With the 2012-13 English Premier League fixture list being released and the transfer window now open, it’s time to throw out all common sense, switch off that part of your brain that tells you to be cautious, look into a crystal ball that could be better titled “hopeful delusion” and make a way too early prediction for the upcoming season.
Below, I’ve stuck out my neck and named some of the moniker games on paper as well as predictions that will come back to haunt me, such as the golden boot winner, manager of the year, UEFA Champions League spots, and the team that will walk away with the big prize come May 19.
First, let’s look at some of the games that you might not want to miss.
The season opens Aug. 18 with Manchester City beginning their title defense against newly promoted Southampton. Everton hosts Manchester United — their last encounter ended in a late season draw that ultimately resulted in United’s bitter rivals walking away with the trophy. If Tottenham GM Daniel Levy can hang on to midfielder Luka Modric and find a striker, then Andre Villas-Boas’ opener as manager against a fun to watch Newcastle United looks promising.
Sept. 15 sees QPR host Chelsea in a rematch of an ugly game in 2011 that got Blues’ Captain John Terry a court date. Stoke City host Manchester City in the Sky Blues first real test of the season. While Sept. 22 sees Brendan Rodgers in his first Liverpool-United derby and Sept. 29 sees Chelsea go to north London to take on rivals Arsenal.
Oct. 27 has bad blood written all over it — the first Merseyside Derby takes place at Goodison Park, Liverpool will face Swansea City as the Swans face their old manager for the first time, and Norwich City travels to Villa Park hoping to take down their old manager Paul Lambert and Aston Villa.
The first North London Derby of the year is set for Nov. 17 when Spurs travel to the Emirates to battle their hated rivals.
Southampton will face Reading, a team they should be familiar with, Dec. 8 when the two former Championship teams meet for the first time that season. Oh, and there’s the little to-do between the reigning champions and their neighbors in the first rematch since last season’s two epic Manchester Derbies.
The annual Boxing Day fixtures are headlined by a London Derby between Arsenal and West Ham United and Newcastle away at Old Trafford. The usually congested holidays continue with Everton hosting Chelsea Dec. 29 and Southampton vs. Arsenal on New Year’s Day.
Tottenham and Arsenal square off again at White Hart Lane March 2 and the second sure-to-be-endlessly-hyped Manchester Derby takes place April 6.
The last day sees Manchester City taking on Norwich City, United away to West Bromwich Albion, the Gunners at St. James Park (I don’t care what sponsor name the stadium will have by then), Chelsea hosting Everton, QPR at Anfield, and Spurs hosting Sunderland.
Golden Boot Winner: “So who’s going to score these goals that will make these games so interesting?” you ask. It’s hard to doubt Robin Van Persie considering his scorching form last year, but it’s safe to say last year was an anomaly for the man made of glass. Plus, he’s probably going to have to adjust to a new team. I really think City's Sergio Aguero will set the league on fire after adapting to his first season in the EPL. He made me a big believer even before his last day heroics that brought City the title. I think he’ll end the season with the metallic footwear.
PFA Player of the Year: All that said, Player of the Year will go to Man U's Wayne Rooney. Yes, I hate to hear it as much as you do, but I expect Wazza to grow with his ability to influence games by creating and leading, not just scoring. And look for him to singlehandedly drag United to near the top of the table much as he did in 2009-10.
Manager of the Year: If Paul Lambert is handed some cash to throw around at Aston Villa, that young team crying out for strong leadership can turn some heads next season. I fully expect him to right the ship and walk away with Manger of the Year honors for doing so.
Biggest Disappointment: Brendan Rodgers will be expected to improve on last year, and I’m a big fan of what he did with Swansea, but it’s still the same players for the Reds. The histrionics of Suarez, an aging Steven Gerrard, aimless Jordan Henderson, and lolloping Andy Carroll are square pegs in his round hole of beautiful football. Liverpool will still underachieve.
Biggest Surprise: IF Everton can avoid their annual slow start, AND they can hang on to Marouane Fellaini ANNNNNNNND get Steven Piennar back from Tottenham… The Toffees can challenge for a Champions League spot.
Major Managerial Casualty: Arsenal's Arsene Wenger. I know, he’s untouchable, but their inability to win a trophy (again) and falling out of the Champions League spots combined with no real ambition in the transfer market and a revolting fan base will mean the axe finally falls and the Gunners make a serious run at a relaxed, rejuvenated Pep Guardiola.
Cup Winners: Carling – Man City, FA - Everton
EPL Title: It’s wide open and really hard to call, especially since the carousel hasn’t stopped spinning…Heck, stopped spinning? Euro 2012 means it hasn’t even really got going, yet. But I think City will assert their dominance in the same way Chelsea did in 05-06. Iwrote that the touchline spat between City Manager Roberto Manciniand United Legend Sir Alex Ferguson was a turning point for the NoisyNeighbors and I stick by it. Their inferiority complex is done and dusted. Look for their talent and depth to overwhelm the league this season.
UEFA Champions League Spots: Man City, Man United, Chelsea, Newcastle
Relegated Teams: Norwich City, Reading, Wigan Athletic