2015/16 Premier League Predictions

750x-1

It has come to my attention that the Premier League thinks they are the QMJHL as they are starting this season quite a bit earlier this year.

I suppose it’s because of Euro 2016 (where England with probably crash out in heroic fashion) but it does feel strange that the year is starting so soon after the Civic Holiday weekend.

However, I’m pretty excited that everything is getting underway. Although last year was kind of a dud, the even numbered seasons usually turn into a giant train-wreck in the race for the title. As such, I think this year might be a classic.

As such, I am again attempting to predict how the final table will shape out. Let’s see how wrong I will end up being in a few months time.

Chelsea-vs-Sunderland-774x437

1) Chelsea

As their main title rivals reloaded, the defending Premier League champions stood pat, and you can easily see why. Their midfield of Cesc Fabregas, Oscar and Eden Hazard is sublime, Diego Costa will be scoring goals for fun and Thibaut Courtois is on his way to becoming a world-class goalkeeper.

The one issue may be if Costa does down due to injury as it remains to be seen how good Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao can be. However, I suspect Chelsea may add another striker or have just enough to hold off the other title threats.

gun__1435589401_cech_signs2.jpg

2) Arsenal

I was really close to picking the Gunners to win their first top-flight title since 2004. Bringing in Petr Cech as the goalkeeper might be the best purchase off the summer transfer window, and they have talent all over the pitch already.

However, I’ve seen this movie before with Arsenal. They get off to a blinding start and then slowly fade out as the year progresses. I have a feeling I’ll be proven wrong about that come May, but I can’t shake that assumption after seeing it happen time and time again.

Manchester-City-v-Roma

3) Manchester City

On paper, this squad matches up well with Chelsea and Arsenal, especially with Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph joining the roster as they will add strength to the midfield, and in Sterling’s case, run all over the pitch at breakneck speed.

My biggest concern though is up front. I like Wilfried Bony but if Sergio Aguero goes down, how is the strike force going to handle that loss, especially since Edin Dzeko is moving on to Roma as of writing.

bastian-schweinsteiger

4) Manchester United

Not only are Manchester United back in the Champions League (albeit in the qualifying round) but they have also made some splashes as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin have all come in while Nani, Robin Van Persie and Angel Di Maria have all moved on.

While they might not be done yet in purchases with Sergio Ramos’ name floating around, it looks like goalkeeper David De Gea is set to join Real Madrid. If he goes, it’s hard to see United moving ahead of the other top teams in the league.

benteke_3384565b

5) Liverpool

It’s going to take quite awhile to get used to the fact that Steven Gerrard is no longer with Liverpool and is now playing in Los Angeles, but I think Liverpool is ready to move on with a pretty good looking squad.

Now sure, Brendan Rodgers is on the hot-seat after last season’s sixth place finish and a massive loss to Stoke City in the final day of the season. Plus losing Raheem Sterling isn’t a great thing. However, they’ve made some nice signings in Christian Benteke, Nathaniel Clyne and Roberto Frimino that should put them back in the mix for Champions League qualification.

6) Tottenham Hotspur

When looking at Spurs this year I get the feeling that I’m looking at the team this club had a few seasons ago when Gareth Bale was around or Liverpool a couple of years back when Luis Suarez was scoring goals for fun.

Simply put, while this is a good team, they will only go as far as striker Harry Kane will take them. If the Englishman can match his 23-goal performance in the league from last year, they will be fine. If he struggles at all, I’m not sure they will even get close to a Champions League spot.

TMCL040114EVERTON-29

7) Everton

Last year was a massive letdown for Everton. After finishing in fifth in 2014, they struggled big time on their way to an 11th place finish.

Although they added Tom Cleverely and Gerard Deulofeu, in addition to being rumoured to be close to signing Xherdan Shaqiri, the squad is relatively similar to the last couple of years. If they can keep John Stones and Romelu Lukaku can keep on scoring goals, they should easily be the best of the rest.

Bafetimbi-Gomis

8) Swansea City

Even though they sold the aforementioned Wilfried Bony to Manchester City in January, the Welsh wonders had another great season as they achieved a club best 8th place finish in the Premier League.

