Fearless predictions for 2014

Posted by David Hirshey

Luis Suarez will get banned, Clint Dempsey will need a hand and the team that will win the league is...

Doesn’t it seem like only yesterday that Sir Alex was prowling the technical area, furiously chewing his magic gum and pointing to his watch as Manchester United applied a sleeper hold on the rest of the league? How boring was that?

There was no point making predictions in January 2013 because everyone knew what would happen: United would win, City and Chelsea would fight it out for second and Arsenal would pip Spurs for whatever passed for a trophy at the Emirates. (Which I think might be Fergie’s old chewing gum wrappers.) Yawn.

Well, what a difference a year and one fewer puce-faced manager makes. Everything is in play in this crazy, up-is-down, blue-is-red, Arsenal is in first place, no, wait, Arsenal is in first place-season. From the Prem title to Champions League places to relegation to Vincent Tan’s high-waisted pants and black gloves, it’s all up for grabs as we head into the second half.

It takes a brave man -- and many commenters often use more colorful adjectives -- to attempt to impose order on all that chaos, but then if Jose Mourinho can take a pay cut and proclaim a 12-year plan for Chelsea, I can venture out on a wobbly limb and try to divine the rest of this rollicking season. Just don’t hold me to these fearless predictions when Sir Alex has returned from retirement and United is 12 points clear in April.

Teams that haven’t got a prayer

Let’s just get this out of the way...

Everton

While the Toffees will finish ahead of Liverpool for the third straight season, Roberto Martinez will continue to burnish his resume with an overachieving and surprisingly entertaining Everton side. Expect neither Martinez nor Romelu Lukaku to be there next season.

Liverpool

Oh how delicious Christmas dinner must have tasted for Liverpool fans, what with the Reds being top of the league for the first time since 2008. Of course, they made history that year by becoming the last team not to win the title from that perch and there’s no reason to think things will be any different this time around.

Although they’ve technically signed Luis Suarez through the next two U.S. presidencies, expect Real Madrid to trigger the $150 million buyout clause about 20 minutes after Liverpool is eliminated from Champions League contention. When your best defender is Martin Skrtel, the only thing you’ll lead the league in is the number of torn opponents’ jerseys.

Manchester United

By this time last year, the Red Devils had all but engraved their name on the EPL trophy. It was a farewell tour-de-force for the imperious Sir Alex, who was smart enough to realize that he had bled every last ounce of talent and mental toughness out of his players.

Andrew Yates/Getty ImagesCan David Moyes' men maintain their upward trajectory?

That same unbreachable defense now creaks with antiquity and Jonny Evans, the midfield wouldn’t look out of place wearing a Newcastle kit and they’ve become overly reliant on the mood swings of Wayne Rooney and the fitness issues of my former man crush, Robin van Persie.

Still, United are United and any other team that endured such a harrowing start to the season would be dead and buried by now. Yet David Moyes has his old Merseyside friends looking over their shoulders as his new club continues to surge up the table and into a Champions League place.

Spurs

Oh pipe down. Like that's a surprise.

Luis Suarez will be banned for 20 games

I'm not sure what derogatory jibe or cannibalistic ritual will have the FA ripping out its single remaining hair, but it's a Ladbrokes-worthy certainty that the Liverpool Lecter will do something visibly epic that results in his missing a Marouane Fellaini hair-sized chunk of the second half of the season.

Now that Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal have shown the league the road map for shutting off the Uruguayan's supply line, his insane scoring spree will likely slow, unless he either improves his acrobatic swimming pool cannonballs in the penalty area or plays against Norwich City three more times.

Jose Mourinho will guest star on "Law & Order: Special Ones Unit"

Mourinho will be found unconscious in his Istanbul hotel room, lying next to an empty bottle of 100-proof Snark after watching Didier Drogba’s double for Galatasaray dash Chelsea's Champions League dreams.

While there is evidence of foul play, prime suspect Juan Mata has the perfect alibi. "Who me? I never get off the bench."

Arsene Wenger will shop 'til the silverware drops

Despite Olivier Giroud looking like a spent force in the past month, Arsenal will purchase as many useful strikers as a disgruntled steel-workers union.

David Price/Arsenal FC/Getty ImagesIs this the season that Arsene Wenger and Arsenal's trophy drought ends?

Wenger will proclaim that the return from long-term injuries of Lukas Podolski and (hyphenated British nobility-named) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are "just like new signings." A happy Stan Kroenke will slip an extra fiver into Arsene's pay packet.

But so will Roman Abramovich

With his strike force of “Torretoba” having scored a combined six goals, expect Abramovich to buy Jose Mourinho a new toy from Atletico Madrid named Diego Costa. At the news conference introducing the 23 goals-in-23 games marksman, the Chelsea manager will wax lyrical about the Spaniard’s “willingness to track back.”

Clint Dempsey will return half-Fulham

Fulham will pray that Clint Dempsey can forget his PSTD (post-Spurs traumatic disorder) and set their midfield aflame like days gone by. His strike target, Dimitar Berbatov, will continue to elegantly drift around dreaming of replacing his nicotine patch at halftime but the Cottagers will avoid the drop.

Brendan Rodgers will be the next Edward Snowden

The Liverpool manager will finally reveal the names of the three men he felt “let him down this year”: Martin Atkinson, Lee Mason and Howard Webb.

West Ham will be relegated

Thus temporarily ending my favorite game of "Who's the larger waste of money: Fernando Torres or Andy Carroll?" (To prove how evenly matched they are, I'd say this season is too close to call, even though Carroll has missed all 19 games.)

Crystal Palace will shatter its pristine image

Tony Pulis will search the glass-strewn back alleys of London seeking the latest in knuckle-dragging cromagnoid to play center-back for his relegation-bound Crystal Palace side. Failing that, he will call his former Stoke City employers to check on the availability of Ryan Shawcross.

However, he will be rebuffed by Mark Hughes, who refuses to part with any of his core players, especially now that he has the previously hoof-and-hope exemplar Stoke playing like “the Barca of the Northwest.”

And finally, the team that will win the league...

This is a no-brainer, right? How many gazillions of times in the past couple of weeks have we heard the pundits decree the title is Manchester City’s to lose? After all, they have the most money. They’ve stockpiled the best players. And they’ve turned the Etihad into their own personal abattoir. But hold on a minute.

City’s away form is bewilderingly erratic, plus they are still involved in four competitions -- league, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League -- which has to extract a physical toll no matter how cavernously deep Manuel Pelligrini’s squad is.

And for all the embarrassment of riches they possess in attack -- Alvaro Negredo, Edin Dzeko, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure -- they sorely miss the quicksilver finishes of the injured Sergio Aguero, as evidenced by the fact they could plunder only one goal against Crystal Palace this past weekend.

All of which leaves ... do I really need to spell it out? Arsenal showed on Sunday against Newcastle that they have the mental fortitude to grind out a result when missing their two most influential players: Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey. This ability to win ugly rather than with gasp-inducing one-touch passing moves heralds a new dimension for the Gunners.

Of course, some might argue that I’m slightly biased, not to mention severely parched from eight years of wandering in a trophy-less desert, but in my mind’s eye I can see Ozil orchestrating a last-second winner against Norwich at Carrow Road in the final game of the season to pry the title from Pelligrini’s manicured hands.

Sorry for the spoiler alert but, this way, you don’t have to wait five months to congratulate me.

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