Being an avid reader of The Sports Dojo over the last few weeks, I’ve sensed a growing restlessness. I have decided to provide relief to the poor souls ‘entertained’ by the unbearably long games of catch and stickball plaguing our televisions. The beautiful sport begins anew this Saturday in England. The 2013/14 English Premier League will prove to be the most interesting in years. Story-lines of the season include the annual coaching carousel sparked by the departure of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, the promotion of Cardiff City to the Premier League, and the return of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea. With the first game a mere two days away, every sports website needs a proper preview. Here is the long awaited 2013 Sports Dojo Futbol Preview.
2013/14 Projected EPL Table
PFA Team of the Year
GK: David De Gea (Manchester United)
Defenders: Baines (Everton) Kompany (Manchester City) Luiz (Chelsea) Evra (Manchester United)
Midfielders: Bale (Tottenham) Mata (Chelsea) Hazard (Chelsea) Kagawa (Manchester United)
Strikers: Robin Van Persie (Manchester United) Aguero (Manchester City)
Coach of the Year
Jose Mourinho (Chelsea)
Manager- Jose Mourinho (5th Season, 1st since 2008)
2012/13 Place- 3rd Place
Key Player- David Luiz
David Luiz is the most pivotal player in Chelsea’s starting line-up. Chelsea fans have come to expect consistently great performances out of midfielders Mata and Hazard. David Luiz lacks consistency. He ranges from the ambitious player who makes risky runs from the center back position to the consistent sweeping defender that he became in the final quarter of the 2012/13 season. Consistent performances similar to his Confederates Cup run will aid Chelsea’s back line.
Jose Mourinho– The return of the self proclaimed ‘Special One’ will bring expectations of his third Premier League Title. Mourinho left Spanish super club Real Madrid trophyless last season, including an embarrassing Copa del Rey loss against rival Atletico Madrid. However, Mourinho is still widely considered one of the best active coaches in the world.
Torres, Schurrle, Mata, Hazard, Essien, Ramires, Cole, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Ivanovic, Cech
Chelsea is my preseason favourite to win the Premiership. New coaches will put the Manchester clubs at a disadvantage. Fernando Torres found spurts of form last season but primarily outside the league. Mourinho will have to inspire performance in the Spaniard or forgo his usual reluctance to incorporate youth players into the starting line-up and start Belgian Lukaku.
Dream Season- Chelsea are capable of winning all three trophies, but not capable of the Treble. A dream season at Stamford Bridge would be to recapture the Premier League title and make deep runs into the Champions League and FA Cup Tournament.
Nightmare Season- Mourinho fails to win a trophy for the second consecutive season and finishes behind London rival Arsenal.
Manager- David Moyes (1st Season)
2012/13 Finish- Champions
Key Player- Robin Van Persie
Last year’s Golden Boot winner, Van Persie scored in spurts last season. Manchester United need RvP to have a consistent year to overcome the other obstacles facing the club.
Robin Van Persie, Nani, Wayne Rooney, Valencia, Kagawa, Carrick, Evra, Raphael, Vidic, Ferdinand, De Gea
David Moyes has been signed from Everton to fill the shoes of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Manchester United look to defend their title against their rivals Manchester City and London teams Arsenal and Chelsea. Manchester United have maintained the core of their Championship winning season of 2013. The only obstacle between them and a repeat title is the challenge of adjusting to a new manager. The 2013/14 season will provide a further opportunity for Japanese star Shinji Kagawa to display his talents for the EPL viewing world. His 2012/13 campaign was limited by injuries and lack of playing time behind Scholes and Nani.
Dream Season- Manchester United adjust to their manager painlessly with help from veteran leaders. They defend their title.
Nightmare Season- United finishes behind City and the departure of SAF begins the decline of the club.
Manager- Arsene Wenger (18th Season)
2012/13 Record- 4th Place
Key Players- Laurent Koscielny
The French center back became a regular partner alongside Per Mertesacker late in the season. His tenure was marked by a 10 game unbeaten streak. Kos and Mertesacker’s pairing solidified a backline that was under a constant rearrangement.
Giroud, Cazorla, Wilshire, Walcott, Arteta, Ramsey, Gibbs, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Szczesny
Arsenal is the only top four team headed into the 2013/14 with the same coach. Arsene Wenger finds himself in his 18th season amid an eight year trophy drought. The North London Library has risen to a brisk whisper of frustration towards Wenger’s policy. In a league where the top tiered teams spend big to win big, Arsenal, at the direction of their American owner and Wenger, have remained ‘fiscally responsible.’ The Gunners have made a habit of trading their star players every offseason, but have managed to keep all of their key starters from last season. Arsenal are legitimate challengers for the League Title and FA Cup. To win the title and silence Piers Morgan, Arsenal need consistency from Walcott and the striker position. Arsenal’s season will be decided from March 15th to April 5th where the Gunners will face Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Everton.