I’m expecting more of the same this year. Pretty much everyone is back from the last few years and the club does things the right way. This is the model that all mid-table sides should look too.

Bojan-Stoke

9) Stoke City

Don’t look not, but Stoke City’s actually becoming a mid-table side that’s worth watching. Mark Hughes has led the side to a pair of ninth place results and they have some flash players now with Bojan and Ibrahim Afellay.

You still have your players that have been there for awhile like Charlie Adam and Peter Crouch that fit into the whole team you don’t want to face on a cold and wet Wednesday night narrative. That old statement might not be true for much longer as this group might sneak into the Europa League discussion.

0,,10278~13784009,00

10) Newcastle United

After a stunning fifth place results in 2011-12, Newcastle United have been a bit of a hot mess over the last couple of seasons and almost got relegated last season. They defeated West Ham United 2-0 on the final match day of the year to stay alive, but the optics did not look good.

So why do I have them in 10th? Well despite his disastrous run as England manager, I think Steve McClaren has done a good job with a young Derby County squad that couldn’t quite get into the Premier League from the ultra-competitve Championship. There’s a number of young players that have been signed for this season and I think that should be enough to let them stick out from the mid-table mess.

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman

11) Southampton

Even though almost all of their big names and their manager left in the summer transfer last year, Southampton had a fantastic campaign as they finished in seventh place, thanks in large part to the management of Ronald Koeman.

The club has lost Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin to Liverpool and Manchester United respectively, and while they still have almost everyone coming back from last year, I think Southampton will drop off slightly as they will have to deal with the long and winding road that is the Europa League.

2AFFAC2A00000578-0-image-a-1_1438361157054

12) West Bromwich Albion

Thanks to Tony Pullis, West Brom were able to survive relegation with a strong second half showing and they look to be set for a comfortable mid-table result this year.

James Chester and Rickie Lambert have brought in during the summer and Saido Berahino is probably going to score goals for fun once again this year. If the young striker isn’t sold off, West Brom should have no problem avoiding relegation.

promo252528521

13) Sunderland

In the last three years a trio of different managers (Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat) have kept the Black Cats from going down. Advocaat has returned for another go-around as he tries to prevent this team from being in another relegation fight.

While their striking force is a tad bit interesting with Jermain Defoe, Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham not really getting the pulse racing, I’m always high on this team given their overall depth and get burned on it in the end. In the end though, I think they are still better than the other sides that I’ll be talking abut shortly.

2f1a193a-01ec-4e8a-ab21-9fbe659c3f37-2060x1236

14) West Ham United

Big Sam Allardyce is out at manager and Slaven Bilic is now in charge with one goal in mind for this season. With the club moving from Upton Park to Olympic Stadium next season, they need to stay in the top flight or things could get ugly.

While they splashed the cash on Juventus’ Angelo Ogbonna and brought in Carl Jenkinson from Arsenal on loan to help the back-end, this isn’t a very exciting side and they may need some help up front to stay up. I mean, do you want to be relying on Andy Carroll staying healthy to avoid being relegated?

Cabaye1

15) Crystal Palace

After Tony Pulis left the side just two days before the start of the season and Neil Warnock was canned around Christmas, Alan Pardew was brought in from Newcastle United and led a stunning charge to a tenth place finish. In the summer, they made two big deals as Connor Wickham and Yohan Cabaye have joined the club.

So why do I have them lower? Well after Pardew has a really good season, things end up getting kind of ugly and I think that might happen again here. Also, I don’t think the overall depth is there for this side compared to the other ones in the mid-table discussion.

6496774-3x2-700x467

16) Norwich City

After a year away, the Canaries are back in the top flight after winning the playoff final over Middlesbrough 2-0, which concluded a stunning run in the second half of the season after Alex Neil was brought in from Hamilton Academical.

The side is pretty much intact from a year ago and they haven’t really strengthen things quite yet. However, I think they are the best looking side of the three that are coming up from the Championship and they should be able to survive. Though a strike force of Cameron Jerome, Gary Hooper and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel has to be one of the most bizarre trios ever.

