Awaking from our slumber after one of those tedious biennial summers without a showpiece international tournament, it slowly dawned on us: the Premier League is back at last! With only one week before the world's pre-eminent league kicks off, we headed for Castle Limey to dust down the dungeon-sized supercomputer responsible for our EPL predictions.
Dials whirring and steam pouring forth from pipes and pistons, on the mustiest of paper, the trusty machine spat out its sage message. Before we race to Honest Hesketh's bookmakers to desperately blow our last few cents, here's our forecast. As with last season, we see the EPL table shaping up into six groups of teams. Belts and braces on, here we go from the top:
Three of last year's top four teams have a realistic tilt at EPL glory, while Arsenal risks being ousted from the Champions League qualifier positions by free-spending Manchester City.
Manchester United, last year's champion, has suffered key losses with the departure of
So where is it headed?
Chelsea hasn't lost any key players from its squad and, under
We consider that Chelsea's strong squad -- including the addition of highly rated new signing
A long-standing criticism of the EPL is that its Champions League qualifying teams are practically preordained. Not this year. Man. City's huge spending spree has seen it bring in
Aston Villa, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur. That's our sense of the order in which these three will finish, but those standings could be reversed easily. Villa's form tailed off last year, but with a host of young stars developing, we think it will make sixth despite the loss of Barry. Once fit,
Spurs, dear Spurs. So often the self-anointed "other big club" and London media darlings offer so much and fail to deliver. We were tempted to predict them fifth given their squad -- how about
Three teams are grouped in our fourth tier of clubs, those who sit just off the pace of the Europa League qualifying teams. We think
Blackburn, Bolton, Wigan and newly promoted Birmingham City should finish clear of the relegation dogfight. The remaining teams all will face a scrap to avoid the trap door into the Championship. Bankruptcy-threatened Portsmouth has released and sold many big-name players and, at present is a key relegation candidate. We reckon Pompey will be accompanied by Hull -- can anyone see the Tigers regaining their form of last autumn? -- and newly promoted Burnley, a club with a lot of heart but not enough budget for the EPL.
Having previewed Burnley and Birmingham City, this column we arrive at our third and last introduction to the clubs replacing West Bromwich Albion, Middlesbrough and Newcastle United in the EPL.
Wolverhampton Wanderers were promoted as champions of the Championship, the confusingly entitled tier of English soccer that sits immediately below the Premier League. Wolves finished seven points ahead of local rivals Birmingham after spending most of the season in first place. There were some white-knuckle moments through, not least in February when they failed to win any of five league outings.
Given their prestigious history, Wolves fans see their club's rightful place as being in the top-flight. Three league titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups have been secured by the club which, in 1888, was one of 12 founder members of the world's first professional soccer league.
As well as those glory days in the 1950s being famous for those league titles, it was also a time when Wolves played a significant role in the formation of the European Cup, now the Champions League. This originated as a formalization of a series of "floodlit friendlies" that took place between Wolves and a number of Europe's top clubs. With stadium floodlights still a novelty, these matches caught the imagination of Europe's press, who were enthralled by Wolves dispatching contemporary greats like Spartak Moscow, Dynamo Moscow, Budapest Honved and Real Madrid. Indeed, the Honved victory prompted manager
"Before we declare that Wolverhampton is invincible, let them go to Moscow and Budapest. And there are other internationally renowned clubs: AC Milan and Real Madrid, to name but two. A club world championship, or at least a European one ... should be launched."
Hanot was a legendary character who, in 1949, was both the French national-team coach and a soccer journalist. Following a heavy defeat to Spain, he wrote an unsigned editorial calling for his own resignation as coach. He resigned the next day.
A Wolves legend of the '90s is
But with memories of their '04 EPL relegation still fresh in minds, will Wolves stay in the Premier League this time? We think so. Probably. Just. Largely this is because in Burnley (great manager, but lacking resources), Hull (on a run of dreadful form), Stoke (basic in style) and Portsmouth (organizationally in dire straits), there are a handful of weak sides in the EPL this season.
Wolves, with the experienced former Ireland national-team manager
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