Predictions for the 2013-14 Premier League Season
With less than a week to go before the 2013-14 Premier League season kicks off, it's predictions time.
Here, I give my thoughts and previews on who will win the league, lead the scoring charts, overachieve, underwhelm and more.
They're speculative, primitive predictions at this stage and nothing more, so feel free to add your own in the comments below.
Winners: Jose Mourinho's Chelsea
It's certain to be a tight contest at the top, with Chelsea and Manchester City the favourites to contend for the title.
There will be no runaway winner this season a la Manchester United in 2013, and the return of Jose Mourinho will ensure things are spicier than ever.
It promises to be a duel between two of the world's top coaches—underestimated Manuel Pellegrini at your peril—and the margins will be extremely fine.
Either side are capable of winning it on paper, but only one can hold the trophy aloft in reality: With the firepower of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Andre Schurrle and Romelu Lukaku—not to mention if they secure the signature of Wayne Rooney—the Blues will be crowned champions in 2014.
Top Scorer: Robin van Persie
With top clubs scrambling around for strikers, counting their pennies and haggling hard, Manchester United must feel a little smug.
They have a world-class option whose future is yet to be determined, a speedster in Javier Hernandez, a hard worker in Danny Welbeck and an elite talent in Robin van Persie.
The Red Devils played OK—not good, not bad—at Wembley against Wigan Athletic on Sunday, and RvP was the hero once again with two goals.
He's the undisputed first-choice starter at Old Trafford, and coming off the back of a 26-goal season in the league, he's expected to haul in a similar sort of tally.
Wayne Rooney could be a force at Chelsea (assuming he ends up there), Luis Suarez the same at Liverpool or Arsenal, but the stability of RvP's situation makes him the favourite on the eve of the new season. He's set to grab a few extra games on Rooney and at least six on Suarez, who must serve the remainder of his 10-game ban from last season.
Surprise Achievers: Aston Villa
World football aficionados will know that Paul Lambert has bought incredibly wisely (again) this summer with a net outlay of just £11 million resulting in six new players.
Jores Okore is a fantastic addition to the defence, while Antonio Luna is expected to take over duties at left-back and looks like a true upgrade over Joe Bennett.
Depth up front, in the wide areas and at full-back has been added, but it's not just the new signings that should draw your eye.
This is a side that came to the fore in the new year, winning six and drawing five of their second-half matches. Had Villa kept their post-Christmas form pattern throughout the season, they'd have been challenging for Europe come May.
The squad has not been depleted at all, and the likes of Christian Benteke, Matthew Lowton, Nathan Baker, Ashley Westwood and Andi Weimann will only continue to grow.
Villa are legitimate contenders for a top-half spot.
Surprise Underachievers: Sunderland
In each of the last four Premier League seasons, the team who has finished 17th has been relegated the following campaign.
That trend will be bucked as Sunderland will stay up, but estimations putting them in the ninth, 10th or even 12th spot are a little overzealous.
Paolo Di Canio may well have transformed the Black Cats in a short space of time last season and saved them from the dreaded drop, but how well is he equipped to take them forward on a stable, long-term basis?
The truth is no one knows at this point, and the fact that he's overhauled the squad to such an extent adds to the theory that they may take time to gel.
To reiterate, Sunderland look nowhere close to going down, but they're just as unlikely to click into gear and fly forward from the get-go.
Promoted Team to Stay Up: Hull
City Tigers are building a respectable, stable squad rather than pushing the boat out with big, fancy signings.
Crystal Palace are projected by many to finish 20th place with Hull just behind them in 19th, but Steve Bruce has been more than studious in his signings and has a few aces up his sleeve.
He's built a young, hungry squad capable of playing not only in the regular 4-2-3-1-esque systems, but also the 3-5-2, and many Premier League managers won't know how to combat that.
Among the youngsters he's sprinkled a little experience, and Bruce will be relying on the likes of Allan McGregor, Danny Graham, Maynor Figueroa and Ahmed Elmohamady to carry them through the early stages.
Having been present at the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday, it's fair to say the Bluebirds were passed off the park by Athletic Bilbao despite (somehow) winning 2-1. Hull look in better shape, and they're not making big-money signings that simply apply more pressure and expectation to stay up.
Signing of the Season: Leroy Fer, Norwich City
Without a ball being kicked, anyone's pick here is speculative, but looking at some of the best value deals we've seen so far this season, Leroy Fer will be a real contender for signing of the season.
The BBC reported that he was set for an £8.6 million transfer to Everton in January, but the club pulled out due to concerns over the Dutchman's knee.
The Merseyside club didn't want to pay large chunks up front after a scan revealed a niggling issue, and the transfer collapsed. Fast forward five months, and after excelling in the European U-21 Championships, Chris Hughton has picked up a bargain at £5 million.
Fer will adapt quickly and use his combination of technical prowess, physical strength and good speed to excite Carrow Road. He could forge a wonderful link with Ricky van Wolfswinkel, and if that happens, we're looking at a very prolific partnership.
Flop of the Season: Alvaro Negredo, Manchester City
Again, it's a speculative subject, but one player who risks severe questioning should he not get off to a good start is Alvaro Negredo.
The deal is odd, as Negredo never really showed anything other than a pure poaching ability with Sevilla, but the fact that Jesus Navas has made the trip to Manchester alongside him should help.
He's likely behind Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko (reborn) and Stevan Jovetic in the pecking order, and Manuel Pellegrini sides don't typically play to a player with Negredo's strengths.
It's a serviceable signing, and he's one hell of a player to have as fourth choice, but the price tag of €25 million may well give the impression he underachieves—at least in his first season.