August 18, 2006

Frinklin Football Forecaster: English Premier League

Now how did this happen? This Frinklin has never been a soccer guy. I didn’t play it as a kid. I didn’t follow the World Cup. Up until this last month I couldn’t name more than 2 teams in the MLS. Then Bill Simmons wrote his article on picking a Premier League team. In a matter of a day or two I became a EPL convert. I’ve read websites and downloaded podcasts and I’ve researched enough to realize I don’t know a damned thing about this league.

That’s never stopped me before though.

1. Chelsea
The two-time defending champions, the Blues go for the hat trick with a virtual all-star team that leads the universe in payroll. After contributing to more World Cup teams than any other side in the world, Chelski went ahead and signed Andrey Schevchenko and Michael Ballack. Self-proclaimed “Special One” Jose Mourinho has a loaded team.


2. Liverpool
At the end of last season, Liverpool was the best team in the Premiership, and they proved it by upsetting Chelsea for the FA Cup. While the Reds’ transfers lacked the glamour and big names, pickups like Mark Gonzalez and Dirk Kuyt solidified the squad. It also helps that Steven Garrard, the best player in the Premiership, is in his prime.

3. Manchester United
Lemme see…. Man U is now owned by an American family that almost the entire fanbase despises, the two best Red Devils –Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo- got into a row at the World Cup and are widely believed to hate each other, the team overpaid by a ridiculous amount to sign Michael Carrick in an attempt to replace Roy Keane (giving Carrick his number no less) and then watched him get hurt. Now Sir Alex Ferguson is making a furious attempt to sign Owen Hargreaves despite the fact he’s under contract with Bayern Munich until 2010.

Yeah, fun year at Old Trafford.

4. Tottenham Hotspur
Last year Spurs lost a Champions League spot on the last day of the season to their hated rival Arsenal. Several members of the team were waylaid with food poisoning, spawning rumors of foul play. This has little to do with this season; it just shows how fun this league can be. Manager Martin Jol took Manchester United’s overpayment for Carrick and turned into Didier Zakora and Dimiter Berbatov. A breakthrough by Aaron Lennon is looming, and this is the year Spurs sneak past Arsenal into the Champions League.

5. Arsenal
The good news? The Gunners placed a man on three of the four categories for UEFA Footballer of the year. Goalkeeper Jens Lehman, Defender Emmanuel Eboue and the incomparable Thierry Henry are all up for the award. The bad news? Those might be the only three guys left on the team. Arsenal has lost a host of quality players, with Jose Antonio Reyes and Ashley Cole apparently next to go. Cole wants to go to Chelsea enough you half-expect him to come onto the pitch with a Jose Mourinho blowup doll. Kids like Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott need to continue to grow up… like 5 minutes ago.

6. Everton
Sir Paul McCartney’s favorite team stumbled out of the gate last season but should rebound. The Toffees (what a great name!) will struggle to score, but picking up Andy Johnson from Crystal Palace should help. Having Tim Howard –while not spectacular- will solidify the net.

7. West Ham United
The Hammers made a spectacular return to the Premiership last season and should build upon that. Known as the “Academy of Football” for an amazing ability to find young talent, West Ham will have to weather the loss of Dean Astin for the first half.

8. Bolton Wanderers
Sam Allardyce was a candidate for the Three Lions manager position, but instead returns to his tough veteran bunch. This side plays hard-nosed football, but is thin and aging in most positions.

9. Blackburn Rovers
The only team not named Arsenal, Manchester United or Chelsea to ever win the Premiership, the Rovers finished sixth last year and qualified for the UEFA Cup. Another tough-but-thin team, they are lead by Robbie Savage, whom everyone (opponents, teammates, referees) seems to hate.

10. Newcastle United
This would have been a bit easier with that Owen kid, but Michael probably won’t play at all this season, and his career might be in jeopardy. To make matters worse, longtime Magpie and EPL all-time leading scorer Alan Shearer retired. This will be 52 years and counting for the Toon Army.

11. Aston Villa
Aston’s biggest off-season pickups won’t ever show up on the pitch. Randy Lerner, the Cleveland Browns’ owner has an agreement (maybe) to purchase the team, and manager Martin O’Neil joined the team after David O’Leary’s ugly exit. This placement is strictly due to O’Neil, as the Villains haven’t signed anybody to actually play this season. Even with the changes, it isn’t out of the question that the bottom falls out anyway.

12. Manchester City
Manchester’s other team is just about as “other” as you get right now. They do have the charming Stuart “Psycho” Pearce as Manager. City is old and rather lousy. A couple lousy breaks and this team could easily find itself in the Championship.

The Gallagher Brothers might go on a killing spree if that happened.

13. Middlesbrough
When Steve McClaren left to manage the English national team, Boro made the rather odd decision to promote Gareth Southgate from defender to manager. Technically a player-manager, as he’s still registered to play in case of emergency, Southgate has much to learn. Boro didn’t actually score any goals during friendlies. That can’t be good.

14. Wigan Athletic
Other than finishing 10th in there first year back in the EPL, there isn’t much to say about the Latics. No stars, solid –if slightly dull –football team. They do need to figure out what to do with Pascal Chimbonda.

15. Reading
Easily the best story in the EPL, the Royals have reached the top level of English football for the first time in the clubs 107-year history. And it didn’t come cheap, neither. Reading dominated the Championship, finishing 16 points past the nearest competitor. This is a fast, attacking side that could shock the league much like Wigan did in 2005.

16. Charlton Athletic
The Addicks are the personification of mid-table, finishing between 7th and 13th every year the past six seasons. They do have a new manager, replacing Alan Curbishly with the well-regarded Iain Dowie.

17. Fulham
When Mohammed Al-Fayed bought this club, he did with the idea he would build it into a London powerhouse to rival Man U and Arsenal. Yeah, that hasn’t worked out real well. The Cottagers are in serious jeopardy right now, with an unpopular, unsuccessful manager in Chris Coleman, and a stagnant, unexciting roster. It will be a fight against regulation all year.

18. Portsmouth
Pompey (one of the goofier nicknames in English football) signed Sol Campbell from Arsenal and David James from Man City. This would have been terrific about 5 years ago. Unfortunately for Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp it isn’t, and Campbell and James are just playing out the string.

19. Watford
How the hell did this team get promoted? Other than Marlon King, the Hornets lack firepower and team speed. The club –once owned by Sir Elton John- could find itself a one-and-done.

Oh, why do they have a moosehead logo and the Hornet nickname?

20. Sheffield United.
It can’t be a good sign that the Blades are inviting comparisons to last year’s Sunderland club. In case you missed it, Sunderland finished with the lowest point total in EPL history.


Posted by Frinklin at August 18, 2006 11:33 PM | TrackBack

Nice, well-written preview, but I shall continue to refrain from soccer. (Though the Simmons column had me tempted for a second, which goes to show that great writing can make anything sound good.)

I do want to salute the soccer bandwagoners for deciding to follow the EPL, though. I was concerned that World Cup would lead to another attempt to make MLS relevant, or to start another cockamamie second-rate American soccer league. Instead, people seem to be migrating to the Premier League, which at least offers first-rate soccer. So congratulations on the step up.

Posted by: Mediocre Fred at August 21, 2006 09:43 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?