that include Rob Green (free from West Ham), Ryan Nelson (free from Tottenham), egg-head Andrew Johnson (free from Fulham), Junior Hoillett (free from Blackburn Rovers), Korean Park Ji Sung (£2.5m) and Fabio Da Silva (loan) both from Manchester United. Add these players to an already gifted squad at Loftus Road and I can see a top 10 finish for QPR.
After a successful finish of 11th last year, Swansea will be looking to replicate that this year. The loss of their leader, Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool, will be a huge blow but the Swans will be getting behind their new boss, Michael Laudrup. The ex Danish international has an impressive CV, playing for the likes of Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid, but is aiming to make a name for himself at The Liberty Stadium and keep Swansea away from trouble. 3 signings so far : Jose Manuel Flores from Genoa, Jonathan De Guzman on loan from Villereal and Michu arriving from Rayo Vallecano. Scott Sinclair was a stand out player last season and chairman Huw Jenkins will be doing everything he can to hold on to Sinclair,23, although he is heavily linked with champions Manchester City.
Prediction: On this occasion I see Qpr Claiming the victory over Swansea, but I wish the Swans well as I enjoy their distinctive passing style.
Qpr 2-1 Swansea
Reading vs Stoke
I have Reading down as the weakest promoted side this season, and I foresee a frustrating year ahead. If Jason Roberts picks up his form from last season and with new signing Pavel Pogrebnyak arriving, then it will perhaps give Reading a chance, although I fully expect them to go straight back down.
Stoke's ugly but effective style of play has seen the FA Cup runners up of 2010/11 have a very successful few years under Tony Pulis. It may not be to everyone's taste (mine included!) but it works. Splashing out £2m on American defender Geoff Cameron from Houston Dynamo and securing a loan deal for Goran Popov from Dynamo Kiev, Pulis obviously has faith in the rest of his squad's abilities.
Prediction: One of the least attractive opening fixtures I ever remember seeing. A bore draw.
Reading 0-0 Stoke
West Brom vs Liverpool
Steve Clark is looking to get one over his former employers, as the former Liverpool first team coach takes the reigns at West Bromich Albion for the first time. The Baggies paid £5m for England Keeper Ben Foster to stop the goals leaking and have also added a bit of muscle up front in 19 year old Chelsea prospect Romelu Lukaku who comes in on a season long loan. Clark will be hoping his first year as a number one will be one to remember, for all the right reasons.
Liverpool also have a new manager in Brendan Rodgers. The Irishman has a history of getting results and he has been given the backing of the board to rebuild the club, both on and off the pitch. Liverpool have spent big on Fabio Borini and Joe Allen, but could this be another case of too much on not enough? Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll both know what I'm talking about. It may take time for Rodgers to get The Reds playing how he wants but I hope the owners stick to their word and give him a chance.
Prediction: I think both sides will have a reasonable season and I predict this will be a score draw.
West Brom 2-2 Liverpool
West Ham vs Aston Villa
In a previous blog I have stated how I feel Aston Villa's season will go, but if you haven't read that it ends in relegation. A lack of experience in midfield and a weak defence, Lambert's men are bound to be in the wrong half of the table come May.
West Ham have had a huge upheaval of players following their narrow Play Off win against Blackpool. The Hammers have signed 3 goalkeepers after Rob Green left the club but Jussi Jaaskelainen, Stephen Henderson and Raphael Spiegel provide a real strength in depth between the sticks. James Collins and George McCartney provide extra cover at the back for Fat Sam's team with Mohamed Diame and Alou Diarra concluding the summer transfer signings.
Prediction: A strong West Ham squad with an experienced Premier League manager should easily finish in the top 12. Villa on the other hand will be lingering like a bad smell at the foot of the table.
West Ham 2-0 Aston Villa
Newcastle Vs Tottenham
The most exciting game of the weekend, in my opinion. Finishing 5th, Winning Premier League Manager Of the Year 2011/12 and proving everybody wrong, last season was a remarkable season for Alan Pardew, both on a personal note and for the club he is in charge of. Unfortunately, I don't see Newcastle matching their 5th place finish this year. Curtis Good (an Australian defender), Romain Amalfitano (French midfielder signed on a free from Reims) and youngster Gael Bigirimana (midfielder signed from Coventry) make up the trio of fresh blood at St James' Park. Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé showed glimpses of magic last season, and if they carry on then current owner Mike Ashley will no doubt be downing pints in the stand again! With European football coming to the north-east this season, will Toon have a strong enough squad to compete in both competitions?