Tim-Sherwood-2

17) Aston Villa

Christian Benteke, Ron Vlaar and Fabian Delph are gone and a new ownership group has yet to materialize. After years of just holding on to a spot in the Premier League in the final moments, the signs are pointing at Villa finally heading towards relegation.

However, it’s hard to see a club of this stature going down. Now sure, Tim Sherwood is a bit of a divisive fellow in his management, but he did a great job in making things better after Paul Lambert’s tenure ended. If they are able to add Aaron Lennon and Emmanuel Adebayor as is currently being rumoured, their presence might be enough to gel with the younger guys and ensure survival.

Ranieri

18) Leicester City

In things I wasn’t expecting to type in 2015, Claudio Ranieri is managing in the Premier League again as he replaces Nigel Pearson at the man in charge of the Foxes.

Last season, Leicester won seven of their last nine matches to survive, even though they look doomed to go down for months. Even though they have a much calmer man in charge and they brought in Robert Huth and Shinji Okazaki, I’m not sure if this squad has enough in order to survive. The late-season finish last spring was amazing, but I think how Leicester City looked for most of last season is probably how this year will play out.

watford-players-promotion-celeb-championship-vicarage-road-sheffield-wednesday_3298071

19) Watford

For the first time in eight years, Watford is back in the Premier League though they are with a different manager than from when they finished in second in the Championship back in May. Slavisa Jokanovic, who the club’s fourth manager in five weeks a year ago, was unable to agree on a new contract with Watford and Quique Flores was brought in.

On the surface, this looks like a Championship squad still. If Matej Vydra and Troy Deeney can score goals like they did a year ago, Watford will survive. If not, it could be a long season.

With that said, since the owners of the club also own Udinese, maybe Antonio Di Natale can come in on loan and save the day.

AFC-Bournemouth-Bus-Parade-620x330

20) AFC Bournemouth

After almost being relegated from the Football League back in 2009, the Cherries have made an incredible run to the Premier League which culminated with them winning the Championship last year. The fact that the big clubs will be heading into a ground that holds just 11,500 fans is going to be amazing this year.

As much as I want Bournemouth to be like Blackpool were a few years ago and being a club that is fun as heck to watch while trying to survive relegation, I just can’t see it. They’ve made a couple of nice veteran signings with Artur Boruc and Sylvain Distin coming in, I’m not convinced the rest of last year’s squad can do enough to stay in the top flight. I’m excited to see what manager Eddie Howe can do though, as I think he’ll probably stay in the Premier League next year no matter what happens to Bournemouth.


Stray Thoughts on the Memorial Cup Semifinal

1297706379076_ORIGINAL

For a brief stretch in the opening period of Friday’s Memorial Cup semifinal, it looked like the Quebec Remparts would pick up right where they left off in their tiebreaker win a day earlier over the Rimouski Oceanic.

Adam Erne scored early to make it 1-0 for Quebec, and with the crowd on their side the Remparts looked to be on their way to the title game.

However, a lot can change in the course of 60 minutes. In between the fans throwing debris on the ice as they were upset about the reffing, the WHL champion Kelowna Rockets came out with a vengeance and ran the Remparts out of their own rink.

The 9-3 win for the Rockets was similar to their rout of the Rimouski Oceanic in the round-robin. Almost the entire team was finding the back of the net, with the big guns like Leon Draisatl, blueliners Josh Morrissey and non household names like Justin Kirkland all scoring.

For those watching the game, it was an impressive sight, and it might not be what the Oshawa Generals want to see in Sunday’s final. Now the Rockets have had two okay showings in the round-robin losses and were shut down by Oshawa with ease on Tuesday. But with a long layoff and a red-hot team to deal with, this might be too much to handle.

 

When it comes to the Remparts, the 2015/16 season will be very different. Not only will they be in a new rink, but Zach Fucale, Adam Erne and Anthony Duclair will all be moving on to the pro ranks. There’s a lot of holes to fill, but next year’s squad probably won’t be as strong as this one.

