Sky presenter Jeff Stelling predicts gloomy seasons for Di Matteo and Villas-Boas
There is always a collection of sure-fire signs that the Premier League season is looming. Arsenal are trying to hold out for the best deal possible for their star player, England are playing a friendly and Jeff Stelling is getting ready to hit the screens on Saturday afternoons. After the breathless finale to last season's Premier League, the most excitable sporting broadcaster cannot wait to get back into full flow.
After a sporting Olympic break, Stelling is ready for his return to Sky's Soccer Saturday and he believes that managerial situations in London could be the most intriguing plotline running through this season's must-see show.
If results are not quickly forthcoming at White Hart Lane, Stelling believes Andre Villas-Boas could be dismissed before he can say Special One, while the presenter also thinks Roberto Di Matteo faces an impossible task at Chelsea.
Unconvinced that Di Matteo should have accepted the job in the first place, Stelling said: "If I was him, I would've said 'stick your one-year contract, I've just won the Champions League. There are plenty of clubs across Europe who would take me right now, as a successful manager, with a three- or four-year deal. I'm not going to be a stop gap while you wait for Pep Guardiola to come along.'
"But he signed it, and I fear for him because how do you follow winning the Champions League? It's absolutely impossible. I hope Di Matteo does really well because I was so impressed by him last season, but it is a big ask."
Stelling said Chelsea were "hopeless at times last year" while stating that even though an improvement on sixth will be a success for Di Matteo, that will not be the opinion taken by the owner. "Roberto is in a precarious position before a ball has even been kicked," he said.
Stelling also questioned Chelsea's strikers, and that is something Villas-Boas may also be losing sleep over. Jermain Defoe and Harry Kane are the only forwards currently at the club. "I see Spurs being mid-table," he said, almost in a resigned tone. "AVB won't get long if things don't go well; Daniel Levy has never been noted for his patience. There were so many difficulties relating to players at Chelsea and if you go and ask fans whether they would rather have Harry Redknapp, I reckon 80 to 90 per cent would say yes. They still have some fine players, but are desperately short up front. I don't see them being as successful as last season unless they spend significantly, and I don't think Levy will do that."
The Saturday matinee at St James' Park between Spurs and last year's over-achievers Newcastle United looks set to be a fascinating encounter. Stelling has the Magpies finishing fourth: "I'm sure a lot of people see Newcastle as one-hit wonders but they have the potential to do better this time, and they haven't lost any big hitters. They also have Steven Taylor back. The only proviso would be that yet again there is an African Nations Cup, and they will have to strengthen before that comes round."
All this conjecture without touching on the powerful pairing up in the North-west. It was relatively refreshing. When asked, Stelling couldn't look past a Manchester one-two this season, but which way around? He believes City's current crop doesn't need adding to. Much the opposite, he believes that many more signings adding to the capture of Jack Rodwell could have an adverse effect, even though Roberto Mancini has publicly vented his frustration at a lack of signings. "My heart bleeds for him [Mancini]," Stelling said, laughing. "[Sporting director] Brian Marwood is keeping a tight grip on the finances and I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing for City. One of the biggest problems they face again is keeping players happy. Just because you're Premier League champions doesn't make that substitutes' bench any more comfortable for those sitting on it.
"Mancini ought to get on with the football and not complain because he's not going to get much sympathy from anywhere." The manager's insincerita last week – they spent £15m on Rodwell – means little, but it did have some truth behind it after the failure to land Robin van Persie. Stelling thinks if the Arsenal striker opts for Old Trafford, the title is United's.
"If he goes, the league is theirs," he said. "Arsenal have been there so many times before. They are concerned with financial management, so how can they afford to throw away £20m? It'll be better for all involved if he was allowed to move on." Despite the probable loss of their talisman, Stelling has Arsène Wenger's side finishing third.
"Liverpool and Everton will do battle for sixth place," he said, but cautions that patience is needed at Anfield following the appointment of Brendan Rodgers. "It has to be a long-term project, and the owners realise that. It is going to be a completely different Liverpool side in terms of style and tactics," he said. "Wherever they finish, Rodgers should know that his job is safe. The fans will look at it and say that in the league, things can't get much worse."
Jeff Stelling was speaking on behalf of the Soccer Saturday Super 6 game. Predict six scores for Saturday's fixtures at super6.skysports.com for a chance to win £100,000
Stelling's season's predictions
1 Man Utd
2 Man City
Bottom three: West Ham, Swansea and West Bromwich
Championship automatic promotion Bolton and Blackpool
League 1 winners Notts County
League 2 winners Fleetwood Town