Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Predicting the Top Four of the English Premier League this Season

The English Premier League starts fresh this weekend and happiness will finally be restored to soccer fans across the globe.  This is the greatest league in the world and typically displays some of the most exciting and talented brand of the sport.  Last season Manchester City finally saw the reward of their massive investment into the club, and won the Premiership with two dramatic last moment goals on the final day to snatch the title from cross-town rivals, Manchester United.  Such excitement is unlikely to be matched, but there will certainly be plenty of drama ahead in England.  Here are your top four teams for this year.

4.  Chelsea - Last year's Champions League and FA Cup winners had a fantastic series of tournament runs led by striker Didier Drogba, but the veteran has taken his trade elsewhere now.  This will leave the goal scoring duties at the feet of Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge.  Torres has been terrible since joining Chelsea 18 months ago, and Sturridge is still a youngster, so I fear that the team will find trouble scoring goals.  Combined with the general aging of Frank Lampard and other team leaders, they could endure a struggling season.  But newcomer Eden Hazard should provide a spark and will lead the team to a spot in the Champions League.

3.  Manchester City - After the dramatic end to last season, it seems that Manchester City will be the team to beat, and likely will be very strong as the team continues to mature.  I just see some struggles with ego's among the players, who all made their way up to the club to earn excessively high wages.  The team is also likely to focus on European success in the Champions League and I envision that they will lose their focus in the league at some point.  Another reason I don't expect there to be a repeat champion is that nobody new has been added to the squad.  The team will be figured out by opponents and without new blood, there is nothing unexpected about the team.

2.  Arsenal - This result likely depends on the future of striker Robin van Persie, who captains the side and could be leaving any day.  But the team has seen the arrivals of three great forwards in Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, and Santi Cazorla.  These are all experienced professionals and will enhance the side.  I expect that the Gunners will lead the league in goals scored.  Also, the club will be boosted by the return of Jack Wilshire in the middle of the season who is a brilliant talent that missed all of last season through injuries.  I also a expecting a big year for Aaron Ramsey who is quite mature for his age.  They will be the surprise of the season and will contend for the crown.

1.  Manchester United - The team is very strong.  They have solid players of all ages, and although midfielders Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are nearing the end of their playing days, the team has done a great job replacing them with players like Nani, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, and Shinji Kagawa.  Led by striker Wayne Rooney, who is incredibly only 26, this team has all the tools needed to win the Premier League.  They were mortified by what Man City achieved last season and lost out on the title due to the final day fireworks, and I predict that they will be quite eager and determined to win back the EPL.  Let us only hope that this season supplies such an entertaining spectacle as the last!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Will Chelsea Compete in the English Premier League Again?

Although Chelsea had a fantastic end to the season, winning both the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League behind new manager Roberto di Matteo, they still only managed a 6th place finish in the EPL table and will have to recover quickly from the departure of Didier Drogba.  For a team that has been so used to competing at the top of the Premier League table, the result was a shock even if it was alleviated by the success in other competitions.
The chief reason for concern with Chelsea is that the English Premier League table holds no lies.  After 38 games, playing every other team in the league both home and away, each team has had countless opportunities to prove themselves, so finishing behind the likes of Tottenham and Newcastle will sting for Chelsea fans.  Even when their manager was fired and Di Matteo took over, the team still struggled in the league.
Now that Didier Drogba is gone, they could struggle even more.  Drogba was the man who scored the equalizing goal in the 88th minute of the Champions League final, and he was the one who scored the winning penalty kick.  He also scored the winner in the FA Cup final and a crucial goal against Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals.  When Chelsea needed a lift, he was the one who could power through the opposition and get that all-important goal.
With his departure, the question arises as to who fills the void.  Fernando Torres has looked shaky and lacking of confidence since his arrival.  He has scored the occasional goal when matches are already won, but he has rarely scored in tense situations or matches.  Daniel Sturridge has lots of potential, and had a decent season last year, but at 22 is he ready to take over Drogba’s role?  Sturridge also had misery in the Olympics, as he missed the vital penalty kick and had a rough match overall against South Korea.  His confidence may also be lacking as a result.  Perhaps Romelu Lukaku, a 19-year-old Belgian who physically looks and plays just like a young Drogba, can fill the void. But he is quite young too and has yet to score a Premier League goal. 
Yes Chelsea did sign Eden Hazard this summer and have an incredible squad featuring Juan Mata, Frank Lampard, John Terry, and Ramires.  But they do lack a striker at the moment and scoring goals is the most challenging and important aspect of the sport.  Fernando Torres really needs to step up to the plate and rekindle the form that we all loved him for at Liverpool, or else the defending Champions League winners could slump to a mediocre season. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What to Watch for at the 2012 Olympics Soccer Tournament

The 2012 Olympics in Great Britain are sure to be a feast for the eyes.  With outstanding athletes like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps set to retain their titles, there is also going to be a soccer tournament that will provide a dramatic spectacle.  16 countries will embark on a tournament that will showcase many players of the new generation.

The biggest star is sure to be Neymar of Brazil.  Already with plans to join Real Madrid after the 2014 World Cup, the young striker is ready to bring the first Olympic gold medal to Brazil.  Alongside him will be veteran stars like Marcelo, Thiago Silva, and Hulk.  The Brazilians will be the favorites heading into the tournament and should play the most endearing style of soccer.

But don’t forget about Great Britain, who host the Olympics and will have the crowd’s backing.  Featuring players like Aaron Ramsey, Daniel Sturridge, and Tom Cleverly, the young crop could snatch the gold medal from Brazil.  Veteran Ryan Giggs will lead the side and can still produce moments of magic as he does for Manchester United on a regular basis.  

Another South American contender is Uruguay.  Their squad will feature Luis Suarez in addition to defender Sebastian Coates, his team mate at Liverpool.  The team also boasts a few young stars from Serie A of Italy in Gaston Ramirez and Abel Hernandez.  Their nation has enjoyed international success recently by winning the 2011 Copa America and reaching the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup.  

One successful country also looking to crash Great Britain’s party will be Spain.  The rising crop of stars seem to be just as gifted as the senior side and will feature Jordi Alba, one of their EURO 2012 hero’s.  Other players to watch will be strikers Rodrigo, Oriol Romeu, Alvaro Vazquez, and Cristian Tello.  Each will be looking to emerge during the Olympics and become the next senior striker for Spain, who are desperately seeking one.  

The 2012 Olympics will also feature some great young players from lesser known nations such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon.  The 23 year old emerged as a star during the African Cup of Nations and has also impressed for Saint-Etienne in Ligue 1 of France.  This could be his moment of introduction on the international scene.

Clearly the Olympics will provide a great stepping stone for many young players to catapult their careers to new levels.  Scouts will be present and all footballing eyes will be upon the potential new stars of the future.  For the fan it will also be an opportunity to enjoy some wonderful tournament matches and learn where the future of soccer lies.