Back among the trophies??
August 2011 promises to be a month to remember in the Barclays Premier League.
In the three rounds of matches scheduled to be held this month (hooliganism permitting), there will be no fewer than four clashes involving the "Big 6." And while the league is never won in August, it will be a particularly big test for the outsiders in the title race, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs.
Have the summer sagas of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri dented Arsenal's title chances before the season has begun? Are Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson the real deal for Kenny Dalglish?
Will Harry Redknapp hang on to Luka Modric, and can he pull off another last minute transfer masterstroke as he did with Rafael van der Vaart last year?
And finally, where will these teams find themselves in the Premier League table come Aug. 31st?
Read on to find out.
Can he keep the Emirates faithful behind him?
Arsenal couldn't have asked for a tougher start (on paper) to the season. Here's how they kick things off:
- Newcastle (A)
- Liverpool (H)
- Manchester United (A)
Well, I'll be contrary and say that I don't think it's such a tricky beginning actually. Last season, Arsenal played their best football against the top teams, when it seemed like their players really lifted their performances.
Opening day takes them to the scene of their biggest meltdown last season, St James's Park, home of the infamous 4-4 collapse. Newcastle have had troubles of their own this summer, and I expect Arsenal to win this game, and 2-0 is my guess. Yes, a clean sheet too!!
Liverpool visit the Emirates next, and with King Kenny in charge, they'll be firing on all cylinders. I don't think they'll have enough to beat Arsenal, though, so my prediction is for a 2-2 stalemate.
Arsenal then visit Old Trafford for arguably their toughest fixture of the season, but contrary to popular belief, I think they'll upset the apple cart and get all three points.
I believe the underdog tag will suit them to a tee. Look for a late winner from Chamakh to nick a 1-0 for the Gunners. Brickbats invited.
Players: Robin van Persie has been on fire in preseason, and I expect him to carry this form into the opening rounds. Every Arsenal fan must be praying for his continued fitness because he has shown in the last two seasons that if he is fit, he will score and assist.
Aaron Ramsey will need to step into the immense shoes of Cesc Fabregas, and I feel he will be up to the task. Andrey Arshavin, too, will up his work-rate, and his output as compared to last season and get the Emirates faithful on-side again.
At the back, Thomas Vermaelen will be wanting to make up for all the time lost due to his Achilles injury, and he and 'keeper Wojciech Szczesny will both play crucial roles.
My dark horse for these opening weeks is Arsenal's forgotten man, Tomas Rosicky. He's looked really sharp in preseason, and I believe he will surprise a few people.
That way to goal
Chelsea have had a great preseason, winning all their games and conceding just one goal, last weekend against Rangers. The latter statistic is more meaningful as they head into competitive competition, showing that their defense retains its consistent mean streak.
In terms of their opening fixtures, Chelsea have a dream start to the season:
- Stoke (A)
- West Brom (H)
- Norwich (H)
André Villas Boas must have been pinching himself when the schedule of matches was released. While Stoke away is not necessarily a dream start for a majority of teams, Chelsea have the height, muscle and firepower to deal with a relentless aerial bombardment.
In spite of Stoke's recent personnel reinforcements, I feel Chelsea will win easily. Blues win 2-0 is my prediction.
The next two games will also be fairly easy for Chelsea. I see them running out easy winners at Stamford Bridge over both West Brom and Premiership new boys Norwich, giving them a 3-0 record in August.
Players: In the absence of Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba will be the main man early on and Romelu Lukaku, the new signing from Anderlecht, will also hit the ground running. It's also my prediction that Petr Cech will not have to take the ball out of his net a single time during the month.
Up, up and away, then in West London.
Liverpool - cause for applause in August
Those who have followed Liverpool in preseason will feel as if they've just hooped off a rollercoaster. Six games, three wins, two losses, one draw. Fifteen goals scored, 15 goals against.
That last statistic might prove to be the most telling as they head into their competitive fixtures.
The Reds have a potential banana skin to begin their season, at home against a Sunderland side with 10 new signings and counting. This could go either way.
The new Sunderland players could strike an immediate rapport and choose opening day to show their manager and fans how good they are, or they could be disjointed and soulless.
Liverpool, too, are a team with a new identity. King Kenny will be starting his first full season in his second coming. He's signed a few new players as well, and they may need some bedding down time. I predict a 1-1 draw in this fixture.
Liverpool head to the Emirates stadium for their second fixture, and as mentioned earlier, will return to the northwest with another point from a 2-2 draw.
Their third game, at home against the Trotters, will see Liverpool come into their own. I fancy lots of goals here, most of them being scored by the Reds. I believe they might display a few defensive frailties in front of their fantastic and adoring fans but will eventually run out 5-2 victors.
