Last season: 2nd
Andre Villas Boas has arrived, and with him, Chelsea should expect to make some progress. The Portuguese is so meticulous it is impossible to see him failing, and with a team whose players are strong tactically, Chelsea should be able to mask over their ageing squad to some extent.
But ageing they are, and the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are well past their best, with Michael Essien almost perpetually injured. For once though, Chelsea seem to be making the requisite signings to add the flair and fantasy going forward that they have often lacked. Lucas Piazon has arrived from Sao Paulo, and he has the physical qualities to adapt to the Premier League, though Brazilians are notoriously slow or poor at making the switch. If Lucas can do so, Chelsea have a gem of a player on their hands. And with Oriol Romeu coming from Barcelona, they also have a strong player who can take on the defensive midfield position and pass the ball with pace and accuracy, if not quite the proficiency of a Xavi or Sergio Busquets.
Chelsea’s main problem in recent years has been a lack of width. Ashley Cole is getting older and therefore his threat from left back is diminishing, and the lack of a rampaging right back similarly causes them problems; it means Chelsea don’t have full backs stretching the pitch and creating space for the likes of Fernando Torres to take advantage of; indeed that was mainly the reason why Torres failed to make an impression last year – there simply wasn’t the space in which the ball could be played in front of him, which is where the Spaniard enjoys receiving the ball.
Villas Boas should make a difference, and his tactical organisation alone should improve Chelsea significantly. For all the signings a team can make, the manager is the most important person at any club, and that alone should ensure Chelsea put up a title fight, though like Arsenal, serious doubts will persist that they can win the thing.
Prediction: Title challenge
Last season: 7th
Everton are an enigma. A team with so much potential, yet a lack of investment hampers their progress. Notoriously slow starters, they traditionally make sluggish beginnings to a campaign and roar back convincingly in the second half of the season. A tough and robust side in the mould of their manager David Moyes, the most respectable and decent of the Premier League’s coaches, they are also a tremendously drilled passing unit, capable of playing with impressive flair going forward.
Indeed, Everton’s passing and possession play is often underrated, and they are capable of passing teams far higher than them off the pitch, as Manchester City found out last season. If only they had a bit of money, they’d be in the Champions League mix, but as it is, Everton feed off scraps in the transfer market. That said, stability and quality on the pitch, with a team brimming full of talent from Tim Howard in goal, Phil Jagielka in defence and the likes of Mikel Arteta and Marouane Fellaini in midfield, they are a team who should challenge. Their attack is the Achilles heel.
Best of the rest seems to be the best they can hope for though, and a repeat of last year looks likely on Merseyside.
Prediction: 7th and possible Europa League qualification
Last season: 8th
In a league full of teams set up to defend, attack directly and often with long balls, Fulham have long been a breath of particularly fresh air. A team with the organisation and defensive solidity of those around them, but with a passing mentality and flair going forward. They are a team built to pass and move, and are tough to beat without being dirty – they were the highest finishing team in the fair play league last year who didn’t already qualify for Europe. And in Bobby Zamora, Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele, they have a cutting edge going forward.
Bringing in Martin Jol should only enhance those qualities. Brede Hangelan and Aaron Hughes can be left to organise the defence themselves most of the time, and Jol’s inclination to play attractive, attacking football will suit the team perfectly. With Damien Duff and Andy Johnson fit and ready to go, Fulham could have another good season, and a push for Europa League qualification is a realistic target.
Prediction: Europa League challenge
Last season: 6th
Liverpool have embarked on a significant spending spree to buy their way back into the Champions League. In have come Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam. Jose Enrique also looks set to join, and both Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll will have a full season ahead of them now.
There are doubts though, and they mainly revolve around the style of player Dalglish has signed and the style of play they may now adopt. Not to mention that Luis Suarez has played all summer in the Copa America and may not be as fresh as some of the Premier League’s other creative talents.
Liverpool have width at last on the left, where they have been lacking for some time in Stewart Downing, but a balanced team needs a player wide on the right – and Liverpool don’t have a wide right midfielder, at least someone who naturally plays in that position. Glen Johnson advances into that position regularly, but if you play him, you open yourself up defensively as he is weak in that area.
So what do Liverpool do? One of their best players last year was Raul Mereiles, but it is unclear how Dalglish is going to get the best out of him. And if Stewart Downing is playing, that means they have a predictable left winger who will occupy space wide left, and this raises the question of what will Liverpool’s left back do? Having a winger who plays predominantly on the wing and doesn’t cut inside limits a team tactically as it means their left back has no obvious space to advance into, thus limiting their attacking potential, as they will have one less player in the attacking third when in possession in the opposition’s half. Carroll and Suarez threaten a promising attack, but Liverpool seem to have more promise than end product right now, and Dalglish has a number of problems to resolve before the team can challenge for the Premier League title.
Prediction: Champions League push