Posts Tagged ‘Soccer’


The greatest sporting event is upon us once again. Yes, it’s a World Cup year, and yes you should care about it. Even if the U.S. are not taking part. Though it will be one of the oddest tournaments in recent memory, if not ever. As many traditional powerhouse nations like Italy and the Netherlands missed out on qualifying. Other countries most tabbed as sure qualifiers like Chile and the aforementioned Americans will not be taking part. But there will be World Cup debutants like Iceland and Panama, along with countries breaking long qualifying droughts like Egypt and Peru. One thing is for certain, for the next month or so the vast majority of the world will be on the edge of their seat watching the beautiful game.

I will try to be as brief as possible with my predictions, going group by group. With 32 teams it will still be wordy, so be forewarned. I will give a brief rundown of every team, staring with the group winner and working down the table. Serious Contenders: Germany, Brazil, Spain, France. Dark Horse pick: Croatia.

Group A

This is by far the easiest group, possibly in World Cup history. Three joke teams with one talented team. But even that talented team still won’t be serious contenders to win the tournament. As hosts Russia automatically get slotted in to Group A, and with no other European team drawn into the group (each group can have at max 2 Europeans nations), you wind up with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay all in a group together. Once you see the other groups it will become obvious why this group is a joke. And it also lends credence to conspiracy theorists and FIFA haters that Russia somehow finagled things.

Uruguay

Without doubt the best team in this group, they should take all 9 points with ease. Their only stumbling block will be Egypt, who I wouldn’t be surprised to see steal a point by earning a draw. They’re a technically gifted team but also play a physical (and arguably dirty) game, the latter of which can lead to disaster later in the tournament.

Egypt

The pharaohs have a bonafide star in Mohammed Salah, but after him there is literally nobody. It will take more than one star player to lift the trophy at the end. And if Egypt were in any other group I doubt I would have them advancing to the knockout rounds.

Russia

Even being drawn into this group won’t help Russia save face. The only point(s) they will be able to claim will be against Saudi Arabia. I have them beating the Saudis, but I could see them playing out an ugly draw. Which is where goal differential comes into play, and seeing as the Russians have a more experienced and downright talented squad, I see them conceding fewer goals that the Saudis. It also help that in Saudi Arabia’s last three appearances in the World Cup they’ve scored a total of four goals while conceding 26, thanks in large part to an 8-0 shellacking at the hands of the Germans 8-0 back in 2002.

Saudi Arabia

Without a doubt one of the worst teams in the tournament. They qualified thanks in large part to being in one of the weaker confederations; Asia. And further benefit from oil money being pumped into their program. They have no star players, and none that play anywhere in Europe let alone any of the top five leagues.  It’s no wonder they’re the lowest ranked team in the tournament (by FIFA rankings).

 

Group B

This is where the tournament actually starts to take shape. It has arguably the best matchup in the entire tournament, and possibly the best group stage fixture of all time. The group features Spain, reigning European champions Portugal, Morocco and Iran.

Spain

Up until they finally won the World Cup back in 2010, they were one of the perennial disappointments in international football. You could pretty much set your watch to it; Spain will not lift the trophy at the end despite having one of the most talented squads in the world. La Roja has reloaded in recent years, getting younger in the process while still retaining an important veteran presence. They will easily lift make it out of the group, and their math against Portugal will be a key early test for them to keep them honest and on their toes. And winning this group is important, because it sets you up on the more favorable side of the bracket for the knockout rounds should the tournament go as expected.

Portugal

The Portuguese are the prototype for relying on one star player and the pitfalls and windfalls in can bring. As Cristiano Ronaldo gets older, the Portuguese National Team has had to change tactics, playing a more defensive game with a potent counter attack. Notice how I said potent instead of deadly? For whatever reason the Portuguese either click or don’t click while wearing their national team kit. It’s either a beautiful display of attacking prowess or a total disaster. Their goalkeeping has also left a lot to be desired. And it’s for these reasons I have them finishing second in the group.

Morocco

Having a stout defense can only take you so far in this game. Playing the likes of Spain, they will eventually break you down. It’s impressive that Morocco did not concede a single goal during qualifying, but on the other hand they lack the offensive firepower to advance to the knockout round.

Iran

Iran is a similar side to Morocco, but their defense is not as well organized nor capable. While they rely on their defense to keep them in games as a last resort, playing for a draw; Morocco’s defense is their strength. And that ultimately will be the difference maker. It also helps that Morocco has slightly better attacking threats and options than Iran.

 

Group C

Another of the weaker groups, but not as big a joke as Group A, Group C features France, Australia, Peru and Denmark. There are two potential trap games here for both France and Denmark, as they each have their eyes on their head to head matchup on the final math day for their group.

France

France should win this group, but it won’t be as easy as everyone thinks. Denmark poses a threat, as does Peru. I don’t think Peru will beat France, but they may give them a run for their money. And in France has one of their typical bad days that they are prone to, Peru might be able to steal a point.

Denmark

The Danes have solid goalkeeping, a star attacking player in Christian Ericksen and a strong leader in the back line in Simon Kjaer. This should be enough to see them through to the knockout round. Aside from France, Peru will be their toughest test, and it will be a good benchmark game have to face them in their opening game.

Peru

One of the surprise qualifiers for this edition of the World Cup, Peru will be one of the teams just happy to be here. They ended a 36 year drought, thanks in large part to a topsy turvy CONMEBOL qualifying cycle. They have a good mix of veteran and young talent, but it won’t be enough to get past either France nor Denmark in the end.

