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A Rough Guide To United’s 2011/12 Premier League Opponents

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Although I have already stated what I believe the Premier League table will look like come next May in a previous article, here very quickly is another run-down of Manchester United’s opponents this season listed by alphabetical order. 

Arsenal – 6th

In what was already going to be a tough season for Arsene Wenger, the impending departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have only re-confirmed the majority of people’s fears that the Emirates club will finish outside of the top 4 this season.

It will be interesting to see who will replace the talented midfield duo and whether or not Gerviniho can be a success in England. In Robin Van Persie and Jack Wilshere, Wenger has two fantastic players still to build the team round, but even if those two shine, it may not be enough to earn a Champions League place next season.

Player to Watch: Who else but Wilshere who will have even more responsibility on his young shoulders this season. There’s no doubt he has the talent to become an Arsenal and England regular for years so

Aston Villa – 10th

It’s fair to say that new manager Alex McCliesh was hardly welcomed in with open arms this summer and after losing several vital players in the off-season, this season probably won’t be the most ‘inspiring’ of ones at Villa Park.

That being said Charles N’Zogbia is a fantastic signing and if Steven Ireland can get his head screwed on this season, the two of them could link up very well indeed and bring pace and goals to Villa’s midfield.  Up top Darren Bent’s goals will be vital. 2-3 new signings will be needed if Villa are to remotely challenge for a Europa League place.

Player to watch: N’Zogbia arguably has the talent to play at a top club and after doing well for Wigan after becoming frustrated at Newcastle, it shall be interesting to see how he handles the responsibility on his shoulders this season.

Blackburn Rovers – 13th

With the pressure on him from the club’s Indian owners, Steve Kean certainly is one of the favourites to get the sack this season. Most people are expecting Rovers to struggle this season and I wanted to predict them to go down.

However for some reason, I can see them doing ‘ok’ this season and if they are to get anywhere near my prediction I think they’ll surprise a few people. They are though so reliant on Christopher Samba, David Dunn and Ryan Nelsen and if 2 of those suddenly become injured they will defiantly slide very quickly down the table.

Player to Watch: Ruben Rochina may very well go onto be un-heard of this season, but the former Barcelona graduate could potentially be a real gem for the Ewood Park faithful to watch this season. He could certainly form a very creative midfield partnership with Dunne if he gets the chance to.

Bolton – 8th

Owen Coyle’s side should vastly improve on last season’s place of 14th this season and with some clever signings made there’s no reason why they shouldn’t again be one of the league’s most attractive teams to watch.

Despite lacking a 10-15 goal-scorer up top, Bolton’s creative and energetic midfield should do enough to trouble most teams. Even if Gary Cahill departs before the transfer deadline in David Wheater is good enough to step up and bolster what is already a decent looking defence.

Player to Watch: Chris Eagles it would be fair to say is still someone who is un-known to most Premier League clubs, but Coyle knows him well from his time at Burnley and should get the best out of him this season.

Chelsea – 3rd

After a trophyless season last year you get the feeling that Roman Ambramovich is desperate for his side to land some silverware this season. Andre Villas-Boas will be under intense-pressure to turn things round this season and instantly bring the good times back to Stamford Bridge.

There’s no doubt Chelsea with the likes of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry making up the core of the team will challenge next season. But with an aging side, doubts remain whether they have enough legs and quality in depth to challenge on all fronts.

Player to Watch: No doubt about it, Fernando Torres is going to be one of the stories of the season. The £50million man has the talent to bounce back this season and score the number of goals that he should have over the last 18 months. The question is though: can he fit into Chelsea’s system?

Everton – 7th

Everton are a team that are certainly long overdue some success and many neutrals would like to see them do well. Sadly it’s unlikely that the Toffees will challenge for regular honours again as the finances in the game today make that impossible.

Despite that though, David Moyes (as he’s done for a number of years) has done a great job there and with a good mix of youth and experience in their squad Everton will again be the best of the rest in the division.

Player to Watch: He might have had abit of a quiet season – partly due to injury – but there will be alot expected of Jack Rodwell this season. The midfielder has the talent to become a star and if he can have a good season, it will not only to the benefit of Everton but also to England possibly as well.

Fulham – 11th

It’s a credit to everyone connected with the Cottagers that this season marks their 11th successive season in the top-flight. Despite the departure of Mark Hughes, in Martin Jol they have a like-for-like replacement who knows the league like the back of his hand.

