Premier League Preview Part II


By Greg Hudson


Nickmame: The Toffees
Kit Colors: Blue; Black
Home: Goodison Park
Everton impressed last season under Roberto Martinez, and the manager looks to continue his side’s new-found success in 2014-15. Romelu Lukaku, who scored 14 goals for them last term on loan from Chelsea, joins the team on a permanent move this season, while Gareth Barry rejoins his old club from champions Manchester City.
Make no mistake, Everton are capable of beating the best. But their young talent still needs time to develop, with players like Ross Barkley, John Stones, and Lukaku still a few years from their peak of performance, while their veterans like Barry, Phil Jagielka, and keeper Tim Howard are past their peak. So don’t expect the Toffees to finish above their Merseyside rivals Liverpool, let alone challenge for the title. But beware, don’t bet against Everton to play spoiler in the title race by taking points from the big fish.
Predicted Finish: 7th
Nickname: The Tigers
Kit Colors: Gold/Black; Black
Home: The KC Stadium
The Tigers surprised a few last season with a fearless approach to football, as they characterized their first season of their return to the Premier League by taking games to their opponent, especially at home, where they recorded seven wins and an additional four draws. But their road form was less than stellar, as they lost 13 of their 19 fixtures. But while their goal tally wasn’t exceptional, they found the goals they needed to win games against teams around them in the bottom half of the table, and among their victories was a shock 3-1 triumph over Liverpool at the KC Stadium.
To strengthen the squad, manager Steve Bruce brought in some new names, most notably highly-rated young winger Tom Ince from Blackpool on a free transfer and Robert Snodgrass, the standout of a Norwich City team that was relegated at the end of last season. Holding midfielder Jake Livermore, who spent 2013-14 on loan with the Tigers, joined on a permanent deal, while defender Andrew Robertson joins a five-man back line that includes up-and-coming defenders Alex Bruce and James Chester.
Don’t expect the Tigers to finish in the top half of the table, but you can certainly expect this stay in the top flight to last longer than their one previous stay in the top flight, which lasted only two seasons.
Predicted Finish: 13th
Nickname: The Foxes
Kit Colors: Blue/Gold; Gold/Black
Home: The King Power Stadium
The Foxes make their return to the Premiership in 2014-15 after an 11-season absence since their relegation in 2002-03. Manager Nigel Pearson saw his side to the championship of the League Championship last season, and the Foxes certainly have quality. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, son of legendary Manchester United ‘keeper Peter Schmeichel, helps lead the way, while defender Wes Morgan wears the armband.
But the gulf in class between the Premier League and the Championship is massive, and Pearson has made several additions to his squad in the hopes of bolstering it enough to survive their first season in the Premiership. Matthew Upson and Marc Albrighton, veterans of the top flight, join the side, while striker Leonardo Ulloa will look to contribute the goals the Foxes need to survive.
But the simple fact is that while they will play good football on more than few occasions, without making more signings and getting help from the teams around them, the Foxes aren’t likely to produce the results needed to survive the season. But they’re certain to be entertaining as they’re bound to go down fighting.
Predicted Finish: 18th
Nickname: The Reds
Kit Colors: Red; Yellow/Red
Home: Anfield
Liverpool were both the Premier League’s top entertainers last season, and the league’s biggest surprise. The Reds had finished seventh the season before, but they developed into a fearsome offensive juggernaut over the course of the season, as strikers Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, known simply as SAS, finished the season as the league’s two highest scorers and teen phenoms Raheem Sterling and John Flanagan both became regular fixtures in the starting eleven. But defensive weaknesses let them down in the late stages of the season and they came up two points short of their first league title in 24 years, finishing as runners-up to Manchester City.
Manager Brendan Rodgers knew that to become a championship-calibre side Liverpool would need new players, but his hopes for becoming title favourites ended when Suarez left the club in disgrace after biting Italian defender Georgio Chiellini while representing Uruguay in the World Cup. But Rodgers cashed in on his troublesome striker, profiting to the tune of 75 million pounds, and he put that cash to work, adding several new players to the side. Attacking midfielder Adam Lallana and striker Rickie Lambert join the club from Southampton, as does highly-touted defender Dejan Lovren, brought in to help shore up the Reds’ too-often porous defense. Joining him in the back line are fullbacks Alberto Moreno from Sevilla and Javier Manquillo, a loanee from Atletico Madrid. Meanwhile the Reds continue to look for goals by adding young prospect Lazar Markovic and holding midfield up-and-comer Emre Can.
If the Reds’ defense can avoid the costly mistakes that plagued them last season, while continuing to find goals from players all across the lineup, they can challenge for the title. But as Tottenham Hotspur proved last season, replacing a superstar with several new additions can take time to produce results. Don’t expect them to win it this season, but expect them to be there right on the heels of the title favorites ready to pounce if they slip up.
Predicted Finish: 3rd
Nickname: The Citizens
Kit Colors: SkyBlue/Navy; Navy/SkyBlue
Home: The City of Manchester Stadium
The Citizens captured their second title in two years last season, and the holders look stronger than ever. Manager Manuel Pellegrini had few moves to make this summer, as there are few ways to realistically improve this squad. Strikers Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, and Alvaro Negredo all scored 20 or more goals across all competitions last season, while their defense was the best in the league, especially at home, where they were beaten just once all season.
While they were somewhat fortunate to win the title as Liverpool faltered in the final fixtures of the season, there is no squad as deep or as talented in all departments as City’s. The only department they moved to strengthen was the defense, with fullback Bacary Sagna joining from Arsenal and centre-half Eliaquim Mangala arriving from FC Porto along with teammate Fernando, acquired to fill the hole between the back line and the midfield.
There’s no team with better players, and only Brendan Rodgers and Jose Mourinho could claim to be tactically better managers than Pellegrini, so there’s little doubt that the title holders are the odds-on favourites to retain their silverware, but they need to beware: they’re there to be shot at, and they can’t let their approach be changed by their good fortunes last season. That being said, this is a hungry outfit that isn’t likely to be satisfied by anything other than a second title in as many years.
Predicted Finish: 1st 