Australia

The socceroos switched allegiances to the Asian Federation from Oceania to have an easier and more direct route to qualifying for the World Cup. But you wouldn’t know it by this qualifying cycle. They had to go through not one, but two, two-legged home-away playoffs just to qualify for the World Cup. A squad with enough talent to avoid this arduous path to the World Cup, saying the Aussies are underachieving right now is an understatement. The best Australia can hope for in this tournament is being a thorn in everyone else’s sides.

 

Group D

What I feel is the toughest group in the tournament; it features four teams that could all legitimately advance to the knockout round. Argentina are perennial favorites to win the tournament, Croatia is loaded with talent but has underlying turmoil as a potential distraction,  Iceland is capable of shocking the world, again, and Nigeria can claim a few scalps is you rest on your laurels.

Argentina

As the tournament draws closer, I’ve been shocked to see more than one person make the bold predict that Argentina will not make it out of the group stage. They had a shaky qualification, but with Lionel Messi you can never be counted out. It also doesn’t hurt to have Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala,

Croatia

I went back and forth as to who finishes second in this group, pretty much a tossup between Croatia and Iceland. I knew Iceland would have a strong performance in the Euros two summers ago, but I don’t think anyone thought they would make it to the quarterfinal. While Iceland does every well, Croatia is capable of jaw dropping greatness. And that will be the difference in this group. Croatia star players, and there are many of them, will take over games. My only doubt is whether or not the political and social turmoil that reared its ugly head at the most recent Euros will make another appearance.

Iceland

Sadly I don’t think Iceland will be able to duplicate the magic from two years ago. Their squad is older (and some were already old at the Euros), they face stiffer competition in the group stage this go round and they won’t be able to take anyone by surprise anymore. Though if I were to pick one dark horse, it would be Iceland. If every player and every national team put in as much effort and dedication  while playing for their respective national teams as the Icelandic players do, the sport would be far better for it.

Nigeria

No strangers to conflict, the Super Eagles played the previous World Cup under protest with their own Federation over a pay dispute. They’re one of the better African sides in the tournament but that won’t pay dividends in the end. Nigeria frankly does not put in consistent enough performances to be a real threat of advancing to the knockout round.

 

Group E

One of the more intriguing groups in this edition of the World Cup, Group E features Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia. A well balanced group, it should provide for some great games. It has a perennial powerhouse, perennial overrated underachiever, surprise underdog and a wild card.

Brazil

Brazil is already dangerous enough without a chip on their shoulder, and now they have something to prove after their humiliating defeat at home against Germany in the last World Cup. They seem to have somewhat corrected their one area of weakness; their defensive third. But with that said it’s still not a world class defense. So the Brazilians are still vulnerable, but won’t be dethroned from this group.

Switzerland

The Swiss are one of the teams in world football that are seemingly always ranked higher than most feel they should be. They did have an impressive qualifying campaign, where they didn’t lose a single game but still somehow didn’t win their group and clinch automatic qualification. But they don’t do any one thing great, and they’re not disciplined, but they still manage to get results. It’s a formula that could catch up to them, but not in this group. Had Switzerland been drawn into a different group in this World Cup, things might be different for them.

Serbia

Serbia qualified directly for the World Cup after winning a wild European group. They have a venerable defense, potent midfield and more than capable strikers who all add up to a well rounded team. And that is key. A team. It’s one of the things that has made the Germans so successful. My only area of concerns for the Serbs is their goalkeepers.

Costa Rica

After the Costa Ricans’ head turning performance in the last World Cup, many people have them as their dark horse to advance past the group stage. I just don’t see it happening. I think the stars aligned for Los Ticos last time and it will be a struggle for them in 2018.

 

Group F

Pegged as the group of death by the American media, it is in actuality far from it. The American media loves to look for drama even if there isn’t any. And with the U.S. not in the tournament, their defacto story line is Mexico. Germany is a shoe in to advance to the knockout round. But after that it is anyone’s guess. I could see any of Mexico, Sweden or South Korea advancing should things go just right for the any of the trio.

Germany

Die Mannschaft has only lost one game in group stage play in their entire history at the World Cup. And even that was not as it seems, as if not for a late missed penalty from Lukas Podolski the Germans would have come back to earn a draw with Serbia instead of a bitter defeat. They are the most well rounded team in the entire tournament, and arguably their few areas of weakness;  a lack of strikers and who will replace veteran right back Philip Lahm after his retirement from international football were both addressed with relative ease with young stars in the making Timo Werner and Joshua Kimmich.

Mexico

I’m going with Mexico to finish second in Group F frankly because Sweden and South Korea and not good enough. It’s not that Mexico is a particularly talented side; they’re just the least rotten of the eggs in the fridge.

Sweden

Let me put it this way; without Zlatan there is no Sweden. They were literally lucky just to qualify for the tournament, beating Italy in the two-legged playoffs due to an own goal. But thanks to a squad full of European based players, they will edge out South Korea to not finish dead last in the group

South Korea

They just lack the caliber of players needed to be serious contenders in a tournament of this stature.

 

Group G

Yet another group that offers no real competition, at least on paper. Any group that features England can be turned on its head. But with Belgium, it shouldn’t go too awry. The likes of Panama and Tunisia should make things easy though. Again, at least on paper.

