I’m an American who enjoys a wee bit of soccer.
I don't bleed Liverpool red (the color of my blood being merely coincidence) nor do I bleed Chelsea blue.
I wasn’t a Gunner before I was a toddler, nor was I baptized in the fires of Manchester as a Red Devil.
One of my favorite things about soccer is the scarves. At first glance, scarves seem to be an odd niche to build your merchandising around.
That’s like making an infomercial for a butter knife.
But, its saving grace is that the scarf is the greatest of all the neck accessories. Soccer has what we could call a neck monopoly, if one were so inclined.
Due to the magnum-opus length of this piece (somewhere between The Stand and Atlas Shrugged), I want to do more than the typical bland preview: who’s in, who’s out, and so forth.
I hope to entertain, to tell short stories, which should make the going more palatable. I want it to be less like a thick cut of meatloaf and more like an airy slice of cheesecake.
Closer to Winston Churchill, less like Neville Chamberlain. (All I know about Chamberlain I learned from Seinfeld: “You could hold his head in the toilet, he’d still give you half of Europe.”)
My hope is that the hardcore footie and the person who couldn’t tell a boot from a shoe (I believe the difference has to do with the metric system) will get something out of this.
I’m just an American bloke, and this is an English Premier League preview.
I don’t have a particularly convincing case for why Chelsea is going to win the Premiership and that’s probably not a good start.
I just have two convincing cases why Manchester United and Liverpool won’t win.
Chelsea was the only team left.
It all starts at the back with world-class goalkeeper Petr Cech. My only knock on him is that he tries to extend the command of his area a little too far. He goes too far out to grab a cross and occasionally gets burned. His magical work in the Community Shield shootout on Sunday is one of the best reasons why Chelsea should win the EPL.
The other reason why Chelsea should win the Premiership is their overwhelming depth in the midfield. Just to name drop a little, like Pauly Shore on a Saturday night: Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Deco, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, and Frank Lampard.
There’s no excuse for Chelsea not to be dominant in the midfield—which provides balance to their lineup (unlike forward-heavy Man City). Chelsea, with Carlo Ancelotti’s diamond formation, will be able to link their stout defense to their explosive strikers.
With Ancelotti at the helm, Ivory Coast international Didier Drogba will rarely play up top by himself, where he often got lost and isolated. Now he’ll have striker Nicolas Anelka to play alongside him.
It’s a safe pick, almost a pick that says: I enjoy the color beige.
There are too many questions with the other top Premier League teams.
Chelsea is like the new movie, G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, you know what to expect. The other contenders (Liverpool, Man U) are like the Matrix trilogy, they’ll throw you for a few loops.
Liverpool doesn’t look like a champion. Liverpool doesn’t feel like a champion.
There is some unexplainable reason why Liverpool can’t win the EPL.
With Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, and Dirk Kuyt they can certainly score. The Reds led the Premiership with 77 goals last season. But how good are they going to be at the back after losing defender Alvaro Arbeloa and playmaking midfielder Xabi Alonso?
Apparently they are going after Hull City defender Michael Turner, which should help their running game.
There’s not a lot to like about Liverpool because they seem thin at defense and they lack another explosive striker to go along with Torres. They’re a lot like the Seattle Seahawks, even if they’re bad, they dominate at home in that stadium built for noise.
They’re going to finish second because they’re unstoppable at Anfield and Manchester United is going to struggle, but they don’t have the talent to compete with Chelsea.
3. Manchester United
Having Manchester United at No. 3 borders on sacrilegious. The Red Devils have won three straight Premier League titles, but this year the die seems to be firmly cast against them.
It’s like in Madden when the computer decides that you’re not going to win and you’re not going to go undefeated.
I’ve always felt that United’s strength was the triumvirate of Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, and Nemanja Vidic in goal and in the central defense.
Everything starts in the back at Old Trafford.
But now, goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is out for two months until early October.
A bad omen.
This should only affect a few key games. United will play Arsenal on Aug. 29 (probably a loss), Tottenham on Sept. 12 (now a competitive match), and Manchester City on Sept. 20 (probably a loss).
