As a kid living about 12.5 miles outside of Baltimore, Maryland; roughly the same distance from Liverpool to St. Helens ─ soccer, or as the rest of the world calls it football, was not the first sport I took an interest in. The first sport I ever played and watched also became my favorite. Baseball means as much to me as soccer means to a die-hard Liverpool fan.
Hey folks, it’s that time again! Welcome to this week’s Premier League Wrap-Up, presented by Baltimore Birds Blog. This week was no less eventful than the last, but in the interest of space and time, I want to only look at a few key moments from this week; United is in freefall, Di Maria is in a red jersey, and Arsenal has started its midseason slump a little bit early this season.
Manchester United is officially in the beginning of another freefall; much like the one that was seen last season. The first problem of the week came during the game against Sunderland, when United ended up settling for a tie against a markedly inferior team.
Tying with Sunderland immediately after losing to Swansea City is not a good streak to have for a top-tier team like United, and unless van Gaal can get his locker room in order fast, expect more poor performances from this once-mighty club.
Speaking of poor performances, it is worth noting that United got knocked out of the FA Cup after a disastrous game against MK Dons (4-0 was the final score), a team currently in the second tier of English professional soccer. Although this was not an EPL match, nor will it even be a potential EPL matchup for some time, it is still a match worth noting, since it shows just how far United may yet fall this season.
All United fans can do right now is hope that the addition of Di Maria from Real Madrid is enough to at least keep the team from any further embarrassments, and at the very least keep them hovering around the middle of the standings.
Trouble at Highbury
Arsenal, with its tie against Everton and the recent (and likely season-ending) injury of Olivier Giroud, is officially on our freefall watch, even with the Champions League advancement this week. Giroud is a huge part of the Gunners’ squad, and without the trio of him, Ozil, and Sanchez at the top, the Gunners may experience their annual midseason slump a little early this year.
Wenger cannot keep relying on Aaron Ramsey to fill the shoes of missing stars for too much longer; defenses have shown in the past that can figure him out, leaving Ozil and Sanchez without backup when they need it the most. Arsenal also cannot just keep hoping that they get a lucky shot or two when their opponents have been tired out, as they did against Everton.
By all accounts, Arsenal is a broken team, and unless some major changes come to Highbury, then the Gunners will suffer yet another mediocre season under Wenger’s leadership.
Hola, Di Maria!
As mentioned earlier, Manchester United has officially completed the signing of Argentine midfielder Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid. Di Maria is without a doubt one of the best players on the Argentine national squad, and having him will provide a big boost to the Red Devils’ midfield, which this week demonstrated that it still needs work.
He is a playmaker and a goal scorer, so he should work well with Rooney, Mata, and Van Persie, and hopefully turn United’s season around. At the same time, however, it is clear that some serious team-building needs to be done at United, and fast. Di Maria, talented as he may be, is likely not the immediate answer for a club that has to address some very fundamental issues.
Couple these existing issues with the adjustment period every player faces when first joining a new team, and you get a recipe for at least a few more losses before United may look competitive again. Van Gaal set the Premier League transfer record with the purchase, so let’s hope that he is able to get a nice return on his investment.
Hey folks, I’m back, and boy do I have a gift for you! Since the start of the 2014/15 season of the English Premier League is fast approaching, we at Baltimore Birds Blog have decided to give you guys our (by which I mean my) in-depth analysis of the whole thing!
This season promises to be even more exciting than the last, with the dynamics of the entire league having been dramatically changed this offseason with the departure of Luis Suarez (who, admittedly, would not have seen much playing time anyway with his suspension), the addition of Didier Drogba, the departure then loan of Frank Lampard from to the New York City F.C./Manchester City organization, as well as the surge of acquisitions by Arsenal, and the change in leadership (again) for Manchester United.
That all being said, I am going to mainly concentrate on the top teams from last season and see if they still have what it takes to win (sorry Hull City and Crystal Palace fans!)
As an Arsenal fan, I am both excited for and dreading the start of the new season. I am excited because of how evenly matched the top teams from last season still appear to be, as well as how well the Gunners have performed recently, with the ever-important Community Shield win against Man City. At the same time, I am filled with dread with how poorly Arsenal has performed the rest of the offseason, dropping both a friendly to the New York Red Bulls and the Emirates Cup to Valencia.
The recent trophy more than makes up for the embarrassing defeats in the minds of many Gooners, but I cannot help but take notice at how Arsenal struggled for the majority of the offseason. Struggling like they did provides a bad omen for the upcoming season, but it also might just be negated by the Community Shield win.
Either way, Arsenal must be careful if it wishes to parlay its recent success into a League Title. I expect my Gunners to end up towards the top of the standings again, but will not be surprised if they are unable to secure a League Title.
