Sunday, August 14, 2011

2011-2012 English Premier League Preview - Table and Picks

Welcome and thanks for reading down. Hopefully you've absorbed yourself in my above introduction piece, although it's far from necessary reading before you view this table and these picks; I simply put it above for formatting and visual purposes.

Green = Champions League (1st-3rd enters at the group stage, 4th enters at playoff stage)
Blue/Gray = Europa League (5th, possibly 6th and/or 7th depending on FA and Carling Cup)
Black = Mid-table
Gold = Relegation scrap (anyone projected to secure safety in the final week or two, if not the final day)
Red = Relegation (18th-20th)

2011-2012 English Premier League
Newly Relegated - Birmingham City (18th), Blackpool (19th), West Ham (20th)
Newly Promoted - Queens Park Rangers (1st in Championship), Norwich City (2nd), Swansea City (3rd, won playoff)
Last Season's Table - Manchester United/Chelsea/Manchester City/Arsenal/Tottenham Hotspur/Liverpool/Everton/Fulham/Aston Villa/Sunderland/West Bromwich Albion/Newcastle United/Stoke City/Bolton Wanderers/Blackburn Rovers/Wigan Athletic/Wolverhampton Wanderers/Birmingham City/Blackpool/West Ham

1) Manchester United - There's simply no good reason to pick against them right now. Barcelona might be the clear best team in the world but United is right there for # 2 with Real Madrid. They were nine clear of Chelsea and their City rivals last season and nothing has changed to indicate that steep of a drop. A couple of legends have retired in midfielder Paul Scholes and keeper Edwin van der Sar but the Red Devils have replaced them. It's not getting much pub, but bringing in Ashley Young for 14m (that's what I'll be using for "pounds") from Aston Villa was one of the more fantastic pieces of business this summer. Young was pretty much the only player who put in a shift game in and out for that Villa team last year and he was their star. As for the hole in net, David de Gea was brought over from Atletico Madrid for 18.5m and while he struggled in the Community Shield against City last week, that's preseason. He should be fine, United will be fine and they'll be champions once again...of England.
2) Chelsea - Just a year removed from a League title/FA Cup "double," the Blues have sacked manager Carlo Ancelotti after failing to defend either as well as a listless Champions League quarterfinal exit in April to the team who would end up taking their title a month later. Their new boss is Luis Andre de Pina Cabral e Villas-Boa. I'm going to make a concerted effort to call him by that name this season but when I slip, I'll be referring to him as Andre Villas-Boas. His name isn't the only thing bizarre about the hire. He's 33. He has exactly three years of managerial experience and one of those was back in 2000-2001 for the British Virgin Islands national team. The other two were in Portugal, first for Academica de Coimbra in 09-10 and then last year's treble winning season at Porto, taking the Liga, Portuguese Cup and Europa League. He's a wunderkid known for attractive football, which should suit him well with this side. Not much summer business went on at Stamford Bridge but it likely didn't need to. Apart from their nightmare mid-season slump, the Blues were the best team in the Premier League last season and they'll be right in the hunt this season as well. The lack of attention on the players - Villas-Boa and the teams around them will get the spotlight - should help as last year's team seemed to be dragged down by the weight of expectations at times.
3) Liverpool - The "it" team. As much of a disaster as the Roy Hodgson era was, that's how remarkable the Kenny Dalglish revival has been. The team simply found itself after the managerial switch and had they played that well under Hodgson, they would have been in the title race from the word "go." They should be this season. The Reds have somehow managed to make the sheer quantity of splashy signings that Manchester City are normally known for. After Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll came in January, now Stewart Downing for 20m, Jordan Henderson for 8m and, most notably, Charlie Adam for 8.5m have reloaded a midfield that needs the spark as Steven Gerrard winds down his career. Gerrard's still a force on his day, but injuries and age are beginning to catch up. For me, Adam's the best signing of the offseason of any team. 8.5m is an absolute steal for the man who was Kevin Durant to Blackpool's Oklahoma City Thunder. He might take this attack to a complete other level. Unfortunately, there's still a defense that isn't up to Championship par. Jose Enrique from Newcastle will help but he's a band-aid. Pepe Reina will need to be at his top form and can't afford some of the errors that cost the side dearly at times - last year's home opener against Arsenal, anyone? - if they're going to break back in to the top four. But their attack is way too good not to; it might be the best in the league.