The one good thing though is that they have hopefully ended, for now at least, the narrative that the Memorial Cup host doesn’t deserve to be there. Sure Saskatoon and London weren’t that great in hindsight, but Quebec was a threat all year to win the title and could have won this tournament. Hopefully, the Red Deer Rebels will be just as good in 2016.


Stray Thoughts on Quebec vs. Rimouski and the Memorial Cup Tiebreaker

28 mai 2015 - Rimouski vs Remparts

I’ve seen some interesting things happen in my time watching the Memorial Cup, but the unofficial eighth and ninth games of the QMJHL final between the Rimouski Oceanic and the Quebec Remparts are up there with the strangest things I’ve seen so far.

In the round-robin finale on Wednesday, I expected both teams to be playing at their very best, with the Oceanic trying to stay alive and the Remparts looking to knock out hte team that prevented them from winning the QMJHL title over a week ago. Instead Rimouski came out on top of their game and Quebec were left with their tails between their legs.

Come Thursday night’s tiebreaker, the roles were reversed. Quebec’s forwards had woken up and took control of the game with ease while Rimouski didn’t do a a heck of a lot and found themselves out of the tournament.

rimouski_celebration-640x360

For the Oceanic, the entire week was kind of a letdown after they won the QMJHL championship in dramatic fashion. Michael Joly was fantastic, but players like Anthony DeLuca (who did not play in the two games against Quebec due to illness) and Fredrik Gauthier were hardly noticeable out there. Maybe Samuel Morin and Jan Kostalek didn’t control games like some thought they would or Phillippe Desrosiers wasn’t sublime in goal (that misadventure behind his net to give Quebec a 3-2 lead wasn’t his best moment.) However, I think the biggest difference for Rimouski was the lack of multiple dynamic threats up front, besides Joly of course.

In the end though, this wasn’t a terrible season at all for the Oceanic. They entered the season as the number one ranked team in the entire CHL, and while they were overshadowed by teams from other leagues, they were able to come back to defeat Quebec and win the QMJHL title. That’s not something you can scoff at.

CGIwq78WcAA3w-B.jpg-small

As for the Remparts, some of their struggling forwards have started to show up at last. Marc-Olivier Roy and Adam Erne finally had good games, and Anthony Duclair and Vladimir Tkachev were much better than they were on Wednesday (unless your going for the pouting selfish Russian narrative that Sam Cosentino was busting out later in the second period.)

With the forwards playing well and Zach Fucale being as solid as ever (even though he got pulled against Rimouski in the round-robin finale I thought he turned in a good performance and he wasn’t really tested on Thursday), Quebec has a good chance of winning this thing.

Now granted, Kelowna and Oshawa are both really good teams, but the Remparts matched up with them well earlier this week. With the home crowd on their side and Rimouski vanquished, that might give them all the momentum they need.

 


Stray Thoughts on Oshawa vs. Kelowna

It was around the third period of Tuesday’s 2-1 win for the Oshawa Generals over the Kelowna Rockets where I finally learned to appreciate this year’s OHL champions.

All year long, I felt that the Generals were overrated when it comes to the CHL Top 10 rankings (even though you shouldn’t put that much stock into them) and that they weren’t the best team in the country. That’s probably due to my ‘the East is weak’ belief that I’ve had for a while in the OHL, but I also felt that both the Soo Greyhounds and the Kelowna Rockets were better than them with a high-powered offence.

Now though, after seeing the Generals go 3-0 in the round-robin and shut down the Erie Otters for the most part in the OHL final, I’m pretty sure the 2005 London Knights would have a tough time matching up with this team.

Coupe Memorial MasterCard - 26 mai 2015 - Oshawa vs Kelowna

The Generals aren’t as clear-cut dominant as the Guelph Storm were last year when they went perfect in the round-robin, but their three one-goal games don’t really tell the whole story. Okay, Quebec had a chance to beat them, but Oshawa were a step ahead of Kelowna and Rimouski from my point of view.

The key players this time around were up front. Cole Cassels, Tobias ‘Prop Joe’ Lindberg (check out his background photo on Twitter for a great reference to The Wire, hence his nickname that I gave him) and Matt Mistele all played well, but the best player for me was Michael Dal Colle. The New York Islanders prospect turned in his best showing yet in this tournament, and probably could have had one or two goals.

