Generally, I tend to agree with Premier League predictions for the league ahead – often they’re accurate, barring a magnificently or dismally surprising season from a club or two. However, this season, there have been 3 clubs whose predicted outcomes I have frowned at: Aston Villa, Norwich City and Fulham. Basically, I think the mid-table (or even higher) finishes Villa and Norwich are being predicted by many are generous, and the 16th-ish place Fulham are largely being given is a bit harsh.
Firstly, Villa. They beat relegation by 5 points last season, with the two clubs above and below them being Sunderland, Newcastle, Southampton and Stoke City. Sunderland and Southampton, who I think will finish 15th or higher this season, have both strengthened their squads significantly during the summer, while Aston Villa have not. They’ve bought a few young players, which will have given them a marginally stronger line-up and strength-in-depth, and no doubt a good pre-season will have gelled the squad.
However, I don’t buy this theory that the Aston Villa of 2013/14 is hugely more mature and technically competent than the Villa of 2012/13, who, for a large part of the season, seemed a bit out of their depth. I also don’t believe the hype around their attacking line of Benteke, Weimann and Agbonlahor. Agbonlahor has not, in my opinion, seemed like a Premier League striker since his ‘break-out’ season and I don’t think either Benteke or Weimann are consistent enough to be depended upon for goals. It’s not that I think they’ll be in trouble this season, I just don’t believe they’ll be in the 9-11th places that they’re being predicted.
Norwich, in some places, are being predicted about 9-11th as well (although they are being predicted 15-16th as well, which is where I think they’ll come), a prediction which I don’t understand at all. With Villa, they look promising; with Norwich, they’ve spent a lot on several decent players (van Wolfswinkel (who I admittedly know nothing about), Gary Hooper, Javier Garrido, Johan Elmander) but there’s no evidence that any of these players will help them up to a good mid-table position. For example, the player influence map from their match against Hull today shows clearly how ineffectual their ‘big players’ (van W, Elmander, Redmond and Snodgrass are.
Both Southampton and Sunderland, who were in a similar position at the end of last season, have, in my opinion, spent better and have a more of a flair about them. Chris Hughton is a competent manager if he has a decent squad, but I’m not sure if he’ll be able to bring all of the separate parts of the Norwich squad and make them into a functioning, determined, mid-table team.
Earlier today they lost against Hull, a team many expect to be easily relegated – no offence to Hull fans, but playing against the Tigers is going to be one of your easiest matches this season. Playing against ten men, Norwich produced very few chances (shown below, left) – although the FourFourTwo StatsZone app says they created 10 chances, from the graphic only 3 (possibly 4) can be truly counted as chances.
The graphic on the right shows Norwich’s passes into the attacking third, the mass of arrows showing that they had plenty of possession in that area. The white line, though, is where I think passes really count while the yellow circle is the most crucial of areas, as the bulk of goals are scored in that area. The few completed passes beyond the white line and the absolute lack of completed passes into the yellow area, in my opinion, demonstrate their weakness, as does another indicator of attacking strength – the amount of clearances the opposition makes.
The average number of clearances a team had to make in today’s matches was 38, Hull were forced to make 39. In fact, if you adjust the average to count the amount of Norwich’s clearances – 18 – as an outlier, the average would be 39, making Hull’s clearance count exactly average. Considering all factors strength of the two squads (10-men vs 11-men, the fact Hull were winning so were probably happy to sit back and defend) Hull’s clearance count should have been much, much higher than the average. Adding to this weak attack, Norwich have a distinctly bottom third defence.
Off the ducks, now onto my goose. Fulham’s squad, though full of ageing players who look to be giving their careers one last hurrah in the Premier League, is quite strong. The squad seems to reflect the impression Martin Jol gives off, one of solid, consistent effectiveness. They do have the potential for flair and creativity in players such as Berbatov, Taarabt and Duff.
They may not be the strongest or most inspired in attack, but they seem strong defensively, and unlikely to wobble and crumble like Norwich, for example, might. I think there are several sides weaker than Fulham (Newcastle, Norwich, Crystal Palace, Cardiff and Hull) and, depending on form, Stoke, Sunderland and Villa as well.
From what I’ve seen, people are expecting these three teams to perform like this:
Villa: 9-11th; Norwich: 9-11th; Fulham: 16-17th
But this is how I’ll think they’ll do:
Villa: 13-15th; Norwich: 15-16th; Fulham: 13-15th.
Agree? Disagree? What do you think?
(Sorry to any Villa or Norwich fans)
DISCLAIMER: I may well turn out to be wrong. If I do, feel free to laugh at me (very briefly) on Twitter (@MRThompson9)
(Screenshots and clearance information from FourFourTwo Stats Zone app, free on the Apple app store and http://www.fourfourtwo.com/statszone/)