Premier League picks
The Soccer Saturday experts predict what will happen in the new Premier League season.
Last Updated: 25/08/10 5:55pm
The Premier League is back - and so is Soccer Saturday!
Jeff Stelling will be joined by regular guests Matt Le Tissier, Paul Merson, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas throughout the season to talk you through the action, every Saturday afternoon on Sky Sports News.
And ahead of the new Premier League campaign, skysports.com caught up with the fab five to get their thoughts on what lies in store.
Who will win the title? Will Man City finish in the top four? Who will be facing the drop? Which players will have the biggest impact on the season?Never afraid to offer an opinion or two, the Soccer Saturday pundits gave us their predictions for the 2010/2011 season...
It's a bit boring, but I'm going for Chelsea. They were scoring sevens and eights at the end of last season and Michael Essien is fit, so I think they'll be just as strong. I think Yossi Benayoun is a good replacement for Joe Cole and Michael Ballack was a peripheral figure anyway, so I don't think they're weaker. There's no African Nations Cup to disrupt them either and the only slight concern is that none of them are getting any younger. But there's another year or two in them yet.
As it stands, Chelsea are my favourites as I just think they have the strongest squad. Manchester United have some injury problems to rectify this season and even though I fancy Arsenal, they need a goalkeeper and a centre-back. If they can do that it might put them ahead of Chelsea. But right now I can't look past Carlo Ancelotti's side.
I don't think anybody has strengthened their squad to the point where Chelsea are going to be deposed. I think Man City will get closer and I really like the look of Javier Hernandez at Manchester United, but I don't think he'll make enough of a difference to bridge the gap to Chelsea. If Chelsea were to lose Ashley Cole before the transfer window closes it would level the playing field, but at the moment I'm going for them.
I think Chelsea will be too strong. I'd change my mind if Man City bought Didier Drogba before the transfer window closes, but right now I think they're the top side. Just look at last season, they scored seven goals in three games which would be phenomenal in the Albanian league, never mind the Premier League. Over the course of the season I expect them to come out on top.
A bit like Carlo Ancelotti's AC Milan side, the Chelsea squad is ageing and it will need to be changed quite soon. But right now the players are all of a good age, a good physique and overall they are stronger than the other sides. There' are deficiencies in all the other squads, so I think Chelsea will come out on top.
Champions League spots
JEFF: Tottenham, Arsenal, Man Utd
It's more open than usual and I think Spurs could be a threat to everyone. They proved to themselves last season that they are capable of mixing it with the best and they have quality throughout the side, scoring goals and looking solid defensively. Plus they seemingly have money to strengthen when they need to. I also think Arsenal will be up there now Robin van Persie's fit and I'm sure Cesc Fabregas will perform. And obviously Manchester United as well. I think it will be the same top four as last season, but maybe not in the same order.
CHARLIE: Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool
I think Manchester United and Arsenal will be in there again, but I expect an exceptional battle for the other spot with Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester City all in the hunt. It's tough to pick one, but I'll go with Liverpool. I just sense momentum is swinging back in a positive way for them and I think Roy Hodgson is a very shrewd manager. He doesn't suffer fools gladly and will demand more from Gerrard, Torres and everybody else.
MATT: Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal
Manchester United will be very close to Chelsea again and I expect City to be quite close to United, but I still think it will take time for all of their new players to gel. Last season was a step in the right direction and they'll improve again this year. Then I think the fourth spot will be between Arsenal and Liverpool and if I had to pick one I'd go for the Gunners. I still think the lack of a top-class goalkeeper is holding them back from a title push.
PAUL: Arsenal, Man Utd, Liverpool
If Liverpool's three main players - Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole - can all stay fit I think they'll get back up there again. This is virtually the same team that nearly won the title two seasons ago, only with Cole in place of Xabi Alonso. They'll want to play for their manager and they haven't got the distraction of the Champions League this year. If United can keep their key players fit they'll do well because they've got some exciting youngsters coming through and I'd be shocked if Arsenal dropped out of the top four. They won't win it, but they're top-four material.