Dream Season- League Title or FA Cup win
Nightmare Season- A finish below North London Rival Tottenham and 5th place finish
Manager- Manuel Pellegrini (1st Season)
2012/13 Finish- Runners Up
Key Player- David Silva
The Spanish playmaker has been equipped with some of Europe’s best talent this offseason. Wingers Navas and Jovetic add firepower to an already lethal Aguero led striking force. Toss in Fernandinho and the Sky Blues have the potential to finally make a run in the Champions League. Silva will have to rebound from an inconsistent season last year to be an integral playmaker on the level of Ozil, Mata, and Iniesta.
Key Addition- Jesus Navas
Navas will start over Nasri who had a disappointing season this past year. Navas is a fast, technical and fearless attacker who takes on fullbacks and creates plays for his teammates.
Aguero, Jovetic, Silva, Navas, Yaya, Fernandinho, Clichy, Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Hart
Manchester City had a weak title defense last season, losing to crosstown rivals Manchester United only added insult to injury. City has spent big this transfer window (unsurprisingly) to push towards another title. Pellegrini steps into a similar situation to his tenure at Real Madrid. Despite an impressive Champions League run, Pellegrini failed to keep Malaga in the top four of La Liga. Malaga’s weak second half of the season and awful away record should be a concern for City.
Dream Season- City wins the league title and makes a run in the Champions League
Nightmare Season- City remains trophyless for a second year and battles for Wenger’s fourth place trophy with the two North London squads.
Manager- Andre Villas-Boas (2nd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 5th Place
Key Player- Gareth Bale
Arguably the best player in the Premier League, Bale must keep his impressive form consistent to keep Spurs in contention.
Key Addition- Paulinho
The Brazilian international will give the Spurs two very good holding midfielders.
Soldado, Lennon, Bale, Sigurdosson, Dembele, Paulinho, Assou Ekotto, Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Lloris
Tottenham enter the 2013/14 season with high hopes. At the publishing of this review, Gareth Bale has stayed put despite speculated interest from Real Madrid. Although the Spurs rely heavily on him, Chairman Levy has spent big this offseason to build a thicker team. Anything short of a top four finish for Tottenham would be considered a failure and would likely force Bale out at the end of the season. Tottenham are also legitimate contenders for Europa League Champions.
Dream Season- Spurs finish ahead of Arsenal and qualify for Champions League
Nightmare Season-Spurs have yet another late season collapse and finish behind Arsenal and out of top 4.
Manager- Brendan Rodgers (2nd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 7th Place
Key Player- Coutinho
As the Suarez saga rages on, Coutinho and Sturridge will have to form a dealdy duo to fill the void of Suarez’s striking prowess.
Key Addition- Kolo Toure
Liverpool signed a much needed center back with experience to play alongside Agger.
Projected Line up (Suarez suspended first 6 games)
Sturridge, Asaps, Coutinho, Sterling, Gerrard, Lucas, Enrique, Johnson, Toure, Agger, Mignolet
The departure of Reina and a turbulent (to say the least) offseason with Luis Suarez will make for an interesting season. Brazilian center defensive midfielder Lucas will likely start alongside Steven Gerrard. Injury problems to plagued Lucas’ early career but he still shows great promise. Fellow Brazilian Coutinho will also likely start for the Red’s this year. He is the most important element to Liverpool’s attack this season given the Suarez situation.
Deam Season- Liverpool climb back into the top four. However, this is unlikely barring Bale exit.
Nightmare Season- Liverpool show no progress in the second year of the Brendan Rodgers experiment and finish behind rivals Everton at 7th place again.
Manager- Roberto Martinez (1st Season)
2012/13 Finish- 6th Place
Key Player- Leighton Baines
Everton managed to hold on to their coveted left back Baines this transfer season. Baines was named to the 2012/13 PFA team of the year.
Anichebe, Mirallas, Fellaini, Pienaar, Gibson, Osman, Baines, Coleman, Distin, Jagielka, Howard
Despite losing manager David Moyes to Manchester United, Everton hung on to Baines and Fellaini. Moyes is replaced by Roberto Martinez, former Wigan manager and winner of the 2012/13 FA Cup. Martinez brings with him striker Kone from the Ivory Coast. Kone will add depth and competition for the starting striker spot against Anichebe and Jelavic. Everton had a very successful season last year finishing 6th in front of rivals Liverpool and qualifying for the Europa League.
