Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sportszilla's Premiership Preview
By Imtiaz Mussa

The 2006-2007 Premiership season starts today. Chelsea will be trying to make it three championships in a row. Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal will try to catch them. Reading, Sheffield United, and Watford have been promoted from the Championship while we bid adieu to West Brom, Birmingham City, and Sunderland.

Now instead of previewing each and every team, I thought I would just run through the major headlines of the offseason and point out some things out to keep an eye on.

Big Transfers
Michael Ballack to Chelsea
You can go ahead and say it’s not fair but just like the Yankees, Chelsea outspend everyone. Ballack’s contract was up at Bayern Munich and Chelsea brought him in with a big contract that pays him six figures a week (in British pounds). The midfielder will be expected to be a ball winner, make some nice passes, dribble, and score a few goals. Ballack is more than up to the task as he will pair up with Frank Lampard.

Andriy Shevchenko to Chelsea
Don’t worry, they had to pay AC Milan £30 million for his services. The one thing Mourinho had yet to get is a legitimate goalscorer. Serie A is considered to be a league that is predicated on defense. Shevchenko managed to score over 30 goals last season. I think Mourinho has got his man.

Michael Carrick to Manchester United
This was all about business for Tottenham Hotspur. They bought Carrick from West Ham for £2.5 million two years ago. They sold him to Manchester United for potentially £18 million. Carrick will be the best passer United have had since David Beckham. If he can stay healthy, he will be a force in United’s midfield.

Tomas Rosicky to Arsenal
American soccer fans will remember the goal he scored in the World Cup for the Czechs. Shadowed by Pavel Nedved on the international stage, Rosicky is a sensational playmaker who will look to supply Thierry Henry with plenty of assists. The Czech will replace Robert Pires who left for Spain.

Dimitar Berbatov to Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs are UEFA Cup bound this season and need some extra goalscoring punch to accompany Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane. The Bulgarian hitman is just as good at scoring goals as he is getting his teammates involved. He had a terrific preseason and Spurs hope he can carry it into the season.

Dirk Kuyt to Liverpool
In a move that happened on Friday, Liverpool signed the Dutch striker from Feyenoord for £9 million. Rafael Benitez has had trouble finding a legitimate striker ever since he let Michael Owen go to Real Madrid. With Cisse and Morientes gone, it’s up to Kuyt and fellow newcomer Craig Bellamy to pick up the scoring burden.

Big Storylines
Glazer’s Got Company
Malcom Glazer and his family are not the only ones to own both an NFL team and a Premiership team. Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner bought the team from Doug Ellis. While Glazer’s takeover was considered rather unpopular with United fans, Lerner’s purchase of the team was celebrated. Ellis fell out of favor with Villa fans and any new owner who was going to show a commitment to winning would be welcomed. Lerner hopes to get that done.

Is Sir Alex on the Hotseat?
Manchester United has not won the Premiership since 2003. They didn’t make it out of the Champions League group stages last year. They only managed to win the Carling Cup last season and had to use the first choice lineup to do so. There are many who believe that Ferguson’s time is up and that he should have retired a few years ago. The Glazers could really make their stamp on the team if they do replace Sir Alex.

Arsenal’s New Home
Say goodbye to the crappy surrounding that was Highbury (I’ve been there, it’s wasn’t a very good stadium) and say hello to the 60,000 seat Emirates Stadium. Arsenal finally has a stadium that matches their stature as one of England’s best clubs but is it possible that the players will miss their cozy surroundings? We’ll see.

Still a Busy Transfer Market
This just in, defender Khalid Boulahrouz has just joined Chelsea from Hamburg. Expect some big names to move before the September 1 deadline. Ashley Cole has been held out of the Arsenal starting lineup in today’s match because many expect a move to Chelsea to be in the works. Defender William Gallas saw the team hand Michael Ballack his number 13 jersey and the signing of Boulahrouz might seal his exit. Manchester United still wants another central midfielder and the new name is Owen Hargreaves who is apparently eager to join United from Bayern Munich. However, the German champs lost Ballack in the offseason and want to hold on to him. That may mean that Villarreal’s Marcos Senna could be Old Trafford bound. And Arsenal winger Jose Antonio Reyes may still be heading to Real Madrid after he made it clear he wants to leave London for the Spanish capital.

The New Managers
Martin O’Neill (Aston Villa)
Before Ellis sold the team to Lerner, Villa hit the jackpot by securing the services of Martin O’Neill. He was away from the game last season tending to his wife. Before that, he was the man at Celtic, leading them to SPL titles. He is an excellent motivator and will look to rejuvenate an Aston Villa team that grew tired of David O’Leary. Take this into consideration when thinking about how good O’Neill is. He was the favorite a few years ago to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s heir at Manchester United.

Gareth Southgate (Middlesbrough)
It’s a classic case of club legend becoming the manager. Southgate was a great central defender for Boro but does he really know anything about managing? He will be given a massive learning curve. There is also going to be plenty of pressure on him when you consider who he is replacing. Steve McClaren left the Riverside to become the next England manager. And boy did he have a nice debut thrashing Greece 4-0. Maybe David Beckham’s England career is really over…

Iain Dowie (Charlton Athletic)
Alan Curbishley decided he couldn’t do much more with the small budget club and left. Iain Dowie inspired Crystal Palace and brought them up to the Premiership for two seasons before they got relegated. Charlton management hopes he can do the same thing with this club.

New Teams on the Block
Reading (Won the Championship)
It’s safe to say that Reading dominated the Championship last season. They won the title by 16 points and scored 99 goals as a team. The death sentence of many promoted teams is that they don’t score enough goals. The team doesn’t have a standout goalscorer so they will have to do it as a team. It should be noted that the past two Championship winners (Norwich and Sunderland) both went straight back down after one season. Americans Marcus Hahnemann and Bobby Convey will have a big say in Reading’s survival hopes.

Sheffield United (Finished 2nd in the Championship)
Neil Warnock’s side has gained a reputation of not being very easy to beat. Without much for a goalscoring force, that could mean plenty of 0-0 draws. They didn’t sign a legit scorer in the offseason and that could spell trouble for Blades.

Watford (Finished 3rd in the Championship and won the play-off
At the start of last season, many expected Watford to be in Division One this season. Instead, Adrian Boothroyd’s side finished third and beat Leeds United in the play-off to earn their ticket back to the Premiership. They have a forward in Marlon King who scored 22 goals last season helped Watford earn promotion. They will turn to him again. Young goalkeeper Ben Foster was Watford’s starter last season and is back this season. He is technically Manchester United property but was loaned out to the club last season in hopes of him getting some experience. He did and now will play in the Premiership.

Predictions
The Premiership
20. Sheffield United
19. Watford
18. Fulham
17. Reading
16. Wigan
15. Portsmouth
14. Charlton Athletic
13. Bolton
12. Manchester City
11. Newcastle United
10. Middlesbrough
9. West Ham United
8. Aston Villa
7. Blackburn
6. Everton
5. Arsenal
4. Tottenham
3. Liverpool
2. Manchester United
1. Chelsea

The F.A. Cup
Manchester United

The Carling Cup
West Ham United

And remember, if some of the big name players get a little tired toward the end of the season, it's because of the World Cup. They didn't get enough rest so fatigue will be a factor.

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