PHIL: Arsenal, Man Utd, Liverpool
I think the perceived 'Big Four' will return. Arsenal have forced Cesc Fabregas to stay, which I'm pleased about, but I wonder if he'll be 100 per cent committed before he leaves in 12 months time. Laurent Koscielny and Marouane Chamakh are good signings, but I still think they need a midfield enforcer. I also have question marks over Manchester United in central defence and I wonder how many games Giggs, Scholes and Neville will play. Also will Berbatov find his form and will Rooney score as many goals again? As for Liverpool, there will a freshness but we need to be luckier with injuries. After a change of manager, Torres and Gerrard committing their futures and the signing of Joe Cole, it could be a glorious summer. A new owner could change things dramatically, but we already have an extremely strong spine.
JEFF: Man City
You've got to look at Man City again. They've had a miserable pre-season and I have concerns about the manager, but if he gets it right then there's no doubt they have the players. I still think things are too uncertain at Liverpool with the ownership and I'm not sure how fit Torres will be. I like Roy Hodgson and I think he'll do a good job, but I think they need to take a longer-term view than saying they need to be in the Champions League next season.
CHARLIE: Man City
We've seen the scenario before when teams sign a swamp of foreign players and they don't always gel. Also I look at last season and while Man City were good against the big teams, they sometimes had issues with some of the smaller sides. The rotation system seems to infuriate some of the players and I don't think Roberto Mancini knows who will be in his 25-man squad yet. I expect a few teething problems and that's why they could miss out on the top four.
If Torres and Gerrard stay fit then I don't see why Liverpool won't be right up in the mix. Roy Hodgson did a cracking job at Fulham and I think it's only right that he has got a big club. I think Spurs will be close again, but if they have any kind of run in the Champions League I think it could distract from their league form. I just think there's so many decent teams at the top that they may find it hard to finish fourth again.
PAUL: Man City
It's out of Man City and Tottenham, but I'll go for City because Spurs are have the Champions League to worry about. I'm not sure that City will crack the top four this year because they've bought top-heavy in midfield. Roberto Mancini seems to be buying whoever's available, rather than buying a team. I always thought they weren't great at the back and apart from Jerome Boateng they haven't strengthened there much - and I also think he's bought too many players who haven't played in the Premier League before. It's going to take time.
PHIL: Man City
We're already seeing how things could be fractious at Eastlands. Shay Given has said he won't be happy if he's not number one and Craig Bellamy has spoken his mind as well. This is all taking place before a ball is kicked! Trying to fit all those players into the side could take time and no matter how much you pay players you can't guarantee they will fit into a system. But I think they'll finish fifth. As for Spurs, they need to show they're not a one-season wonder and after recent events, I don't think you can look at Aston Villa!
JEFF: Blackpool, West Brom, West Ham
Ian Holloway's a mate of mine and he worked miracles to get Blackpool up, but there's no way they can stay there. I feel West Brom will go with them; they've been up and down and they're not a spending club so I don't see them improving on the fortunes of the last few seasons. I think the other one could be a surprise and West Ham could go. They had a season-long struggle last year and I have been uninspired by all of their signings. And while Avram Grant was briefly the Chelsea manager, he couldn't save Portsmouth. I think he's still got to prove himself and I don't fancy them.
CHARLIE: Blackpool, Wolves, Wigan
Being totally frank, it would be a major surprise if Blackpool manage to stay up. That sounds harsh when they're on such a high, but let's face it, they're not going to spend money on big players and they will struggle. Then I expect seven or eight teams to be battling to avoid the other two spots. I think Wolves will find it tougher this year and need to score more goals. And I like Roberto Martinez's style of football, but I don't know if Wigan have enough to see them through. They could be scrapping for their lives again.
MATT: Blackpool, West Brom, Wigan
I will say Blackpool with a fair degree of confidence and I don't think West Brom have strengthened enough to make me believe they'll stay up again. However, I think the other promoted side Newcastle will be ok so I'll go for Wigan as the other side to go down. I think they have almost overachieved with what they've had in the last few seasons and there's only so long teams can do that.
PAUL: Blackpool, West Brom, Wigan
It would be a miracle if Blackpool stay up and I fear they could be rewriting a few records this season. They start the season with a load of away games and that gives them no chance. I think everyone will enjoy playing against West Brom, like they did against Reading when they went down, because they let you play. The final spot is hard to call and it's probably between Newcastle, West Ham, Wolves and Wigan. The expectation may be too high at Newcastle, I don't rate the West Ham manager and Wolves might be in trouble if Kevin Doyle gets injured, but if I'm pushed I'll go for Wigan. I think other teams will want to buy some of their players in January and they could be the ones.
