Soccer BPL Preview: Expert picks for the 2014-15 season

{eot} Staff
8/15/2014 9:59:46 AM
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The new Barclays Premier League season got underway on Saturday and presents a week long look at some of the teams and stories that will shape the up coming campaign. We asked our soccer analysts from every platform to predict the top four and bottom three for the 2014/15 Premier League season... They provided us with three different champions, including Chelsea receiving three of five votes to lift the trophy, as well as a message for Burnley fans: enjoy the top flight while you can.

Jason deVos, TSN Soccer Analyst

Twitter: @jasondevos

Top Four: 1) Chelsea 2) Man City 3) Arsenal 4) Liverpool

Relegation: 18) West Brom 19) Leicester City 20) Burnley

Gareth Wheeler, TSN 1050 Soccer Analyst

Twitter: @WheelerTSN

Top Four: 1) Arsenal 2) Man United 3) Chelsea 4) Man City

Relegation: 18) Aston Villa 19) Leicester City 20) Burnley

Kristian Jack, TSN Soccer Analyst

Twitter: @KristianJack

Top Four: 1) Chelsea 2) Man City 3) Man United 4) Arsenal

Relegation: 18) Burnley19) Swansea 20) West Brom

Noel Butler, TSN 690 Soccer Analyst

Twitter: @TheSoccerNoel

Top Four: 1) Chelsea 2) Man City 3) Tottenham 4) Arsenal

Relegation: 18) Burnley 19) Swansea 19) Leicester

Luke Wileman, TSN Soccer Analyst

Twitter: @LukeWileman

Top Four: 1) Man City 2) Man United 3) Chelsea 4) Liverpool

Relegation: 18) Crystal Palace 19) QPR 20) Burnley

Read more from Luke Wileman here throughout the year as he contributes a regular column to on Major League Soccer as well as the Barclays Premier League.

We also asked them to weigh in on which storylines and players they think will dominate the headlines and/or dominate the league.

Noel Butler

Breakout Player: Frank Lampard

For a player who turned down multiple offers from Premier League clubs following 13 glory laden seasons at Stamford Bridge, no one could have quite scripted the next turn in his career. Soon after Frank Lampard was unveiled as a member of New York City FC on July 24th, Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini confirmed that Chelsea's all-time leading goal scorer had joined the BPL Champions on a six month loan ahead of joining up with NYCFC in the new year.

Arsene Wenger has wasted no time in expressing his disappointment that this was nothing more than a scheme by the parent club to circumnavigate UEFA's stringent Financial Fair Play Policy. Rumours first began something wasn't quite adding up when Lampard was spotted at City's Etihad campus just ahead of England's Brazil 2014 departure. Mark Sunday, September 21st on your calendars – the date when Chelsea will visit the BPL Champions looking to inflict a second straight home league defeat on Pellegrini's team.

Story: Vanishing Spray

Having been part of Major League Soccer since 2011 and used to maximum effect at this summer's World Cup Finals, the job of BPL referees will get that much less arduous this season with the introduction of Vanishing Spray into the league. The Premier League made the announcement via Twitter in late July, and just like Goal Line Technology last season, Vanishing Spray made its formal introduction at last Sunday's annual season curtain raiser the Community Shield.

How very appropriate the home of football, Wembley Stadium was the venue.

As someone who utterly detests the wanton disrespect of a referee's authority at free kicks, where seemingly mob rule can prevail, implementing such a simple measure will rid us from an unacceptable face of football. Premier League has given flexibility to their referees for when to use Vanishing Spray for free kicks from deep lying areas. Next up, here's to faking and fawning disappearing from the Beautiful Game.

Read more from Noel Butler here throughout the year as he contributes a regular column to on the Barclays Premier League as well as features on the Montreal Impact for TSN Radio 690.

Kristian Jack

Breakout Player: Nemanja Matic, who will thrive alongside player of the year Cesc Fabregas.

Story: Louis van Gaal's first season at the helm of Manchester United

Louis Van Gaal arrives at Manchester United where it was no longer just belonging to Sir Alex. The failure of David Moyes means the bridge between the old boss and the new boss is considerably longer than it was in April.

That is the first thing he has going for him. It is not the last.

Van Gaal has arrived at Old Trafford where there is finally a feeling of a badly needed fresh start. Gone are Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra and if the 63-year-old is to complete a successful overhaul, players such as Anderson, Nani, Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley, Rafael and Javier Hernandez will likely follow over time.

