I made a few predictions at the start of the season. Yes, yes, I know. Only a fool would make predictions. To be honest, I’d be quite happy to be considered a fool by some people but that’s another matter entirely. With the season progressing and moving towards the business end when the prizes are handed out, it would seem like a good idea to reflect upon my predictions and where I went wrong. Or right as the case may actually be.
So who would win the Premier League title? Easy prediction to make even back in early August wasn’t it? I predicted Chelsea, didn’t I? Well, no. I didn’t dispute that Chelsea would be involved in a title race and that it would be extremely close but I opted for Manchester City with one tiny caveat. A caveat so tiny yet so, so important. City would win the title if they could maintain the fitness and availability of the spine of the team. Last season Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero started fewer than 10 league games together. The key for City was addressing that aspect. So far this season City have managed to field that particular quartet in their starting eleven on just seven occasions from 25 league games. It’s not enough, although that also covers up the poor results that have occurred when all four have played together. Yaya Toure probably just needs a hug and someone to wish him a happy birthday to help rediscover his best form. Kompany? That’s another matter. Key players have not performed as they should do and it looks like costing City. Despite being offered a number of chances from an unusually generous Chelsea, City has been unable to take advantage.
As much as Chelsea have impressed, the reliance upon Diego Costa as their only real striker (you can discount Didier Drogba’s occasional appearance and Loic Remy isn’t a top class striker) and the gaps in midfield through the lack of positional discipline of Cesc Fabregas has made them look more vulnerable as results have shown. Yes, Fabregas is an assist providing machine but he does wander off at times. And that gap can be exposed by savvy opponents. Jose Mourinho seems to have taken the previous criticism about lack of flair and creativity on board and made this Chelsea side more open and fluent than previously. Yes, they can and still shut games down but you always get the feeling there’s an opportunity against them unlike previously. They are too generous. The away draw against Man City was evidence of that. Would the old Mourinho Chelsea have lost a late goal like that? And conceding five goals away from home? And to Spurs as well? Spurs? Spurs? These may only be temporary blips but it does indicate that the side is not as well drilled at this stage as it should be.
Further down, I opted for Arsenal in third place. Let’s face it. That’s what Arsenal do. And it seems safe enough. Arsenal always finish top four and having scratched their trophy itch last season, there was no way they would be distracted by a cup run this season. They’ll be knocked out the cups soon enough and take pride/solace (Gooners delete as appropriate depending upon your outlook on life) in finishing top four once more.
The real question revolved around 4th place. Who could secure this? Roberto Martinez and Everton? Not for me although the drop off in form this season is very surprising and does lend weight to the suggestion key backroom staff were crucial and have not been adequately replaced. Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs? I like Pochettino. I really do but I just felt this season was too soon to break into the top four. One more season in development and then make the push. So it was Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool then, right? No. And not because they lost Luis Suarez either. I marked Liverpool down in 5th place mainly due to their defence. Without Suarez to score, their deficiencies at the back would be highlighted. Opponents would not be as cautious against a Liverpool forward line lacking Suarez. And that isn’t being negative on Raheem Sterling or Daniel Sturridge. It’s a simple acknowledgement that Suarez is a class above them both and any side would miss him. Halfway through the season, Rodgers seems to have addressed the defensive issue and regained balance. Back within touching distance, Liverpool still do have the ability to finish in 4th place. For the sake of my predictions and not losing face, I hope they don’t.
So it was a Davie Moyes-less Man Utd that I predicted would finish 4th. And it was primarily down to the appointment of Louis Van Gaal and despite the squad he inherited. And no, it wasn’t purely because Van Gaal substituted his goalkeeper at the end of extra-time during the World Cup thus ensuring his reputation as a tactical genius. For the record, that was undoubtedly more a psychological move than anything else but it still worked. No, the prediction was based around the results and success that the Dutchman had enjoyed at his previous clubs such as Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AZ Alkmaar. I was confident that Van Gaal would get things right even if there was a bumpy start. Results wise, it’s been good for a squad still in transition and likely to see further overhaul in the summer but performance wise it’s been poor with some real low points along the way.
For a while there were three certainties in life. Death, taxes and predicting the top seven in the Premier League. I never saw Southampton coming although I can take comfort in the fact I doubt few others did either. It was all about survival for Southampton this season after the departure of Pochettino and their very own South Coast fire sale. The appointment of the much travelled and maligned Ronald Koeman provided scant succour. Can Southampton really finish in the top four? Yes, of course they can. Will they? No, securing a Europa League place would be a great season for the Saints. Yet having come so close, the disappointment in a Europa League spot would still be tangible.
At the bottom end of the table I plumped for Burnley, QPR and Leicester to go down. And it was with some disappointment that I watched Harry Redknapp depart QPR recently. With the “facking t’riffic” Redknapp in charge, I was very confident of QPR making a swift return to the footballing abyss weighted down by a huge debt and ridiculously large and generous player contracts. Now, Tony Fernandes may have given his club a fighting chance. That’s a shame.
I’m ambivalent towards Leicester now. We won’t see Nigel Pearson make a fool of himself if the Foxes return to the Championship but then again, Leicester offer very little to the league other than a slightly unhinged manager. Burnley I’d actually like to stay up now and be replaced by my prediction for the glamorous and highly sought after 17th placed spot, Aston Villa. With or without Paul Lambert, I struggle to see what Aston Villa offer the league. Like a badly injured animal with no prospect for a return to health, they limp on. Do the humane thing. Put Aston Villa down. To the Championship.
And so if you missed my predictions back in August, they’re back out in the public domain again. Feel free to remind me how I got the majority wrong come May. That’s what a fool is here for, after all.