EPL and other acronyms

Filed in Other, Uncategorized by on August 17, 2012

Forget the Olympic Games – they’re yesterday’s news.

Here, written in situ on the lush and slightly damp turf of England’s Home Counties, is the inaugural MTN EPL preview.

And if that’s not enough acronyms for your dollar, here’s another.
It stands for Manchester, Manchester, Manchester.
Because if the Premiership doesn’t end up won by either the blue half or the red half of that rainy city to the north, I’ll exhume the ghostly remains of George Best and eat what’s left of his liver.
Which probably isn’t much. And it’s not really his liver, anyway.
But this league being the hugely unpredictable beast it is, I don’t intend to bother with any great statistical analysis leading to close prediction of a final points table.
Rather, I’ll slot teams into three manageable categories and give you a brief run-down of ins, outs and likely talking points.
Remember, though, that with just hours until the first silky shirt is tugged at in anger in this year’s competition, transfers in and out are occurring constantly – so read on, but bear in mind much may change in the coming days and loads will be different when the transfer window closes at the end of August.
Top six – Champions, Champions League and the nearly men
Manchester City: While City’s unrivalled spending power saw them assemble last year’s championship winning squad, this year they’re just as likely to pouch another title without another massive spend. There’s world class quality across the park and goals galore when you consider the various attacking permutations available to a club with Tevez, Aguerro, Dzeko, Balotelli and others on the books. Throw in a rock-solid back four and  England stopper Joe Hart will keep his share of clean sheets and City are likely to run from the front – it just remains to be seen whether they can do it for the entire 38-game season.
Manchester United: The big news this week is the arrival of RVP at Old Trafford. Former Arsenal skipper and gun goal-scorer, Robin van Persie, has defected north and will provide another weapon with which red-nosed Scotsman Alex Ferguson can chase down City. Giggs and Scholes are still vital for the Red Devils, but given both were playing in the mid-90s, it’s getting harder and harder to see them having the same impact as in previous seasons. For mine, the underdog to their cross-town rivals already. Just don’t tell Sir Alex. He’s a rather sensitive soul who doesn’t like to countenance failure without a Scotch bottle and someone within range for some recuperative verbal abuse.
Arsenal: In reality, the Gunners are probably happy with the business they’ve achieved in selling van Persie, particularly given the option was to keep the Dutchman another 12 months and risk losing him for free next summer. Still, he did chime in for 37 goals last term and you don’t just replace a striker with that kind of record. They’ve bought in German international Lukas Podolski (who is actually a Pole) to provide direction up front, but their top-four tenure may be tested if they don’t sure up a defence that can be decidedly dodgy. Look for stroppy French manager Arsene Wenger to whinge and moan with the best of them. After all, whinging and moaning – and surrendering – are what Frenchmen do best.
Tottenham Hotspur: The ‘Cock of North London’ finished fourth under Harry Redknapp last campaign and will be aiming for nothing less under Portuguese youngster (in managerial terms, anyway) Andres Villas Boas this time around. Look to be losing diminutive Croatian playmaker Luka Modric, and are short a striker if on-loan Adebayor doesn’t complete a permanent move from City, but have bought in defensive rock Jan Vertonghen from Ajax and have young stars across the park in the shape of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, Kyle Walker and (hopefully) fit again Tom Huddlestone. Need to make a mark away to Newcastle United on opening day to really set the tone.
Chelsea: Didier Drogba bowed out by securing the Champions League title with his last kick in a Chelsea shirt and has disappeared to China to see out his days. Roberto Di Matteo has taken the reins full-time, to the delight of Chelsea fans, but the fact is the boys in blue need to improve markedly on their previous campaign if they want back to Europe’s major cup competition next year. Watch for Frank Lampard bombing on from midfield and John Terry doing his part to further British race relations from the heart of defence.
Newcastle United: The Tynesiders did well all year under new manager Alan Pardew and at times threatened the top four. They can do it again – but much will depend on how this most fragile of clubs manages expectations. The Geordie fans are mad for it. Totally bonkers, in fact, and if the club manages to poach striker Andy Carroll back from Liverpool it will go some way to ensuring they tot up plenty of wins again this time around. Just be mindful that Pardew has managed a number of ‘basket case’ clubs in the past – and Newcastle are never far from their next disaster. Could sink like a stone if they don’t get it quite right.
Mid-table and mostly mediocre
Liverpool: Once a staple in the top clubs in the country, the Anfield outfit is a shadow of its former self. Club legend Kenny Dalglish didn’t cut it as manager last season and has been supplanted by the younger star of Swansea City’s debut campaign, Brendan Rogers. Rogers has a big job ahead of him – if only dealing with the expectations in the Kop. Steve Gerrard is the shining light in the Liverpool squad and needs lots of support from the likes of Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing if they’re to get results from Carrol, Suarez et. al. up front. Could really struggle again this season – especially if they lose Gerrard for any period.
Fulham: Dutch manager Martin Jol looks to be the best thing going for Fulham – maybe aside from US star Clint Dempsey and striker Moussa Dembele. Bear in mind Dempsey and Dembele may both leave before the end of the month, which would gut the Cottagers and may see them struggle to keep their head above water throughout the season. Add in the summer loss of veteran midfielder Danny Murphy and the fact they’ll rely on ageing Irishman Damien Duff and journeyman defender John Arne Riise for much of their drive and you start to understand the problems at Craven Cottage.
