EPL 2011/12: Who Will Raise the Trophy at the End of the Season?

Mike GoncalvesCorrespondent IIIAugust 10, 2011

EPL 2011/12: Who Will Raise the Trophy at the End of the Season?

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    With the 2011/12 English Premier League season set to kick off in just a few days, we all certainly have different opinions on who goes into the new season as favorites. With Manchester United already claiming their first title this past weekend against city rivals Manchester City, they must be considered a favorite. 

    I will break down the top teams going into the new season, and we will take a look at how they did in the transfer market. Will the new transfers put some teams into the Top 4? And will the lack of transfers take some teams out of the Top 4?

    Be sure to leave your feedback and let me know your opinions on the upcoming season.

Manchester United FC

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    After winning the 2010/11 English Premier League title, the Red Devils must surely be considered a top favorite going into the new season. Last season Sir Alex Ferguson was faced with a few obstacles and as all great managers should do, he overcame those obstacles. 

    This season Sir Alex has brought in some new faces as well as parted ways with some familiar ones. United will kick off the new campaign without John O'Shea and Wes Brown who departed to Sunderland on transfers. Owen Hargreaves who has struggled with prolonged injuries has also left Old Trafford, U-21 Portuguese international Bebe moved to the Turkish League on a loan spell to gain some more experience and of course we can't forget good ol' Paul Scholes and Edwin Van der Sar who retired. 

    Ferguson went out and spent £20 million on former Blackburn defender Phil Jones to help out his back line. With Wes Brown and John O'Shea leaving the club, United needed to make sure that they have the defensive depth coming off the bench when needed. With Jones in the squad, it will allow Ferguson to use him as a center-back as well as a defensive midfielder when needed.

    Realistically, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand having the guaranteed spots in the center of the United back line, Jones would most likely only need to step into the back line if Rio and Vidic were injured, although United can also count on the likes of Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans to fill those gaps.

    With Van der Sar putting an end to his incredible career, Ferguson brought in 20-year-old David De Gea from Atletico Madrid on a £18 million transfer. Although the Spanish Under-21 goalkeeper may lack the experience, he has shown signs that with the proper guidance he could very easily follow in the footsteps of Van der Sar. 

    One of the more exciting purchases this offseason was bringing in young English winger, Ashley Young for £16 million. United now has the luxury of being able to have electrifying pace on the wings with Nani and Ashley Young. With Ryan Giggs getting older and losing his pace, bringing in Young is a good addition to the United squad which can also count on Antonio Valencia as well as Park Ji-Sung.

    In the United front line we will once again see Wayne Rooney, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Michael Owen as well as Dimitar Berbatov. After adapting quick to the English game, Chicharito will look to build on an incredible 2010/11 season. He will most likely be unavailable for the start of the season as he suffered a concussion in preseason, but he most likely will only miss a few games.

    Looking at the 2011/12 Manchester United squad, my only concern would be the center of the park. With Paul Scholes gone, it would appear that United now lack that aggressive "bully" in the midfield. Michael Carrick and Anderson don't appear to have that same ability to send a message to your opposition as Paul Scholes did. The only player that I can see being somewhat as aggressive as Scholes is Gibson, but he most certainly won't be able to break the starting 11.

Chelsea FC

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    Since the arrival of Roman Abramovich, Chelsea FC has been known to spend mass amounts of cash whenever they feel it is needed. This offseason they proved that again as Abramovich was willing to pay a £13.3 million release clause for former FC Porto manager, Andre Villas Boas. 

    After winning the Portuguese League last season, the Portuguese Super Cup, the Portuguese Cup and also the 2010/11 edition of the Europa League, Andre Villas Boas was a big hit in the transfer market. Villas Boas had already enjoyed success at Stamford Bridge, but at the time he was part of Jose Mourinho's coaching staff. One thing that may worry Chelsea fans is the fact that Villas Boas has only a season and a half of top level coaching experience. Before joining FC Porto last season, he coached Academica de Coimbra for half a season.