4) Manchester City - This is lower than where most will have them but those who are picking them to do bigger and better things should remember just how much Carlos Tevez means to them. Now, whether or not he leaves, he almost assuredly won't be the same player now that his unhappiness in Manchester is public and he has Sergio Aguero waiting in the wings to step in for him. Aguero was the undisputed top signing of the summer with City paying 38m to capture him from Atletico Madrid. One of the best young players on the planet, he's very similar to another Argentine striker (who's just a year older than him, good god) that has given rivals United the same kind of fits he hopes to produce. But can Aguero live up to the Messi-hype immediately? Even if he doesn't and Tevez isn't a factor, Edin Dzeko should be able to step up to the plate. Struggling last year after he was the big striker acquired in the January window, the ex-Wolfsburg man should be more adjusted to Eastlands. But City are City and Roberto Mancini is Roberto Mancini. Until he shows he can consistently get it right in big games and until City shows they can stop the random brainfarts against weaker competition, there's a ceiling that not even Abu Dhabi money will break through. The defense is still a question mark, as is the chemistry. The good news is that they're far closer to 2nd and 3rd than 5th.
5) Arsenal - Last spring and in to summer, we watched the steady decline of Liverpool before they bottomed out in the fall and winter. Are we watching the same with Arsenal? Here's another great question - what if Robin van Persie had chipped over Steve Harper to complete his hat trick and make it 5-0? Or what if Abou Diaby never pushed Joey Barton? Because it was that absolutely stunning collapse on Tyneside on February 5 that proved to be the ultimate harbinger. Two weeks later, after a dominant win over Wolves and a shock comeback against Barcelona in the Champions League, the Gunners couldn't beat London rivals (ahahahaha) Leyton Orient in the FA Cup. A week after that came the Carling Cup collapse with Laurent Koscielny's end game nightmare costing them the silverware. Then Barca inevitably dumped them out of the CL at the Nou Camp four days before Man U did the honors in the FA Cup to leave Arsene Wenger trophyless yet again. But that's not the worst part. Wenger has done practically nothing to shore up his team's weaknesses. There are no replacements for Cesc Fabregas or Samir Nasri, two of the squad's most vital players who are heading out the door. There's no centre back or goalkeeper. The only add so far has been Gervinho, a stereotypical Wenger player right down to the fact that he spent last season in France at Lille. At best, this is treading water - which isn't and hasn't been enough for a while now.
6) Tottenham Hotspur - Well, if nothing else, they've caught up to their North London rivals. Historically the Mets to Arsenal's Yankees, they've developed a fascinating habit of coming from behind against the Gunners. At the Emirates, they improbably rallied from 2-0 down at the half to win 3-2 and then at White Hart Lane in late April, they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to snatch a draw and essentially end their rivals' title hopes. But Spurs focus this season will obviously be on themselves and preventing some of the inexplicable slips that cost them precious points last season. For example, how do you lose at home to a Wigan side that's yet to score and conceded 10 on the season just three days after you've emphatically booked your first Champions League group stage appearance in four decades? How do you get absolutely thumped at Bloomfield Road by Blackpool after winning at the San Siro against AC Milan? Maybe the answer is, "we put all our eggs in the CL basket," which: spectacular job if that was the plan as Spurs shockingly progressed to the quarterfinals before running in to Real Madrid. But a slide after that second Arsenal comeback meant no repeat Champions League place, which could be a blessing for league performance this season. Also a blessing is that Luka Modric hasn't been sold to Chelsea yet. Spurs need a pure striker in front of Rafael van der Vaart. Peter Crouch is too awkward and inconsistent while Jermain Defoe followed up a spectacular 09/10 with a dreadful 10/11. He needs to rebound or else it may be up to Roman Pavlyuchenko to step up his game.
