Most soccer commentators have already compiled their winners and losers for the 2010/11 soccer season, but in the interests of not being part of the regular crowd, I wanted to wait until the first couple of games were on the books before I stuck my neck out too far. We’ll look at the English Premier League, the Football League Championship promotion teams, the UEFA Champions League and maybe I’ll have a shot at the MLS before we close out. So what do we see in soccer’s crystal ball ?
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Champions – Manchester United
I know what you’re all thinking that I’m a homer with United, which is true, but I believe that they have really stabilized their squad this year. They bought a direct replacement for Wayne Rooney should he get hurt, in Javier Hernandez, and with Paul Scholes showing renewed vigor, the team has more balance about it than in past years. It might just take a break out year from Dimitar Berbatov and don’t misunderstand me, it will be close with Chelsea again, but I think their squad chemistry will be the edge this season.
Runners-up – Chelsea
Always a powerful team, they had the beating of United last year especially after their win at Old Trafford. I don’t read too much into their opening two games against pretty feeble opponents, but they did all they could and won handsomely, but I think they have lost some depth in their squad with losing Michael Ballack, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho. I think the sheer number of games will weigh heavily on this squad this year which will cost them in the League.
3rd place – Liverpool
I think the Anfield side will be back to their old self this season with Roy Hodgson holding the reins. I would have picked them for runners-up except their squad does not go deep, and they will have no money, given the nightmare that’s going on with the possible sale of the club. Hodgson has made some intelligent signings but Alberto Aquilani’s loan move suggest that all was not well when he arrived at Anfield. Steven Gerrard will be back at his best and a fit Fernando Torres will get his goals. A definite improvement over last year.
4th place – Arsenal
Arsenal’s propensity for shirking the confrontations with United and Chelsea I don’t think will change. They play the most technically proficient football in the League but get nervous and jittery when confronted with physically superior teams. Arsene Wenger simply has to find a solid, holding midfielder who can protect the back four and challenge physically in the middle. They have never successfully replaced either Patrick Viera or Gilberto Silva and until Wenger learns to hold his players accountable for bad performances, the current trend will continue.
5th place – Tottenham
Harry Redknapp has certainly produced an entertaining team which had a great season in 2009, but as with many Tottenham teams of the past, they promise much but produce little. I thought they were unlucky against Manchester City but their total collapse against Young Boys in the Champions League last week suggests they have a way to go before having the stones to break into the top 4 consistently.
6th place – Manchester City
Probably the most difficult team to predict right now, City could win it all or implode on themselves, and I favor the latter of the two. Against Tottenham, they looked just like the team they are, a collection of expensive names that have no clue how to play together. Roman Abramovich was successful doing this at Chelsea because he had Jose Mourinho, but Roberto Mancini is not in his class and will have a torrid time putting all these players together successfully. I wouldn’t be surprised if this team had been revamped again by the end of this season along with a new coach.
Relegated – Blackpool, West Brom, and Wigan
There are some really weak teams in the Premier League this year but I think these three will be holding up the rest at the end. My hometown team Blackpool just don’t have enough quality players to be able to withstand the rigors of 38 games in the top flight. They will have some great moments along the way as manager Ian Holloway certainly believes in playing attractive football, but they will run out of gas and take some beatings along the way.
West Brom seem to be the yo-yo’s of the football world, consistently up and down between the Championship and the Premier League. I think they will be the best of these three teams and will run it close with the likes of Wolves, Bolton, West Ham and Stoke, but I predict another drop for the Baggies.
As for Wigan, they will be down by the beginning of February. They can’t defend, and what’s worse is that they don’t appear to want to either. Already conceded 10 goals at home in 2 games, without scoring one, and Roberto Martinez still wants to play the game “the right way”. A laudable attitude, but one that will get you fired and relegated. I think he’ll be gone within another 2 weeks but not soon enough to save them from the drop.
FOOTBALL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP
Promoted – Ipswich, Cardiff, and Leeds United
A tough division to predict so early in the season as parity exists all over this League except for one or two teams that gallop away in mid-season. I think Roy Keane will finally get some reward for his hard work with a smaller club at Ipswich and Simon Grayson will continue his progress at Leeds although this is my wild card choice to go up. Cardiff promised so much last year and were only upset by a torrid Blackpool team who had too much passion in the play-off final, that they will finally make the jump to the top.
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Winners – Real Madrid
It’s hard to bet against the Portuguese maestro Jose Mourinho wherever he goes these days. Regarded as the best coach in the game, at least by me, I think he’ll guide the Madrid club to the title in his first season, along with La Liga. His clashes with Barcelona will be classics to watch and he will have their number again as he beat them over two legs last season with a weaker team when he was at Inter Milan.
Runners-up – Chelsea
The Stamford Bridge club will make the final but Mourinho will be too strong for Carlo Ancelotti again and Chelsea will fall at the final hurdle in the big one. Sorry Roman, but buy all the top players you want, but unless you get the best coach, the Champions League will evade you for the near future.
Winners – Los Angeles Galaxy
I think finally we’ll see that the combination of a talented squad with a coach that knows what he’s doing will see the Galaxy through to lift the MLS Cup. The old adage that defense wins Championships is true here too, and the fact they have conceded fewer goals this year than anyone, coupled with the quality of Landon Donovan, makes them simply too strong for even the Crew and the revamped Red Bulls.
Just a quick comment about the MLS and it’s future. The League is fast approaching an important fork in the road where it will jump to the next level, or slowly die on the vine. The quality of entertainment is stagnating across the League, and big name players are falsely inflating the interest level. There are too many meaningless games at the end of the season which is a function of the League format. In order to take the League to the next stage, Commissioner Don Garber has to initiate some kind of promotion and relegation system to keep the fans coming through the gates during the latter part of the year and retaining some excitement level. It’s a little more difficult in the US because of the sheer size of travel distances but I’m confident something palatable can be worked out. The interest level in the sport has to be focused more on the teams rather than the individual players so that when players move on, the fans don’t move on too.
Of course, my picks could become a laugh by the time the 2010/11 soccer season winds down, but I’d be interested what you all think and why. Leave me a comment and we’ll talk.