Everton: Tim Cahill has gone from Goodison Park – and so has much of the interest Australian fans have fawned for the Toffees down the years. At least, I imagine much of the interest has gone because Everton also happens to be a rather boring outfit who’ve had a mortgage on mid-table finishes for much of the past decade. With their best XI on the park, the blue half of Liverpool will be competitive, but such is the shallow nature of David Moyes’ squad, it’s hard to see them pushing too far into the top half. Look for a cup run to keep the Evertonians salivating. It should also be noted that finishing above cross-town rival Liverpool will be plenty to satisfy many of the club’s faithful, and that eventuality just cannot be ruled out.
Sunderland: Canny Northern Irishman Martin O’Neill will wring every last ounce of performance out of the Black Cats, but whether that will be enough to do much more than normal remains to be seen. Luis Saha may find his way to the Stadium of Light and will be serviceable up front, but they really need teen star Connor Wickham to put the goals away if they’re to get far. Never easy to roll at home, Sunderland must grab every point they can on the road to finish top half.
Wigan: Something of a phoenix from the flames last term, the Latics responded under Roberto Martinez and the Spaniard will be hoping his boys get the job done earlier this season – not leaving it until late-April to secure safety. They’ve got a big squad – although it is full of ‘no name’ types – and need to secure a regular avenue to goal if they’re going to meet my expectations by rising above the relegation zone with some comfort.
Stoke City: No-one in their right mind would want to travel to Brittania Stadium to play Stoke City. With Blackburn and Bolton now down, it seems Stoke will be the venue to attend if you want to see visiting sides kicked off the park and beaten by goals from long throw ins and corners. Generally solid behind the ball, it will be the ability of Peter Crouch, Kenwynne Jones and Cameron Jerome to hit the score sheet that counts most for the Potters. All three are target-man types with a great deal of height. Did somebody say ‘long ball’?
Swansea City: The real upstarts of last campaign, the Swans secured top-flight football relatively early in the year under former manager Brendan Rogers. He’s now at Liverpool, but former Danish international Michael Laudrupp will be a tough taskmaster and strong leader for the club. Whether he can deal with the loss of on-loan attacking midfielder Sigurdsson (who is now at Spurs), remains to be seen. A squad packed with relatively unknown player who’ve either come through the Championship promotion campaign of two seasons ago, or have come from foreign clubs, doesn’t look the greatest, but with the ball on the deck and their tails up, Swansea showed they can score from anywhere last season and should not be discounted from cracking the top 10 this year.
West Ham United: Hammers fans want to see their boys attack and attack and attack. The only problem may be that current manager Sam Allardyce isn’t exactly predisposed to that kind of game given his previous form at Bolton and Blackburn. Ironically, both of Big Sam’s previous clubs go out of the Premiership as he brings the Upton Park outfit back to the top flight and he should be safe enough. That said, it’s never easy first year back and there’s only so much you can expect from the likes of Ricardo Vaz Te and Kevin Nolan as your marquee players.
The dogfighters and those going down
Southampton: Back in the top flight for the first time in quite a while and with plenty of expectation from fans who will be desperate to avoid a quick trip back down to the Championship. Rickie Lambert fired in 31 goals during the promotion campaign, but he’ll do well to manage double figures given the rise in class they’ll face this season. Very few recognisable names across the squad and a in a league where being a ‘famous’ footballer seems to count for lots, don’t expect a whole lot of joy on the south coast.
West Bromwich Albion: The Premier League’s proverbial yoyo club may avoid relegation this year, but it’s not likely to be by much of they do. With a track record of short(ish) stays in the top flight and a list short on ‘name’ players, the Baggies won’t strike fear into the hearts of many opposition clubs. Peter Odemwingie needs every one of the 11 goals he scored last season – and probably more – while the excellently named Zoltan Gera also looks as an important attacking weapon alongside Chelsea loanee Romelo Lukaku. Fans of West Brom know what a relegation battle feels like and they’ll probably get another taste come April next year.
Queens Park Rangers: A proud London club that managed to stay up by the skin on Joey Bartons forehead last time out. Bear in mind the skin on Joey Barton’s forehead has been worn thin through constant headbutting incidents and you begin to realise how close the club was to dropping straight back out of the top flight. Sporting a host of players who were serviceable for previous clubs – Shaun Wright-Phillips, Ryan Nelsen and Bobby Zamora among others – manager Mark Hughes has made a great signing by bringing former Man Utd utility Park Ji Sung to Loftus Road in the summer. Will need to spring a few surprise results again this year if they’re to avoid a similarly nail-biting close to the season as last year.
Norwich: The Canaries have former Spurs and Newcastle manager Chris Hughton in charge this term and his previous billing as an ‘interim manager’ makes it difficult to see him leading his club through a trouble-free season. Grant Holt hit 17 goals last season and must lead the line again this time around. Hughton will need to firm up his side’s defence, however, as clean sheets often secure more points than regular goals.
Aston Villa: A summer of upheaval led to the appointment of former Norwich manager Paul Lambert. The Villa Park outfit seem to be on a tight budget (for a Premiership club) as the free signing of Australian flyer Brett Holman is being hailed as some of their best business this summer. And that’s really saying something. In some good news for Villa fans, Emile Heskey has finally been released by the club and will never stink up another Premiership fixture in his life. It might seem tough, but unless Villa can radically turn around their appalling home record from 2011-12, they’ll have their hands full staying up again this year.
Reading: The Royals have been out of the top flight for a few seasons and despite being taken over by a Russian tycoon this summer, have not exactly been splashing cash in the customary fashion for clubs in their situation. Pavel Pogbayrenak is the other Russian arrival at the Madjeski Stadium and needs to live up to his goal-scoring reputation to drag his side beyond danger. Australian ‘keeper Adam Federici is likely to be one of the busiest – and most vital – players for Reading this year, never a good indication when you’re considering a club’s prospects of staying up.
 Picure courtesy of Clive Rose/Getty Images Europe

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