All in all, five points out of a possible nine for Liverpool.
Players: Andy Carroll will be off to a flyer this season. He will do well aerially against all three opponents. And his shooting is not to be underestimated.
In the absence of their skipper and talisman Steven Gerrard, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson will have to run the show in midfield, with support out wide from Stewart Downing and the exceptional Dirk Kuyt.
But it is at the back where Liverpool have cause for worry. Jamie Carragher is not the defender he once was, and over the season, I feel Liverpool will have to score lots of goals to ensure that they stay in the upper echelons of the table.
How soon will he be off and running?
Manchester City have an ideal start, easing themselves into the season with a home game against Premiership new boys Swansea.
These games are known to produce the occasional shock result, but I don't see it going any way other than that of a victory to the Eastlanders (let's say 4-0), with "Super" Mario Balotelli to the fore.
City next face Bolton at the Reebok Stadium, and although Owen Coyle has turned the Trotters into an attractive outfit, they will not be able to match City's fire power, with Kun Aguero making his first start. Six out of six then, as Mancini's men return to Manchester.
City then travel to Spurs in a repeat of last year's season opener. I remember the game vividly, especially the first half, when it was Spurs vs Joe Hart, with the England 'keeper producing a string of fine saves to deny Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe, Tom Huddlestone and Benoit Assou Ekotto.
How that game finished 0-0, I will never know. I predict that this game will be an absolute cracker as well, and will also end in a stalemate. But there will be goals this time. This one is not to be missed.
This sequence of games will also give us some indication of what Roberto Mancini rates as his first choice XI. The challenge for any manager who has 22 top quality players is to keep his stars happy and an area where Mancini will find it extremely difficult to perform a juggling act is up-front, especially if he keeps Carlos Tevez.
Tevez, Aguero, Dzeko and Balotelli will all expect to start the big games, and it remains to be seen how well Mancini can handle these super-sized egos.
Will take time to come into his own
Manchester United, the defending champions, start off with an away trip to the Hawthorns to play West Bromwich Albion. Not a very difficult start, although Roy Hodgson has built a fantastic reputation while managing unfancied sides.
The Albion will initially make life difficult for United, who will then come into their own in the second half, as they did in the community shield, and run out comfortable winners (3-0).
United then face two tricky consecutive home games, against north London rivals Spurs and Arsenal. I predict both the London sides to do well. I've stuck my neck out earlier and predicted an Arsenal away win, and I believe that Spurs will take something away too.
This will be another fantastic game of football, with both sides really going for the jugular. Brad Friedel will pay back a significant chunk of his transfer fee with a standout performance, as the game ends in a goalless draw.
Four points out of a possible nine, not the best start for the champions, who will undoubtedly get better and fight for the title as the season goes on.
Players: A majority of experts believe that United have strengthened over the summer. I don't. In terms of their squad, the Red Devils have lost van der Saar, Neville, Brown, O'Shea, Hargreaves and Scholes from last year.
Giggs (my all-time United favorite) is a year closer to 40 and retirement. They have added David de Gea, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Tom Cleverly and Danny Wellbeck.
And they criticize Wenger for investing in youngsters?? Make up your mind....
A frustrating start for 'arry
Tottenham were due to commence their season against perennial slow starters Everton, who rarely do any business till the last week of the transfer window. This game has now been postponed in light of the thuggery and hooliganism that has become the overnight fashion in England.
Assuming that the fixture will be replayed some time in August, I expect that the Toffees will pick themselves up after their sluggish start and will come away from White Hart Lane with a point.
Spurs then play both Manchester sides, first United away and then City at home. As predicted earlier, both these ties will end with honors even, giving Harry Redknapp's team a mathematically disappointing three points from their opening three fixtures.
Players: Spurs, like their sworn enemies, Arsenal, have been under a cloud for most of the summer.
Luka Modric has been their Cesc Fabregas. But while Arsenal have freshened up with a few new signings, Spurs have largely remained inactive, bringing in only Brad Friedel (as a notable signing).
There are also rumors that Crouch, Palacios and Defoe may be on their way out, and it is already too late to replace them for the start of the season. Tough times then, for Harry.
With three wins out of three, Chelsea will storm to the top of the Premier League table by the end of this month. Man City will make a strong start, but Arsenal will be the surprise package, leaving their summer of discontent behind.
Spurs will be at the bottom of this table but having played both the Manchester teams already, will look forward to a sequence of easier fixtures.
The team with the most to worry about will be Man United. As mentioned earlier, their squad has lost years of experience in one fell swoop. How will they cope if they lose Rooney and/or Nani to injury? Plenty to ponder for the great Sir Alex Ferguson.
If August is anything to go by, it's gonna be one hell of a Premier League season.
Hang on and enjoy the ride.