In Clint Dempsey and Danny Murphy they have one of the best central midfield partnerships in the league. With good strikers in Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson up top, Fulham have enough to comfortably finish in mid-table this year even with the distraction of a Europa League campaign to put up with.

Player to Watch: United fans will remember him for his stunning free-kick against us in 2001, but John Arne Risse is much more than that. The left-back’s incredibly talented on the ball and is certainly alot better defensively than people give him credit for. He could well be one of the bargains of the season.

Liverpool – 4th

Make no mistake about it. Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish will certainly be a much more improved team this time around and there will no repeat of their appealing start last season, which sadly cost Roy Hodgson the Anfield hot-seat.

Changes in key areas of the squad were needed for a while and with the promising partnership of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez about, Liverpool should have enough to grab the last Champions League spot this season.

Player to Watch: It’s said that it can be very easy to star in a poor team and whilst Blackpool were not poor last season, there’s no doubt Charlie Adam was their star player. He will be under a lot of pressure to show he wasn’t a ‘one-hit’ wonder last season; will he be able to live up to the hype?

Manchester City – 2nd

You may not like them, but City regardless of the future of Carlos Tevez will be a major threat this season and have the quality and depth in their squad to win major honours again this season.  After finishing 3rd last year, with the money they’ve spent they have to challenge for the title this season.

Serio Aguero is an incredible signing for Roberto Mancini and will bring guaranteed goals. It shall be interesting to see how City get on in the Champions League but with a strong confident squad they are a side everyone has to be wary of this year.

Player to Watch: He may be one of the quietest and smallest players in the division, but David Silva clearly is the most talented. At times last season, he was an artist waving his brush across the pitch and his imagination and creativity will come to the fore again this season.

Newcastle – 12th 

This season certainly will be a testing one for the Magpies. Losing Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique will hurt them as will the likely departure of Joey Barton who is available on a free. Still though the signs are still there that suggest Alan Pardew’s side have enough to build on.

Demba Ba who impressed in a short spell at West Ham last season is an excellent signing and with some promising young French talent at the club. Newcastle as strange as it may sound could be one of the more ‘romantic’ stories of the season.

Player to Watch: Cheik Tiote unquestionably was someone who very few fans would have heard of this time last season. The Ivorian immediately got to grips with the league and has a bite and hunger in the tackle that

Norwich City – 19th

Paul Lambert last season did an astonishing job in securing promotion last season. Many Norwich fans would have settled for a solid mid-table finish last season so to better that and finish runners-up last season was truly an incredible feat.

As harsh as it may sound though, Norwich do not have the quality in depth to stay in the division and probably this season has come a year too early for them. It will be a shame to see them go down as their fans are great and they will make Carrow Road certainly one of the noisiest grounds, which no doubt will go down well with a certain Delia Smith.

Player to Watch: Wes Hoolahan has over the last couple of years been spoken about as a player who promoted teams should think about bringing in. At 29, he’s no kid so this could be his one and only chance to make a name for himself in the division. His imagination and touch in midfield should catch the eye this year.

QPR – 17th

Probably one of the most interesting clubs to follow this season must be QPR where Neil Warnock has what looks like to be an almost impossible job on his hands due to the financial constraints being put on him.

Despite Rangers’ Owners having plenty of cash, strangely Warnock has not been able to bring in the kinds of names that he by all-rights should have been allowed to. DJ Campbell though is an excellent signing and he will need to produce an understanding with Adel Taarabt early on if they are to do anything but struggle this year.

Player to Watch: Adel Taarabt certainly is one of the more interesting captains this coming season. There’s no doubt he has the talent to succeed in the division but there’s every chance he could grow frustrated in a side that’s struggling and he may want out come the winter.

Spurs – 5th

Last season in many ways was a disappoint for Harry Redknapp as despite Spurs enjoying themselves in the Champions League last season, they dropped far too many silly points last year which cost them a real chance of getting 4th spot.

Despite not making too many signings so close to the season (which is rare for both Spurs and Redknapp) if they can improve on last season and sign a 15-20 goal striker as well as see Jermain Defoe recover then I believe they can finish ahead of Arsenal for the first time since 1990.

Player to Watch: There has been alot of talk about Kyle Walker over the last season. In loan-spells at QPR and Aston Villa last season he impressed and after impressing for England’s U21’s looks to be firmly in Fabio Capello’s plans. Expect him to be a surprising name in Fabio’s Euro 2012 squad if as expected he does well.

