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Blue Is The Colour

This is the season where Chelsea’s Galactico's can finally go all the way.

Tony Cascarino, 12 Aug 2004

At 3/1 my pre-season money was on Manchester United, but with the selection crisis they’ve got at the moment I’ve changed my mind and gone for Chelsea to win the Premiership and go further than any other British team in the Champions’ League.

While you wonder how Man U will cope for the first month of the season without Saha and van Nistelrooy, Chelsea have four world-class strikers to choose from - not to mention half-a-dozen goalscoring midfielders. They’ve got power, movement and a manager who, unlike Claudio Ranieri, knows who his best eleven are and, injuries permitting, will play them week in, week out.

While there are no guarantees that they’ll do well in the Premiership, I’m expecting Drogba and Kezman to be more hungry than Crespo and Hasselbaink who too often last season looked like they were going through the motions. The new lads have that bit more to prove, which could be the difference between second-place and winning the title.

What I’m hoping, but don’t know for sure, is that Damien Duff is one of the names which automatically makes it onto the team-sheet. Fully fit, he’s as good as anybody in the Premiership and played regularly in his favoured position will get you 15 goals a season minimum.

We all know that championships aren’t won and lost by the middle of September, but Manchster United could be five or six points off the pace by then without the injured van Nistelrooy, Saha and Solksjaer, the suspended Ferdinand and Ronaldo and Heinze who, as I said a fortnight ago, have done Alex Ferguson no favours by going to the Olympics. If either of them were to get injured in Greece it’d be “bye bye title” because United badly need what they have to offer.

The only way the balance will tip back in Man U’s favour is if they pull off a major coup like signing Steven Gerard. Inconceivable as it seems, dramatic things like that do happen in football and have a major effect on where the silverware ends up.

I don’t think Patrick Viera moving to Real Madrid will in itself cost Arsenal the Premiership, but Edu is not a like for like replacement, and they’ll be looking for one of the new arrivals to step up a gear, like Henry and Pires did a few years back.

Which is entirely possible when you look at Arsene Wenger’s record in the transfer market. More so than any other manager in England, he’s brilliant at spotting players who’ve yet to fulfil their potential.

Liverpool fans are expecting great things from Rafael Benitez, but I can’t see them doing better than fourth. Two players who desperately need to produce are Harry Kewell and Michael Owen – in fact, Owen is in danger of spending most of the season on the bench. The main reason he’s still at Anfield is that no one was prepared to pay the money Liverpool would’ve wanted for him. I asked Gareth Southgate last season who he’d rather play against, Michael Owen or Craig Bellamy, and he said Michael Owen every time.

Talking of Bellamy, it’s his contribution to the team rather than Shearer’s or Kluivert’s which will determine whether Newcastle nick a Champions’ League spot. He’s nasty, never throws the towel in and scares the hell out of defences with his pace. If he remains fit, the Toon will be there or thereabouts.

Another team that could grab fourth spot is Middlesbrough but only if Viduka and Hasselbaink decide that mid week trips to Selhurst Park aren’t beneath them. It’s highly unlikely that Steve McLaren will be given the boot mid-season, but having spent over £100 million since arriving at the Riverside, this could be his last chance to make Borough a top six side.

As for who’ll be doing a Leeds, Everton have an almighty fight on their hands to beat the drop. It’s bad enough that David Moyes only managed to bring in two Nationwide League players during the summer, but the boardroom battle means that the chance of Wayne Rooney staying beyond the Christmas transfer window has all but gone. Fortunately for them, Crystal Palace, Norwich and West Brom have even less quality in their squads and will need a miracle - or Everton completely self-destructing - to hang on to their top flight status.

Finally, I’d like to add my congratulations to the praise that’s been heaped on Shelbourne. When you think of the players that have come out of the Crotian league in recent years, them beating Haijuk Split is an incredible result and one which belies the fact that they’re operating on a tighter budget than most Conference sides. Regardless of what happens against Deportivo, they’ve done Irish football proud.

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