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It's just about that time again, and since neither Correspondent Ed nor Correspondent Scott have been willing to stick out their respective necks, it once again falls upon your Editor-in-Chief to take one for the team. Never afraid to make a prediction, and sometimes even making uncannily accurate ones, it's time for the third annual farlieonfootie pre-season picks for the 2013 - 2014 edition of the Barclay's Premier League.
We'll note, of course, that these prognostications are subject to revision if any of the much-ballyhooed late transfer moves come through -- moves involving Bale, Ronaldo, Rooney or the like certainly have the ability to shake things up, including even our vaunted predictions. Unlike last season, when the transfer of the year was made relatively early (hint: Remember that one, Arsenal and City fans?), this year's top move could still be yet to happen:
2013/2014 Premier League Winners: This is a tough one for us to admit, but we believe Chelsea may have the talent on board to win the Premiership this season. And by talent, we're not talking about the players on the pitch -- sure, they're important -- but more so the talent in the manager's office. Combining Mourinho -- surely with something to prove, not only to the Chelsea fans who love him so dearly, but also to the Manchester United Board of Directors that gave him not even the merest hint of affection -- with names like Mata, Hazard and Oscar means that Chelsea's offensive creativity will now be married to the Portuguese bossman's steely pragmatism. And where defense has been a relative weakness these past few seasons, we don't believe Mou will put up with mediocrity for long. The major question at Les Bleus revolves around who will lead the line -- and if Rooney is out, then we fear that Jose will figure out how to unleash the beast that is Romelu Lukaku.
2013/2014 Runner's Up: Manchester United. We note that most of the so-called football pundits have picked United to finish third, behind both Chelsea and City, but we're not buying it. If we were truly bold, instead of slightly nervous and only kinda-sorta bold, we'd be picking the Red Devils to win the league once again. Let's rememeber: this is a team that cantered to the League title last season -- a season in which they still lacked the much-discussed truly world-class midfield. Unfortunately, though, the transition at the top has made us a bit less confident, and while we respect David Moyes, he's no Sir Alex Ferguson -- and that's not a slight. Super Robin returns to lead the attack, and with Vidic, Rio and De Gea spending some considerable time together we think there will be more than enough goals to routinely outscore the competition. The major questions at United would seem to be two-fold: What in the world will happen to Wayne Rooney, and will United actually bring in any summer transfer targets, or only flirt with them? The lack of a clear answer to either of these questions heading into the season's opening weekend points only to one place: second.
2013/2014 Best of the Rest: Manchester City sure spent alot of money this off-season, didnt they?
Why, yes they did -- enough to finish third in the League. We admire the work the Mancunian B-side did in the off-season, bringing in Jovetic, Negredo and Navas, and believe the addition of some width to the City attack is the gift that will keep on giving all-season long. But combining a new coach with three new all-stars in a dressing room already besot with super-sized egos may be a bridge too far. At the very least, we think it take awhile for City's game to truly gel in the League -- and while that could spell trouble in the early going it will set City up nicely for the run-in and for the next season, to boot. The loss of Carlos Tevez, the team's talismanic striker for the past two seasons, is just that -- a loss. And that loss, combined with the unfamiliarity factor, will be enough to see City finish behind their cross-town rivals -- yet again.
If City finish third, then surely Arsenal must be fourth, correct? Actually, no. We believe this will be the season in which Le Professor finally and utterly completely jumps the shark.
One could plausibly argue that Wenger jumped the shark several years ago, but you have to admire his ability to steer a team involving Marouanne Chamakh into a Champions League spot yet again. But Arsenal's inability to compete in the transfer market this season -- despite apparently being willing to spend the money -- will finally sink the club to 5th this year, and likely lead to Wenger's final goodbye. And that's because Spurs -- even if they lose Gareth Bale -- will, after long difficulty and delay, at last eclipse their north London rivals. Daniel Levy's shrewd pre-season transfer work -- bringing in solid additions like Paulinho and Soldado before the transfer market becomes even more inflated by any late blockbuster moves -- will pay off with a Champions League finish. Now if only they can convice a certain Welshman to stay....
We'll be back later in the week with some more thoughts on what is shaping up to be a very exciting capaign.
In the meantime, this is farlieonfootie for August 14.