7) Everton - 7th heaven? More like a 7th Hell for the Toffees, as they just cannot seem to be able to break in to the top six no matter what. The bigger problem is that there might be nowhere to go but down for reasons beyond the overwhelming clubs ahead of them. David Moyes has been financially strapped and shipping Steven Pienaar to Tottenham in January is the kind of shrewd economic move will hurt their chances of progression. But give Moyes credit, he's dug his heels in to the sand on the matter of Phil Jagielka to Arsenal and it will take a true Godfather offer for him to let his star centre back go. But who's going to put the ball in to the back of the net? Louis Saha is Louis Saha. When he's on form, he scores at will. Watch highlights of his four goal explosion against Blackpool on February 5 (what a day of football that was) for evidence, but he's never been and probably will never be a consistent player. The story is basically the same for Tim Cahill. Jermain Beckford started to come on at the end of last season but he's not the answer for now. The other glaring problem is staring them down right now - their form to start the season. For whatever the reason, Everton don't seem to kick it in to gear until after the new year and it's cost them dearly in the final standings the past few years. Perhaps that is the only trick to moving up the Premier League ladder but not likely.
8) Fulham - Well Mark Hughes stepped in and had a terrific season, stabilizing a club that had sunk down the table thanks to a grueling Europa League campaign that so very nearly ended in a trophy and ended up with their manager, who more or less built them up with his bare hands, leave for Liverpool. Then he inexpicably walked out and now Martin Jol, the man who was originally thought to be Roy Hodgson's replacement, steps in. This was where the Cottagers ended up last season and this is where Jol should be aiming for again. They have even less of a prayer than Everton of further progress - such is life when you play for draws - but this is a fine spot to be in and if they can sneak in to Europe again, who knows? Granted, Jol is a Dutch manager who will certainly push Fulham forward more than noted "anti-footballer" Hughes. He'll have some nice toys to play with in the form of Clint Dempsey as well as class finishing from Bobby Zamora, provided he stays fit. I'm still not sure how Mark Schwarzer's not at Arsenal yet but he remains a dominant force in net and he's got a truly spectacular centre half in Brede Hangeland leading a rock solid defense in front of him. The other key with these guys is road form - it improved last year from 1-7-11 to 3-9-7 but there was a night-and-day difference in goal differential. Fulham scored just 12 and conceded a whopping 31 away from Craven Cottage in 09/10. Under Hughes, they scored 19 and gave up only 20 on their travels. They're always going to be a rock at home for various reasons, so if they can keep grinding out results on the road, the outlook will remain bright.
9) Sunderland - Going back to the class structure thing, the Black Cats are no doubt the Manchester City of the middle class. Steve Bruce hasn't been afraid to splash the cash since he moved to Wearside, particularly at striker where he bought Darren Bent for 10m from Spurs then sold Kenwyne Jones for 8m to Stoke then bought Asamoah Gyan for 14m after the Ghanian's fantastic World Cup then sold Bent to Villa for 18m. Now he's bought Connor Wickham, an 18-year-old wunderkid from Ipswich Town for 8m. But Bruce's main focus this summer was in midfield and defense. He was one of the many who made the most of Birmingham City's financial capitulation, securing Craig Gardner and Sebastian Larsson as well as Blackpool's David Vaughan to bolster a midfield too often defined by Lee Cattermole's reckless and clumsy challenges. Then he raided the used DVD bin at Old Trafford (while returning Danny Welbeck there, a loss Wickham may have to offset) for Wes Brown and John O'Shea who might not be a fit for United anymore but should be for the Black Cats. If nothing else, their experience will prove invaluable. Granted, Bruce was able to fund all of this because of the sale of Jordan Henderson to Liverpool for a shocking 16m but with that extra cash, perhaps he should have bought a way to prevent pitiful form against weaker sides (particularly on the road, a recurring nightmare for the Mackems) and the annual mid season slump/scoring drought. Avoid both of those and this is the squad that I could see challenging for the top six.