Belgium

Blessed with yet another golden generation (how you can have more than one is beyond me), the Belgians are poised to make another deep run in the tournament. They have arguably the most talented squad top to bottom, position to position in the entire tournament. The only issue is will they be able to gel and put egos aside for the greater good.

England

If not for the three lions’ history of underachieving I wouldn’t be going out on a limb here. But given the teams in this group, I feel comfortable, not confident, that England will advance past the group stage. They have loads of talent at their disposal, it’s just a matter of focusing all that talent together. In a way is sort of destiny that Belgium and England be placed in a group together; the two nations synonymous of late with lots of great individuals that just can’t seem to mesh into a great team.

Tunisia

Tunisia would finish in last place in this group if Panama did not get drawn in as well. Tunisia has just enough talent, and they play well as a team, to finish ahead of Panama. I can see them causing England fits, and beating Panama, but other than that they won’t amount to much

Panama

Undoubtedly the biggest benefactor of the U.S. falling flat on their face, Panama makes their World Cup debut. But that is all they will get. They will be lucky to score a goal.

 

Group H

The final group does offer some intrigue. Will Poland amount to anything? Can Sadio Mane propel Senegal into the knockout round? Can Colombia repeat or even improve upon their 2014 performance?

Colombia

I’m going with Colombia to top the group mainly because they have an even better squad than they did in 2014. A less so because I just can’t trust Poland. They gained the system in order to get an easier draw in both qualifying and the World Cup itself. Plus they had high hopes for the Euros with pretty much the same squad and struggled where they shouldn’t have. Having Radamel Falcao at their disposal will be a difference maker for Colombia.

Poland

Poland again is their own worst enemy. They have one of the best strikers in the world, a capable keeper, decent midfield but a questionable defense with the absence of injured Kamil Glik. Another example of a team that can rely too heavily on one key player (Robert Lewandowski), it’s a matter of can the rest of the team reliably perform in order to take enough pressure off Lewandowski so he can contribute rather than be marked so heavily he’s almost nonexistent. A second place finish in this group puts the Poles on the tougher side of the bracket, where they wil flounder.

Senegal

With one of the more well rounded squads of all the African teams, they would be poised for a relatively deep run; had they not been drawn into this group. Ultimately they don’t have the talent in enough spots on the pitch in order to compete with the likes of Colombia and Poland.

Japan

Japan has made strides at the domestic level in terms of technical ability, IQ and organization. But they’re still lacking that key ingredient to succeed on the international stage. They’re a nation that is grooming their youth players the right way, but for the current generation it’s too little too late. Japan just lacks the talent in all areas to be able to compete in this group.

 

Knockout Rounds – Round of 16

Uruguay (1A) vs. Portugal (2B)

I’m tabbing Uruguay to get past Portugal, as Portugal is too one dimensional to go any further. Take away Ronaldo and you beat Portugal. And I don’t think Portugal’s recent mentality shift of circling the wagons in an attempt to outlast their opponents when facing stiffer competition will work against Uruguay.

France (1C) vs. Croatia (2D)

This is primed for one of the best matches in the entire tournament. It will be France’s first real test, and hopefully for Le Bleu they will have everything figured out by now and will be firing on all cylinders. Because if not Croatia will have a field day. But as it stands I have France beating Croatia by 1 goal, 3-2.

Brazil (1E) vs. Mexico (2F)

This will be a rough and tumble game. Whoever scores first will be pummeled either until the end of the game or whenever the trailing teams scores; whichever comes first. It’s also interesting to see two teams with a physical style clash, but it’s not entertaining. Brazil should win this game by multiple goals, but will come out worse for wear on the other end.

Belgium (1G vs. Poland (2H)

The Belgians will win this game on the simple fact that they are more well rounded. Poland is just too overmatched. They won’t be able to penetrate Belgium’s defense, will grow frustrated by it and change tactics prematurely to their further detriment. Belgium will win 4-1 or by some margin of 3.

Spain 1B vs. Egypt (2A)

Egypt is in for real trouble here. They won’t be able to hang with Spain. So it’s just a matter of if Spain goes full throttle from the opening whistle to see how bad the score line is. At some point they should take their foot off the gas, but by that point it could already be a three goal deficit for Egypt to overcome. I could see Mo Salah sneaking one past David De Gea as a consolation for the Egyptians.

Argentina (1D) vs. Denmark (2C)

This is where Denmark becomes overmatched. Though it will be more competitive than people think, mainly because Argentina won’t capitalize on all their chances, not because of anything Denmark does. It will be a one goal difference in the end, with Argentina coming out victors.

Germany (1F) vs. Switzerland (2E)

The Germans will make quick work of the Swiss, exploiting their midfield (in particular Granit Xhaka) to open a relatively early lead that will have the Swiss on their heels the rest of the match. To the point where they will be forced to come at the Germans in attack, which will only further the Germans stranglehold on the match by leaving even larger holes for them pick apart.

Colombia (1H) vs. England (2G)

This is a tricky pick. Colombia will try to play a physical game, but it won’t work against the English as the bulk of them play in the Premier League; a fast paced and physical league. When in attack the Colombians will take too long on the ball, which also plays into England’s hands. This will either be a high scoring affair or a dramatic one goal win for whoever is victorious. With all that said, I am going with England to win because too many things play into their favor. My gut also says England is the pick to make.