Liverpool has been completely changed by the departure of Luis Suarez, last season’s league-wide lead scorer. Although Suarez wouldn’t have seen much playing time with his suspension over the biting incident at the World Cup, he still would have likely seen enough time on the field to shift key late-season games in the Reds’ favor. Even with the off-field distractions, Suarez was a big component to this squad and the Reds will have a very tough time adjusting to their first season without him, especially since the Reds now have to put even more responsibility on Steven Gerrard’s shoulders.
Gerrard is a very talented player, but he is clearly aging, and is now in need of a partner to compliment him on the pitch. Unless someone from within the halls of Anfield can step up to be his wingman, Gerrard will not be able to carry this team on his own. I fully expect a dramatic drop in the standings for Liverpool, not unlike the drama seen last season with arch-rivals Manchester United.
Chelsea has been quite active in the offseason, having added both Drogba and Cesc Fabregas after the departure of long-time captain Frank Lampard. While I do not agree with manager Jose Mourinho’s statement that Fabregas is the future of the club, I can agree that he is a force to be reckoned with, as is Drogba.
While neither player may be able to fill the leadership role left behind by Lampard, both can prove to be more than adequate substitutes for his talent. They have proved their worth in seasons past and it is clear that they will contribute in a positive way to the squad as a whole.
At the same time, however, Drogba has appeared to be past his prime and Fabregas’ talent is starting to plateau, making both additions risky choices for a club that is in desperate need of fresh talent. Chelsea needs young players, and these two simply don’t fit the bill.
Mourinho is desperate for a league title, but seems to have overlooked the fact that older talent needs young players to back it up. If either Drogba or Fabregas gets injured, then there is no adequate replacement waiting to fill the role, nor are there players for these veterans to groom as their successors. However, I must stress again that these are still two very good players, meaning that no matter what happens, you should expect the Blues to finish in the Top 5, but don’t expect a league championship from this squad.
While other teams have been busy adding players, Everton has been noticeably quiet on this front, having mostly been making sure that their best players are here to stay. This kind of long-term planning is both intelligent and risky for a team like Everton.
It is smart in the fact that the club clearly has talent, and to its credit, has recognized that such talent is necessary for them to stay at the top. The risk comes in when you consider how much money has been spent on existing talent, and realize what that could have bought instead.
Everton seemingly passed on some of the biggest names in world soccer so that it could afford to keep its current team together. To be fair, the Toffeemen demonstrated last season that their current system works, but it will be interesting to see whether they will be able to come up with enough fresh strategies to keep their opponents subdued, or come out as nothing more than a one trick pony, easily figured out by opposing sides. Everton will either come out in the Top 4 again, or end up somewhere in the middle of the standings.
Manchester City, I believe, has what it takes to win the League again. Man City has, for the past few years, been a force to be reckoned with, and with much of its direct competition still struggling to mold new players into a team, Man City has constructed a formidable side. While it may lack some of the big names that its cross-town rival has, The Citizens have proven that a well-constructed team will most often win over those with global superstars.
Despite the recent Community Shield loss to Arsenal, the Citizens still have a very good squad, especially with the addition of Frank Lampard. Despite his age, Lampard is still a force to be reckoned with, and could also provide the leadership needed for another successful league title run.
Man City has demonstrated time and time again why they should never be taken lightly, and are bound to do the same again this coming season. The Citizens have, as said time and time again, a very well-constructed squad, with players hungry for another piece of silverware to add to their growing collection. Even if there is no league title win, expect Man City to come in the Top 3 this year.
Although I do not think Manchester United has a strong chance of winning the league title this season, I am including it because I believe it could finish in the Top 4. Last season was an anomaly in United’s history, but one that could be easily explained.
The sudden departure of longtime manager Sir Alex Ferguson obviously impacted the team greatly, leaving them struggling to find another leader to fill his place. However, with the recent Guinness International Champions Cup win, it seems they might have found someone who can come close to Sir Ferguson in Louis van Gaal.
Now, I realize that it is very bold to say that United finally found an adequate replacement for Sir Ferguson, but I am fairly confident in his abilities as manager thus far. However, van Gaal’s shopping of Chicharito is a potentially risky move right now, considering how badly players of his talent are needed at Old Trafford. At the very least, expect United to end up higher in the standings than last year, but, as mentioned before, don’t expect a League Title this year, since there is some rebuilding yet to be done.
Now, last but not least, Tottenham Hotspur. As a Gooner, I do not want to see them win the League Title, but as a fan of the sport, I cannot help but admit that they have a chance of at least becoming one of the Top 5 teams this season.
Much like Manchester City, the Spurs have a well-constructed team, and if they are able to sell a few more players, then they could have something truly remarkable. The Spurs have been rebuilding for quite some time now, and last season’s results have proven that they are finally starting to get somewhere. Even with the departure of Gareth Bale last season the Spurs were still able to keep chase with Everton and provide competition for the 5th spot in the standings.
While they will likely not win a League Title this season, the Spurs will prove to be a force to be reckoned with, especially once the transfer window has closed, and White Hart Lane has built a team it deems satisfactory.