Dream Season- Everton remain at 6th ahead of Liverpool and make a deep run in the Europa League. They do not have the talent to pass Spurs this year but expect big things from Kevin Mirallas and Jelavic.
Nightmare Season- Although I do not see them climbing high, I also do not see them falling far. An 8th place finish behind Liverpool is a worst case scenario for the Toffees.
Manager- Chris Hughton (2nd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 11th Place
Key Player- Rickey van Wolfswinkel
Norwich are in dire need of a goalscorer and they spent heavily this transfer season for this young dutch player.
Key Addition- Gary Hooper (ST from Celtic)
Hooper, Van Wolfswinkel, Snodgrass, Pilkington, Fer, Johnson, Olsson, Whittaker, Turner, Bassong, Ruddy
2013/14 Season Projection
Norwich are my team to watch this season. The Canaries have had a brilliant transfer season solidifying their midfield with Fer and adding firepower with Hooper and Van Wolfswinkel. Survival will not be the goal this season as manager Chris Hughton will look to advance his team above mid table.
Dream Season- Norwich makes a deep run in the FA Cup. If the transfer season pick ups work out, the Canaries are legitimate contenders to qualify for Europa League.
Nightmare Season- Despite spending big and bringing in foreign talent, Norwich fails to play well as a team (a la QPR) and spends the season hovering around 15th.
West Bromwich Albion
Manager- Steve Clarke (2nd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 8th Place
Key Player- Morrison
West Brom have a relatively weak attacking force. Relative to teams near them in the table. Morrison is another year older and will need to help strikers Long and Anelka.
Long, Brunt, Morrison, Dorrans, Mulumu, Yacob, Ridgewell, Reid, Lugano, McAuley, Foster
2013/14 Season Projection
West Brom had a brilliant start to their 2012/13 campaign. They were the surprises of the season until the new year brought them misfortune. West Brom slid down the standings and lost 4 of the last 5 matches to end the year. Manager Steve Clarke must find consistency this season. He has brought in Anelka and Lugano to add experience and leadership to his side.
Dream Season- West Brom maintain their position in the league or continue their upward trend.
Nightmare Season- The ending of last season bleeds into the start of this one. Without Lukaku, Long shoulders the striking weight with aging Anelka and West Brom finish in the lowest quartile.
Manager- Michael Laudrup (2nd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 9th Place
Key Player- Wilfried Bony
Bony will link up with Michu at the front of the attack to provide the goals Michu’s second half slump failed to produce.
Bony, Routledge, Michu, Dyer, Shelvey, Ki, Taylor, Chico, Williams, Rangel, Vorm
Swansea is one of two Welsh teams in the Premiership this upcoming season. The Swans made a habit of stealing points from higher placed teams last season and earned the respect of the League. Laudrup finished an impressive 9th after the departure of Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool. Laudrup was aided by Spanish striker Michu who was sensational last season. Swansea also captured the Capital One Cup, defeating Chelsea and Liverpool before toppling Bradford in the final. Extra matches in Europe this year could prove problematic, but Swansea have an unusual amount of depth for a mid table team. Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer are two of my favorite underrated wingers.
Dream Season- Swansea make a run in Europa League and endure the long season to remain comfortably mid table.
Nightmare Season- Michu cannot recover the form he started last season with and the Swans drop towards the lower quartile of the table. Laudrup leaves at the end of the season.
Manager- Martin Jol (3rd Year)
2012/13 Finish- 12th Place
Key Player- Amorebieta
The human yellow card from Athletico Bilbao was an expensive transfer for Fulham. His physical play will fit well in England.
Key Addition- Stekelenburg
This keeper is a solid pick-up at for Fulham to replace recently departed Schwarzer.
Berbatov, Ruiz, Kacaniklic, Boateng, Sidwell, Duff, Riise, Amorebieta, Hangeland, Reither, Stekelenburg
The talk around Craven Cottage has been about new owner Sahid Kahn, the Pakistani owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. Quietly, Fulham have reinforced at the Goalkeeping and center back position. The 2012/13 campaign was uneventful. The Whites fell three places with the loss of their lead goalscorer Clint Dempsey. Any fluctuation for Fulham will be minimal this year but I expect a slight increase.
Dream Season- Fulham finish mid table, approximately 9th, mostly due to Berbatov’s brilliance again.
Nightmare Season- The aging Berbatov cannot continue his flashy career at the same pace. Fulham fall to 16th.