    Villas Boas will now face the pressure of not only Abramovich, but he will also face the media as well as Chelsea fans looking to bring home another Premier League title this season. His ambition to win is something that has been compared to that of Jose Mourinho, something Abramovich enjoys very much in his new coach. 

    Chelsea will begin the new campaign with a very similar squad as they had last season. With Michael Essien out for a significant amount of time due to a knee injury, Villas Boas will have to look for another big presence in his midfield to fill the void. Some of the options for that role would be John Obi Mikel, new Barcelona B signing Oriol Romeu as well as Josh McEachran. 

    The Blues back line will consist of the same four that closed out the season last year. With Ivanovic very much securing his spot at right back, he now has the advantage over both Jose Bosingwa and Paulo Ferreira, who ironically both joined Chelsea from FC Porto during the days of Jose Mourinho. The center-back spots will be awarded to January signing David Luiz and John Terry, while Ashley Cole will continue his role at left-back. Brazilian center back Alex will more than likely have to wait his turn coming off the bench.

    Newcomer Romelu Lukaku, who cost the London side £18 million, will add some more strength and be another option for the Chelsea front line. One of the primary tasks for Villas Boas will be to get Spanish international Fernando Torres back to his goal-scoring ways. Since his arrival at Stamford Bridge in the January transfer window, Torres has faced a lot of scrutiny from the media as well as the Chelsea faithful. 

    After splashing £50 million on the former Liverpool striker, Torres was not able to contribute much to the Chelsea front line. His lack of fitness and goal scoring was a major problem for him last season. Will a young and ambitious Villas Boas be able to motivate Fernando and get him back to his goal-scoring ways?

    Roman Abramovich has already made it clear that he does not want to see Torres coming off the bench considering the amount of money he paid for him. If Villas Boas is to implement the same style of play as he did with FC Porto, he will play in a 4-3-3 allowing Drogba and Torres to play. With Daniel Sturridge coming back from a loan spell, his pace and ability to find the net is also going to possibly get him a spot in the starting XI, leaving Anelka coming off the bench.

    What can we expect from Chelsea FC this season? In my opinion, if they can stay healthy and trust the tactics and style of play of Andre Villas Boas, they can cause some serious headaches to their opposition this season. The key to it all will be to start the season off strong, allowing the new coach to gain confidence as well as gain the respect and confidence from his players, his boss and his fans. 

Manchester City FC

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    With Manchester City finishing last season on somewhat of a high note with the FA Cup, they didn't manage to start off this season very well after coughing up a 2-0 halftime lead to city rivals Manchester United in the Community Shield to lose 2-3 in the last minute of play. 

    With Abu Dhabi United Group willing to break all sorts of records in regards to money spent, Manchester City has the ability to bring in some serious fire power. One of the ongoing soap operas of the offseason has been regarding team captain Carlos Tevez. Will he stay or will he go?

    The Argentine continues to say that he wants to go back to South America to be closer to family, but the Citizens' are trying their hardest to persuade Tevez to stay. If Tevez is to stay at Eastland to begin the season, all signs point to his departure in the January transfer window. 

    One of the ways City has tried to persuade Tevez to stay was by bringing in fellow Argentine Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid on a £38 million transfer. With not many reliable goal-scoring options in the front line for Roberto Mancini to count on, Aguero will be a pivotal piece for Manchester City this season. Getting Tevez to stick around and then having Edin Dzeko and 'Kun' Aguero in the front line can be a handful for opposing defenders.

    City will also have to figure out what they want to do with Emmanuel Adebayor, Jo, Felipe Caicedo, Roque Santa Cruz and Craig Bellamy who don't appear to be in Mancini's plans. One other piece to the puzzle is going to be Mario Balotelli. The young Italian's lack of respect for his team, fans and coaching staff mixed in with his lack of commitment at times has been and will continue to be a cause for concern.

