This time last year The Guardian writers predicted that after winning the Premiership and European Cup double, Manchester United would give up their title to Chelsea. The reasons were obvious, apparently, but I disagreed with every single one.
First they argued that if Chelsea came within a few points of us that season, with a World Cup winning manager in charge they were certain to improve. Why? Who knows. Can you name any South American World Cup winning manager (and there are lots of them!) who have a success of their managerial career in Europe. No? Yeh, me neither. That’s because one of these managers doesn’t exist.
I looked at all the South American World Cup winning managers who went on to have careers managing in Europe, something Paolo Bandini clearly didn’t bother to do when writing his prediction for The Guardian. Carlos Bilardo, César Luis Menotti and Carlos Alberto Parreira all won the World Cup with South American countries yet amounted to nothing when managing the likes of Barcelona, Sevilla, Sampdoria and Fenerbahce.
Bandini wasn’t the only journalist with egg on his face when The World Cup Winning Manager was sacked seven months later with Chelsea lying in fourth place in the league though. Following his redundancy there seemed to be this united moment of realisation over what Scolari had achieved with Brazil. This was a team that included Ronaldo (the real one) during the year he was named the best player in Europe and the World. It also included Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, who were some of the best players in the entire tournament that year. Then there was Cafu, who had already won the World Cup and later went on to win the European Cup, as well as Arsenal’s Gilberto, and Edmilson, who won league titles in France and Spain, as well as the European Cup. Of course Scolari won the bloody World Cup, my sodding nan could have lead them to glory that year!
Then they argued the back four were “formidable”. This was true. Chelsea went on to be one of two teams with the fewest goals conceded. Sadly for them, United’s defence proved to be as “formidable” and broke record after record, including one of Chelsea’s, for length of time without conceding a goal.
Finally it was simply stated “Chelsea have a more talented squad” than United. Wrong.
Barnay Ronay then looked at the reasons why United would fail to retain their title and essentially said it was down to Carlos Queiroz leaving and “the absence of an orthodox central striker, which seemed like an oddity or even a tactical innovation last season, could be a real problem this time around.” Why? Who knows. We sold Ruud in the summer of 2006 and then went on to win the title the following year without replacing him. We then introduced Carlos Tevez, who certainly wasn’t an “orthodox central striker” and won the league again. Why would this absence suddenly become such an issue in our third season without one? Who knows. It didn’t.
The Guardian don’t learn from their mistakes though and this season have gone as far as predicting a third place finish for the team that won the league before even the final match was played. Oh dear.
Guardian writers’ prediction: Liverpool 1st
“Nineteen years have passed without league title No19 and still the prediction is that this could be Liverpool’s year.” Bizarre. Let’s make reference to the fact that pretty much every year of the past nineteen has been dubbed as ‘their year’ by somebody or other. Now the Guardian writer Andy Hunter is getting in on the action.
“It is strange that the Liverpool squad has not been bolstered when it was lack of strength in depth.” Indeed. The writer acknowledges that Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and Sami Hyypia have all gone, and still “quality support for Torres and Steven Gerrard up front has not arrived seven months after Robbie Keane’s return to White Hart Lane,” and that Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani don’t even replace all the leaving players, let alone improve the squad.
So, what then do we have to base Liverpool’s title credentials? Not a lot can be needed, surely? “Aquilani overcoming his injury problems and settling instantly” as well as signing David Silva and Sylvain Distin. Simple, right?
“It is United, not Liverpool, who have lost more to the continued lure of Real Madrid.” Really? If I recall correctly, United have gained £80m from Real Madrid, £50m more than Liverpool. Whilst United players claim we will get along just fine in the absence of Ronaldo, given that we’ve gone on to win league titles following the departure of other great players, like Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy etc., Liverpool players can’t be so sure, given they haven’t won a league title in nineteen years, let alone after the sale of one of their best players. Fernando Torres was desperate for the club to cling on to Alonso, stating: “It would be a bad piece of work if Xabi left. I’d love it if he stays. It would be a serious loss for Liverpool if he left this summer.”
So far, I’m at a loss as to how Liverpool are going to win the league this season. So far it’s pinning on hopes that Benitez spends his money well. Given that he’s spent £249,230,000 since 2004, I’m too sure why The Guardian is so certain that this season he will get it right…?
They cite Liverpool’s good record against the top last season but since when has that meant anything? United were poor against other top four teams last season, with just one win in the six fixtures played against them. They reckon Johnson will be a great support to Dirk Kuyt down the right. They reckon the weight of responsibility will fall on Ryan Babel’s shoulders, which should be a worry, given he wouldn’t get close to the United or Chelsea first XI. But where’s the argument that makes you think United will surrender their title and Liverpool will be the ones to claim it? Like Sir Alex said this week, Liverpool have just enjoyed their best season in twenty years and still finished four points behind.
Disappointingly though, The Guardian gives me no meaty argument to counter. It really is as simple as claiming if Benitez spends wisely with the money brought in from Alonso, they can win the league. If Sir Alex can’t spend the £80m from Ronaldo’s sale wisely, then it really does puzzle me why they believe Rafa can.
The closing line: “The title may rest on Benítez’s next moves in the transfer market.” Wow. Compelling.
Guardian writers’ prediction: Chelsea 2nd
Despite claiming “a year on and nothing has really changed at Stamford Bridge”, Dominic Fifield reckons the seven point difference between United and Chelsea will vanish, with the London club moving to second. We’re not off to a good start here.
So, City are now the Premiership’s big-spenders, so that should “ease some of the more unrealistic expectations.” Like what? Finishing above United? It’s always good to have the pressure taken off, but is that worth seven plus points?
A fully-fit Essien is noted as a boost, and this we can’t deny, but his role is more to sure up the defence than aid the attack. Given that Chelsea had the joint best defensive record in the league last season, surely their problem is their lack of goals? The amount of games they drew instead of won. That is a problem in itself when you consider they had the Premier League’s top scorer in their squad last season. Will Anelka equal that feat this season? It’s unlikely to say the least. Will Drogba, who turns 32-years-old this season, shake off the injuries which ravaged his 08-09 season and make a name for himself as a prolific goalscorer again? It doesn’t matter anyway, they have that giant up and coming 20-year-old to help bulk up the attack… oh, they’ve loaned him out? So who else is there to help out the strike duo who are both in their 30s? Kalou (shit), Shevchenko (more shit) and Pizarro (even more shit). And Sturridge, who was fucked off by City to make way for Tevez, Adebayor and Santa Cruz, (who scored a total of 19 league goals between them last season).
The fact that Terry eventually decided, after “sleepless nights”, that he would stay with the club he ‘loves’ instead of joining City for the money, is seen as a positive thing. The new, more-lucrative deals signed by several Chelsea players is also a good thing. Is it worth seven plus points?
Maybe the closing argument will convince us that the Londoners are capable of making up the difference: “Chelsea may be an ageing squad, but they retain their quality and their thirst to regain the Premier League title and secure their first European Cup. Ancelotti must hope he is the man to deliver them.” If United and Liverpool didn’t have the quality and thirst to win the league, then fair enough, but clearly they do, so….?