Neil Warnock: Chelsea will win it this time
What I've Learned This Week: It's a fool's game, but here are my predictions for this season of shocks
Saturday 16 August 2008
1 The same top four, but Chelsea to win it this time
We've already been back at work for a week in the Championship but I guess for a lot of you the season really kicks off today when the Premier League returns. I'm looking forward myself to getting back into the swing of things, turning on Match of the Day to watch everybody trying to compete with the top four. Unfortunately, I still can't see anybody actually breaking into it, not even Tottenham despite spending a lot of money again.
I think Chelsea will be champions this year. When you look back only a missed penalty and one game in the league cost them a double, despite all their problems, and I just can't see everything going right for Manchester United like it did last year. Can Cristiano Ronaldo get 40-odd goals again. Can Chelsea have as many injuries affecting crucial players?
Chelsea will also get a lift from a new manager. I like the look of Phil Scolari, he's an old campaigner, one of us. I still think Arsenal and Manchester United will be the teams to watch for purists, but Chelsea will grind out results, albeit aiming for a bit more flair.
Obviously, Liverpool have spent some money, but I can't see them winning the title. I don't even think they will be in the top three. I am a massive Robbie Keane fan but, however much you pay for strikers, there are no guarantees for strike partnerships. Playing him there instead of Gerrard may also make them more susceptible defensively, more open. In the last couple of years, while not exciting, they have ground out results, especially in Europe, and that might be more difficult. But Liverpool fans will enjoy the extra forward play he brings to the team.
That said, I believe Arsenal will come third. They get written off all the time but I still think they will have a good season. Arsène Wenger needs a couple of players, but I'm looking forward to watching them again.
I think Spurs and Villa will have the best squads outside of the top four and will expect to do well. But the Gareth Barry situation will not have helped Villa, whichever way it goes, and Spurs have lost a key player in Keane, and may yet lose another in Dimitar Berbatov.
Of the other hopefuls, Everton surpassed every expectation last year but I can't see them threatening the top four with David Moyes' options limited by the new stadium difficulties. They will do well to finish anywhere near the top six, as will Portsmouth. I know Harry Redknapp has spent, but the Uefa Cup will be a distraction. At Manchester City, the goings-on behind the scenes seem to be catching the eye. I had a wry smile when I heard Richard Scudamore making threats about Thaksin Shinawatra. I bet that frightened the Thai chairman: he'll be quivering in his boots. Blackburn will do well in Paul Ince's first season to be mid-table. As a club they must accept that won't be a bad result this year.
2 Stoke and Hull are doomed, and I should know...
Down at the bottom, I think Stoke and Hull look nailed on for relegation. It's like when we got promoted at Sheffield United. They will want to prove the critics wrong and, if everything was fair and square, we probably would have done so, so it is possible. We got 38 points, better than last season's bottom five.
I think Stoke will find it tough because the way they play it is difficult against the top teams. If you don't keep possession, they have the quality to pick you off. Unlike Hull I do think they will, on their day, enjoy some results.
If I was asked to give advice to Phil Brown and Tony Pulis, the managers of Stoke and Hull, it would be to emphasise how they need to be able to pick themselves up when the club is down. There will be periods, sometimes long ones, when the club goes flat as the team can't get a result. How they respond will depend on how positive the manager is.
West Bromwich were the best footballing team in last year's Championship and have the best chance to survive, but I still think they will be delighted to do so. I can't see Fulham struggling, not after their miracle escape and with a fit Jimmy Bullard. It will be interesting to see how Bobby Zamora does. I've never quite rated him. From the outside you always think there's much more to come, but you never quite see it. But I like Andrew Johnson and they may come off as a pairing.
I can't see Sunderland struggling, but it could be a long season for Middlesbrough. Yet whenever I think "that's them done for", they pick up two or three results.
Wigan have to hope Emile Heskey keeps fit, but, with their squad, they should survive. I think Kevin Davies does a fantastic job for Bolton. He's the most underrated player in the country and he's vital to their survival. Even with him, it will be tough.
3 Newcastle are still short. Well short
Which leaves Newcastle. What can anybody say about them? I think Kevin Keegan overcame tremendous obstacles last season, and kept his positivity with all the media surrounding him – the majority of them, I'm sure, hoping he'd fail. He showed a lot of maturity and I sincerely hope he gets the three or four players he needs to make them into a half-decent team.
4 Talking about good behaviour is one thing. Let's see
I'm sure everybody realises, in every league, that there is a new mood abroad encouraging respect towards referees. But preaching good behaviour is one thing, showing it is another. We had a long chat pre-season with Steve Bennett, the Premier League referee, about what was expected. Then in our first game there was a nasty tackle from a Watford player, which led to a big melee. Now we are being charged by the Football Association with failing to control our players. That's a good start. The only way around is that, if clubs get fined, the players pay it. I must add that the two managers never moved an inch from our technical area, which delighted the fourth official.
5 Remember her name. You heard it here first
We went round Covent Garden last weekend. Is it me, or does everyone feel obliged to buy every CD buskers are playing there? They are so good. We saw a singer who was brilliant, Seija Knight, and I'm playing her CD now.
6 Grim up North? That's as daft as Blatter
I see some think tank has suggested we abandon some northern cities and move everybody down South. Well, I've enjoyed living in London but I have to say these reports are obviously written by people who don't have a clue about what they are talking about. It was something I'd expect Sepp Blatter to say. You only have to go 20 minutes from most northern cities and you are in the most beautiful places. There's something to be said for having quality of life.
Warnock’s four smartest summer signings
EL HADJI DIOUF
He’s a shrewd signing, especially for £2.5m. He’s unpredictable, he will be booedat away grounds, and he will need to keep his discipline with the new crackdown,but if you get him onside he can do things on the ball and create. I am sure Roy Keane can cope with him.
He’s an exciting player, one who is worth paying to watch. But I’m sureChelsea will soon knock that out of him!
I’m pleased he has gone to a club where he will play every week. He’s a smashing lad, very genuine, who gives it his all. He will put people under pressure with his energy, which is something Fulham maybe have not done.
I love him as a player, though I’m not convinced he and Fernando Torres will score 20-odd goals each. The Liverpool fans will enjoy him... I’m not sure about the manager
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