Once again, Ken Appleby was stellar when he was called upon, especially on a huge save on Rourke Chartier in the dying stages of the second period and when Kelowna turned the pressure on late in the game. Unlike the last two games where he gave up a couple of bad goals, the North Bay native played an almost perfect game, which is what you hope to see heading into the final.

At the moment, it seems hard to imagine Oshawa not becoming the first OHL team to win the Memorial Cup since the Windsor Spitfires in 2010. However, we felt the same about the Storm last year, only to see them stumble at the last hurdle.

G_AB42964

While the Rockets weren’t as bad as they were against Quebec on Friday, they left a lot to be desired once again on Tuesday. Sure, they put a ton of pressure on the Generals in the final minutes, but that felt like a late charge from someone doing an essay and waiting until the day before hand to do it.

Once again, Jackson Whistle kept this game from being worse than it was. Now granted, the goal he gave up to Lindberg wasn’t the best to allow in terms of the time of the game that it happened (just seconds after Kelowna had a couple of chances). But if it wasn’t for him, this score would have been lopsided.

While Chartier, Nick Merkley, Tyson Baillie and Dillon Dube were all solid, guys like Josh Morrissey, Madison Bowey and Leon Draisaitl were nowhere to be seen on for the majority of the game. If Kelowna wants a rematch with Oshawa in Sunday’s final, those players will need to be on their game in Friday’s semi against either Quebec or Rimouski.

 


Stray Thoughts on Rimouski vs. Kelowna

1297704481053_ORIGINAL

After three really good games to start off the 2015 Memorial Cup, I think we were due for a lopsided affair.

That happened on Monday night as the Kelowna Rockets had an easy time dealing with the Rimouski Oceanic in a 7-3 triumph that puts the QMJHL champions on the brink of being knocked out of playoff contention.
Madison Bowey, Devante Stephens, Dillon Dube

When the Rockets opened up this year’s tournament with a loss to Quebec, the biggest question mark was if Kelowna was still working off the long-term rust from sweeping the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL finals.

While I still think there biggest issue was the fact that they looked totally out of sorts, Monday night’s win was a total team effort. The defence (especially Madison Bowey) was far better than they were in the game against the Remparts, and Jackson Whistle didn’t have to do as much as a result.

Up front, Nick Merkley basically toyed with the Oceanic for the entire game and Leon Draisaitl turned in another great showing. While he will be overlooked by those two players, Dillon Dube again impressed me with his poise as a 16-year-old. I’m slightly biased because I covered him while working in Alberta, but I expect him to be a force in the WHL for years to come, and be a first round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Okay maybe that’s a strong statement at this point, but with his speed, size and skill, I don’t see a sophomore slump happening.

This was the team that I expected to be the favourite when the week began. With Oshawa upcoming on Tuesday night, the Rockets are back where they wanted to be, as they have a chance to earn a bye straight into Sunday’s final.

afc31742b44541c9858553feb053f79c-3416a7c3c0d447db801e32a07a673a91-4

As for the Oceanic, they have more questions than answers. The defence has been pretty average so far, and the forwards have been just as invisible. Sure, Michael Joly has been impressive and Frederik Gauthier got a goal (albiet in a 6-2 blowout at that point), but guys like Anthony DeLuca and Christopher Clapperton haven’t gotten the pulses racing as of yet on a regular basis. If the Oceanic want to move into the semi-finals, that needs to change in a hurry.

The goaltending rotation that Serge Beausoleil used in the playoffs was back again on Monday, though it didn’t work out as planned as Louis-Philip Guindon was pulled after giving up five goals and Phillippe Desrosiers. Desrosiers, I assume, will start again on Wednesday but I don’t think that’s because Guindon played bad. Heck, if it wasn’t for him, Rimouski might have been down 5-0 after 25 minutes.

If there’s any saving grace for Rimouski on Wednesday, it’s the fact that they are playing Quebec. As I said before, the Oceanic not only won the QMJHL title over the Remparts in double overtime in Game 7, but they also erased a 4-1 deficit in Quebec just to force a deciding game.

