I’ve tried to think about predictions for the Top Six next season based on the transfer activity over the summer, and concluded that it could very well end up like this:
2. Manchester City
3. Manchester United
6. Tottenham Hotspur
While I might get shot down for this early prediction, and while it could be well off, here are my reasons for this particular top six finish.
I believe that next season will be a three horse race between Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, and while it will be very close I think Chelsea will be the team that top the league come next May.
They have recruited Andre Villas Boas who, despite claims to the contrary, is essentially a Jose Mourinho Mark II. In his only season managing Porto, he won the Portuguese Super Cup (their equivalent of the The Community Shield), Portuguese Primeira Liga, The UEFA Europa League and the Portuguese Cup. And during Chelsea’s pre-season this summer, Chelsea won the 2011 Barclays Asia Trophy. His record is fantastic and winning the pre-season tournament shows that like Mourinho the only thing that matters is winning. So don’t expect beautiful football from Chelsea but they will certainly be effective.
Manchester City will be a much bigger force next season. They struggled with consistency at times last season but winning the FA Cup has given this very talented squad the hunger for more success. Like Chelsea under the Mourinho era, the most important trophy for them was their first, and once they won the Carling Cup they went on to win numerous titles and honours over the next few seasons. It is a similar story at Manchester City, who have by far the strongest squad in the entire league, but for me not the right person at the helm. Under Mourinho or Ferguson I’d heavily back Manchester City to win the Premier League but under Mancini I think they will just come up short.
Manchester United have proven year after year that even with a “weak squad” they manage to finish in the top three. Alex Ferguson is a phenomenal manager and it hurts to say that as an Arsenal supporter. They lost Cantona but kept on winning. They lost Beckham, Van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo and kept on winning. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter which players have left or are still at Manchester United, the ethos throughout that club is win at all costs. Every single one of their players has that winning mentality instilled into them and that’s why I think they’ll easily finish in the top four, very close behind Manchester City.
Liverpool are my final pick for the last Champions League spot. Under Kenny Dalglish they have hugely improved and they have spent big over the last two transfer windows, investing in Suarez, Carroll, Adam, Downing and Henderson. They have added young, talented footballers to their squad who have something to prove and are hungry for success. They have the best goalkeeper in the league in Pepe Reina and will be pushing at the top next season.
Then to Arsenal. They are going to and will always finish above Tottenham but this time only in fifth place.
The view that Arsenal will only finish fifth next season may be an unpopular one but statistically speaking, Arsenal (after Liverpool did drop out of the Top Four) are the most likely to drop from the Champions League positions. Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool have all strengthened while Chelsea still have a squad full of winners, despite the fact a lot are on the wrong side of 30. The facts are that over the last 6 seasons (of which are the ones considered to be Arsenal’s dry spell), they have finished 4th, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 3rd and 4th.
Arsenal may be strong in the early part of the season but during the last month or so they tend to collapse, and this repeating trend year after year will eventually be punished. This is arguably the most competitive Premier League season we have ever seen (I know we say it every year) but with the signings our rivals have made they have improved upon last season, whereas we have not. Cesc and Nasri could still conceivably leave and if that does happen then we will be the only side in the Top Six that are weaker than last season. Arsenal’s (or Arsene’s) refusal to strengthen the squad in the key areas will come back to haunt the club eventually and it could be this campaign.
We’ve brought in Gervinho to strengthen the one area of the pitch Arsenal don’t need strengthening! Going forwards we are fine, it’s the midfield, defence and goalkeeping positions where we need reinforcements. The new season is only less than a couple of weeks away so even if we did bring in some new players it is a lot to expect them to fit into the team just like that.
The key difference between Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and the rest of the Top Six teams is that throughout their squad and management, they have proven winners and a winning mentality. They have managers and more importantly, players, that have won major trophies in their careers. From Arsenal’s current squad, they have Van Persie and Almunia that have won something with Arsenal and even then they played a bit part in that FA Cup success in 2005. The biggest problem that Arsenal have is they have key flaws defensively and no leaders on the pitch. And that’s why so many Arsenal fans want someone like Joey Barton to join the club. The very fact most Arsenal fans would like Joey Barton to come to Arsenal goes to show the poor state the football club is currently in. Do you think Chelsea, City, United or even Liverpool fans would want Barton anywhere near their football club? Exactly.