 

Quarterfinals

Uruguay vs. France

France is the far superior team in the matchup. Uruguay coasted up until now, but their luck runs out here.

Brazil vs. Belgium

This is where Belgium woes catch up to them. Brazil will toy with them and frustrate them into making mistakes. And for good measure Brazil will be physical off the ball, forcing Belgium to lose possession. Which will only further frustrate the Belgians, and have them fall further down the slippery slope. Brazil wins by two goals.

Spain vs. Argentina

What will likely be the most anticipated and watch game in the entire tournament should this play out as I predict, Spain will sneak by Argentina by one goal. Messi will score in what will in all likelihood be his swan song with the national team, but it won’t be enough to keep Spain from advancing as they will carve open the Argentine defense late in the game to take back the lead.

Germany vs. England

In one of the classic matchups in international football, Germany will give England a clinic on how to operate as a team with their eyes on the prize. Germany will once again exploit holes, this time in England’s back line; playing balls in from the wing, long balls over the top and one two combinations that carve a path through England’s center backs. England will hang in there, but ultimately won’t have enough to get past the reigning World Champs.

 

Semi-finals

Brazil vs. France

I have an inkling this game might go to a shootout. France’s defense and most importantly; their goalkeepers Hugo Lloris, whill frustrate the Brazilians. It will get to the point where Brazil will commit too many men forward and France will execute a deadly counter attack to score. This may happen more than once throughout the course of the match. But ultimately Brazil will settle down, and depending on how things go figure things out at half time to assert their dominance on the game, take it by the horns and win.

Germany vs. Spain

An interesting matchup, it will feature youth and cunning vs. discipline and efficiency. Ultimately Germany will win, beating Spain at their own game (or at least from a few years ago). The Germans are deadly in all facets of the game; they can press, they can counter attack, they play a patient possession game and they’re organized in defense. They’re also flexible and have the versatility to play multiple formations throughout the course of a single game. In the end all this will overwhelm the younger players in Spain’s squad, and all it takes is one weak link and the Germans will not only find it, but exploit it.

 

Third Place Game

France vs. Spain

Spain will win what both team will feel is a consolation medal. Neither wants to play this game, but taking into account Spain has more younger players who might be driven to put in a strong performance in order to secure their spot going forward, they will edge out the French. Who at this point have turned off.

 

Final

Brazil vs. Germany

For anyone expecting a repeat performance from 2014, think again. Brazil will be more organized in defense, and won’t concede five goals before half time. They will ultimately lose though, as the Germans tend to get better as tournaments go on. And the fact they that faced tougher and tougher competition as it went on does not bode well for the Brazilians. Germany will win by two goals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So now that the summer transfer window has closed, it’s time to revamp my predictions for the 2017/18 season. Last year I didn’t make any changes, but this year it’s a different story. I’m moving some pieces around, mainly Arsenal, who I’m dropping two spots to 7th place. I initially had them in 5th, but so much has gone wrong with them only three weeks into the season it’s mind boggling.

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Arsenal will struggle this season, but what should surprise everyone is just how bad they actually are. It’s ineptitude both on the field and behind the scenes. Arsenal is no stranger to bungling the transfer market, but this summer window took that to new, epic levels. There appeared to be a mass exodus at the Emirates, as more players wanted out than in. It was no secret Alexis Sanchez wanted out, but as the summer wore on, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain turned down a 180,000 a week contract to remain at Arsenal and instead accepted less money just to get out of dodge and sign with Liverpool. Lucas Perez, who never really settled in with the Gunners, wanted back to his former club in Spain. Shkrodran Mustafi wanted to abandon ship after only one season in North London as well, hoping to escape to Inter Milan. Joel Campbell wanted to be sold rather than be loaned out, yet again. Kieran Gibbs smartly waited for a move to West Bromich Albion instead of heading off to Watford. Jack Wilshere was even weighing his option over a permanent move away from Arsenal. You know things are bad at Arsenal when academy players are shoving to be first out the exit door.

And all that is on top of not unloading dead weight like Mathieu Debuchy, who clearly does not feature in Arsene Wenger’s plans yet remains at Arsenal. Wenger is so daft he’d rather pay Debuchy to not play than just release him from his contract. In all Arsenal sold 10 players, and loaned out a further nine. There will surely be turmoil at the Emirates, it just depends on how much and how big of an impact it has on their performance.

While Arsenal is stagnant, others made significant improvements in the closing days of the transfer window. Tottenham finally made some signings, landing a suitable (and arguably better) replacement for Kyle Walker and not only added more striker depth, but stealing a player away from Chelsea. Everton also finalized their long speculated deal with former Swansea star Gylfi Sigurdsson .

I’m not changing my pick to win the league, Manchester City, nor having Chelsea fall out of my originally predicted second place finish, but I am rearranging the next few places in the table. I originally had Tottenham in third and Manchester United in fourth, but I’m flip flopping them.

Many people are high on United after their dominant start to the season, but I just can’t see them being disciplined enough to maintain that pace the entire season. I foresee some hiccups for United along the way that will see them drop crucial points to mount a title charge, or even take over the second spot from Chelsea. It will be a close race for the second spot, but I see Chelsea holding on by a few points. I could see it being as close as 3 points, if not less.

Tottenham’s struggles at Wembley were well publicized heading into this season, and I brought up those concerns in my preview for Spurs. It was one of the reasons I had them finish lower than they did last season. Even after the addition of Serge Aurier at right back and Fernando Llorente up top, it’s not enough to have them hang with both Manchester clubs and Chelsea. I have them moving down from my original predicted finish of third, to fourth place.