    Balotelli forced his way out of the San Siro and all appears lined up for him to force his way out of Eastland's. He has been a handful for Mancini on and off the pitch. There is no doubt in my mind that if Balotelli was to commit himself to the game and make an actual effort, he has all the characteristics to be one of the great goal scorers of the game, but unfortunately at the moment he is content with only playing when he feels like it. How long will City fans as well as Mancini be able to deal with this before they find a new home for him or teach him a lesson by keeping him out of the squad?

    Mancini's back line offers him strength, stability and depth. With the arrival of former Arsenal left-back Gael Clichy, the young Frenchman will look to get a starting spot in Mancini's squad over Aleksandar Kolarov. Kolo Toure will be back in the squad in September after a suspension due to failing a drug test last season, he also will be a big boost to an already solid City back line.

    Mancini also added young center-back Stefan Savic into the mix, although he will most likely be a last option with the likes of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott taking the starting roles. Micah Richards will more than likely fill in on the right side of the Citizen's backline, having Toure as well as young Belgian Dedryck Boyata able to fill the spot.

    The midfield for Roberto Mancini may appear to be the spot where his squad has the least amount of depth. With Patrick Vieira retiring, they've lost one big presence coming off the bench. Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong will be asked to fill in the more defensive role, although Toure does like to get forward. City will look to David Silva to give them some creativity out of the middle, although if Tevez is to leave, it will put much more pressure on the Spaniard. 

    Adam Johnson and Shaun Wright-Phillips provide some pace on the wings along with Vladimir Weiss who has impressed in preseason. There have been some rumors surfacing that Weiss and Wright-Phillips may be loaned out before the transfer market closes.

    So with that said, how does Manchester City look for the new campaign? Personally I think that the Citizens' have arguably one of the best rosters in the EPL. They have a mix of strength, speed and experience. They should be able to compete for the EPL title as long as Mancini is able to get them to play as a team and not as individuals.

    One of the primary pieces of success will be for Mancini to decide quickly on what he wants to do with Mario Balotelli. He is either going to have to ship him off, although that might be tough to do considering his bad track record, get him to play at his potential and help the team or send him to the reserves where he can't bring negative energy to the locker room.

Arsenal FC

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    So here we are again, speaking about another preseason for Arsenal FC where Arsene Wenger has appeared very reluctant to spend money to reinforce his back line. It appears to be a trend over the last few seasons.

    The ongoing soap opera of trying to figure out if Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri will be a part of the 2011/12 Arsenal squad looks to continue through August. Will Arsenal be able to bounce back if they are to lose the two midfielders?

    For the past few seasons Arsenal fans have been haunted with the story of Cesc Fabregas wanting to go back to his childhood club, Barcelona. As the season came to an end last year, Gunners faithful sat and waited patiently to see the rumors resurface in the media once again. This time around Barcelona has actually shown real interest, or so it seems, but have yet to come close to the asking price of £40 million that the Arsenal front office has requested. 

    With the deal for the Arsenal captain still in limbo, Arsene is in some ways unable to really plan out his upcoming season, which kicks off this coming weekend with a visit to St. James Park to take on Newcastle United. Fabregas has not taken part in any preseason matches and has barely practiced with the squad due to what Wenger is calling a muscle injury. 

    Adding to the Arsenal's worries is the fresh news regarding French international Samir Nasri. The Frenchman has come out publicly stating that he wants to play for a team that will allow him to challenge for titles and that he is not just focused on money. Arsenal has reportedly offered him a new deal but he does not appear to be willing to sign as Manchester City has offered him double the salary that Arsenal had put on the table.

    In the last few days it appears that Arsenal have said they would consider selling Nasri if the offer was right, as they face the possibility of losing Nasri next summer on a free move, something Wenger is familiar with as Flamini did the same thing last season when he moved to AC Milan.

