Though it pains me to say it, Mickey Mouse FC made all the right moves during the offseason. First, they boosted their backline by adding Tal Ben Haim and Alex. Though the latter seems to be stuck in work permit limbo, I'm sure it'll be worked out in time soon enough, which means Michael Essien will not be needed to play centre back and will be able to play his proper position at central midfield. They also got Glen Johnson back on loan, which when he's not stealing bathroom fixtures from restaurants, is halfway decent at backing up the right and can also play centre, if needs be. I guess there's still a possibility of him being sent out on loan though. Mourinho also boosted his midfield by adding Steve Sidwell and Florent Malouda. Not sure how much playing time Sidwell will get with Makelele still around, but if the Frenchman, Essien, or Lampard happen to get injured, he's there to step in. Malouda should play regularly on the left.
The two most important factors I see in Chelsea's EPL title chase are the health of Joe Cole and the play of Shevchenko. If Cole stays healthy, they could run away with the title, as that would give them a massive amount of depth on the wings and plenty of rest for their options there. As for Sheva, I think he'll have a brilliant year, I honestly do. Will he score 20 goals? No, but he'll make Drogba look a lot better than he actually is, again. I also think Mikel and Kalou will be instrumental in their season as a whole. The bottom line is, Chelsea has ridiculous depth and talent and that's what you need to win the Premiership.
Where will Liverpool finish? Second.
Too much luck and too many other things have to go right for us to win the EPL title this year. The thing that makes me somewhat optimistic is that if you take what we have left from last season, leaving out the new players, we still have a very formidable starting XI. If we are going to make a run, then the three main factors are our health, our growth as a team, and finally, Benitez minimizing his tinkering.
We are most thin on the back line. As of now, we really only have six reliable players to use in those four positions until Aurelio comes back. I'm sure we could use Mascherano back there, but I'd rather let him do his thing in the midfield. The only position where I also think health could affect us is at left wing and most notably, Harry Kewell. I don't think Babel is ready just yet and giving him a year to get acquainted can only do him good. The good thing is we also have Benayoun to play over there if needs be. If our backline and Kewell stay fit, we'll be a force to be reckon with. As for everywhere else, we're so deep and talented, it doesn't matter.
When I say 'growth of the team', I'm mainly talking about the integrating of our second year players more into the attack. Kuyt has to learn his place on the team, especially how to work with Gerrard. For us to be successful, I definitely think Kuyt has to play in the hole, more to the left, and be very aware of Gerrard, who should and usually does steer more to the right. If they can work out their spacing and positioning issues, the goals should come pouring in.
Last, but without a doubt not least, Benitez needs to have a static Premiership side. The tinkering has to be minimized! I know it's probably a pipe dream, but if Rafa can just curb this nasty habit and leave his dabbling to Cup ties, we should have an XI that is more familiar with how each other operates.
The rest of the top ten:
3. Manchester United - too much talent to finish worse, though I can definitely see their defense on the worse. Age will probably play a part in their 'downfall' especially as the season wears down. Ronaldo and Rooney can only carry the team so far.
4. Blackburn Rovers - Surprise, surprise. How they held that squad together through the offseason, I'll never know, but they've got quite a core bunch of players in Pedersen, McCarthy, Bentley, Derbyshire, Nelsen, and Emerton. The additions of Roque Santa Cruz and Maceo Rigters should help as well, though Francis Jeffers? Still scratching my head over that one.
5. Arsenal - If you think a squad lead by Gilberto Silva and features one of the best passers in the world in Cesc Fabregas was going to fall far from the top four, you're sorely mistaken. Sure they'll miss Henry, but not that much. Too much pace.
6. Tottenham - Sorry, Spurs fans, but I'm just not buying your defense. Go ahead and chastise me, but you're going to need Chimbonda to all of sudden learn some discipline, Ledley King to stay fit the whole season, and Huddlestone to be all of a sudden ready to be a consistent defensive midfielder before I'll take you guys seriously.
7. Everton - The loss of Manuel Fernandes will eventually hurt them and if Cahill is not nor can not stay healthy, their season will only get worse. Vaughan's injury can't give them much hope either, but they're a feisty bunch and a core group lead by Arteta, Lescott, and Andy Johnson should be able to keep them in the upper half of the table.
8. Newcastle - With Allardyce working his magic and Michael Owen finally back to fitness, the Magpies should be able to break the top ten. The injury to Joey Barton certainly won't help, but they've got 22, er, 28-year-old stud striker, Obafemi Martins, to strike fear in their opponent's hearts.
9. Reading - Though the loss of Steve Sidwell to Chelsea will have somewhat of an effect on the squad, the dynamic duo of Lita and Doyle should provide enough goals to keep them decent.
10. Aston Villa - If the master of the draw, Martin O'Neill, did anything this offseason, he brought in more potential club house cancers in Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood. Whether or not they win more than draw really depends on the maturity of Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor and the adjustment of John Carew to life in the Premiership.
(Who should get) Player of the year: Michael Essien
Yeah, I know, fat chance a defensive midfielder gets the accolade and though I don't think he's as good as Mascherano, he will be the reason Chelsea win their third title.
(Probable) Player of the Year: Wayne Rooney
Should have his best year ever. He's just at the age and point in a career where everything comes together.
Darkhorse Player of the Year: Steven Gerrard
I had to do it. He's not really a 'darkhorse' though.
Okay, well, I'll probably do a best XI prediction as well as a Champion's League one soon enough. Cheers.