Former Man City, Spurs and Liverpool man is backing Chelsea to win the title...
Monday 11 August 2014 09:43, UK
The new Premier League season is just days away - and we've been asking the Soccer Saturday boys how they think it will pan out.
As ever, the likes of Paul Merson, Phil Thompson, Matt Le Tissier and Charlie Nicholas will join Jeff Stelling on Sky Sports News on Saturday afternoons throughout the campaign to cast their eye over - and have their say on - proceedings.
But who do they reckon will be 2014/15 title winners? Who will go down? Who will be top scorer? And which players should we be looking out for?
Here are Paul Walsh’s predictions for the new season...
I reckon Chelsea. Just look at the attacking flair they have. I know Fernando Torres hasn’t been doing well but you’ve got Diego Costa up front with Didier Drogba in the background. Then, in the attacking midfield areas, there’s Willian, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Andre Schurrle and Cesc Fabregas in the mix as well. There are other names as well.
Then, at the back, they have done good business by getting a fortune for David Luiz, who Jose Mourinho never really wanted as a central defender, and getting in Kurt Zouma and Filipe Luis to add to an already solid unit. I know Jose isn’t renowned for his attacking football but with the players I’ve mentioned they will score goals and I don’t see them shipping in too many at the other end. Chelsea will compete on all fronts.
Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal complete my top four because I don’t think Man United – who I have finishing fifth, ahead of Tottenham and Everton – have strengthened enough, at least not yet, to break back in.
Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs alluded to the fact last season that United don’t have a risk-taking midfield passer and they still don’t have that player, someone like Steven Gerrard at Liverpool who pings the ball forward, short or long, and makes a difference. Ander Herrera could be that player, but after catching glimpses of United’s International Champions Cup game with Liverpool, I am still not sure what his best position is.
Plus, Louis van Gaal has to decide whether Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are good enough to play at the back for his club and, if they’re not, get one or two others in. So there are question marks over United but, of course, they could splash £100million over the next few weeks and get right back in the top-four mix.
Things are always liable to change but I look at some of the business Burnley have done, like Marvin Sordell and Lukas Jutkiewicz, and it doesn’t convince me. Aston Villa are in danger because they have hardly done anything, bar Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos and Kieran Richardson. Cole could make a difference but he has been out of sorts for some time, and while Richardson is steady, where’s he going to play? They don’t inspire.
Leicester would be my third team. Two Man United kids and a back-up ‘keeper in Ben Hamer don’t get me off my seat and I believe Leonardo Ulloa from Brighton, at £8million, is a real gamble. Will he score enough goals? I don’t think so. They are my three but I would class Villa as the most likely to get out of danger, while I don’t think Swansea, West Ham and Southampton will have easy seasons.
Southampton were an unusual case last season because they had Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, and Jay Rodriguez improving all the time and I don’t see another side like that this year who can hit the top six or seven, even for a short periods.
That said, I think Crystal Palace will do okay again under Tony Pulis, especially now he can partner Brede Hangeland with Scott Dann at the back; Hull have shelled out around £20million on the likes of Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore and got Tom Ince on a free so they should push on; and QPR will steer clear of danger.
The one team I think could make a big mark, though, is Sunderland. They finished last season really well and have had a good clear-out this summer and got some fresh impetus in. I don’t see anyone gate-crashing the big seven but Sunderland could have a sniff.
You wonder if Romelu Lukaku will have the same hunger now that he has a permanent contract at Goodison Park.
I always felt there was an uneasy truce when Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge played for Liverpool with both wanting to be the main man – and arms flailing around when one didn’t pass to the other.
With Suarez gone, Sturridge will be the central force and the guy expected to deliver and I think he will get 20+ goals in the Premier League.
I don’t think Arsenal have anyone who will get those figures and I’m not sure Costa will bang in that amount in his first year at Chelsea, while you wonder if Everton new boy Romelu Lukaku will have the same hunger now that he has a permanent contract at Goodison Park.
So it’s Sturridge for me, though, of course, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney will have a shout if United get going and Sergio Aguero will score if he stays fit.
I think Cesc Fabregas is a great signing for Chelsea. They have lot of flair, perhaps too much, in those attacking midfield spots but you would imagine Fabregas will come in behind, alongside either Ramires or Nemanja Matic and dictate things.
He played in a variety of positions at Barcelona – out wide, as a false nine – but he is at his best in the middle, as he showed for Arsenal for years. This is great business.
I do like the look of Costa as well. As I said, he has had his injury problems, didn’t have a great World Cup and might not be at his best in his first season but he has a lot of good qualities and is an upgrade on what Chelsea had in that position last year.
I always look forward to seeing what Robin van Persie will do but I think we should really keep an eye on two young English players this year. If Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stays healthy and gets in Arsenal’s team, which won’t be easy with Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez around, I think he could be very, very special. Raheem Sterling, meanwhile, is still only 19 and I think we have only seen bits of what he is truly capable of, which is really exciting considering the impact he made on Liverpool’s title challenge last year.
I agree with Charlie Nicholas in that there should less shirt pulling but I just want to see an end to cheating and diving and things like that. I want to be seeing and talking about quality football, not unsavoury things.