10) West Bromwich Albion - Before we get carried away, let's remember what happened to the last West Midlands yo-yo club that came up, had a stunning first season with a midtable finish, brought Ben Foster in to start in goal the next season. Right, that's not even close to fair as going from Joe Hart to Foster like Birmingham City did is night-and-day different from the massive upgrade from Scott Carson that Foster (or just about anyone) probably will be. And if Carson really was as bad as Baggies fans claim, maybe it's these guys and not Sunderland who are the surprise outfit among the midsection. Here's what we know: Foster's a damn good keeper who can be brilliant at times (one example: Blackburn home from last season) and that Roy Hodgson is one of the best small-club managers in England, if not the whole of Europe. And the Albion got the second striker they were looking for when Reading's Shane Long, he of the 28 goals in 58 matches for club and country last season (ripped straight from Wikipedia), decided to spit in the face of recent Royals stars signing for Black Country rivals Wolves and head to Sandwell for 6.5m. If he's even half as good as he was in the Championship, he will form one of the deadliest striker partnerships in England with last year's diamond-in-the-rough Peter Odemwingie. For a side that was sixth in the league in goals scored last season (and tops outside the "upper class,") this may be the rich getting richer. The back line still needs work, conceding more than everyone except Blackpool, but a full season of Hodgson should cure that, as the defensive record improved considerably under him. As much as it hurts to say as a Wolves fan, things look great at the Hawthorns.
11) Stoke City - As entertaining as Blackpool were last year and for all the hype Norwich and especially Swansea City are getting for the attacking brand of football they're bringing to the Premier League, one can't help but wonder "why?!" when the Potters have proved that the blueprint for stabilizing Premier League success after a shock promotion is the exact opposite of what the new blood keeps trying. Stoke stunned everyone when it not only stayed up in 2008-2009, but did so comfortably with a 12th place finish on the back of dominant home form at the cauldron that is the Brittania Stadium as well as tough, physical play. Like noted above, it hasn't slipped further down than 13th and while their formula isn't exactly a secret sauce - Blackburn, Bolton and even the spring 2010 Wolves have all used bus-parking to force enough results to stay up - it's one they've perfected to the degree that it got them all the way to the FA Cup final before falling short against Manchester City. Tony Pulis is a fantastic manager and the core of Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth, Danny Higginbottam, Rory Delap and his epic throws, etc. has stayed strong and continues to beat and bloody anyone who dares cross them on a Tuesday night in Staffordshire. If Kenwyne Jones can recapture his form from his best days partnering Darren Bent at Sunderland, these guys will have a truly dangerous scoring threat for the first time since coming up. But they could suffer from the same fate Fulham did a couple years ago when the Europa League run led for a disappointing 12th place finish. Unfortunately for Stoke, they have just enough of a dearth of talent that they could be dragged in to a relegation fight if they're not careful. I'm not going to wrongfully predict one for the billionth year in a row, though.
12) Bolton Wanderers - What a curious side this is. I'll never forget when I first saw their name and thought it was some sort of cult led by this man. A lot's changed since then, most notably the fact that these guys aren't really the "blah" team in the league anymore, nor are they even one of the "blah" teams in the league. Burnley's red hot start to the 2009 season might have been the best thing to ever happen for Bolton, Owen Coyle's old home. They had just 18 points from 18 games and were 18th in the table (thanks again to Wiki for all those 18's) at the end of the year when Megson was sacked and the hunt for Coyle was on. It took all of a week to capture him and he took them to 14th while Burnley imploded and was relegated. The Clarets couldn't even get to the Championship playoff places last year while the Trotters were firmly in the Europa League hunt for most of the season before Stuart Holden went down from a horrific Jonny Evans tackle and the team went under, landing at the same position they did the year before. Because all that wasn't enough, Coyle raided his old club for Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears to shore up the left and right flanks respectively - a good thing even before Chung-Yong Lee broke his leg in preseason and won't be back until 2012. That's a huge loss in midfield for Bolton to go along with their losses at striker where Johan Elmander is off to Turkey after a quiet second half and Daniel Sturridge is back to Chelsea. Tuncay's been brought in from Stoke City to help but if you're bringing in a Stoke striker, you know you're desperate. Coyle's Coyle and so creativity and goals will happen to some degree but last year might have been Bolton's year to make its move.
