Today's FA Community Shield Championship should have gone someways in answering who will contend for the top title. Liverpool played Chelsea, defeating them 2-1 through goals by Riise and Crouch. We had heard that Chelsea was going to play with about 50% of their players sitting this one out but that was one of Jose Mourinho's headgames. He played everybody in the first XI except the injured Joe Cole and Petr Cech. New boys Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko got their first look in, and Shevchenko delivered a goal. The embarrasing part was that Liverpool's best player Steven Gerrard sat this one out, otherwise this match would have been over a long time ago for the Blues.
So here goes:2006-2007 season predictions
Liverpool: 1st, Odds: 6:1
Not much can stop this team. They have Steven Gerrard, one of the world's best midfielder. Excellent midfield support in Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia, Zenden, Momo Sissoko. A tough and attacking defense in John Arne Riise, Stephen Warnock, and Jamie Carragher. They have new additions Craig Bellamy and the extremely talented Jermaine Pennant who'll settle down under the watchful eye of Rafa and become an even better player. On goal you have a tough choice with both Pepe Reina and Jerzy Dudek, top notch. Looking at the line up, you realize why Liverpool does not really need a striker of the caliber of Thierry Henry. They have a midfield which can do all of that with less sweat.
Tottenham Hotspurs: 2nd, Odds: 50:1
The team with the best possible attack, a combination of strikers and an attacking midfield. Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov, Jermaine Defoe, Jermaine Jenas, and Aaron Lennon. This team should top the table in goal scoring. With Martin Jol, the Spurs have improved with every season, and this year will be no exception. Edgar Davids should make life miserable for everyone of those opposing teams trying to get past midfield. Teemu Taino and new addition, Didier Zokora play as holding midfielders. The absence of captain Ledley King for another month should be taken care of very well by defenders Michael Dawson, Anthony Gardner, and Calum Davenport. Paul Robinson should prove to be his steady self at goal. Berbatov and Zokora have already impressed in their debut, with a recent 2-1 win against Real Sociedad. Michael Dawson was called up for England duty in Steve McLaren's new look squad.
Arsenal: 3rd, Odds: 7:1
With a striker like Thierry Henry you cannot go wrong. And then there is the dangerous Robin Van Persie, who manages to do everything as the striker in the slot, with his left foot. Cesc Fabregas holds the midfield line and Tomas Rosicky chases the ball with his exceptional speed. The only question mark is the defence with Sol Campbell gone off to Portsmouth and Ashley Cole's future held up in some bitter wrangling between Arsenal and Chelsea, deciding on his price. The biggest reason why Arsenal should do well, is to create some history in the new Emirates Stadium, and make the Gunner fans feel at home. A top four finish will be a nice way to begin the new chapter in the Arsenal book. Nick Hornby should be on hand to record this moment.
Chelsea: 4th, Odds: 4:9
This year Jose Mourinho's boys are not going to do as well. Reason: The pressure of trying to capture a third title. Not many clubs in the history of sport have been able to do win three times consecutively. Only four clubs have managed it, Huddersfield, Arsenal, Liverpool, and most recently Manchester United. Michael Ballack will fade, finding the pace of the English League much faster and the scheduling of matches far more intense than the Bundesliga, where the season is smaller. Joe Cole is playing hurt and will be dogged by niggling injuries through the season. Andriy Shevchenko, will be dangerous, but he remains isolated up front, and as seen in this World Cup gets caught offside a lot, with more disciplined defences. Hernan Crespo will be missed. Chelsea is still too good a team to tumble off the top four but John Terry will have to summon all his leadership skills in a team that has a few selfish and disgruntled players like Arjen Robben, William Gallas and Frank Lampard.