I already touched on Arsenal, who I originally had in fifth place. But after the whipping they suffered at the hands of Liverpool, and how they not only struggled to beat Leicester, but lost away at Stoke yet again, I fear it will be worse than the “same old Arsenal.” Liverpool, who I had in 6th, moves up to 5th place in my updated predictions post deadline day. Despite their attacking prowess, Jurgen Klopp still didn’t improve his defense. Holding on to Philippe Coutinho despite multiple offers close to 200 million, shows their intentions to the rest of the league.

You may be asking yourselves, who is in 6th place since you dropped Arsenal down to 7th and bumped up Liverpool to 5th. Well, I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and tab Everton for that 6th position. Yes, despite how much cash they flashed in the transfer market, their goal differential is in the negatives. But it will take time for the new squad to gel. Everton will be the biggest beneficiaries of Arsenal being in shambles.

I feel a whole lot more comfortable about having West Brom in 8th place. They added lots of key pieces in the closing days of the summer window. The Baggies added more veteran leadership with Gareth Barry, and taking Polish international Grzegorz Krychowiak on loan was a smart move by Tony Pulis. They also managed to keep Jonny Evans. Should I go out further on that limb and say if Arsenal continue their dreadful form that West Brom would be keen to leap frog them into 7th place?

Huddersfield Town is the biggest surprise of the season so far, but I’m still not moving them out of the relegation zone, nor am I dropping Brighton & Hove down into it based on their lackluster performances. I’m not going to make knee jerk reactions based on only three games. Brighton gets back their talisman, Anthony Knockaert, who was the Championship Player of the Year last season. Brighton also added Davy Propper, who just scored two crucial goals for the Dutch in World Cup qualifiers.  Would it surprise me if Huddersfield avoids the drop and Brighton goes down instead? No. But like I said, I’m going to stick to my guns here.

Looking at other relegation predictions by bonafide pundits, I was shocked not to see more mentions of Crystal Palace. They have been dreadful so far his season, not scoring a single goal while conceding six. West Ham may have a worse goal differential, but at least they have scored. I just can’t see West Ham being this pitiful the entire season. If they do, Slaven Bilic, who is already on the hot seat, will surely be sacked. And whoever takes over the Hammers could be the boost they sorely need.

Watford is another surprise performer in this early stage of the season. But considering they only managed a draw with Brighton, I’m still tabbing them for relegation. But on a bright note, they put on an admirable performance against Liverpool where they walked away with what could be a crucial point. I threw Swansea City into the relegation hat, but they managed to pull off a miracle in the transfer market by adding Renato Sanches on loan and bringing back striker Wilfried Bony, which will help them tremendously in their fight to remain in the top flight. Many people had Burnley going down, especially after selling their top striker to Watford of all clubs, but I wasn’t so hasty. They managed to replace Andre Gray with two strikers; not only stealing a striker from Huddersfield, but also managing to snatch the signature of Championship top scorer Chris Wood from other EPL clubs he was linked with.

Other than the movers around the top of the table, I foresee everything remaining the same as my original predictions. So here is a brief rundown of my updated predications in order of finish (at least for the top half):Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, West Brom, Bournemouth, Southampton. Bottom half (in no particular order): Leicester, Stoke, Burnley, West Ham, Newcastle, Swansea, Brighton. Relegation (in no particular order): Huddersfield, Watford, Crystal Palace.

 


After my rather successful predictions last year, I decided to do the obligatory English Premier League (EPL) predictions for the 2017/18 season. I will start out by saying this year will be more difficult to predict, as with all of the top teams playing in Europe, they will all have a somewhat equally rigorous schedule. The relegation fodder is also tougher this year, as the newly promoted clubs are better than last year’s and some of the clubs that have been in the top tier of English football for a handful of seasons now have gotten worse instead of better. Just like last like last year, every club’s first mention and where the meat of the prediction begins will be in bold to make it easier to find a particular area of interest.

I will start with the clubs I am tabbing for relegation. They are (in no particular order) Watford, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town. I am also throwing Brighton & Hove Albion, Swansea City and Burnley into the relegation mix too. I’m fairly confident both Watford and Palace will go down, but the final team I’m not completely sold on. I lean more towards Huddersfield because their squad is not as deep as Brighton’s, and they haven’t done much in the transfer window to secure their place. But on the other hand, Brighton’s manager is Chris Hughton, who was at the helm of Norwich City for the bulk of the season when they were relegated back in 2014. While I don’t completely trust him to steer a club out of relegation zone, he has proven himself by leading a team to automatic promotion to the top flight.

Palace has been in turmoil for some time now. After a strong showing in 2014/15 they’ve been on the downturn for the past few seasons. Sacking Alan Pardew last season was a decision made easier by his poorer and poorer performances heading into Christmas. Sam Allardyce took over, and he saved the sinking ship, at least for the time being, as Big Sam once again pulled off the impossible by guiding yet another team out of relegation. But it wasn’t all good news for Palace as Big Sam opted for quasi retirement rather than continue on as manager.

