On Wednesday, three days before the start of a Premier League season eagerly awaited in the US as well as the UK, the Seattle Sounders right-back DeAndre Yedlin signed for Tottenham. On Wednesday evening, NBC’s soccer pundits, preparing for a second season covering England’s top flight after a very successful first, dealt what might be seen – admittedly, with a large dose of salt – to be a sobering blow to his hopes of immediate glory.
At the Captain’s Knock in midtown Manhattan, Robbie Earl, Robbie Mustoe and presenter Rebecca Lowe – and a special guest, the former Manchester United striker Dion Dublin – gave their predictions for the season to come. None of them picked Spurs to crack the top four.
Title winners & top four
Robbie Mustoe: I have to consider Manchester United’s revival. We’ve watched them in pre-season and it was super-impressive – super-intense. Louis van Gaal has changed the system a little bit. I think they’ll be back in the top four. Then you think, who’s going to drop out from last season, and I think it’s going to be a difficult season for Liverpool. We all know about losing Luís Suarez to Barcelona and trying to replace those goals; they have a lot of new young players who will be good, but maybe not this season. So, let me get to it: fourth, Manchester United; third, Manchester City; second, Arsenal; first, Chelsea.
Robbie Earle: It’s a very important season for Chelsea. Last season, José Mourinho didn’t have the players he wanted. No excuses this year, the Special One. He called Arsène Wenger a “specialist in failure” – I think it’s two years now he hasn’t won a trophy himself. With the players he’s got, I’m going to go for Chelsea to win the league, followed by City. I think it might be difficult for them to go back to back and win it again, and I also think Champions League is now on the horizon. In third place, Liverpool. I have a lot of belief in Brendan Rogers, he’s got some good young players, he’s an inventive, evolving coach. And my fourth spot goes to United. Van Gaal is a game-changer. There was a time last season when in that tunnel, teams didn’t fear United. I think Van Gaal will change that.
In saying that, I’m going against all my principles and my love of Wenger – I think Arsenal are out of the top four. They lost the title through not replacing Johan Djourou and not having a centre-midfield player to drive and win a game. This summer they haven’t done any of that business they needed to do, as well as they played in the Community Shield.
Rebecca Lowe: I don’t ever get to give my opinion, so this is exciting. I’m going to go Arsenal fourth, because they need another striker; third, City, because I think they might focus on the Champions League. I’m going to go Chelsea second, and I think it may be the tightest title race ever. In first place… I’m going to go United. After the era I grew up in, it’s weird not to have them as favourites. And you can go from seventh to first – Liverpool almost did it last year. I think Van Gaal is a game-changer and I think Wayne Rooney will relish the captaincy, and I think they’ll buy at least one big name before the end of the transfer window. You heard it here first.
Dion Dublin: Van Gaal will bring back that fear, of having to perform in a Manchester United shirt. I think some people have come in recently and thought their shirt was safe. And it should never be. I think [former manager] David Moyes took the heart out of United – he tried his very best but when you take the engine out of a car you can’t run it. I think that drive will come back. So I think it’s United top, City second, Chelsea third and Arsenal fourth.
Best new signing
RM: Ander Herrera – a central-midfield player, talented, a playmaker, intelligent – is a player we should all watch at United and enjoy this season. It’s something United have missed, having lost Paul Scholes. Someone who can play passes and see things and open things up. Herrera can do that. You’re going to enjoy his creativity and his craft.
RE: My signing of the season is Diego Costa at Chelsea, and that’s because if you go back to when Mourinho’s sides won titles at Chelsea, they did play football and entertain, yes, but when they didn’t or couldn’t do that they beat you with power and strength and intensity. They haven’t done that with the likes of [Fernando] Torres or [Demba] Ba, who weren’t good enough strikers to play that role. They now have a guy with 27 goals in la Liga, a big physical presence who will enjoy the Premier League.
RL: I’m going to go for Calum Chambers, who Wenger has just brought to Arsenal from Southampton for a lot of money – £16m for a 19-year-old. He’s versatile, he plays centre-back and full-back, he’s a leader, he’s what Arsenal have needed. Yes he’s young, but I have a feeling we might be seeing the new Tony Adams. It’s a big shout. Again, you heard it here first. I think he’ll force his way in – Laurent Koscielny gets injured a lot, Per Mertesacker needs a rest after the World Cup. He could be the star of the season.
RM: You always think of the three [Burnley, Leicester City and Queens Park Rangers] that have come up. I think of those, Burnley are using their money from coming up to secure the club, which you can’t complain about, but not much is going into the playing side. Last season, West Bromwich Albion somehow managed to stay up. Alan Irvine is an uninspiring choice as manager. Have they brought in much talent? Not really. My last team to go miraculously survived last year – Sunderland. They’ve lost good players, there’s talk of Connor Wickham going too. I think they’re down.
RE: If you look at West Brom and last year, and what they’ve done this summer, I can’t see how they’ve changed enough to stay up again. Burnley have a manager called Sean Dyche – they call him “the Ginger Mourinho”, well, he’s going to have to be extra special. And my third team is going to be Southampton. I feel that if you rip the heart out of a club – if you lose the coach and sell the best players – before a ball is kicked everyone at that club has an excuse for going down. They a new coach in Ronald Koeman who doesn’t know the league; if they start badly, they’re on a rocky road.
RL: I agree with Burnley, I’m going to go with Leicester City – two out of the three might go down. My third team is a little left-field: Aston Villa. I think trouble lies ahead. I think Roy Keane will be manager by November and it’s all over. Finally.
DD: Burnley unfortunately – Sean Dyche is a friend of mine, I played with him at Millwall, so I know how he thinks and what he wants from his players and how good he is. But I think it will be a bit too much. They need more quality. West Brom have survived so many times – not this time. Leicester won’t go down – that’s rubbish, Rebecca. I think Sunderland will struggle too.
RM: In terms of expectation levels, I’m looking at Spurs. Expectation was very high last season and they disappointed – they changed manager a couple of times, they had a bit of a disaster. But this year, Mauricio Pochettino is a bright young manager, he’s hungry, and they have a good squad of players. They could surprise – not top four but best of the rest.
RE: Stoke City.
RL: Where were you born, Robbie?
RE: Stoke. But Mark Hughes has come in and moved it on – Tony Pulis had them playing a certain way but the signing of Bojan Krkic [from Barcelona] was a huge signal that they’re going to do it a different way. They might just surprise a few people, I think.
RL: Newcastle United. They’ve brought in decent-looking players and Alan Pardew is a Crystal Palace legend and a very good manager with a good squad and I think they’ll come in sixth or seventh.
Robbie Mustoe, Robbie Earle and Rebecca Lowe were speaking courtesy of Captain’s Knock, a business networking organisation with a charitable focus, based in New York and London.