The 2014/15 Premier League season is shaping up to be the most compelling ever, according to Chris Powell.
In the second instalment of his pre-season predictions, the Prostate Cancer UK ambassador runs the rule over those in contention for the title, and those scrapping for survival – as well as assessing the fortunes of two of his former clubs.
“This is shaping up to be a really exciting season. I think Arsenal and Chelsea recognise that there are a few other teams now such as Everton and as Spurs that are looking to get into the top four,” he said.
“Arsenal for once have made really early purchases, which they never seem to do. They’ve done it now, so I think they will be strong.
“With Chelsea, Jose Mourinho knows that last season wasn’t good enough, and he’s made some really astute purchases. Alongside Arsene Wenger getting Alexis Sanchez, Chelsea getting Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas is really a clever bit of business. It may be expensive, but they have sold a couple of players in David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku.
“Bringing Didier Drogba back will either be a masterstroke or a mistake; we will have to see on that one.”
After a title charge that was as enthralling as it was surprising last term, Liverpool must adjust to life after Luis, following controversial Uruguay star Luis Suarez's completion of a big money move to Barcelona.
Thus, the rejuvenated Reds will be a different animal this season according to Powell, who expects a Manchester United squad under new management to emerge as a superpower once more.
“Liverpool had a real big chance last year,” he said. “Suarez was just an outstanding player. We know he had his problems off the field and issues as we saw in the World Cup, but as a player he really turned last season around. He was quite sensational.
“It’s worth pointing out that they are not a one man team, though. I think they have just gone a different way now in the respect they will build a bigger squad with the Champions League returning to Anfield.
“They obviously had a really good and exciting season and Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were really good. They will have to go a different way now, so we will see how they fare.”
“After what they did last year, finishing seventh - and sadly the David Moyes managerial reign didn’t last.
“Now Louis van Gaal is looking after the business and things seem different now. The team looks different and we will see if they become the force that they want to be.”
Last, but by no means least, are champions Manchester City, who finished top of the pile for the second time in three seasons in May. And they will be there or thereabouts once more this term, according to Powell.
“Manchester City have just gone under the radar this summer,” he noted. “They have been on a pre-season tour, and have brought in two or three players, including Frank Lampard on loan, which is a really clever move.
“It will be hard to call this year, and promises to be really exciting again. City are defending their crown but someone like Manchester United, who really have been the stalwarts of the Premier League, will be a force again.
“Really you would be looking at the two Manchester clubs and, I feel, Chelsea. They know last season they made various mistakes at different times, especially against sides they were expected to beat. So I expect one of those three to be champions come May next year.”
Aside from the race for the title, there will be plenty of jostling for position in the battle for Europe, while survival will be the aim of the game for several clubs in an ever-competitive division.
Among the teams hoping to establish themselves within the elite are Leicester City, Burnley and Queens Park Rangers following their rise from the Championship last term.
It was with the Foxes that Powell wound down his playing career, and, under the tutelage of Nigel Pearson, started out on the coaching ladder.
“Nigel has made some good signings so far, even though some may be a little bit unproven in the Premier League, but they have got some talent that I think will flourish at a higher level. Most importantly, it is all about making sure they don’t come back down to the Championship. Beyond that they will be looking to move forward and progress as a side.
“Now they have got to where they would want to get to, especially after failing to crack it for a number of years. I was there when they had a heart-breaking play-off loss to Watford and before that they had a few close shaves.
“This year they will be looking to carry on from where they left off. They were quite simply the outstanding side of the Championship. They fully deserved to go up as champions.”
Burnley ran Leicester close in the second tier last season before grabbing the runners-up spot, and they will be joined with Harry Redknapp’s QPR back at football’s top table.
“Maybe Burnley can learn from the experience of what they went through last time they were in the Premier League,” added Powell.
“I think they will be exactly the same. I think they will look at Sean Dyche and help him as much as they can, but they won’t over-extend themselves like you’ve seen many teams do.
