Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Premiership Preview: 20 Teams, 10 Days--20. Derby County, 19. Birmingham City

Over the next 10 days, starting from the bottom, I will preview my predicted order of finish for each of the 20 Premiership teams. I'll summarize their major transfers in and out, take a look at how their schedule sets up, and explain my reasoning for where I believe they'll end up in the table after this season.

19. Fellow Premiership returnees Birmingham City also should end the season with a return ticket to the Championship. The Blues spent only one season back in the second tier of English soccer, but manager Steve Bruce (aka Jay Leno, more on that later) will have to do a wonderful job of coaching to keep this club up.

Birmingham made a couple of solid moves this summer, including bringing in the young Dutch midfielder Daniel de Ridder and making Fabrice Muamba's loan deal from Arsenal permanent. Stuart Parnaby provides depth with his versatility at the back. Steve Bruce also appears confident that they will sign midfielder Hossam Ghaly from Tottenham by this weekend, but the move that now appears unlikely is the acquisition of Mido, also from Tottenham. The departure of DJ Campbell is the only real loss to a side that finished runners-up in the Championship last season.

If Birmingham are to have any hope for staying up, they'll need big seasons from their strikers, Cameron Jerome and Mikael Forssell. Forssell has been a disappointment since he made his loan deal from Chelsea permanent in 2005, scoring just 4 goals in 35 league games since. Jerome is a very talented young player but scored only 7 goals in 37 league games in 2006. Radhi Jaidi, a Tunisian defender, scored 6 goals in 37 league games for Birmingham by comparison, so increased production from the strikers will be vital for Birmingham.

August opens up with a bear of a match at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea is undefeated for 2+ years of league games. The rest of the month shapes up far easier for the Blues, but in September they play Bolton, Liverpool, and Manchester United in successive weeks (Bolton and Manchester Utd. at home). With the new year comes Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea also in consecutive weeks, with the first two of those games away from St. Andrew's. The home stretch of games is manageable enough, and even if Birmingham can take care of business in those games, they'll still need to steal some points from games in which they'll be the heavy underdogs.

Bottom Line-Birmingham will be a lot closer to safety then they will be to 20th place, but they still will be relegated.

20. Bringing up the rear, I've got Derby County. Back in the Premiership after a five-year absence, the Rams have a tough season ahead of them. They've brought in no real players of note, though Robert Earnshaw could turn out to be a decent buy, and on top of that, they'll start the season without talented midfielder Giles Barnes. Barnes looks certain to miss the season opener at home against Portsmouth, and is highly doubtful to play in either of the two consecutive away matches after that.

September trips to Liverpool and Arsenal won't help the Rams get off to a much-needed good start, and they also play Tottenham on the road in August as well as Reading the first week of October. Everton, Newcastle, Bolton, and Portsmouth (all UEFA Cup spot contenders) make up 4 of the first 5 home games. The run-in towards the end isn't much easier, as Derby plays Manchester United and Chelsea on consecutive weekends in March and finish up with Blackburn and Reading (Blackburn away, Reading home). It looks fairly certain that Derby won't get off to a good start, and with a pretty tough schedule towards the end of the season, they'll have to make hay during the winter months to have any chance of staying in the Premiership.

Bottom Line-Derby will head back down to the Championship. No if's, and's, or but's.

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