At this point, momentum is clearly in Quebec’s favour given their solid play all week. But if Rimouski can hang with them in their round-robin finale, I wouldn’t be surprised if some doubt plays into the Remparts heads.

Either way, Game 8 of the QMJHL finals should be a dandy.


Stray Thoughts on Quebec vs. Oshawa

There is still a long way to go until the 2015 Memorial Cup champion is crowned in Quebec City.

However, if the championship game sees a rematch of Sunday’s overtime affair between the Quebec Remparts and the Oshawa Generals, I would totally before it.

In what has been a strong start to the tournament so far, this game was the best of the lot. Both teams went back and forth in a contest that built up to a frantic finish, and an impressive overtime winner by Stephen Desrocher.

Once again, the big guns up front were the key players for the Generals. Michael McCarron and Michael Dal Colle were solid once again, and while Hunter Smith wasn’t nearly as impressive as he was on Saturday, Cole Cassels stepped up with some big faceoff wins.

In goal, Ken Appleby made a number of big saves to keep his team in the game late, especially when Vladimir Tkachev took things over in the third. Sure, he probably wants a redo on the two goals he gave up to Dmytro Timashov, but other than that he was solid as ever.

They aren’t on the same level as Guelph were last year, at least not yet, but Oshawa is starting to put a good solid claim as the team to beat in Quebec City after two wins.

The overtime loss for the Remparts but a slight damper on yet another great effort by Zach Fucale in goal. Like Appleby, he did give up a couple of bad goals, but when you make 45 saves you can’t really fault the guy. Any questions about his average regular season showings should now be put to rest.

Late in the game, Tkachev and Anthony Duclair were once again dynamic and Tkachev probably should of had a couple of goals. Tymashov finally made an impact but I’m still waiting for Adam Erne to break out. He’s played okay I suppose, but when you come into the Memorial Cup as the QMJHL finals MVP, I expected him to blow me away. So far that hasn’t been the case.

At this point though, the positives far outweigh the negatives with Quebec. Up next is a chance for revenge in their round-robin finale on Wednesday against Rimouski in a rematch of the QMJHL championship series. You can be sure that the Remparts will be eager to win that one.

 

 

 


Stray Thoughts on Rimouski vs. Oshawa

 

 

The one problem with being out West is that I don’t get to watch as much OHL (or games that don’t involve the London Knights or Erie Otters this season on Sportsnet) as I would like, and the same holds true for the QMJHL .

So when the Oshawa Generals and the Rimouski Oceanic did battle on Saturday at the Memorial Cup, it meant that I finally got a chance to see them up close and personal on national television instead of through the wonders of illegal bootleg internet streams.

mem_052015_672

On the whole, the Generals played a really solid Eastern Conference style of game. They aren’t going to dazzle you with a high-powered run-and-gun offence like the Soo Greyhounds or have a super game-breaker like Connor McDavid (though Michael Dal Colle) comes pretty close. Instead, it’s a size and power game that drops the opponent into submission, although Rimouski nearly came back to beat them.

Overall, I was fairly impressed what I saw with Oshawa. Hunter Smith moves well around the ice for a man his size, and Michael McCarron has taken huge strides after a rough first year in the OHL with London. Plus, Ken Appleby (who should have won the league’s goalie of the year) made some dazzling saves late to keep his team in front.

Sure there were a couple of issues, such as coughing up an early 2-0 lead in the first period, but all-in-all this was an pretty solid start for what is a pretty good team.

B97460339Z.120150523214934000G2N9LNA7.11

So what did I think of Rimouski? Well other than Michael Joly, who was great once again, they were pretty much average despite it being a one-goal game. Phillipe Desrosiers was okay in goal though, except for when he almost pulled a Matt O’Connor in the first period.

As a whole though, a lot of the Oceanic’s bigger guns were hardly noticeable, especially Fredrik Gauthier. With Kelowna and Quebec upcoming on their schedule, Rimouski can’t afford any passengers. Otherwise, their tournament may come to an early end.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.