United could be saddled with two or three losses early when they only had four all of last year. If van der Sar’s injury lingers past early October or he needs a couple extra weeks to get back to full strength, watch out for Oct. 25 against Liverpool, a team United lost to twice last year.
Manchester United was also the best team at keeping a slim lead. They were at their best when they were up 1-0 and could control the possession and force the other team to gamble. United won nine Premier League games 1-0 last year and had the second-lowest amount of draws with six.
Without Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, they’ll struggle to get goals and those 1-0 wins could turn into more bore draws or 1-1 draws without van der Sar.
4. Manchester City
I love this year’s Manchester City team. I love the star power. I am a convert.
This is one of the most talented teams in the Premiership, whether or not they have the chemistry and the teamwork to put it all together. This new Abu Dahbi United Group has more money than J.K Rowling and they’re throwing it around faster than MC Hammer.
For all the strikers they brought in, they shouldn’t have too much trouble at the back either. They have goalkeeper Shay Given along with Micah Richards and Kolo Toure.
Their defenders can also take comfort in strong defensive midfielder Vincent Kompany and Dutch international midfielder Nigel De Jong.
If they were smart, Man City would field a lineup where Robinho and Shaun Wright-Phillips can operate on the wings, and Tevez can play the Kaka role playing right behind the strikers, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz.
I love big strikers; if I owned a team my strikers would be Shawn Bradley and Vlade Divac.
At 6'3", Adebayor is going to be lethal this year, marking himself as a top class forward in England. Having a big striker adds a whole new dynamic to your offense. It allows a team to score in so many more ways: from free kicks, to corners, to converting on more crosses. Adebayor is going to be worth the £25 million transfer fee.
It is doom and gloom time for Arsenal.
There are a lot of fine Arsenal writers on the Bleacher Report, but they’re more depressed than larvae on head lice inspection day.
Reading about Arsenal and listening to Metallica at the same time is not recommended.
From all accounts, Arsenal is falling apart faster than modern economic theory.
They will miss Man City transfers Adebayor and Toure, but they have more pressing questions to answer than how to replace their foregone stars.
The biggest preseason question is in goal, whether Manuel Almunia will keep the No. 1 jersey and remain the Gunners starting goalkeeper. All of the teams above Arsenal have great goalkeepers, so there’s no reason to put Arsenal in the top four unless their talent on the rest of the pitch is completely overwhelming.
The Gunners may struggle to score with just Robin Van Persie and Eduardo, who operate best as wingers, alongside forward Nicklas Bendtner.
Have I mentioned I like tall strikers?
Bendtner (6’3’’) will do fine as a full-time replacement for Adebayor.
Arsenal has just enough talent in the midfield (Fabregas) and in defense (Gallas) to prevent a further slide.
But, without any more transfer moves, the Gunners will finish outside the top four for the first time since the 1995-1996 season.
The entries get shorter from here on out because I don’t know as much about the following teams, and, as an ignorant American, I don’t want to learn.
We’re getting to the point in the EPL where the star power wanes, and I begin to recognize fewer and fewer players on each team.
Tim Howard! That’s a name.
The American goalkeeper, who was unbelievable in the Confederations Cup, leads Everton into the 2009 season, looking to repeat last year’s fifth place finish.
The Nigerian duo of defender Joseph Yobo and forward Yakubu are terrific alongside Aussie Tim Cahill in the midfield (Honorable Mention to Jo, the Brazilian striker).
Everton seems like they would be a great sleeper team in FIFA 09. They have a great goalkeeper, lethal strikers, and capable defense.
Have I mentioned that I like tall strikers? Well, what about very tall strikers?!
Well, then Peter Crouch is the only reason I need to like Tottenham this year. The Spurs have attackers galore with Crouch (6'7"), one half of the band Keane, Robbie Keane, and Russian international Roman Pavlyuchenko.
They also have playmaker Luka Modric in the midfield, which should provide another great weapon for the folks at White Hart Lane.
