Tuesday, 20 August 2013

PL Power Rankings Week 1

20. Newcastle (L)

A shocking start to the season for the Magpies at the Etihad on Monday night. While they can’t really expect to get anything points-wise from a trip to City, there was very little Pardew could take from this mauling. In all honesty they were lucky it stayed at only 4-0. Injury to Gutierez and a suspension coming up for Taylor will only add to his woes. Then there’s the Cabaye saga that has obviously unsettled the player. He will want a move if Arsenal persist. Install Pardew as the favourite to be sacked first this season if he’s not already.

19. Cardiff (L)

None of the newly promoted teams had easy games but Cardiffs was certainly the least difficult of the three. Yet they didn’t even look like getting something from their visit to West Ham. A lot of the team has PL experience already so naivety isn’t the issue. Improvement is needed.

18. Crystal Palace (L)

Their squad is not a Premier League quality squad and by the looks of things they will be heading straight back down to the Championship come May without major investment. Holloway worked well with a weak Blackpool squad in 2010/11 however and very nearly kept them up (took them to the last day and only defeat at Old Trafford sent them down). Don’t write them off, but it looks like they need to invest if they want to compete at this level.

17. Arsenal (L)

Sure they were the victims of some awful refereeing decisions at the Emirates on Saturday but Wenger is now paying the price for a summer of complete negligence in the transfer market. The targets he has identified are sound. They need a striker (Higuain) and a midfield enforcer (Gustavo) yet he has somehow managed to let both these targets escape despite both of them being keen to sign according to reports. Cabaye would be a start (he will need to pay more than the offered £10m) but not enough. Not nearly enough. I’m a big fan of Wenger but his naivety in the transfer market these days is making it harder and harder to defend him when Arsenal fans call for his head. On the pitch, the primary concern will be making sure the disappointment of a home defeat to a team that looked certain to be relegated last season does not carry over to Wednesday night in Turkey.

16. Stoke (L)

Mark Hughes Stoke are not a whole lot different to the Tony Pulis version. To sum up, essentially no flair players exist and the only real goal threat comes from set pieces. Ultimately it didn’t look so bad as they were only a missed Johnny Walters penalty (he does miss a lot) away from escaping Anfield with a point but that does not nearly tell the whole story of Liverpool’s dominance. One thing Stoke have on their side is that Asmir Begovic is still under contract there. If they are to have any chance of survival it is essential that this is still the case on September 2nd.

15. Sunderland (L)

If not playing well and getting a result is the hallmark of champions then playing well and losing is surely the hallmark of relegation candidates. On that form, Sunderland look like relegation candidates indeed. Fulham, traditionally, aren’t great away from home and yet managed to grab all three points at the Stadium of Light despite being outplayed for most of the game. Sunderland do look a vastly different side from the disorientated mess that Di Canio inherited towards the end of last season, but the next few weeks will be tough on them. A gruelling run of home games will leave them looking to their away fixtures in order to pick up points, starting at Southampton next week.

14. Hull (L)

Totally dominated for the opening 45 minutes against Chelsea but managed to improve in the second half and create a few chances. Of course Chelsea were in total control and never going to let the lead slip but there were encouraging signs there for Hull. Robbie Brady does not look at all out of his depth at this level which will please Irish and Hull fans alike.

13. West Brom (L)

Like Sunderland, probably had the better of their opening home game but still walked away with nothing. Had an excellent home record last season so will be disappointed by their opening day failure. I think they will pushing for the Europa League this year and an opening day loss will not be a massive blow to these ambitions. Expect them to buy again before the window closes.

12. Swansea (L)

Despite losing 1-4 at home, Swansea fans should not be downhearted after the first weekend. For about 30 minutes they matched the champions, stride for stride and had chances to break the deadlock. The two goals in two minutes killed off any realistic chance they had of getting something from the game. They didn’t roll over and die however and troubled the United goal on occasion. Wilfred Bony took his goal very well. He will score for fun in this league and if Michu stays and contributes even half of what he did last year Swansea will be fine.

11. Everton (D)

Interesting to see how the post David Moyes era progresses. He turned Everton from relegation candidates (16th in 2002) to Champions League qualifiers (4th in 2005) to regular top 6 finishers (07, 08, 09, 13). Martinez has inherited a decent group of players even if the squad is a bit thin and it’s great to see him put trust in youth in the form of Ross Barkley. The most important thing for Everton to do between now and September is to keep hold of Baines and Fellaini. Martinez managerial history suggests he would return to Wigan to replace them with Emmerson Boyce and James McCarthy. Decent players but not of the quality Everton require to stay in the top 6.

10. Norwich (D)

Seem to have picked up where they left off last season which they closed by winning at the Etihad. Ricky Van Wolfswinkel looks an amazing coup and when Gary Hooper, Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass are fit and ready to join him and Wes Holohan in the attack Norwich will cause more than a few teams problems this year.

9. Fulham (W)

Massive boost to return from the North-East with all three points, something they will need to do a lot more of this year if they are to cement a top half spot. I think Berbatov and Bent is a fascinating partnership (unless I’m mistaken Jol bought them both for Spurs too) and between them Fulham will not lack for goals this year. There is creativity too in the form of Duff and Taarabt. Fulham look good.