PHIL: Blackpool, Wigan, West Brom
Blackpool will find it very difficult and I just hope Ian Holloway isn't sacked after six months. Billy Davies says managers who bring teams up need at least six months and I totally agree. I hope Holloway can enjoy it, but they will go down. I don't know if Wigan will be strong enough and maybe West Brom will be the other team. They've always been far too good for the Championship, but not good enough for the Premier League. They'll play good football, but until they are more solid at the back I expect them to yo-yo again.
JEFF: Jermain Defoe
You've got to look at guys who will play consistently and perhaps take penalties. I'm ruling Torres out on fitness grounds and I don't fancy Van Persie for similar reasons. That leaves it down to the usual suspects of Drogba, Rooney and maybe Defoe. On the basis that Spurs will score loads of goals I'll go for Defoe.
CHARLIE: Marouane Chamakh
I'll go for a dark horse in Chamakh because I expect him to really impress at Arsenal this year. He's a natural finisher and he's good in the air, I'm not saying he's a physical targetman but he attacks the ball very well. I've seen him in the Champions League and he looks very sharp; he could get sharper as the weeks go by. If he plays enough games and Arsenal create enough chances then he could get the tap-ins that and the poacher's goals that Arsenal have struggled to score. He could be a big star.
MATT: Fernando Torres
I don't think you can look beyond Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres again. I'll go for Torres as long as he can stay fit for the season. I'm very pleased to see him stay in the Premier League because there's no doubt he's one of the best in the world in his position when he's fit. Apart from Gerrard, I don't see anyone in the Liverpool squad getting into double figures so Torres will be the majority goalscorer and he's a good bet for the Golden Boot.
PAUL: Robin van Persie
If he stays fit I think Robin van Persie will score a lorryload of goals because Arsenal create more chances than any other team - and that includes Chelsea. I think he struggled up front on his own at the World Cup because Holland didn't create too many chances, but if he avoids more injuries there's no reason why he won't score plenty this year.
PHIL: Didier Drogba
I still think he's got the passion and the drive to win, even though he's 32 now, you know he'll carry on scoring goals. If he is to win the Golden Boot, a lot will depend on his fitness because he's had a few injuries and that happens when you get a little bit older. If he can play in 30 Premier League games he'll be the leading goalscorer.
One to watch
JEFF: Ben Foster
I've not been salivating at any of the players that have come into the league. Javier Hernandez looks like he might be the business for Manchester United and I hope he is, but I'm going to put a slightly different slant in this... I reckon the best signing of the summer might be Ben Foster at Birmingham. He's not the player I'm most excited about watching but I think he could have a good season to force himself right back into the England reckoning.
CHARLIE: Jack Wilshere
A player I really want to see is Jack Wilshere. I saw him on loan at Bolton at the tail end of last season and now he's filled out physically and is a bit more muscular I think he'll have a bit more about him. He's getting close to becoming a big-time player for Arsenal and I think that will develop very encouragingly this season. I'm not surprised that England have put him in their squad.
MATT: Marouane Chamakh
There's been talk about him coming to the Premier League for a long time and I think Arsene Wenger was delighted to finally get him. He knows where the goal is, he's quick and strong and he's scored goals in the Champions League. If he can get off to a good start then I'm looking forward to seeing him at Arsenal this season because he's what the Gunners have been missing. Robin van Persie's fitness problems have seen them struggle in the forward department. I think he's a very good signing.
PAUL: Dimitar Berbatov
I think Berbatov could rip it up this year. This could finally be his season. You just have to listen to the way Sir Alex Ferguson has been talking him up in pre-season and that tells me he's going to play a lot more than he did last season. He looks like he's enjoying himself and he even had a smile on his face in an interview after the Community Shield. He hasn't started well at United, but I'm a big fan of his and I think he could have a big impact this year.
PHIL: Javier Hernandez
If he gets a good run in the team, I think this boy could be the one to watch. He's got this 'young Michael Owen' movement about him in the way he runs into space behind defenders and he has a natural goalscorer's instinct too. In the few games I've seen him play he looks really sharp around the box and he could be a fantastic signing. Also look out for Raheem Sterling at Liverpool, who came on in one of the pre-season games. He's full of skill and runs like the wind, but he's only 15 so this season might be too early for him. He's one for the future though.
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