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The rise and rise of the roman empire
Manchester United will push them hard, but the Premiership title will stay at Stamford Bridge.
Tony Cascarino, 15 Aug 2005
I don't want to sound like Peter Kenyon, but realistically there's only one team that's going to win the Premiership and that's Chelsea.
Frighteningly for everybody else, the arrival of Sean Wright-Phillips and the return of Hernan Crespo means that they're an even stronger side than the one which won the title with 29 wins, eight draws and only a solitary defeat.
Alex Ferguson's right when he says that all Man U and Arsenal can afford to lose all season is one, possibly two games. Any more than that and they'll be left behind.
Chelsea's strength lies in not just the quality of their players, but the variety. In Crespo, Drogba and Gudjohnsen, they've three strikers who can be used in different ways to unlock different defences.
He's had his critics since arriving from France, but I'm expecting big things – including eight or nine more goals – this season from Drogba. While not the most graceful of athletes, his ability to batter his way into the penalty area is always going to cause problems as Arsenal were reminded last week in the Community Shield. Add in his pace and aerial ability and he's a far better player than people give him credit for.
Chelsea's biggest unsung hero though, in terms of both individual ability and what he gives to the team, is Gudjohnsen. If I was a manager, I'd break the bank to sign him and then build my whole midfield and attack around him. He reminds me of Mark Hughes in that he's as strong as an ox and can either hold the ball or move it on with just one touch.
While I'm not convinced that Sean Wright-Phillips is worth £21 million, the threat of him stealing their place will make Robben, Cole and Duff work even harder to maintain their levels of performance.
At the time of writing it looks like the Michael Essien deal will go through, most likely for a record British transfer fee. He's a typical Chelsea player in that he reads the game well, wins tackles and keeps the ball a la Roy Keane. The only thing you won't get from his is Steven Gerrard-style 30-yard wonder goals, but that's a minor quibble given who he's got around him.
Manchester United won't win the title, but they will run Chelsea far harder than they did last season.
Whatever behind the scenes problems they've had will go out the window when they kick their season off at Everton with, I predict, a comfortable win.
I'm expecting Rooney to have an exceptional season running into the World Cup. Ditto Ronaldo who's added consistency to all those tricks of his, and Heinze who should play at centre-half like he does for Argentina.
Then there's this new lad of theirs, Park Ji-Sung, and Van Nistelrooy who still has 25 goals a season in him if his attitude's right, and the possible arrival from Real Madrid of Michael Owen
Can I just point out that for their penultimate game of the season United have to go to Stamford Bridge, a potential title decider if ever there was!
If anyone's capable of pulling off a transfer coup it's Arsene Wenger, but as things stand Arsenal haven't come up with a replacement for Patrick Vieira.
Something else that urgently needs sorting is the Sol Campbell situation. I couldn't believe it when Senderos was chosen ahead of him in the Cup Final, and neither I'm sure could Sol. If he doesn't regain his place, expect him to be off when the transfer window re-opens in January.
Liverpool fans are unlikely to suffer the indignity of finishing below Everton again, but there's no way they're going to get within 10 points of Chelsea.
If AC Milan hadn't committed hari-kari, they could have been thumped 5-0 in last year's Champions League final. Victory in Istanbul doesn't alter the fact that for the most part their away form last season was atrocious.
Bringing in Crouch is a smart move because he's the sort of player who'll grab you a last gasp equaliser, but overall their squad is still lacking in areas where Chelsea, Man U and Arsenal are spoilt for choice.
Finally a word about Celtic and that disastrous away trip to Bratislava. Gordon Strachan may have been guilty of tactical naivety, but you can't blame him for Celtic not having enough money to replace Henrik Larsson or letting their 2004/05 Player of the Season, Jackie McNamara, go to Wolves on a free transfer.
The only silver lining is that yours truly can no longer be accused of participating in Celtic's most embarrassing European defeat. I thought it would be impossible to play worse than we did in 1991 when Neuchatel Xamax beat us 5-1 in the UEFA Cup, but the current team managed it!
Rangers fans will be able to laugh themselves silly again in May when they win the SPL title for the second year in a row. A bleak prospect I know, but the Celtic board are either unable or unwilling to compete with them at the moment. b