Palace hasn’t brought in anyone of note during the summer transfer window. Chelsea youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek was taken on loan, but they will still struggle to score goals while at the same time being picked apart at the back. New manager Frank de Boer, who had been looking for a job at a top club in one of the big four leagues in Europe, and had been linked with several desirable openings, eventually took the job at Inter Milan for the 2016/17 season, but wound up getting sacked only a few months into the season. He then found his way to Palace, and while he seemed to learn from some of his mistakes during his short tenure at Inter, like bringing in high price signings, he seems to be falling into another trapping; bringing in your players. The first time Premier League manager signed the versatile former Ajax man Jairo Riedewald, who de Boer had during his spell as Ajax manager (which also ended unceremoniously).  Unless Palace brings in another goal scorer and a better first choice keeper (they lost Steve Mandanda who was brought in last year to shore up the position) Palace is in for a rough go of it.

Watford has been in downward spiral for while now. They were the darlings of the Premier League in 2015/16, but the annual managerial changes have done nothing to stabilize the club. Last year was as close to disaster as possible, and it was rumored long time captain Troy Deeney wanted to leave the club. If playing for a new manager every season wasn’t enough, the Watford board decided to bring in Marco Silvo, who, while doing an admirable job at Hull City last year, couldn’t keep them up. So a club that narrowly avoided relegation last year, thought bringing in a new manager who managed a club that was relegated last year was a good idea. Watford has been active in the transfer window, but that is not always a good thing. Watford’s major problem seems to be change; too much of it. They tend to bring in loads of new players in the summer, which can upset even the best of teams. But to a team like Watford it can spell disaster.

If you remember I had Swansea City in the relegation mix last year, but I didn’t pick them as one of the three clubs going down. While I feel Swansea is in for another bottom half of the table finish, manager Paul Clement had them heading in the right direction last year after taking over from Bob Bradley. But if the Swans wind up selling Gylfi Sigurdsson, which is a strong possibility, they’re in real trouble. Swansea is not exactly an ideal spot for many players, and they’ve had a hard time luring players to join the club in recent years. Their precarious position in the Premier League only further hinders that task.

Along with Swansea, the bottom half of the table will be rounded out by (in no particular order) Burnley, Leicester City, Newcastle United, West Ham United and Stoke City. I already touched on Brighton, but I see them narrowly avoiding relegation and finishing in 17th. After a good run of form in the first half, Burnley fell on tough times in the second half, slowly falling down the table to finish in 16th, level on points with Watford in 17th. Burnley sold their best attacking threat, to fellow relegation fodder Watford no-less, and they didn’t bring in the right players to help them climb the table, instead opting for aging Stoke castoffs. Given that I also have Stoke in the bottom half doesn’t bode well for Burnley.

Stoke was another team that started out well but slid down the table in the second half. With the departure of Marko Arnautovic, one of their better players, the ship is not heading in the right direction. The Potters did get rid of a lot of aging players, and those who were surplus to requirements, freeing up wage money. But they haven’t really spent any of it. At least not on anyone who can be a difference maker, or at the very least someone who can compliment Xherdan Shaqiri, who I can see asking for a transfer just like Arnautovic.

Without Champions League commitments Leicester can focus solely on the league. It will benefit them, but not enough. They should be safe for another season, but they will finish towards the bottom of the table. They brought in the right type of players, in the right positions, but it won’t be enough to be anywhere near mid table let alone the top half.

West Ham made a splash in the transfer market with the signing of Javier Hernandez, but even Chicharito can’t solve West Ham’s problems. Bringing in Joe Hart was an odd move, as I think Darren Randolph was a much better option as a backup keeper. Hart won’t provide any competition for Adrian, so don’t expect a rise in his performance, and he won’t push Adrian out of the starting spot either, so it’s pretty much a waste of wages. I don’t see West Ham finishing terribly low, but they won’t crack the top half.

Newly promoted Newcastle should have enough to stay up and avoid going straight back down to the Championship. Rafa Benitez stayed on as manager despite the Magpies being relegated, which spoke volumes to his team. They all bought in for the 2016/17 season, and they impressively won the Championship to earn automatic promotion. I don’t see Newcastle being a yoyo club. Yes, they won’t have some important pieces like Florian Thauvin, Yoan Gouffran and Matz Sels, but they brought in enough to make due. Newcastle supporters are a fickle and demanding bunch, but after being relegated in embarrassing fashion in the 2015/16 season, managing to stay up this year should be viewed as an accomplishment worth celebrating. My only concern with Newcastle is if they will have enough goals in them.

So through process of elimination you should already have an idea of who I think will finish in the top half. Southampton, Bournemouth, West Bromwich Albion, Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea (in no particular order) fill out the table in the top half.  I will cut things down further by saying Southampton, Bournemouth and West Brom will finish outside the European places.

To be honest, the team that finishes in 10th was tough to pick. It was a tossup between Bournemouth and Southampton. Every year I don’t know what to make of Southampton. And this year is no different. The club that is known for being a feeder program for the big boys of European football, has surprisingly not sold many of their players heading into the 2017/18 campaign. But they also haven’t brought in anyone of note. A new manager for the second consecutive season will also hamper them. But Southampton always finds a way to finish closer to the top half than the bottom half. So with that I have them in the top half, but only barely.

While Bournemouth made a lot of good signings in the summer, I can’t see them improving on the success of last year where they finished in 9th. Not that last year was a fluke, it’s more to do with teams around them getting better. Bournemouth shouldn’t have snuck up on anyone last year, but they did. I can’t see that happening again this season.