Demolition Derby

Liverpool Rout Neighbors Everton 4-0 in 222nd Merseyside Derby

By Greg Hudson

No rivalry in American sports can compare to an English derby match. Certainly, the U.S. has classic sporting rivalries: Yankees and Red Sox; Steelers and Patriots; Canadiens and Bruins. But nothing in America approaches the intensity found when two teams from the same city square off in the English Premier League, where opposing fans are kept segregated to prevent violence that threatened the future of European football during the 1970s and 80s. Derby games, matches between local rivals, are particularly heated and often produce the most intense and hostile atmospheres both in the stands and on the pitch.
While all local derbies are special, the Merseyside Derby is something truly unique. Liverpool and Everton football clubs are located less than a mile apart, separated only by a small park, so the entire city is divided between Liverpool red and Everton blue. But what makes the Merseyside Derby, England’s longest-running local derby, so special is the relationship between the opposing fans, who, away from the field, support each other through good times and bad, earning the nickname the “friendly derby.” In recent years, however, the fixture has produced many memorable and hotly contested games. In the past 20 seasons, no matchup has produced more red cards than the Merseyside Derby.
When the two sides met at Everton’s Goodison Park in November, another hot contest produced a stunning 3-3 draw which saw both teams rally from losing positions in the second half. The match was not without controversy, however, as Everton’s Kevin Mirallas escaped what should have been a red card for a tackle on Luis Suarez which was both late and high and actually drew blood from the right knee of the Uruguayan striker. Mirallas later provided an assist for Everton’s second goal, sparking debate among the two sets of fans as to whether or not Everton really deserved the draw, or whether Liverpool really deserved to win. Tuesday night, Liverpool set out to answer those questions definitively, this time in front of their home crowd at Anfield, where they had not lost in 9 games, and where Everton had not won in their last 13 visits.
Both teams entered the game after being struck by an injury bug plaguing defenders in both camps. For Liverpool, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, and Jose Enrique were all unavailable through injury, along with midfielder Lucas Leiva, while Everton were forced to play without start fullbacks Seamus Coleman, nursing a pulled hamstring, and Brian Oviedo, out for the season after horrifically breaking his leg the previous week. In their places Everton fielded John Stone and Antolin Alcaraz, a significant step down in terms of defensive strength, which would be a concern against Liverpool’s high-powered strike pair of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who had combined for 33 goals in 22 matches.
But it was the visitors who opened the brighter, attacking Liverpool right from the kickoff, and less than a minute was on the clock when local phenom Ross Barkley sent a long-range effort whistling over the Liverpool crossbar, much to the relief of keeper Simon Mignolet.
The Reds soon found their stride however, and created a chance of their own just moments later after some scintillating passing enabled Jordan Henderson to slot the ball into the Everton penalty area for Suarez, whose shot was blocked back to Henderson, who volleyed over the crowd and forced a strong save from American keeper Tim Howard.
It set the tone for an attacking, end-to-end game which took shape during the opening 20 minutes, and a trend quickly developed: Everton possessing the ball well but failing to carve apart the Liverpool defense, and Liverpool counterattacking with fast-paced breaks looking to set up Suarez or Sturridge.
The two strikers, who combined for 33 goals entering play, soon figured out the Everton defense and began peppering Tim Howard’s goal with shots, and it was little surprise when the Reds took the lead after 20 minutes when Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard rose highest to head home a Suarez corner. It was Gerrard’s eighth career goal against Everton, more than any other player in the history of the derby.
Liverpool, known for striking twice in quick succession, looked to press home another goal, but Everton responded well to falling a goal behind and dominated the game for the next ten minutes, bending but not quite breaking the Liverpool defensive resolve, with Mirallas firing just wide from the edge of the 18-yard box on 32 minutes.