I really don’t want to write too much about Manchester City. I really don’t.
I was actually going to just do my predictions for the season, but right after my last entry on how City have been gleefully living up to their tag as the rich, noisy neighbours of English football, I read about that prank their players pulled on teammate Mario Balotelli.
Apparently, before leaving for the club’s pre-season tour in the United States, the players planted a bag of dead fish in “Mad” Mario’s £150,000 (RM735,000) Maserati sports car, which reportedly had to be written off because of the terrible, unremovable stench (this is the same car that infamously racked up £10,000/RM49,000 in parking fines).
Seriously, I don’t know how much more they can flaunt their money. That’s like me and my friends playing “My Germs” with a giant Cheesecake Factory cheesecake in front of a group of famished Rwandan orphans, and then having a food fight with it.
The fact that the story was “leaked” by a “source close to the club”, who told the story in quite astonishing detail – including the “revolting” sensation Balotelli had upon smelling his car, his plans for retribution, and the fact that the car was written off (er, did the source follow him to the insurers?) – screams of a desperate attempt by City to portray their dressing room as one where everybody’s chummy with each other.
Don’t be fooled. Balotelli has already thrown darts at youth team players from a balcony in one ill-fated attempt at dressing room games. After this fishy prank, he’ll be dusting off his crossbow and arrows. It won’t be pretty.
But if you asked me, the only thing standing in the way of City pushing Manchester United right to the end for the Premier League title, would be a dressing room implosion along those lines.
I think it’s more or less a given that to win the Premier League this season, you’ll only have to finish above United. They are the clear favourites, and no, that’s not my undying love for the club talking.
It’s going to be all about who pulls away from the chasing pack towards the end of the season, and whether they can rein in United. Unfortunately, Manchester City seem to be the favourites to do that, and could very well end up overtaking United too.
In Vincent Kompany, they have last season’s best central defender in the league. Nemanja Vidic got most of the plaudits, and for good reason, but for me, Kompany just edged it last season. He was, quite simply, sensational. He looked like a combination of Vidic and Rio Ferdinand at times.
In David Silva, City also have probably the best creative midfielder. The guy is pure, effortless class. The closest thing you can get to Xavi or Iniesta.
And in Carlos Tevez, they have the best striker in the league. Pair him with Sergio Aguero, and you have possibly the best strike partnership in the world.
More importantly, unlike the stuttering pack, they have started the season in fantastic form, with Aguero’s magical debut at Swansea followed by an away victory against tough cookies Bolton.
Part of that stuttering pack is Arsenal, who already look out of the title race.
Some might point to United’s 1995 “you’ll never win anything with kids” start to the season, where they lost 3-1 to Aston Villa but recovered to win the Double.
The difference is Alex Ferguson never lost hope in his young charges. Wenger just called his team “young” and “naive”.
Now I’m a huge fan of Wenger’s, but any manager who’s gone six years without a trophy while advocating football from Mars and stubbornly refusing to spend money surely can’t be calling his own players “naive”.
With the wheels coming off the wagon so early, I have a feeling Arsenal won’t even qualify for the Champions League next season.
Taking their place in fourth spot, I believe, will be Chelsea. I know, I’m crazy, right?
I just feel that with Fernando Torres around, this Chelsea side will continue to frustrate as they have in their first two games. He seems to be playing for himself, to prove a point about his own ability. He’s been making dribbles when it would be easier to pass.
On the other hand, when the Chelsea vintage are all on the pitch – Lampard, Drogba, Terry, Anelka, even Kalou – they all play for each other. The one-touch passing becomes breath-taking, even if it only happens in spurts these days. Torres is just cramping their style.
But Roman Abramovich will, as usual, pressure the manager to play his new £50mil toy, and when it doesn’t work, he’ll fire him. It’s a ticking time-bomb, and Andre Villas-Boas has got to cut the right wire – take Torres out of the equation, show Abramovich that the Chelsea old guard can still win, and then only try to shoehorn Torres and the other youngsters in.
AVB’s been talking about bringing in a player who can play between the lines of midfield and attack like Luka Modric or Juan Mata as if it’d be the final piece of the puzzle, but I think one such player won’t make much of a difference. It’s all about the system.
So with the two bickering Manchester neighbours most likely finishing first and second, Chelsea in fourth and Arsenal completely out of the picture, my prediction for the club that will complete the top three is Liverpool.
They used to be a team that revolved around a few good players – Torres, Gerrard, Xabi Alonso – but now they are finally a formidable squad of players.
Kenny Dalglish has invested wisely in the summer, giving them a stronger squad than Chelsea, and with a much better mentality.
I think Villas-Boas’ dry, factual style with the media will be reflected in their style on the pitch, and ultimately their season – drab and uninspiring.
But Dalglish knows how to throw caution to the wind, to play with adventure, and that’s what a sleeping giant like Liverpool need – to forget about the past and play in the present.
So there you have it, my predictions for the season, for what it’s worth.
Some of them are highly unlikely, but since football predictions are a rubbish business anyway, I thought I might as well take a few long punts and hope I end up looking smart if it actually happens. All I want is for Manchester United to win anyway.