    After having another "almost" season last year, Arsenal fans were hopeful that Arsene Wenger would finally crumble under the pressure and actually make some big pickups in the transfer window. Unfortunately, that hasn't really happened with the exception of one significant signing. 

    After a few weeks of speculation and rumors, Arsenal FC announced the signing of former Lille striker Gervinho. The Ivory Coast international won the French Ligue 1 last season and along the way added 10 assists and 15 goals for the French side. His pace and ability to play centrally as well as out wide will give Wenger some options. 

    Wenger continued with his confidence in youth and has brought in 19-year-old Carl Jenkinson from Charlton Athletic. Although lacking experience, the young right-back has shown some good signs this preseason as a good backup for Bacary Sagna. 

    Just this week, Arsenal also signed 17-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton. The mixed reactions from the Arsenal fans have been expected as they see this transfer as being a more futuristic option and not a right now option. 

    With the departure of Gael Clichy to Manchester City, it would appear that Wenger's options for the left-back position are going to Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traore. Will these two young and inexperienced left-backs be able to cope with the pressure every week?

    Arsenal failed to pick up an experienced goalie as of yet, and they don't appear to be too interested in doing so. Wojciech Szczęsny appears to be the No. 1 candidate to take the starting role, while Lukasz Fabianski will be his backup. That leaves no place for Manual Almunia who Wenger has already stated will be on his way out, but a destination has not yet been decided. 

    Brazilian midfielder Denilson has also moved on loan to Sao Paulo in Brazil, while Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eboué will be on their way out as well after Wenger made it clear that they will not be a part of the plans for the 2011/12 season. 

    Thomas Vermaelen is back after suffering a prolonged injury last season and is ready to take on the commanding role in a very inconsistent Arsenal back line. Wenger has yet to bring in a credible and experienced center-back to the Emirates this offseason and that could prove to be costly once again. Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny will be battling for that starting spot in the center of the defense for the Gunners.

    The one guarantee for Arsenal is that they have a lot of firepower going forward, but what good is it to score two goals when you concede three? With a healthy Robin Van Persie, Arsenal are sure to get on the score sheet, but will they continue to give up leads late in games? With Theo Walcott and a hopefully in-shape Arshavin on the wings complimented by a midfield of Jack Wilshere, Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey, the Gunners clearly lack experience. This is of course if Nasri and Fabregas do depart. 

    Arsene also looks to bring in Emmanuel Frimpong and Ryo Miyaichi into the squad. Miyaichi had a great loan spell with Feyenoord last season, while Frimpong suffered a season-ending injury not allowing him to take part in the 2010/11 campaign.

    One thing that we can always count on from Arsenal is the fact that no matter what players come in or out, they will continue to play the same style, but as we've seen, that doesn't win trophies. The way the Fabregas and Nasri deals play out will be critical for Arsenal. Wenger had promised this past weekend that he would bring in a very big name at some point this week, which has not yet happened, unless he considers Chamberlain a big name.

    Will Arsene be able to bring in an experienced center-back, as he so critically needs? Will he be able to replace Fabregas and Nasri with a big-name signing before the transfer window closes if the two Arsenal midfielders are to depart from the Emirates?

    With so many decisions up in the air, all signs point for Arsenal to have a not so great season, but Arsene Wenger has been able to prove his critics wrong at times by having his teams always compete. But when is competing going to be considered not good enough at the Emirates?

Liverpool FC

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    With Liverpool's new ownership, Kenny Dalglish has been able to prepare this upcoming season the way he desires. After being appointed the coaching role in January, he took Liverpool from the 13th spot in the Premier League standings and finished sixth. 

    After taking over ownership of Liverpool FC, John Henry parted ways with then fan favorite Fernando Torres in January for €50 million. The departure of Torres was a devastating blow for Liverpool fans, but John Henry was sure to bring in some reinforcements to replace the Spanish striker. He did just that by bringing on board Uruguay international and former Ajax striker Luis Suarez for €26.5 million. 

