Predicting the Premier League

Predicting the Premier League

Predicting the Premier League

It could be back to the future in this season's Premiership title race

July 26, 2007

By Dave Tindall
Bodog Nation Contributing Writer

Time to deliver.

That's the message coming from Liverpool's impatient fans ahead of August's big Premiership kick-off as they crave the return of the title to English football's most decorated club for the first time since 1990.

Boss Rafa Benitez has almost used smoke and mirrors to guide his side to two Champions League finals in the last three years. But Liverpool's shortcomings have been exposed over the course of a 38-match Premiership season campaign and in three seasons under Spaniard Benitez, the Merseysiders have finished 37, nine and 21 points respectively behind the eventual champions.

All that could change, though, after the Reds' worldwide search for a suitable investor was finally concluded earlier this year. New American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks raised plenty of suspicious eyebrows when they came riding into Anfield back in February. But the sports-mad duo stood true to their word by finally giving Benitez the financial clout to compete with top dogs Manchester United and Chelsea, and the grateful Liverpool boss looks to have spent wisely.

Hope has been replaced by expectation on the streets of Liverpool. No more excuses.

The big problem for the Reds is that champions United and 2005 and 2006 winners Chelsea aren't going anywhere in a hurry.

While the men from Merseyside have spent 40 million Euro on Spaniard Fernando Torres, Dutchman Ryan Babel, Israeli Yossi Benayoun and Brazilian Lucas Leiva, United's summer spending spree could top 70 million if they win their battle to capture West Ham striker Carlos Tevez. England midfielder Owen Hargreaves has been brought in to anchor the midfield while Portuguese pair Nani and Anderson should bring even more flair and goalpower to a team already renowned as the most attacking side in the Premiership.

Chelsea have been relatively quiet in the transfer market but their empire is already built. For all the west London side's problems last season - injuries to goalkeeper Petr Cech and skipper John Terry and a very public falling out between boss Jose Mourinho and billionaire owner Roman Abramovich - the Blues were a handful of matches away from sweeping all four major trophies. New signings Florent Malouda and Claudio Pizarro add to the vast pool of talent while Tal Ben Haim and Steve Sidwell bring guaranteed Premiership experience following their respective moves from Bolton and Reading.

But, without doubt, United and Chelsea have one eye over their shoulders at a resurgent Liverpool.

Canny United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is doing all he can to stop Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze making the move from Old Trafford to Anfield and boosting the cause of what he clearly sees as a title rival. The last time these two bitter rivals did business, incidentally, the Beatles were number one with Twist and Shout.

Mourinho, meanwhile, is keen to point out that Benitez's cries over Liverpool not having the money to compete should fall on deaf ears now. The pressure is on, says the Chelsea boss, although his attempt at mind games suggests he has something to fear himself.

The feelgood factor surrounding Liverpool received another boost this week when plans for their new 60,000 seater stadium were unveiled. Drawn up by architects in Dallas, the radical design has already proved a big hit with fans and players alike and underpins the belief that this famous club is on the march again.

But can they make the giant stride from also-rans to title winners in one season? Bookmakers still view Liverpool as third favourites and the feeling remains that Benitez's famed tactical nous is better suited to the demands of European football than the fast and frenetic huff and puff of the Premiership.

If Benitez loosens the reins and allows his side to roam free this could turn into one of the most memorable Premiership seasons in memory. And, if his expensive new signings can click straight away, the title could just be heading back along the East Lancs Road from Manchester to Liverpool.

Closed Shop

While English fans used to pour scorn on the Scottish Premier League for being a carve-up between Celtic and Rangers every year, the bottom line is that that the Premiership has become a closed shop too.

In the last 12 seasons, only three teams - United, Chelsea and Arsenal - have won the Premiership, and since 1997, Liverpool (runners-up in 2001) are the only side to have even managed a runners-up finish.

The chances of any side splitting up the 'Big Four' look remote again although Arsenal could be picked off. Arsene Wenger's Gunners are in transition and losing star striker Thierry Henry to Barcelona could hit them hard.

Tottenham and Newcastle lead the chasing pack.

Spurs almost pipped North London rivals Arsenal for fourth place and the final Champions League qualifying spot two seasons ago and have plenty of goals in them following the addition of Darren Bent to a strikeforce already including Robbie Keane and the sublime Dimitar Berbatov. But they remain infuriatingly inconsistent and their dreadful away form last year needs addressing quickly.

Newcastle are the jokers in the pack. They have the talent and the fan base but until now lacked a proper manager. Sam Allardyce could change all that following his move from Bolton and he has the charisma to turn this bunch of underachievers into a real force. Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins could score bucketfuls of goals while Allardyce, an uncompromising centre half back in the day, will surely sort out Newcastle's porous defence.

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