“I think they will stay within budget and hopefully they will finish 17th. That’s how they will look at it and rightly so. They shouldn’t be thinking any bigger.
“The manager and the players will enjoy the season, and then who knows? Maybe they will be a bit like Crystal Palace last season and end up staying in the Premier League.”
The main aspiration of QPR, meanwhile, is stability following their last-gasp win against Derby County at Wembley in May.
Powell continued: “This will no doubt be one of the biggest seasons they have had in recent years.
“We know financially they have had it tough so everyone knows what it meant to them winning the way they did against Derby at Wembley.
“They do have Premier League experience on and off the field with people like Rio Ferdinand, Joey Barton, Richard Dunne and Robert Green, and also off it in Harry.
“Unlike many of the Leicester and Burnley players they also know what to expect this season, so that may help them.
“But this season is huge for them, it’s huge for the future of that club and the future of a number of players that they remain in the Premier League for the next two or three seasons.”
Powell also predicted that Southampton, West Ham United and Aston Villa may also struggle this season; the trio have been afflicted with problems aplenty since the end of last term.
Having surprised many last season, Saints have lost their manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham Hotspur and a catalogue of stars have departed from St Mary’s leaving new manager Ronald Koeman with seismic voids to fill.
“I’m worried for Southampton and I’m worried for West Ham and Aston Villa,” warned Powell.
“Koeman will have knowledge of the Premier League, but it will be his first time coaching and managing in this country, so it might be hard for him to implement everything he wants.
“Hopefully they can do it if they manage to build their squad and get the right players, but it’s always tough.
“You would rather they came in as early as possible. He’s only managed to bring in a couple of players while the exodus has continued which is a real shame for them.
“They had such a sensational year last year, they will not want to fail on that; they will want to build on it. Once the squad saw Pochettino leave they recognised that they could be in problems.
“With West Ham I suppose what could go wrong has gone wrong in pre-season with Andy Carroll’s injury, the saga concerning Ravel Morrison on and off the field,” he added.
“It hasn’t been great but that doesn’t mean to say that their season will be bad. It doesn’t bode well, though, as the feeling around the club last season wasn’t great.
“Sam Allardyce, remember, was the manager that took them up and has kept them in the Premier League for two years. But I suppose the supporters rather than me will explain exactly how they feel.
“Looking at it from a manager’s point of view he’s done the job they have asked for having gone back down to the Championship and come back up the hard way.
“It’s not looking good at the moment. Let’s hope he can manage to get the team playing and winning the points and getting the results that they want.”
Villa makes up the troubled trio with the future ownership threatening to overshadow events on the field.
Chris continued: “Aston Villa are going through wholesale changes. They have brought Roy Keane in, but the club is on the verge of being sold and really it looks as if they don’t want to invest too much money because of that.
“It’s been tough. A number of players have gone out on loan and Paul Lambert’s only managed to spend £800,000 on Kieran Richardson and he’s brought Philippe Senderos and Joe Cole on frees.
“It looks like they could have a tough season again. We will have to wait and see on that one, but they haven’t really built on what they have done.”
As for the rest of the teams, Powell is looking forward to seeing if Everton continue to be upwardly mobile under Roberto Martinez, while Tottenham Hotspur, under new boss Pochettino could be an intriguing prospect.
“It will be interesting to see how Everton do after their successful year last year,” said Chris.
“Them spending £28m [on Lukaku] is unheard of, so they are obviously backing Martinez, and rightly so. If the manager does well then he needs to be backed.
“After their big spending last year, Spurs are under a new manager and will they get the best out of people like Erik Lamela and a number of players like Roberto Soldado that didn’t really do themselves justice last year. It will be interesting to see how those two teams do.
“Then we will see if Hull City and Crystal Palace can do what they did very successfully last year. And then we will see what someone like West Brom does as well.
“They just about survived last season and have made a lot of changes. Pepe Mel came and went, so we will see exactly what will happen to a side like that.”
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