    Suarez's work ethic and ability to put the ball into the back of net is a big boost for Liverpool. Having teammates alongside him such as captain Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt who work just as hard is also a motivating factor. With Suarez out to prove to the fans that he was a good purchase for Liverpool FC, fans at Anfield barely even think of that Spanish striker who used to play at Anfield but moved on over to Stamford Bridge. What was his name?

    With the new season coming up quick, John Henry made it clear this his main objective for this new season will be to at the least qualify for Champions League football. Failure to do that could be crucial for Dalglish and his time at Liverpool FC. Henry has supported his push for Champions League qualification by bringing in some new midfield options for Dalglish.

    Charlie Adam, who appeared to be ready to join Liverpool in the January transfer window, has finally made the move to Anfield from Blackpool. Jordan Henderson and Stuart Downing have also joined Liverpool this offseason. What is Dalglish going to do with so many options in the center of the park? I guess you can say that it’s a good headache to have to choose from Adam, Lucas Leiva, Raul Meireles, Steven Gerard, Alberto Aquilani, Christian Poulsen, Jay Spearing, Joe Cole and Jonjo Shelvey. 

    Rumors have surfaced that Meireles could be on his way out of Anfield after having a great debut season for The Reds, but it appears the Liverpool front office has quickly put those rumors to rest. Lucas Leiva could also be on his way out on loan, but the destination is still unknown. With Steven Gerrard not being fit for the beginning of the season, one would assume that Charlie Adam and possibly Raul Meireles could command the center of the park for Dalglish.

    After signing Andy Carrol in the January transfer window, he has continuously been bothered by injuries. The former Newcastle United striker will look to finally make his mark at Anfield and gain the confidence of the Liverpool fans.

    The biggest concern for Dalglish will be his back line. With Jamie Carragher not getting any younger, Liverpool may need to find a new commander of the back line soon. Martin Škrtel appears to be the best fit in regards to the players in the squad right now, but his inconsistencies have been a cause for concern. He does have the aggressiveness and potential, but he will have to be more consistent this season if he looks to at some point be the boss of The Reds back four. 

    Jose Enrique from Newcastle has been linked with a move to Anfield, but nothing has yet to be finalized. Liverpool will have to focus on defense as they conceded three goals in five of their six preseason matches. 

    What can be the expectations for Liverpool FC this season? I would say that they have done very well in bringing in some good talented players to fill the midfield, where they also have a good mix of youth as well. On the offensive side of things, if Suarez goes down with an injury, whom do they have to fill the gap? Andy Carrol is a goal scorer, but does not have the same mobility as Suarez. On the other hand, David Ngog has the same mobility, but lacks the experience as well as the same fighting spirit that players like Suarez and Kuyt have.

    Realistically Liverpool FC do not appear to have the roster to fight for an EPL title this year at least, and could also struggle to get into the Champions League spots unless they can get their back line sorted out. 

Tottenham Hotspur FC

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    It appears that for the past few seasons we have been listening to the Tottenham Hotspur front office talking about how this is going to be the season they break the Top 4, or even surpass fellow London rivals Arsenal FC. After finishing fifth last season, Harry Rednapp and company will be out to build off of that. 

    One key factor this season for Tottenham is that they won't have to worry about the wear and tear that the Champions League brings to their squad, but they will have to take part in the Europa League which can do the same. Rednapp has made it clear that he has little interest in the Europa League this season.

    It is well known in English Football that taking part in the EPL, FA Cup, Carling Cup and a European Competition can be very devastating to your squad if you don't have the depth and if you are not used to the consistency of games. One could argue that the high demands of Champions League football last season may have put a damper on what appeared to be a good EPL season for Tottenham. 

    During this offseason Rednapp has not had much to be excited about as his only signing has been American goalkeeper Brad Friedel who arrives at White Hart Lane on a free transfer from Aston Villa. Friedel's experience in the Premier League will pose a threat to current Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes who Rednapp has been unable to find a new destination for. 