Manager- Paul DiCanio (2nd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 17th Place
Key Addition- Giaccherini
The Italian international was an expensive purchase for the Black Cats this transfer season. His speed on the wing and technical ability will aid Fletcher or Altidore up top.
Fletcher, Sessernon, Giaccherini, Johnson, Larsson, Colback, Gardner, Bardsley, O’Shea, Cuellar, Mannone
2013/14 Season Projection
Sunderland have brought a few new faces to north England during the offseason. Americans will be interested in how Jozy Altidore will fair in his second stint in the EPL. He has played spectacularly for the US and scored 31 goals in the Eredivisie last year. Vito Mannone was purchased from Arsenal to replace Mignolet, who transferred to Liverpool. Paul DiCanio managed to salvage important points from Newcastle and Everton to stay in the league last season but will be under the gun to perform this year.
Dream Season- The Black Cats finish mid to lower table but survive, and finish ahead of rivals Newcastle.
Nightmare Season- Relegation.
Manager- Mauricio Pochettino (2nd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 14th Place
Key Player- Jay Rodriguez
This youngster will have to find the net this season to aid aging striker Rickie Lambert.
Key Addition- Victor Wanyama
The former Celtic defensive midfielder was pivotal in their Champions League win over powerhouse Barcelona. Wanyama moves into the Premier League at a very young age of 22. This box to box midfielder will be a sought after target in the future.
Lambert, Puncheon, Ramirez, Rodriguez, Wanyama, Shaw, Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Gazzaniga
2013/14 Season Projection
Southampton managed to fight off relegation despite a very disappointing start to their 2012/13 campaign. The Saints are a youthful team with a great deal of talent. Mauricio Pochettino joined Southampton from La Liga club Espanyol to keep Southampton out of relegation. His victories included impressive wins over Liverpool and Chelsea. Offseason transfer Victor Wanyama will aid Southampton’s quest to move towards mid table.
Dream Season- The Saints mature a great deal over the offseason and make a move towards mid table finishing as high as 9th.
Nightmare Season- Southampton suffers the sophomore slump because their youth doesn’t rise to the occasion. The Saints are relegated.
West Ham United
Manager- Sam Allardyce (3rd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 10th Place
Key Player- Winston Reid
Hammer of the year last season, the Center Back from New Zealand is the rock of West Ham’s defense.
Key Addition- Razvan Rat
The free transfer from Shaktar will sure up the Hammer’s back line.
Carroll, Jarvis, Nolan, Vez Te, Diame, Noble, Rat, O’Brien, Reids, Collins, Jaas
2013/14 Season Projection
I do not forecast any large change in West Ham this season. To climb the table, newly signed Andy Carroll will need to provide offense and the Hammers will have to improve away from Upton Park. Aging winger Joe Cole will be relied on to provide quality minutes off the bench. Expect a few impressive upsets similar to last season’s wins over Chelsea and West Brom.
Dream Season- West Ham finishes 8th and takes one back in their rather one sided rivalry with Tottenham. The East Londoners avenge their third round, RVP offsides goal, loss and make a deep cup run.
Nightmare Season- Injury woes to Andy Carroll continue, West Ham fights for 16th and young talent leaves Upton Park.
Manager- Paul Lambert (2nd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 15th Place
Key Addition- Jores Okore
The young center back was an expensive purchase for Villa this year. He will add depth to the Villa back line and will gain valuable experience learning from Vlaar. He and Baker will be the defensive core of their future.
Key Player- Christain Benteke
He will need an encore performance of last season. Benteke netted 19 league goals for Villa and was the driving force of their attack.
Benteke, Agbonlahor, Bacuna, Weimann, Westwood, Delph, Luna, Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Guzan
2013/14 Season Projection
Benteke staying was a huge plus for the Villans. The sought after Belgian is a ripe 22, yet is a challenger for the League’s Golden Boot. Brad Guzan continues the legacy of American goalkeepers in the Premier League. Guzan was named player of the year for Villa after the 2012/13 season. This is another team I do not foresee fluctuating too much this upcoming season.
Dream Season- Aston Villa capture the League Cup they came within one game of competing for last season.
Nightmare Season- Benteke suffers a sophomore slump and the Villans spend the 2013/14 season fighting for survival.
Manager- Malky Mackay (3rd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 1st Place Championship
Key Addition- Medel
He joins Cardiff from Sevilla where he played as a center defensive midfielder. The young Chilean joins Cardiff on an 11 million pound transfer fee.