8. Aston Villa (W)

Got lucky against Arsenal, the second penalty was very soft and the red card equally so. However perhaps this is karma for the misery and misfortune they suffered throughout last season. Agbonlahor looked a lot sharper on Saturday than he did at any point last season and Benteke has already managed to notch two goals without being particularly effective. They have a young side and should expect to build on last year. A trip to Stamford Bridge awaits on Wednesday night. Anything out of that game is a bonus when Mourinho is the man in the home dugout.

7. Southampton (W)

Winning away at West Brom in the manner that they did will do wonders for confidence at the club. It is difficult not to feel anything other than delight for Ricky Lambert at the moment. An England goal with his first touch in international football followed by a 90th minute winner three days later. The signing of Pablo Osvaldo from Roma will provide Lambert with support/competition and that can only be a good thing for the club. Good time to be a Saints fan after so much misery in recent years.

6. West Ham (W)

The Hammers made a solid start on Saturday against Cardiff. Big Sam has the bones of a very effective unit at Upton Park with Downing on the wing and Joe Cole and Kevin Nolan contributing plenty of goals from midfield as they did on Saturday. If Andy Carroll can get fully fit and rediscover the form that convinced someone somewhere that he was worth £35m once then they will be a force in what will be a fascinating scrap for the minor places in the top half (7th- 10th).

5. Spurs (W)

Two watershed moments for Spurs this weekend. They were awarded a Premier League penalty for the first time in 15 months. They also managed to win a game without the help of a Gareth Bale goal for only the second time in 2013. In the absence of Bale (I presume he’s Tottenham’s penalty taker?), Bobby Soldado stepped up to give Spurs a win at Crystal Palace. It is fixtures like these where Spurs came unstuck last season, particularly towards the end. Now they are being linked with a £26m move for Wilian from the sinking ship that is Anzhi Makhachkala and from what I hear are the favourites to secure his signature. Should they succeed in those attempts and also manage to keep hold of one G-Bale, Spurs can begin to aim higher than just 4th spot this season.

4. Liverpool (W)

So typical of Liverpool in recent seasons. Batter the lesser opponent. Take the lead. Rattle the frame of the goal multiple times. Concede an 88th minute penalty and end up with 2 dropped points. However on Saturday lady luck (and Simon Mignolet) was on their side and they managed an opening day win at Anfield for the first time since 2002. Dominating Stoke does not make you top 4 contenders. Most teams will dominate Stoke in much the same manner this season. Liverpool have a long way to go to challenge near the top again but they are off to a decent start. I still think they should cash in on Suarez and his staying would be a mistake for both parties.

3. Chelsea (W)

Jose Mourinho received a hero’s welcome upon his return to Stamford Bridge on Sunday and rightly so. It very much had a feel of the prodigal son coming home. Recall that one of the reason’s he was sacked/resigned was his refusal to give into Abramoivch’s demand for Barcelona-style fluid football the owner craved. Chelsea were awesome for most of the first half against Hull. They could and should have scored 4 or 5. However in typical Mourinho fashion, 2-0 was quite alright. It reassured me that not a whole lot has changed since he left and we can be sure of a few things this year:

A.      Chelsea will win 15-18 of their home league games.
B.      Chelsea will have the best or second best defence in the league.
C.      Chelsea will have the worst goal difference out of the ‘big three’ owing to Mourinho’s reluctance to risk conceding a goal in order to give the lesser teams a hiding.

Chelsea will probably be in the running for the title come the final weeks of the season but don’t expect to see beautiful football at Stamford Bridge all year round, especially not in the big games despite the ridiculous amount of talent on show. Personally I’d rather see my team win 5-2 than 2-0. But maybe that’s just me. United and Chelsea have had some classics since Mourinho left in 2007, most notably last year where two classics in the space of 3 days produced 14 goals. Don’t expect anything like that from next week.

2. Manchester United (W)

Business as usual for the champions. The real test will come next week when Chelsea come to visit next week. United never dominated Swansea and could have had only minor complaints if that game finished a draw. However when you have a striker like Robin van Persie in that kind of form you’re always assured of a goal or two. They still need to buy. Big time. Cleverley is not of the standard required and his time is fast running out. Playing central midfield for a team like United means stamping your authority all over games and he just does not do that. It was nice to see Welbeck double his entire Premier League goals tally for last season in an hour. I don’t see him as Van Persie’s partner in the long term this season (I’d prefer Kagawa at the no.10) but he has a big part to play, especially in the unlikely case that Rooney is allowed to leave. Next week’s game with Chelsea is absolutely massive.

1. Manchester City (W)

Who said foreign imports needed time to settle in the Premier League. As I recall, Yaya Toure needed about ten minutes in 2010, Aguero even less a year later and now Navas and Fernandinho  have practically slotted in seamlessly to the Manchester City machine. They were awesome against Newcastle on Monday night. And their strength in depth was also evident with the ability to bring the likes of Negredo and Nasri off the bench. And Jovetic hasn’t made his debut yet. It looks like City will have little or no trouble gelling together quickly and if that is the case the rest of the league will be pretty much powerless to stop them.

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