Previewing the English Premier League

After a historic FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the world’s best players returned to their club teams all over Europe for the 2010-11 season. Less than two weeks after the World Cup final in Johannesburg, European teams opened training camps and began their pre-season tours all over the world. Many, too, are returning to the English Premier League, the most popular professional soccer league in the world, with an estimated viewership of 450 million people worldwide. Teams Manchester United and Liverpool FC both are tied for most league championships with 18 titles each, while Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC round up the so-called “big four.” Here’s what to watch for in England during the 2010-11 season.

Can Chelsea FC repeat as champions for a 2nd straight year?
After pounding Wigan Athletic 8-0 on May 9 to claim the Premier League crown in 2009-10, the Blues had a rough offseason. In June, the club released key players Joe Cole, Deco and Michael Ballack whose contracts had expired. Their only major signing came in July when they signed Yossi Benayoun from Liverpool FC. However, the core of the team remains. Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Nicolas Anelka, Michael Essien, and Petr Cech return to the club that led the Premier League with 103 goals in 38 games last season.
Chelsea has won their first four games this season by a combined margin of 17-1. Their first true test will come Sept. 25 when they travel to play Manchester City at Eastlands. Chelsea plays Liverpool FC on Nov. 7 and hosts Manchester United on Dec. 18. If Chelsea FC can replicate their current form in the matches that really count they should have no trouble staying near the top and competing for the title.
My top four prediction goes like this: Chelsea FC will repeat as champions with Manchester United finishing second by two points. Arsenal will once again finish in third place while Manchester City will finally breakthrough and finish in the fourth spot and earn a place in Europe’s most prestigious club competition, the UEFA Champions League. Liverpool FC will once again disappoint and finish in fifth spot with Tottenham Hotspur rounding out the top six teams.

Will the big four dominate the league or can Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur sneak into the top?
Last season was surprising because Liverpool FC imploded and left the fourth and final UEFA Champions League spot for the taking. Before the 2009-10 season, Chelsea, United, Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC had dominated the top four spots in the league. But last year was different. The battle for fourth place came down to a late season match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur which Tottenham won 1-0.
Look for Manchester City to claim that fourth spot this season. After all, the “other” team from Manchester has spent close to £180 million since being purchased by the Abu Dhabi United Group in August 2008. Their coach, Roberto Mancini, will be under enormous pressure to ensure results and a top four finish in the league this year. If he fails, expect Manchester City to have a new coach during the 2011-12 season.
Standing in their way of a top-four finish is a Tottenham Hotspur team that is oozing with confidence, having made it to the group stages of this year’s Champions League. So far this year, City and Spurs played out a 0-0 draw in West London on Aug. 14. The two will meet again in Manchester on April 16 in what should be an exciting battle for fourth place all season long.

Will a team from the Premier League reach the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley Stadium in 2011?
The 2011 UEFA Champions League Final will be played on Saturday, May 28 at Wembley Stadium in London. Last year, English teams were shut out of the semi-finals and they will be looking to make amends this time around.
Chelsea FC and Manchester United are strong favourites to do well in the competition. Each has done well in the past with Chelsea making it the final in 2008, while Manchester United won it all in the same year. However, they will be competing with the likes of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and AC Milan to name just a few of Europe’s superpowers. As for Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur, they are not favoured to make the quarter finals, but the Champions League is always full of upsets so don’t be surprised if Arsenal make a run to the semi-finals like they did in the 2008-09 season.
My personal prediction for the Champions League final four is FC Barcelona vs. Manchester United in the first semi-final and Chelsea FC vs. Bayern Munich in the other semi-final. Chelsea will play Barcelona in the final on May 28 and the boys from London will avenge their heartbreaking loss to Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League semi-final with a convincing 2-0 win in front of their home supporters. It should be an interesting and exciting season of English and European football. Enjoy and cheer on your favourite clubs.