Just like I can’t see Tony Pulis letting his West Brom side becoming complacent again like they were last year after hitting that magic 37 point number to assure themselves safety in top flight. West Brom was surprisingly active during the transfer windows last year, bringing in somewhat high profile players like Nacer Chadli. And Pulis had another Ace up his sleeve this year, bringing in England International Jay Rodriguez from Southampton. New signings aside, West Brom did not lose too many key players. Darren Fletcher’s absences will be sorely missed from a leadership perspective, but Jay Rodriguez should fill those shoes nicely. If Salomon Rondon can improve upon last year’s performance, and Euro 2016 hero Hal Robson-Kanu can provide any of the spark he did for Wales in the Euros, West Brom could surprise many by finishing convincingly in the top half.

That is my out on a limb pick. It seems every year there is one surprise club. One team that overachieves to open everyone’s eyes. A few years ago it was Leicester City, last year it was Bournemouth. This year I think it will be West Brom.

I don’t see West Brom challenging for a European place, but Everton surely will. Everton was the busiest club in the transfer market, signing 12 players. And it wasn’t just depth signings, they were marquee ones. Jordan Pickford should shore up the goalkeeping position, Davy Klaasen has been a fixture in Ajax’s starting XI so long it would surprise most that he’s only 24 years old, and while bringing back home grown legend Wayne Rooney won’t fill Romelu Lukaku’s boots, it will go a long way to providing leadership to a team that seemed to lack confidence and direction the last couple years.

Expectations will be high for Everton, and that may negatively affect them. But Ronald Koeman is back for another year, and he had them playing much better. So it stands to reason that another year under Koeman, combined with the spending spree at Goodison Park, will at the very least see a repeat performance of last year where they earned a spot in Europe.

Now comes what most people are interested in; the big boys of the EPL. So where exactly do I see Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur finishing? It may surprise you.

Liverpool are in serious trouble heading into the 2017/18 season. They’re still in need of a quality center back, and Jurgen Klopp did not address that area in the transfer window (as of posting this before the close of the window), and better options at outside back would also be beneficial. Signing yet another attacking option show where Klopp’s priorities lie. Considering that Liverpool’s schedule may become tougher with the added Champions League commitments should they qualify for the group stage; their league play may suffer further. I predict a 6th place finish for Liverpool, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Klopp gets the sack at the end of the year if not sooner.

For yet another season there will be turmoil at the Emirates. Manager Arsene Wenger was brought back on another contract extension, this time a two year salvage job to get the Gunners back into the top four. And that task will be harder than ever given the fact that Arsenal has to contend with the rigors of the playing in the dreaded Europa League. Wenger has already started his typical excuses by saying he doesn’t like the format of the Europa League and will likely rotate his squad for those games to rest his regular starting XI. Their domestic schedule is also very tough to start the year.

Star man Alexis Sanchez wants out, but Wenger has put his foot down saying he won’t sell him. Mesut Ozil (along with many other key pieces who haven’t renewed) is also out of contract at the end of the year like Sanchez, and how much those contracts running out with be a distraction is anyone’s guess.

Arsenal did finally break open the check book to sign Alexandre Lacazette, something that was two years in the making. And they brought in outside back Sead Kolasinac on free transfer from Schalke, where he was either brilliant or pitiful. In other words; the typical Wenger signing. But that won’t be enough to contend for the title let alone a spot in the top four, especially since Wenger didn’t clear the books of dead weight like Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Debuchy, Carl Jenkinson, Lucas Perez, Francis Coquelin or Chuba Akpom. He also didn’t make the more debatable moves of getting rid of players like Theo Walcott, Mohammed Elneny, David Ospina, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Laurent Koscielny or Olivier Giroud.

I see a 5th place finish for Arsenal, and the return of Wenger, or should I say Kroenke’s Kroney, for the 2018/19 season. Though I could easily see Liverpool and Arsenal swapping places.

Manchester United will be better in Jose Mourinho’s second year at the helm. His system is in place, he’s brought in more players to his liking, and most importantly; he didn’t sell David de Gea. The addition of Romelu Lukaku will get all the attention, and rightfully so. But don’t overlook the signing of Nemaja Matic. He was great at Chelsea, and more importantly, he was great at Chelsea under Mourinho. I envision a 4th place finish for United. I don’t see them having enough to surpass Tottenham, Manchester City or Chelesea.

Everyone seems to be high on Tottenham. But I find it worrisome that they didn’t sign anyone in the summer. The bigger problem though is not just the loss of Kyle Walker, but losing him to a serious rival. As it stands now Kieran Trippier will likely be Walker’s replacement, and while Trippier is a decent player, he won’t be able to fill the void left by Walker. And that is before the injury he suffered in Spurs final tune up game. As it stands it appears Michael Dier will be played out of position at right back to start the season.

Another area of concern for Tottenham is playing their home games at Wembley Stadium while their new ground is being completed next door to where White Hart Lane once stood. We all saw how playing in a new stadium negatively effected West Ham last year, and that is before even mentioning Spurs’ poor record at Wembley. Spurs will be good, but not good enough to get over that final hurdle and win the league. I see a 3rd place finish.

Last year I successfully predicted that Chelsea would win the league, and despite the sharp criticism I stood by that choice. This year I don’t see Chelsea having the same success. They already had a replacement for Nemanja Matic before they sold him, and they improved their back line with the signing of Antonio Rudiger. New signing Alvaro Morata, a possible replacement for Diego Costa should he leave in January, has not set the world on fire right out of the gate like so many people demand these days of high profile signings. He may still pan out, but right now he is not meshing within the team and his work rate leaves a lot to be desired.

