With less than a quarter of the way through the English Premier League season, it’s pretty foolish to think that things are going to stay the way they are. In addition to over 25 Premier League games remaining, various clubs’ futures still depend on the January transfer window, where some teams will be buyers, while others will unfortunately need to sell.
So rather than stating the obvious, like that either Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea will win the title, here are four bold predictions — one for each spot in the Champions League — for the rest of the campaign.
Chelsea will win the EPL
Speaking of the Big Three, the Blues currently sit three points adrift from the top spot, held by Manchester United. Yet something tells me that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich still has a desire to spend more, despite being crowned Champions of Europe last May and splurging on some of the world’s best young talent in the summer including Belgium’s greatest export since the waffle, Eden Hazard and Brazilian Oscar, whose play thus far is anything but grouchy. The more they get accustomed to the English style of play the better off Chelsea will be.
With that said, Abramovich is still flirting with the idea of bringing in Colombian phenom Falcao to bolster the anemic attacking unit led by the artist formally known as Fernando Torres. Despite his four goals, his creativity has been the one blemish up top for the Blues, as he’s flanked by three of the most creative players in the world in Hazard, Oscar and Spain’s Juan Mata. Substitute Falcao for Fernando and that group isn’t scoring less than two goals per game in the second half of the season.
Which is to say they’ll need to keep the ball out of their net — that’s a little soccer 101 for you freshmen. With longtime goalie Petr Cech looking a little holey in net, you have to go back to Oct. 2 to find a Cech shutout and Sept. 22 to find one in the Premier League.
A deeper defensive unit will help, as center back David Luiz gets caught a little too high at times. It would have been nice to see wingback Ryan Bertrand continue his development from last year, which saw him starting in the Champions League final. Yet the young Englishman has only appeared in three EPL games this season, all as a substitute.
Everton will earn a Champions League spot
This one comes with a caveat, and that is as long as center midfielder Marouane Fellaini remains in the Everton blue shirt and doesn’t get sold while his stock is high. Everton have been known as a stingy club, but they have the talent — barring injury — to make a run at a top-four position and a lucrative Champs League spot.
Fellaini has been an engine in the midfield, rivaling Manchester City’s Yaya Toure for most unstoppable with a head of steam. Flanked by Belgian partner Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar, Fellaini along with Croatian Nikica Jelavic have been piling in the goals — Everton is fourth in the league in goals scored.
The issue with the Toffees is that, behind those four instigators, they have very little innovation to speak of. All it takes is an injury or a purchase for Fellaini to derail their hopes.
One of the Big Six won’t qualify for Europe
Under my predictions, United, City, Chelsea and Everton take the top four spots, leaving the Europa League automatic spot for the fifth team and possibly the sixth and the seventh, depending on England’s two domestic cup outcomes.
While Arsenal should secure the fifth spot, either Liverpool or Tottenham could be left without a European competition and my pick is Liverpool. While they will continue to inch their way up the table, I don’t think they’ll gain Europa qualification unless they make their way back to sixth place, which they’re currently six points behind.
That pretty much means the Reds will have to try and win qualification in either the FA Cup or the Capital One Cup, and I don’t think they will with the squad at hand.
Demba Ba will lead the EPL in scoring
With big names surrounding him — Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez — Newcastle’s Demba Ba is proving that last year was no fluke, when he finished with 16 goals.
He’s already surpassed that pace, with seven goals in 10 EPL games, one off the pace set by Van Persie, whose eight goals led all players. But the Red Devils have a few more striking options than Newcastle does, with Wayne Rooney, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez all hounding for goals.
Ba is strong with the ball, has a good first touch and can finish with either foot. Newcastle should be in the hunt for a competitive spot in Europe all season, and Ba should continue to improve in front of net as the season goes along.