Manchester United: 5th, Odds: 6:1
Sir Alex's waning years. Ruud Van Nistelrooy, their most lethal striker, has gone to Real. Louis Saha will take uo the slack but can he sustain it? Michael Carrick is a solid player but unspectacular. The midfield is a rejiggered line with Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Soljskaer. Cristiano Ronaldo, has his moments of sublime skills which mostly turn out to be unproductive. Man U also does not have leadership like that in the Roy Keane days. Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand are experienced but hardly leadership material. Sir Alex's didactic nature has infantilized most of the players and those who disagree do it at their peril. Another problem area is goalkeeping. Van Der Saar had a forgettable World Cup venture and is aging. Man U has signed on Tomacz Kuczscak, a talented goalkeeper but with very little experience.
Everton: 6th, Odds: 350:1
The Toffees after Tottenham have one of the most explosive attacks with Andy Johnson, prolific striker for Crystal Palace signing on, he should pair up well with James Beattie, the steadily improving James McFadden, and Nigerian born striker Victor Anichebe. Johnson is already in the English senior squad. The midfield is anchored by attacking midfielders Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta. The defence is stout with Nuno Valente, who seems to have finally got his legs in the gruelling English league, Tony Hibbert, and David Weir. Lee Carsley is back for an Everton morale booster this season. David Moyes squad should score many more than their anaemic 34 goals last season.
West Ham: 7th, Odds: 350:1
The Hammers probably have the nucleus of the future England attack. Nigel Reo Coker, the captain of the U-21 England squad (captain of the Hammers at 21 years of age), Dean Ashton (22 years, and called up to the England squad), Marlon Harewood (26 years, frequently mentioned as a possibility), and Matthew Etherington (24 years, another left sided midfielder). There is also Bobby Zamora and Carlton Cole, who have not lived upto expectations but are still dangerous. John Pantsil, Ghana defender who along with Emmanuel Pappoe gave a stouthearted display at the World Cup, joins up a defence that is considered to be amongst the best, with Anton Ferdinand, Paul Konchesky, and Daniel Gabbidon. Alan Pardew has gelled this team nicely.
Blackburn Rovers: 8th, Odds: 200:1
The Rovers strength is their defence. Lucas Neil (of Fabio Grosso fame), Brett Emerton, Andy Todd, Zurab Khishnavilli, and Ryan Nelsen, gave up 42 goals keeping a GD of +9. Now with Benni McCarthy, one of the few well known South African stars and a bonafide striker, they should be able to add to their goal tally. Andy Reid and Tugay Kerimoglu anchor the midfield. Blackburn made a turnaround with Mark Hughes, former Wales international, and have kept up the improvement.
Aston Villa: 9th, Odds:750:1
What we have seen with the likes of underperforming clubs like Tottenham, Blackburn, and West Ham, is that under a new coach you can get immediate results. Martin O'Neill is the type of coach you can expect to see results that get Villa back in the top 10. Villa has some good players who did not respond to David O'Leary. Prospects like Jjloyd Samuels and Luke Moore will flourish under O'Neill. Veteran defender and Swedish stalwart, Olof Mellberg, and the striker duo Milan Baros and Juan Pablo Angel will prove to be productive. The hardest working midfielder in England, Steven Davis, anchors the midfield. Martin O'Neill brings the best out in this struggling club and the reason that Villa vaults to the top 10. The way Villa does it will make football look less mercenary. A feel good story of a club that does not know who finally owns it.
Wigan Athletic: 10th, Odds: 750:1
The club that everyone loves to hate. The Latics did well last season. And they look like they will do just as well this season. The big reason is Luis Valencia, the Ecuadorian midfielder who was the only bright spot in the otherwise somnolent Ecuadorian attack against England in the World Cup. Valencia's speed is blazing and he posesses excellent technical skills. He lost out to Lukas Podolksi in the Best Young Player award for this year's World Cup. Henri Camara, had a good season with Wigan, scoring 14 goals. Crystal Place signees, Fitz Hall and Emmersoin Boyce, should strengthen the defence. Denny Landzaat, the Dutch midfielder, a regular substitute for Wesley Sneijder this World Cup, is an excellent holding midfielder. The question marks are Emile Heskey, Birmigham City striker, slow and overweight, for which Wigan paid over 5m pounds and Pascal Chimbonda, French defender, who is unhappy in Wigan but whose asking price is too high for most clubs.