13) Aston Villa - Which Premier League club has the least happy fanbase right now? Arsenal and QPR have cases but at least one is still better than 75% of the league and the other is enjoying its first top flight season in a decade and a half. And neither fired their awful manager before performing a coaching search so porous that even Kevin Anderson was blushing. Pretty much the only manager who could be less liked than Gerard Houlier would be a Birmingham City man who played cringeworthy football and had a bad habit of getting teams relegated and so Villa went out and got him. I've always been an Alex McLeish fan but his teams perennially lack pop. Of course, he's never had talent like Darren Bent and Charles N'Zogbia to work with. Bent is a top 10 striker in the Prem and when he's on form he's top 5. He underachieved after coming over from Sunderland in January but everyone underachieved to some degree during the calamity that was last spring. N'Zogbia was one of the few on the roster who didn't, mainly because he wasn't on it. He's the necessary replacement for Ashley Young after Manchester United realized just how good he was when he continued to flourish despite all the issues with team selection, chemistry, Houlier's future, etc. While the Villans were dealing with that, N'Zogbia was busy keeping Wigan up, at times practically by himself. He's yet another fantastic Wigan product that should hit his peak in Villa Park. Of course, the other wing needs a replacement as well after Liverpool got drunk and decided 20m for Stewart Downing was reasonable, but good thing Marc Albrighton's waiting in the, uh, wings. He might be in the Young Player of the Year hunt. This is a decent team that won't play up to its potential because it simply won't score enough for the fan's liking and the same poisons that propped up last term will rear their ugly heads again.
14) Wolverhampton Wanderers - We're the best and we're going unbeaten. Invincibles, baby! Okay, maybe not until next year. For now, this would be a significant step toward stability. If you keep playing with fire, eventually you're going to get burned and unless Wolves have as many or more lives than cats, they need to start making sure their future is secured before the stretch run. As much as everyone wants to heap praise on Stephen Hunt for one of the most legendary goals in club history, remember that it came in a loss and made a 3-1 game 3-2. Wolves stayed up, yes, but it was through no doing of their own despite Hunt's brilliance. Leaking three goals in the first half at home with the season on the line made it abundantly clear that reinforcements on defense are needed. Most of the problems were in the center and the defense lacked leadership with Jody Craddock's age and injuries. Enter Roger Johnson. The Birmingham City centre half was secured for 7.5m and he's not just the leader of the defense, he's the new leader of the team with Mick McCarthy giving him the captain's armband last week. Does that signal the end for previous skipper Karl Henry? He's tough, physical and puts in a shift but he simply isn't quality; nor are the fullbacks. That makes it all the more important that McCarthy made Jamie O'Hara's loan deal from Spurs permanent and made sure Matt Jarvis and Kevin Doyle stayed at Molineux. With many teams around them getting weaker, Wolves stood their ground and strengthened. Jarvis, along with Stephen Hunt, Adam Hammill (January loan from Barnsley) and Championship star Michael Kightly give Wolves one of the best sets of wingers in the league, provided Hunt and Kightly can stay healthy, which won't happen. Still, if they can play two of those guys plus O'Hara with Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher up top, that's an attack that not many outside the top 6 can rival and that can propel Wolves up the table. Home form must improve and for the love of God, beat the teams around you.