    One of the main causes for concern for Tottenham will be to keep Croatian playmaker Luka Modric. Chelsea FC has been after the Spurs star all summer but have seen their bids rejected by the Tottenham front office. 

    With Rednapp unable to offload some of the "unwanted" players, he is also unable to generate funds to bring in some new talent to White Hart Lane. It appears that Sebastien Bassong, David Bentley, Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios, Niko Kranjcar, Jermaine Jenas, Giovani, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane could all be on the move, but nothing official has surfaced. 

    With West Ham getting relegated, it cancelled out the pre-existing deal Robbie Keane had with the Hammers bringing him back to White Hart Lane. He has been linked with a move to QPR, West Brom as well as Blackburn. Rumors have surfaced today that Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios could be on their way to the Stadium of Light to join Sunderland. 

    The Spurs front line has the needed firepower to put the ball in the back of the net, but unfortunately last campaign they relied heavily on Rafael Van der Vaart to score. Defoe and Crouch only contributed four goals each while Pavlyuchenko hit the back of the net nine times. Van der Vaart contributed with 13 goals of his own. 

    Rednapp will look to Gareth Bale once again, hoping that he will be able to get back into top form. With Bale in form and a matured Aaron Lennon on the other side, that could be a good start to the offense for Rednapp. 

    Although Tottenham appears to have two solid choices in the center of defense, their lack of depth could be a problem throughout the season. William Gallas and Michael Dawson will most likely take the central role in the back four but appear to only have a very young Kyle Walker to back them up in case of an injury, which is relevant considering Ledley King's continuous injury problems.

    Adding Brad Friedel to the mix could ensure some added confidence to the back line which they didn’t have due to the constant mishaps from Gomes.

    Tottenham fans will be hoping that Rednapp is able to offload some of the extra "baggage" in the squad so it will allow him to free up some cash to help improve the squad. It appears that if that does happen, it will happen very close to the end of the transfer window, which means Spurs will already be two or three matches into the new campaign.

    With the current squad Rednapp has at his disposal, it would be an extremely incredible accomplishment if they were able to crack the Top 4, but that seems highly unlikely. With a few new signings and some added depth to the Spurs squad, Rednapp could have some new found hope. Out of the top five squads in the Premier League at this moment, Tottenham appear to be the weakest of them all. 

How Will the 2011/12 EPL Season Play Out?

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    After looking at the so called top six of the EPL, we are now left with the question of who is going to take the trophy home come the end of the season. Looking at all the squads right now, I think it’s very much a three-team race for the title. 

    With Manchester United bringing in the new signings and looking very impressive during preseason, and Chelsea FC bringing in a new young and ambitious coach, the Premier League battle will surely be between those two. Manchester City has the squad to fight for the EPL title, but at the moment they do not have the team chemistry to compete with the Chelsea and Manchester United. 

    Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham appear to be headed for a battle of their own for the fourth, fifth and sixth spots. Although all six teams have the squads to compete and take the race to the end, most of them lack that killer instinct and grinding it out mentality, which is how Champions are made.

    I see the season finishing with Chelsea FC on top of the Premier League, only because of one thing: Andre Villas Boas. His attitude, ambition and confidence in his work is going to be a big boost for the current Chelsea squad. It will be a tight race with Manchester United who I think will finish comfortably in the second spot. 

    Manchester City should finish in the third spot but depending on how the team chemistry plays out, they could see themselves slip out of the top three, but as of right now I would lock them in for third place. The fourth spot will more than likely be fought for between Arsenal and Liverpool, although if Fabregas and Nasri are to leave the Gunners, Liverpool may have the fourth spot locked in. That leaves Tottenham with the sixth spot, although if they are to bring in some new transfers they can very much battle it out with Arsenal and Liverpool.

    Be sure to leave me your feedback and opinions.