The biggest reason I picked Chelsea to win the league last year was because that did not have any European commitments to contend with, so they could focus solely on the league. This year they will be in the Champions League, and you know they want to win it. That added schedule will have a negative impact on them, which will have Chelsea finish in 2nd place.

With all that said, I predict Manchester City will win the league. They brought in the typical City signings; high priced and talented. They dipped their bucket into the eager to sell Monaco well and came out with two outstanding players in Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy. Not only do those additions add depth at position where they already have one of the best in the world, it also adds strength to a position they were in desperate need of. And that is before mentioning the signings of right backs Danilo and Kyle Walker, another position City were in desperate need to improve.

Since City improved their one area of weakness, and cleared a ton of dead weight off their books (not that City needs extra funds) there should be nothing stopping them. If that wasn’t scary enough for the rest of the league, City’s schedule is fairly easy; especially at both the beginning and end, with ridiculously easy months sprinkled in the middle.

 

 

 


Now that the dust has settled from the United States National Women’s National Team’s third World Cup title, it’s time to reflect and evaluate what the victory means. Despite FIFA’s best efforts to hold back the women’s game, this tournament was a huge success. Not only in the ratings department, but in the quality of the matches. The 2015 Women’s World Cup was the most entertaining to date, and that is largely due to the increase of talent not just in America, but around the globe.

The bar has not been set, it’s continuing to be raised, which is a great thing to see. Gone are the days of bashing women’s soccer because they’re not as good as the men. Of course there will always be misogynists out there, but the women’s game has risen above that. This Women’s World Cup demonstrated that women can beat defenders off the dribble. And yes, they can score from distance. No, not Carli Lloyd’s bomb from midfield, although that was an impressive goal. But consistently curling balls into the top corner from outside the box from both set pieces and the run of play. They can work triangles and knock the ball around like the Barcas and Bayerns of the world.

The popularity of the women’s game is undeniable at this point. The 2015 Women’s World Cup Final was the most watched soccer match in American history. The official champions t-shirt sold out in a matter of hours, before the shirts could even reach stores. And to further prove my point, they’re making the women’s jerseys in men’s sizes for the first time. Not only that, they’re selling. But the popularity needs to sustain itself.

Hopefully this latest World Cup triumph for the American women translates into long-term success of their professional league, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Many of the teams in the league have already set record ticket sales for their first match after the World Cup final, and many of them are reporting an increase in ticket sales for future games post World Cup. A handful even sold out matches for the first time in their history. Not only do I hope it adds more support for the sport domestically, I hope the 2015 World Cup grows the game globally, with more countries joining the fray of an already crowded talent pool. Soccer Federations around the world should take notice and increase funding for the women’s teams and leagues.

Soccer in this country is already the most popular sport for girls, but it needs to continue up through the system. It can’t just be parents watching their girls play on the weekend and not caring after that. There should be support for the NWSL, an added interest other than the selfish nature of parents getting a bumper sticker on the back of their car so they can say “Hey look my kid plays soccer! Look at me!” Take your kids to a pro match. You never know, you might find yourself wrapped up in the action.

If you enjoyed watching the Women’s World Cup, that type of play happens in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) every weekend during the spring through the summer. It shouldn’t only be about the flag and patriotism, only caring because it represents America. While that’s important and worthy of supporting, you should want to watch soccer for love of the game first and foremost. If you’re new hero is Carli Lloyd, she plies her trade in Houston with the Dash. If your favorite player is Alex Morgan or Tobin Heath, they play for the Portland Thorns. Megan Rapinoe or Hope Solo? Then check out the Seattle Reign. If you fell in love with the “Department of Defense” during the World Cup; Ali Krieger plays for the Washington Spirit along with fellow National Team teammate, goalie Ashlyn Harris. Julie Johnston plays in Chicago for the Red Stars, Becky Sauerbrunn plays for FC Kansas City and Meghan Klingenberg is teammates with Lloyd in Houston.

Up and coming star Morgan Brian also plays for the Houston Dash. Super sub Kelley O’Hara plays for Sky Blue FC in New Jersey along with National Team captain Christie Rampone. The trio of forwards, including Christen Press, can be seen in Chicago, Amy Rodriguez with FC Kansas City and Sydney Leroux up in Western New York with the Flash. Lauren Holiday and Heather O’Reilly are teammates in Kansas City. Lori Chalupny and Shannon Boxx play in Chicago. Whitney Engen plays for Western New York and Alyssa Naeher plays up in Boston with the Breakers.

Not only can you cheer on your favorite players from the US National Team in the NWSL, internationals for other teams that participated in the World Cup also call the league home. Canada stars Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns), Erin McLeod (Houston Dash) and Melissa Tancredi (Chicago Red Stars). Australians Kyah Simon (Boston Breakers), Samantha Kerr and Caitlin Foord (Sky Blue FC) and England Lioness Jodie Taylor (Portland Thorns). In all 52 players in the NWSL participated in the World Cup, representing 9 different countries.

There is no excuse to not support the NWSL, as all the matches can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube. Many of them are live streamed, with the replay going up permanently on YouTube. You can even watch most of the matches in full 1080 HD. Tickets to attend matches in person are affordable; cheap by comparison to other top-tier pro leagues like MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL.