Pretenders or Contenders?
7. Sunderland: I’m playing a hunch here with little justification. However, if the Black Cats play as well as they did the middle third of last season, we will see a vast improvement from them. They received a huge boost when they hired Martin O’Neill as manager, and were competitive with the top teams in the league. Prior to that, they had underachieved. Once they had reached solid mid-tableness, they really didn’t have much to play for. With a little investment, a better start, and more to play for, they will improve. How much, who knows?
6. Liverpool: While the Reds are headed in a positive direction, I don’t foresee an imminent return to Champions League football. Brendan Rogers as manager is a big improvement over King Kenny. The Fenway Sports Group appears ready to invest in the club to the level to make them eventual contenders. I expect Luis Suarez to have a banner year and the return of Lucas Leiva is going to be a shot in the arm. So, why did I rank them so low? Quite simply, the competition is improving too. The changes that they have made should enable them to finish ahead of Everton, but I don’t see them breaking into the top five.
5. Arsenal: Perhaps I’m going out on a limb here. Arsene Wenger hasn’t finished out of the top four in fifteen years. Last season, decimated by injuries, transfers, and suspensions, the Gunners still managed a third place finish. They have attracted new talent. Oliver Giroud and Lucas Podolski will be good additions to the squad. However, my belief is that their recent history as the AAA club for bigger clubs will come back to bite them, as Fabergas, Clichy, Nasri, and Toure have left; the latter three for Manchester City. It appears that Van Persie is on his way out this summer. Apart from his scoring contributions, the Gunners would have been in a relegation fight last year. While the new acquisitions will have an impact, they will not be a replacement for RVP.