Van Gaal has already stamped an identity on United in his short time, something badly missing under Moyes. The team looks set to play a 3-4-1-2 system against many opponents, one backed by senior members of the club who have been more than happy so far in pre-season.

All indications show that an improvement is coming but for a team that finished last season seventh on 64 points after eight successive years in the top two, just how much they need to improve could well be the biggest burning question in the entire league.

Van Gaal, unlike Moyes, is not inheriting a champion. Moyes inherited a flawed team but, when they under performed, the fingers pointed at the Scotsman. This season, the players have no such excuse and little expectations.

Read more from Kristian Jack here throughout the year as he contributes a regular column to on the Barclays Premier League as well as exclusive content for TSN Radio 1050 Toronto.

Gareth Wheeler

Breakout Player: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)

Arsene Wenger finds another gem perfect fit for his free-flowing system. While Olivier Giroud remains the only standout number nine, Sanchez fits the bill of a crafty, quick, versatile goal scorer and creator. Nineteen goals and 10 assists in 34 La Liga appearances in 2013-14 speaks to his quality. At 25, Sanchez is hitting his prime, making his £35 million transfer seem a bargain. The transition from the possession brand of Barcelona into the English version of it should be seamless. Sanchez instantly helps make an intriguing Arsenal squad a legit title contender.

Story: The changes at Manchester United

The biggest storyline to watch has to be Manchester United under new manager Louis van Gaal. Individuals at the club during their North American pre-season tour told me the squad was "a shambles" under David Moyes - "nice man, but in over his head." There was little communication or role definition. Failure under a void of leadership shouldn't surprise.

The early reports under van Gaal are overwhelmingly positive. The players have already bought into to a proven winner, and someone not afraid to change the mold/set-up within the team, or United's training facilities at Carrington. It's a cultural shift that they hope will manifest itself on the field. It's difficult for any team to bounce back from seventh place to win a title. Without the distraction of European football, United should be able to remain fresh with a tight squad rotation to maximize points in league play.

An easy start to the season (Swansea, Sunderland and three promoted clubs) certainly helps the new manager and allows for any late signings before the transfer window closes to settle before the meat of the schedule comes about. Van Gaal's 3-5-2 formation looked to be dynamic while going undefeated on their North American tour. The squad still has holes and needs reinforcements at centre-back, on the wings and in central midfield. That being said, a proper set-up, approach, and excitable talent remaining in the squad bodes well for a bounce-back.

Listen to Gareth Wheeler on TSN 1050 Toronto throughout the year as he weighs in on all of Toronto's biggest sports issues. Check regularly as he writes exclusives on the Barclays Premier League.

Jason deVos

Story: Can Jose Mourinho lead Chelsea to the title?

Last season, Mourinho often referenced the fact that his team was not "ready to be champions" yet, and that 2014-15 would be their year. Some saw this as an excuse – a means to take pressure off of his players last season – but others felt that Mourinho genuinely believed this. Count me as being in the latter camp.

Chelsea managed to finish third last season, even without a proven goal scorer leading the line. Samuel Eto'o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba were insufficient in Mourinho's eyes, so the manager swooped to sign Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid. While Costa's stock dropped after a poor showing for Spain in the World Cup, he is still expected to score plenty of goals for a Chelsea side high in creativity.

The central midfield addition of Cesc Fabregas could prove to be decisive for Chelsea. If Fabregas and Nemanja Matic can form a strong partnership in the middle of the park, it will free up the likes of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle to create or score chances up front.

New signing Felipe Luis and Cesar Azpilicueta will likely flank Gary Cahill and John Terry at the back and with either Petr Cech or the returning Thibault Courtois in goal, Chelsea will once again be defensively resolute. In fact, expect them to have the league's best defensive record, as they did last season.

It will be at the other end of the pitch where Chelsea's fortunes are determined. Hazard scored 14 goals for Chelsea from midfield last season, but if a midfielder sits atop their scoring chart at the end of the year, Mourinho will have failed. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Costa to remain healthy and on form, but that is a small burden to bear when one is chasing the biggest prize in English football.

Read more from Jason deVos here throughout the year as he contributes a regular column to on the Barclays Premier League as well as exclusive Major League Soccer and Soccer Canada insight.


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