Stoke City – 15th

Tony Pulis has done a terrific job at Stoke and their run to the FA Cup final was certainly one of the surprises of an exciting season last year. It’s a credit to everyone involved in the Potteries that in their 3 season since returning to the top-flight they have not flirted with relegation at all.

Europe will be a distraction to them this season should they make into the Europa League group stages, but Stoke have enough of a backbone to avoid being sucked into a relegation battle. They will again be hard to beat at the Britannia Stadium, which is certainly one ground none of the top teams like going to.

Player to Watch:  Very few young English players leave United early in their career and go onto be spoken about as becoming a future England captain. Ryan Shawcross is one of a kind in that respect and his talent has continued to rise since joining Stoke and it’s only a matter of time before he wins a full England cap.

Sunderland – 9th

Steve Bruce after the summer spending that he has done, will be expected to guide Sunderland into the top-half of the table this year. There’s no doubt that the Black Cats are long overdue some success and but for Bent leaving last season, would have surely finished higher than when they finished in 10th.

This season Sunderland have arguably one of the youngest squads in the division so John O’Shea and Wes Brown’s experience will be vital to add a good backbone to the side. Connor Wickham could link up well with Asamoah Gyan but will need time to adjust to the top-flight football despite his undoubted talent.

Player to Watch: Craig Gardner could prove to be Bruce’s best ever signing in management. He is a box-to-box midfielder who certainly has the ability to push for full England honours. Has the quality to better the 10 goals he scored last season too.

Swansea – 20th

Pundits always speak about how hard it is for play-off winning teams to survive after getting promoted and certainly Swansea will be up against it this season. Many fans will want to see them do well and continue to play their attacking-style of play that won many admirers’ last season.

Sadly of course their style of play will not come off this season against better opponents and despite Brendan Rodgers bringing in some good additions to the team, they will inevitably struggle to keep clean sheets both home and on the road which will be their downfall.

Player to Watch: Scott Sinclair certainly was a player thought to have lots of potential when he signed for Chelsea in 2005. Predictability perhaps he was never given a chance, but at Swansea he’s flourished and whilst he may struggle initially he should have the ability to impress this season.

West Brom – 14th

Few pundits would have predicted the Albion to stay up last season, especially when Roberto Di Matteo was sacked in February. Incredibly the Baggies’ board decision worked wonders and due to Hodgson’s man-management they not only stayed in the division but finished a staggering 11th.

Like the wily old fox that he is Hodgson has brought well and the new additions including Ben Foster willadd more depth to a side that should have enough about it to not get entangled in a relegation scrap this year.

Player to Watch: Ireland and Reading fans have spoken highly about Shane Long over the last year and now after a fine season last year he has the chance to prove his quality this season. His partnership with Peter Odemwingie could work wonders and if those two can score 20 goals between them, the Albion will stay up easily.

Wigan – 16th

In their six seasons in the Premier League, Wigan have always been one of the first teams most neutrals expect to get relegated at the start of the season. After all they don’t have too many top-class players so you can understand why they are tipped to go down year upon year.

Roberto Martinez though alike his predecessors is able to get the best out of the players that he has and what Wigan make up for in quality they make up in guts and effort. They will probably struggle for most parts of the season but when push comes to shove they will pick up points and have about enough come May to stay up.

Player to Watch: Many Wigan fans might have questioned Martinez’s decision to bring in Ali Al-Habsi on loan from Bolton last year. The Omani stopper though excelled and his performances helped keep Wigan in the league. He rarely makes mistakes and for struggling teams that’s something money can’t buy.

Wolves – 18th

Somehow, someway Mick McCarthy managed to drag his side to survival last season. For a number of weeks Wolves were in the relegation places but they fought hard all season and certainly won many friends for taking points of all the top teams bar Arsenal last season.

Despite having a fantastic set of committed players who certainly gave their all in the final third of the season, scoring goals you feel may well be the problem this season and they may well down back into the Championship in the final weeks of the season.

Player to watch:  It was a credit really to McCarthy that Matt Jarvis earned an England cap last season to become the first Wolves player to do so in 20 years. Whilst his form dipped towards the end of the season, his performances out wide troubled the best of defenders last season. If he keeps his form up he won’t be at Wolves come January.

By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87