15) Norwich City - Picking all the promoted sides to go down is sort of like picking all # 1 seeds to make the Final Four. Theoretically and logically, it makes sense. In practice, it practically never happens. You have to take your shot with at least one you think can find a way to stay safe and I'm going with the Canaries this year. Arguments can certainly be made for QPR and Swansea City, particularly ones that overlap with the ones to come here, but neither has a gem of a manger quite like Paul Lambert. His first English job was at Wycombe Wanderers, a League Two side whom he took to the League Cup semifinals, beating Fulham and Charlton Athletic (then an EPL side) and drawing Chelsea en route - it was the first time in thirty years a fourth division side had made the League Cup semis. Then he had a solid year at Colchester United before beginning his second year with them in style, thrashing newly-relegated Norwich City 7-1 at Carrow Road on League One opening day. Norwich was smart enough to hire him a week after this happened and he won them the League One title before a shock 2nd in the Championship for auto promotion. They play attractive football and have a devastating 1-2 striker combination of Grant Holt, who is just a silly goal scorer with 24 two years ago and 21 last year and Steve Morison, who had 23 when Millwall went up with Norwich a couple years ago before 15 to carry a bare bones Lions outfit to the brink of the playoffs last year. Now, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake scored at will in the Championship too but Holt and Morison should play off each other well and both have a knack for scoring big goals and carrying entire teams. Anthony Pillkington, Elliott Bennett and James Vaughan are all nice signings and coupled in with a notoriously difficult home ground in Carrow Road, out in the sticks of East Anglia, these guys might find a way to stay up.
16) Newcastle United - No one saw it coming when they went down three seasons ago. Okay, it took every stroke of bad luck in the book but it happened and if they're not careful, it could happen again. They're yet another club who's crushed by the weight of financial peril and it's meant things like, "selling the heart and soul of the club to a relegated side." Inexplicably, Kevin Nolan now plays his football at Upton Park for West Ham and with Joey Barton a near certainty to follow him out of St. James Park for a multitude of reasons, the Geordies are looking like they're going to have some serious problems attacking from midfield. So they've decided to take a trick out of Arsene Wenger's playbook and go to France to get Yohan Cabaye from Lille, an unnecessary gamble when they had a rock in Nolan. There are also problems up front with Andy Carroll gone and Shola Ameobi never going to be an elite striker. Demba Ba has been brought in from West Ham to help, but he's inconsistent at best and useless at worst. The Magpies will have to be strong in defense and they should be with a brilliant defensive midfielder in Cheick Tiote, he of the goal-of-the-century to complete "The Comeback," in front of a back four that does a job well enough, although Jose Enrique will be missed. These guys are like Villa in that there's a lot of bad karma surrounding the club and its fans and so often in football, as in any sport, that can be all encompassing. Until Newcastle show any sort of thirst for spending, they continue to appear ripe for a disappointing season that might end the way their last one did.
17) Blackburn Rovers - Making it through this one while holding back on the chicken jokes will be difficult. I mean, can you blame me? But in all seriousness, the Venky's ownership group has been making puzzling moves ever since they took over. The immediate sacking of Sam Allardyce for no crime other than not being hand-picked by the new owners was immediately universally panned and as many predicted, Rovers went from a solid mid table side to a relegation dogfight. A spirited draw against a Man U team trying to win the title before the first half explosion at Molineux saved them, but now what? Surely Steve Kean won't magically become a good manager? Even if he does, his squad is bare bones. There's no prominent striker. The midfield is horrible. All that's there is Paul Robinson in goal and a solid back line, although Michel Salgado is 35 and prone to the ugly challenge and if Christopher Samba goes to Arsenal or anywhere else, the game changes and Rovers become easy relegation fodder. They might be regardless. I'm keeping them up because of their veteran core that knows to grind out results like the promoted sides might not and because I think so highly of Samba and Robinson but it might be time to stick a fork in Premier League football at Ewood Park. But hey, Leeroy Jenkins put it best - "At least I still have chicken."