Newcastle United: 11th, Odds:150:1
Steady improvement under Glenn Roeder, after that disastrous beginning in the 2005-2006 season. The Magpies were in danger of relegation with Michael Owen injured since December 2005, with a broken foot, and Alan Shearer playing with injured knee ligaments, preceding his retirement. Graeme Souness was given the boot and that was when Newcastle started it's climb back up the table. The signing of Damien Duff, another Chelsea discard, arguably the most versatile midfielder who has blistering pace, and playing down the left, and defends against the counterattack is further proof that Newcastle keeps the momentum going. The Magpies have shown an improvement in their finances which keeps the door open for more signings.
Bolton Wanderers: 12th, Odds: 350:1
Bolton Wanderers have benefited from great coaching by Sam Allardyce, considered a front runner for the England job, at one time before Steve McLaren were chosen. You look at the roster of players and wonder what is that has actually changed their fortunes? Allardyce has taken temperamental players like El Hadji Diouf and Kevin Davies and ultilized their talents to win games. The midfield looks solid with Kevin Nolan and Ivan Campo bolstered by new signing, Quinton Fortune, a long time favourite of Sir Alex when he played at Man U.
Middlesborough: 13th, Odds: 500:1
Middlesborough should improve on their 16th place finish with their signing of Sunderland defender Julio Arca. The rest of the club looks solid with striker Yakubu and England midfielder Stewart Downing and Brazilian Fabio Rochemback. Goalie Mark Schwarzer looked good in the Socceroo games in the World Cup.
Portsmouth: 14th, Odds: 500:1
Portsmouth's defence was terrible all of last year and they just escaped relegation. It should improve with the arrival of Sol Campbell and goalkeeper David James. . Paolo Mendes, Noe Pamarot, and Sean Davis will improve on Portsmouth's 37 goals scored last season. This looks like a club that wiil be going Chelsea's way with the amount of money that the new club owner, Russian tycoon Alexandre Gaydamak, is willing to throw on new players.
Charlton Athletic: 15th, Odds: 1000:1
Darren Bent, the best striker that England did not take to the World Cup. Finished with 18 goals out of Charton's 41 goals scored last season. Some other bright spots include Luke Young, right back and on England's call up list for the World Cup and Thomas Myhre, Charlton goalie. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who had some phenomenally productive years for Chelsea is a big name player, who might be capable of some big moments. However, this team looks disjointed which showed last year. There won't be much of an improvement this season.
Manchester City: 16th, Odds: 750:1
It seems Stuart Pearce's club will survive a relegation scare. The only reason why Manchester City will prevent relegation is because of Hatem Trabelsi, the Tunisian defender, who showed excellent tackling and initiating counter attacks in this World Cup. Dietmar Hamann, is another signing and everybody acknowledges his contribution to Liverpool while he was there but he is getting on in years. However, experience does count and Didi should bring bolster an otherwise perfunctory midfield.
Reading: 17th, Odds: 1500:1
The Royals will escape relegation because they actually have two good US players. Bobby Convey, fleet footed midfielder, who loves to fly down the left, and outstanding goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann. They were both voted as players of the season, responsible for getting Reading promoted to the Premiership. Reading established the most points in a single season in any English professional league: 106 points (2005-06). Reading also has Leroy Lita, one of the most exciting future prospects for the English squad. This should be enough to escape relegation.
Fulham FC: 18th, Odds: 1000:1
Terrible defence that gave up 58 goals. There does not seem to be any improvement in that department. Some good individual strikers in Luis Boa Morte and Heldar Helguson. But that is about it.
Sheffield United: 19th, Odds: 2500:1
Great manager of a hard luck team. But it will be much too much not to get relegated.
Watford: 20th, Odds: 2500:1
Elton John's former club will have to contend with "I am still standing."
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