They seem to always finish just above mid-table, so that’s where I stuck them as well.
8. Aston Villa
I always pronounce Aston Villa the Spanish way (Aston Vee-ya), just because it’s more fun. How could I not pick the Villians with kits like this, absolutely fantastic stuff.
If there’s one thing America is good for, it’s producing goalkeepers and Aston Villa has two of them (Brad Friedel and Brad Guzan).
John Carew, the 6'4" Aston Villa striker, makes Norway a playable team in soccer video games. He’s big and strong and can’t be muscled off the ball.
He also has a strangely unfunny Norwegian name. Where’s the o with the slash through it? Shouldn’t it be Jøhn Carew?
9. West Ham United
I know nothing about West Ham. Evidently Carlton Cole (Kenneth’s brother) is quite a good forward. But, other than that I got nothing except this joke submitted by Jay, 59, from Burbank, CA:
Have you heard this, have you seen this? There’s a team in the English Premier League whose name is West Ham United? Who’s their owner Oscar Meyer? It’s been the news recently that they signed a new player…his name is Jimmy Dean.
Sorry about that. That guy has the worst jokes.
Fulham is like the movie Year One (Jack Black, Michael Cera) because there are some bright spots, like Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, but in the end it doesn’t really matter because the plot was meaningless.
A mid-table finish will be like the meaningless plot for Fulham: no medals, no titles, no relegation.
11. Bolton Wanderers
One of two teams in the Premiership named the Wanderers. Not sure that’s such a good name to begin with, much less to have two of them. Though, I guess it’s better than the Silly Nannies.
12. Blackburn Rovers
At least Blackburn has someone of note, English goalkeeper Paul Robinson, finally. Though they did allowed the third most goals in the Premier League with 60 and tied for the most away goals allowed with 37.
Ok, so maybe there’s not that much in front of him, but at least he’s somebody.
They play at the Stadium of Light. How righteous is that?
That’s the best stadium name since the Colosseum.
(A little known fact about the Colosseum is that it had a different name under the previous owners. Its old name was Etruscan Park at Colosseum Field. It didn’t have the same effect.)
Portsmouth actually has quite a bit of talent.
Kanu, 33, from Nigeria, and Sol Campbell, 34, may be a bit over the hill, but they have more star power that a number of teams above them.
They also have the hero of Senegal, Papa Bouba Diop, who scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over France in the 2002 World Cup’s opening match.
Niko Kranjcar is a promising young player and John Utaka, another Nigerian international, is a solid piece.
They may not have much scoring after forwards Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe left, but it’s a solid team that will avoid relegation.
15. Wigan Athletic
The Colombian forward Hugo Rodallega is going to be amazing. Other than that, it’s Wigan, they don’t matter—they’re like erasable pens.
16. Stoke City
I love Stoke City, for the passion, for the hooligans, but mainly because after 24 years they made it back to the best league in England. I’m glad they avoided relegation and seriously hope they do it again.
17. Wolverhampton Wanderers
The Wolves are one of the three teams to be promoted from the Championship League. They are the only ones who have the firepower to stay another year.
18. Hull City
Hull City brought in American forward Jozy Altidore on loan for the upcoming year. The Premier League game doesn’t seem to fit Altidore’s style.
Altidore is a pacy forward, but is horrible in the air and gets easily pushed off the ball.
Most Premier League centerbacks will be able to push him around, much like Brazil did in the Confederations Cup.
It’s a good pickup for the Tigers, but may not be enough to stave off relegation.
19. Birmingham City
Is Birmingham the bizarro Manchester, where “City” is the better team? Where’s Birmingham United?
Though, I guess having the best soccer team in Birmingham is like having the best library in Alabama.
(I’d like to take a moment and apologize to Birmingham because they didn’t deserve that. I went on Wikipedia to find something nice to say about Birmingham, but came up empty handed. I should also apologize to the people of Alabama, or else they wouldn’t know they had just been insulted.)
"Burnley Has Been Relegated," just thought I’d look into my crystal ball and save newspaper headline writers the time nine months from now.