18) Wigan Athletic - Come on. They HAVE to go down sometime, right? Right?!?! Wigan are the Michael Myers of the Premier League; every time you think you've killed them, they come on back to haunt you. One could run through a laundry list of results over the years that the Latics pulled out of their ass when absolutely nobody saw them coming. How about the legendary comeback to end Arsenal's title hopes a couple years ago? Or the shock victory over top of the table Chelsea in the game where Petr Cech got sent off? Or the aforementioned 1-0 stunner at Spurs after 4-0 and 6-0 losses to Blackpool and Chelsea in their first two games at home? But the one game from last term that sums Wigan up is their penultimate game. They fell behind 2-0 to West Ham at the DW in the very definition of a six pointer. But somehow they potted the last three, the final nail in the coffin coming literally at the death and the Hammers went down while Wigan kept themselves in the hunt. Then, needing a win at the Brittania on the final day, they survive a first half wiped out goal before Hugo Rodallega headed them to Premier League safety. These were their only two back to back wins all season. Absolutely improbable. So what's the secret? It might have been Charles N'Zogbia. He was everything for Roberto Martinez at times and while Hugo Rodallega is a terrific striker, he surely has always benefited from N'Zogbia's creativity. Wigan are like the 1990's Montreal Expos, creating great players and selling them off to richer clubs where they fully pan out. Tom Cleverely's also back on loan to Manchester United, which only makes a bad situation worse. The only addition to the squad thus far is David Jones, formerly of Wolves, who has a terrific left foot but lacks a right one as well as general consistency and pace. At least making Ali Al-Habsi's loan permanent is a nice boon - Al-Habsi was mostly good last season and simply wonderful at times (@Tottenham) and if absolutely nothing else, he's not Chris Kirkland. Still, it's almost impossible to see how Wigan stays up if things stay like they are. Granted, it's almost impossible to see how they've lasted since 2005.

19) Queens Park Rangers - When QPR started its surge up the Championship table, there were rumblings of their Indian owners having tons of money that they were going to throw around once they got promoted. The general sense was that Rangers would be Man City Lite and spend their way to the top of the Premier League. But now we're here and the opposite is true - the owners are frugal to the point where QPR couldn't match an offer for a goalkeeper under 1m and they let Newcastle loanee Wayne Routledge walk to promotion buddies and relegation rivals Swansea City. What? And for the imports? Jay Bothroyd is a good Championship striker but not as much in the Premier League. DJ Campbell had success at Blackpool last year but a lot of people did with Charlie Adam getting them the ball. And Kieron Dyer is chronically hurt and not even that great when healthy. At least they kept Adel Taarbt after that was looking doubtful for a time but are these moves really going to be enough to keep the team in the top flight? On paper, it doesn't look like it. Maybe Loftus Road can become a bandbox home field advantage of sorts but unless the owners open their wallets, the fanbase will go from pissed off to pissed off and in the Championship again.

20) Swansea City - If this roster were the exact same but, say, the team name were Reading or Hull City, would people be as excited about this team? Of course not. But those who are getting sucked in to the Swansea story might very well be the same as those who believed in Blackpool. The bottom line is that more often than not, going for it when you don't have the horses leads to failure over success. But that won't stop Brendan Rodgers from going for it. Danny Graham is a fantastic 3.5m signing from Watford, Rodgers' previous employer, where he popped 24 in to the back of the net last season. He's been given the # 10 shirt, meaning he'll be expected to be a focal point of the attack immediately. Helping him will be Scott Sinclair and the shrewd addition of Wayne Routledge while QPR were asleep at the wheel. And as for the defense, it's worth noting that Swansea actually had a reputation as an "anti-football" side before Rodgers showed up and their strong defenders from that time have stayed on. Throw in the Liberty Stadium being a nasty place to play even apart from the fact that it's the strangest road trip in Premier League history and more than a few travelers to Wales will return to the mothership surprised. But at the end of the day, Burnley were tiny. Blackpool were tiny. Swansea City are tiny. That's what makes it such a great story, but it also wouldn't be a great story if success was easy to come by. For the sake of the league I'd love to be wrong but like with Blackpool, I fear I ultimately won't be when it's all said and done.

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