Cornelius, Bellamy, Noone, Conway, Whittingham, Medel, Taylor, Connolly, Turner, Hudson, Marshall
2013/14 Season Projection
Cardiff is the most likely to stay up of the promoted teams. They dominated the Championship last season mostly due to the rebranding of the club under Malaysian owner Vincent Tan. Tan has proven he is willing to spend big to make Cardiff a mainstay in the Premier League. Tan focused on young talent and signed Gary Medel for a club record fee. Although I expect Cardiff to stay up, I do not believe they will flourish or become a mainstay without further overhaul from management.
Dream Season- Cardiff finish as high as 13th and make a deep run for the cup.
Nightmare Season- Tan’s experiment fails in similar fashion to QPR.
Manager- Alan Pardew (4th Season)
2012/13 Finish- 16th Place
Key Player- Yohan Cabaye
The Frenchman will be charged with heading the struggling Newcastle attack.
Key Addition- Loic Remy
ST QPR: The departure of Demba Ba to Chelsea hurt the Magpies. This left Papiss Cisse the prime striker in a system not particularly tailored to his playing ability. Remy will provide much needed depth to Newcastle.
Remy, Gutierrez, Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Tiote, Sissoko, Stanton, Debuchy, Coloccini, Taylor, Krul
2013/14 Season Projection
Newcastle United came five points from relegation last season due to a multitude of issues. Ben Arfa’s injury and Demba Ba’s transfer hurt Newcastle’s attack last year. Barring a repeat of the unusually high numbers of injuries suffered last year, Newcastle should hope to climb upwards.
Dream Season- Newcastle will climb upwards towards mid table while Remy rejuvenates the Magpie attack. Newcastle will also look to finish above rivals Sunderland.
Nightmare Season- Injuries and stubborn managerial strategies plague the 2013/14 campaign. Newcastle is relegated.
Manager- Steve Bruce (2nd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 2nd in Championship
Key Addition- Allan McGregor
Starter for Scotland’s international side, McGregor will command the Tiger’s back line this year.
Key Player- El Mohamady
He was named Hull City’s player of the season last year and will look to provide another award winning season.
Graham, Karen, Quinn, Evans, El Mohamady, Meyler, Brady, Chester, Davies, Figueroa, McGregor
Hull City will likely be relegated. They lack the striking capabilities necessary to stay afloat in the Premier League. Steve Bruce finds himself in a similar position to his tenure at Birmingham City where he won promotion.
Dream Season- Simply surviving in the Premier League this season would be wonderful for Hull. Afterwards, they must call in players from loans and use funds to reinforce their thin team.
Manager- Mark Hughes (1st Season)
2012/13 Finish- 13th
Key Player- Ryan Shawcross
The young captain encompasses the Stoke brutality and is the centerpiece of their tough defense.
Crouch, Etherington, Walters, Whelan, Adam, N’Zoni, Pieters, Huth, Shawcross, Shotton, Begovic
Stoke managed to hold onto sought after talents Ryan Shawcross and Asmir Begovic during the transfer window. However, Stoke will spend another season fighting relegation. The Potters moved on from long time manager Tony Pulis to QPR’s former manager Mark Hughes. Hughes will likely bring with him, a new style of play shifting from Pulis’ defensively focused system.
Dream Season- Stoke finish mid table and make another deep run into the FA Cup.
Nightmare Season- Stoke is relegated
Manager- Ian Holloway (2nd Season)
2012/13 Finish- 5th in Championship, promoted via playoff
Key Addition- Chamakh
After losing Zaha to Manchester United, Palace needed a goalscorer whom they found in Chamakh. The flashy former Gunner will need to find consistency he lacked at Arsenal to help keep Palace afloat.
Projected Starting Line-Up
Chamakh, Murray, Williams, Jedinik, Dikgacoi, Garvan, Ward, McCarthy, Delaney, Moxey, Speroni
Crystal Palace will fight with Hull or Stoke for 19th place this year. Despite an impressive signing of Campana from Sevilla, Palace is aging. Delaney (32), McCarthy (30) and two other starters turning 30 this year. Manager Ian Halloway will seek to keep the Eagles afloat in the Premier League, a task he could not accomplish at Blackpool. Survival is their only goal this year.
Dream Season- Crystal Palace remains in the Premier League for another year.
Nightmare Season- Relegated.
Daniel “Smilin’ Wanderer” Dicce joined the Sports Dojo team as a soccer analyst this season. Employed by US Soccer as a glorified waterboy, Dicce was the recipient of the 2011 Nelms Economics Prize awarded annually to a high schooler displaying any interest in Economics whatsoever… like seriously any interest.