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The race for a Champions League place: Who will make it?
The quest to compete amongst the elite clubs from the continent is always hugely entertaining. At times last year, it was the main talking point after a weekend of Premier League action. The 2011-12 campaign was one of the most enthralling in the battle to finish in the top four. It finished in the most unexpected circumstances with Chelsea clinching a place in this season’s competition at the expense of Spurs – who had finished fourth.
I will be looking at who I think will claim those four Champions League spots this season. The fans will also have their say as they are being given the right to argue any case I put forward.
Many say it will be even more difficult for Man City to defend their Premier League title than it was to win it for the first time. They will need to fend off the challenge from their vengeful red neighbours this year as well as a new look chasing pack. This year is just a question of whether Roberto Mancini’s men can defend their title successfully.
City will not be able to breeze through games as easily as they did last season – particularly the first half of the campaign. Every team will want to beat them that much more, teams will be more than satisfied with a point and will turn up to not lose rather than aiming. They got a sign of what is to come at the back end of last year.
The majority of sides will know what to expect and will try to prevent their most influential player getting on the ball in David Silva. They will need to get used to winning ugly and waiting for a moment in the game where their bright sparks come to life. Don’t get me wrong they have the players to turn it on when they want especially at home but the title will be won with performances on the road that pundits often describe as the ‘sign of champions’.
Despite United having improved this summer and are rumoured to be looking for a couple of more new additions I expect City to take their title winning experience they gained last year and use it to edge out United yet again. One thing for sure is that it can’t get as dramatic as last year..
Expected position: 1st
View from the Terrace: @danny_pugsley
“Having won the title in 2011/12 I suspect that once 2012/13 gets underway they will realise quite what an achievement it was.
City are the side that everyone else wants to knock from their perch and even a quick glance at the record books shows how difficult it is to repeat during the past few seasons. I do still expect United and City to be the two sides battling for the title.
Whilst not unhappy with his squad by any means you can see why Roberto Mancini wants to add one or two pieces. At times City came unstuck last season and were perhaps too often one-dimensional but should Robin van Persie not arrive (which appears to be the case) don’t rule out the impact that Carlos Tevez – perhaps happy, motivated and fully fit – can have over the course of a full season.
Confidence is not a trait that too many City fans find themselves instilled with. The bookies do though have City as slight favourites to repeat and I would say that is about right – just.”
Manchester United will be going in search of revenge next year and if any club can stop Roberto Mancini’s men it will be a pumped-up United.
They have been busy in this summer’s transfer market unlike City and have added Shinji Kagawa, who could be that missing player to take a squad many believe is the weakest for a long time to that extra level. Although, signings from abroad shouldn’t be relied on in their first season as it’s a rarity for them to have the impact Sergio Aguero had last year.
While I think Kagawa will be a success he can’t be seen as the difference in his first year they need to add a couple more. It has been rumoured that they have come close on a couple of occasions but they have missed out on young talents like Lucas Moura and Eden Hazard. I think we all know an angered Sir Alex Ferguson and United are ready to make a big move which may turn the tide in their favour but as it stands City will be too strong.
United know how to get the results when it matters and rarely fall into a slump longer than two games. I can see United pushing City all the way and into the final weeks but after seeing City against Chelsea – albeit they had 10 men – they look in better shape. Although transfer activity in the next two weeks
Expected position: 2nd
View from the terrace: @KassimKhimji
“For the most part I do agree with what you have to say. It will be hard to break down City this season and win the title since they are more of a team, and I think not signing players is the best thing Mancini has done.
I disagree on the Shinji Kagawa statement though, I think he will be a big signing for Man United and can be the difference maker just like Aguero was last season for City. His certain style of play isn’t a disadvantage in the premier league, he’s simple, quick, great vision, and has tremendous balance.
The first reason United missed out last year was because Vidic only played 8 games. Imagine if City, Chelsea or Arsenal where missing their best centre backs. If Vidic can stay fit and Rio I think the league is ours for the taking. The second reason is because we lacked creativity in the midfield up until Scholes came back. When he returned it changed the squad and Manchester United finally returned after a 5 month delay.”