I'm a big fan of Andre Villas Boas and I hope Spurs' fans will give him the backing he needs. Big goalscoring defender Jan Vertonghen was brought in from Dutch giants Ajax to replace the retired Ledley King and give them more attacking prowess during set pieces. Gylfi Sigurdsson was snatched from under Liverpool's nose for a reported £10m and the Iceland international will be out to justify his considerable price tag. 31 year old Scott Parker is due to miss the start of the season with an Achilles injury and after the cockney's fine form over the past year, he will be a mammoth loss. As long as AVB captures a striker, I regard this as a squad destined for a top 3 finish.
Prediction : When you play against Newcastle in their own back yard, It can be like playing against an extra man. The buzz never leaves St James' Park ,but the players along with the fans and the City in general will be on a massive high from last season. I expect a close game which could go either way, ultimately ending in favour of whoever takes their chances on the day.
Newcastle 2-2 Tottenham
Wigan vs Chelsea
The first 'Super Sunday' of the season starts at The DW Stadium with Wigan Athletic taking on Champions League winners, Chelsea. Wigan have drafted in bulky Spanish defender Ivan Ramis from Mallorca for an undisclosed fee and Roberto Martinez is hoping that the 6ft2 centre back will fit in to Wigan's slick passing style. 'The Japanese Messi' Ryo Miyaichi has singed on a season loan with The Latics from Arsenal, hoping to make an impact and keep Wigan in The Premier League. They are also desperate to keep hold of former Crystal Palace forward Victor Moses, but opening opponents Chelsea are keen to secure Moses on a long term contract.
Chelsea have looked woeful at the back during pre season, and then in the recent 3-2 defeat to Manchester City in The Community Shield which was played at Villa Park on Sunday.They do, however, possess a wealth of talent and guile in their squad and Chelsea need to keep working hard on the training ground and get rid of the sluggishness before kick off on Saturday and if they can do this I'm positive we will see some special football being played at The Bridge.
Prediction: Despite the defensive frailties, I fancy Di Matteo's side to be comfortable enough and take the game to wigan, securing an opening day win. Another tough struggle for Wigan looms.
Wigan Athletic 0-3 Chelsea
Manchester City vs Southampton
No doubt Southampton are on the up and back in The Premier League on merit, but it will be back to earth with a bump. Champions City are looking stronger than ever, retaining their best players from last year and adding the talented Jack Rodwell. They're also expected to announce the signing of Scott Sinclair as I touched upon earlier. They lifted their first piece of silverware of the season in this years Community Shield but will have their eyes set on retaining their title and I for one firmly believe they can do it.
As a Brighton fan, I have seen a lot of Southampton over the last few years. The way they move the ball to their front men with such pace is really quite impressive. Rickie Lambert finished last season with a splendid 31 goals to his name and although he once occupied about 5 chins, a strict fitness routine has seen him shed some weight and bulk up in muscle rather than flab. Adam Lallana has finally got his chance to show what he can do at the top level. The 24 year old became the first midfielder to score 20 goals in a season for Southampton in 2010 which led to him signing a new 4 year deal soon after, despite a number of Premier League teams being interested.
Prediction: I can't see anything else other than City strolling to victory. Hopefully it doesn't dent The Saint's confidence and they put up a fight to stay up.
Manchester City 4-0 Southampton
Everton vs Manchester United
Monday night football returns as the cameras head to Goodison Park to see if Fergie's Man Utd can forget about the devastating scenes (if you're a UTD fan) on the final day of last season. They've injected some attacking creativity to the squad with 18 year old Nick Powell and Dortmund favourite Shinji Kagawa and are rumoured to be on the brink of signing last years top scorer Robin Van Persie, after he announced he wouldn't be signing a new contract at The Emirates. Rooney, Van Persie, Hernandez, Welbeck and Berbatov (who is likely to be shipped out before the season starts). Not bad eh?
Everton have lost two big players in Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell and the Toffees could regret letting them go. However, David Moyes has ensured the midfield has the quality needed to finsish top 8 again this year by signing Steven Pienaar and Steven Naismith to reinforce the centre of the field. The goals of Nikica Jelavic will have a huge impact on the season Everton have so it is up to the rest of the team to provide him with the service he needs.
Prediction: I'm hoping Everton do well this year as I have massive respect for David Moyes. In spite of that I feel Manchester United are out to prove a point and require a solid start to get the season under way.
Everton 0-1 Manchester United
Whatever happens, I'm just grateful that football is finally back!