Chelsea will be an unknown quantity next year. It is imperative their new players click into the side and I believe they have more chance of doing so if Chelsea keep the spine of the team the same rather than it being all change like last year.
Roberto Di Matteo’s main aim is to make sure his side do not leak sloppy goals while trying to use Hazard, Juan Mata and Marko Marin as outlets. They will definitely finish higher than sixth with the names they have brought in. The new signings are all changing countries so to rely on them will be a gamble.
The season does have the potential to go horribly wrong as Chelsea is depending on a lot of things to click. Fernando Torres, who will have no excuse, needs to start firing. I think they will finish in the top four this year but the position will depend on the no.9’s form. If he gets back to his best Chelsea could challenge especially pushing United for second but if Torres suffers the same plight he has done the west London side may struggle for goals and could even see Arsenal edge past them.
Chelsea’s big aim will be to focus on improving their league position but other distractions may be too much for them to keep up a title challenge until the final day. It will be close between Chelsea and Arsenal for third but between the two they will fill the two remaining Champions League spots.
Expected position: 3rd
View from the terrace: @asaclarkcfc
“Chelsea I think will be aiming for the Premier League title but agree that with the new signings and departure of Didier Drogba, it will be hard to last the distance.
The only difference is that that this year, Torres knows he’s the No1 striker and this can only boost his confidence and he is coming back to Chelsea having won Euro 2012 and winning the golden boot with Spain. I think a glimpse of what is to come was evident with his goal in the Community Shield.
It will be a huge season and plenty of games ahead, especially with the World Club Championship in December, will test the depth of the squad to its maximum. I agree and think we will finish third.”
Arsenal fans should hope their recent capture of Santi Cazorla doesn’t raise expectations. Each season they are written off, in terms of qualifying for the Champions League, each season they qualify.
The potential departure of Robin van Persie will be a big blow, if it were to materialise, but if one manager can inspire the side despite losing a key player it is Arsene Wenger. Losing 30 goals a season will restrict them and with RVP leaving without being replaced I think fourth place will be the limit. If they can keep him and midfielder Alex Song I can see them challenging with Chelsea and even United for second.
Arsenal’s signings have been really big for them and especially to the fans as it has been rare to see them going for the names they have gone for. For me they aren’t title winning signings but is is though a step in the right direction. It improves the squad and with more strengthening over the next couple of transfer windows they could soon find themselves in the position to challenge.
Their weakness is at left back and it is a position I can’t see them strengthening as Wenger seems to have faith in Gibbs. That position has troubled them in games before and will again. Arsenal will be up there and I wouldn’t rule them out finishing behind the Manchester two but with the uncertainty over key players and maybe having to depend a lot on new players if Van Persie leaves it questions how much they really can do this year.
View from the terrace: @RobJohanson
“There are a lot of ifs and buts still lingering over the Emirates prior to the new season, as there seem to be every summer nowadays. If this exact squad was content and settled at the moment with the possibility of one more signing, I’d be pointing us in the direction of the title and a crack at a cup.
But the fact is, it’s not a settled squad. The Van Persie saga is getting very boring now for Arsenal fans and now we have Barcelona suddenly declaring interest in Alex Song, one of last season’s top performers. With this in mind, and the potential to go into the season without either (or both) of these top players, I have to agree with you and say that 4th is a realistic finishing spot for Arsenal, especially given the strengthening of our potential rivals for 3rd place, Chelsea.”
Final word: I am expecting to see the usual faces qualify for the Champions League with City retaining their crown. While United will be looking to avenge their title loss – having improved with Shinji Kagawa and a returning Nemanja Vidic – I think Carlos Tevez is like a new signing for City and to have him for the full year will be the difference. Arsenal and Chelsea have spent well and I think will fill the two other spots in what order depends on their front men but with uncertainty over players’ futures at the Emirates I think Chelsea are in a better position going into the new season.