So a predictions post is always hugely controversial, here’s my best guess, I look forward to seeing this at the end of the season to see just how wrong I was.
1st Manchester United
Fantastic squad, huge strength in depth, all the signings look promising especially Ashley Young who already looks like he’s played at United for years, the defending champions are clearly the team to beat. Questions will be asked about the goalkeeper, De Gea, after a less than convincing performance in the charity shield, but he will get lots of help and support from an incredibly strong defence. There are goals all over this team and simply put I think they have far too much for anyone else and that’s before the possible arrival of Wesley Sneijder.
It would be easy to write Chelsea off this season, but the last time they changed manager and brought in Ancelotti he brought home the league title in his first season. Obviously Villas-Boas doesn’t have the same long term track record as Ancelotti but he’s coming off the back of incredible success at Porto and the last time Chelsea hired a manager from Porto who had just won a European trophy it turned out quite well. The Squad still has tremendous strength and quality and they know their way to the finish line. The process of rebuilding will be long but I don’t expect to see huge changes from last season. If Torres starts to fire they will push United all the way and if they complete the signing of Modric this will further help their chances.
3rd Manchester City
They have spent huge amounts of money, but as The Beatles once said, money can’t buy you love. There is a distinct lack of harmony at the club and the Tevez affair has dragged on for too long. If he was ready to commit to the club then I could see them getting a lot closer to the title, but eventually the spending has to stop and you have to give your players a chance to settle into a team. For all the money invested I think it will be 3rd place again.
4th Tottenham Hotspur
It’s been a quiet summer for Spurs fans, but there is still plenty of time left in the transfer window and Harry Redknapp loves a last minute bargain. Van der Vaart proved to be a fantastic bit of business last year and Redknapp will be looking for a signing of similar quality again, this time in the striking department. Spurs are apparently in the position of having to sell to buy so this could be why we’ve not seen any big arrivals so far, but the best work of the summer has to of been keeping both Modric and just as importantly, Bale; of whom there has been far less speculation. Without the distraction of the Champions League this season I think Spurs can turn a lot of the home draws from last season into wins and take a champions league spot again.
I can see there being a real tussle for 4th spot and Liverpool look far stronger than a year ago. Having a board, manager and the fans all singing from the same hymn sheet is massively important at a football club and when everything comes together it gives everyone a lift. The future does look bright with a host of new signings a lot will depend on how quickly Dalglish can settle them and blend them into a new team. The Carroll Suarez partnership already looks formidable and with added strength in depth in midfield as well as younger players like Kelly and Flanagan stepping into defence and impressing last season there is a much more positive outlook from Liverpool fans. As always much will depend on keeping Steven Gerrard fit and Andy Carroll already seems to have worrying similarities with Fernando Torres in the injury department. Still as a unit they look stronger than last season, the added width and quality Downing will provide will add a new dimension to the side but in the race for 4th I think the fact that the Spurs team is far more settled will be a deciding factor, Liverpool will need a fast start to keep the optimism levels high or it could quickly turn into another disappointing season.
Sorry Arsenal fans, but I fear this season will not be an enjoyable one for you. Far too many players seem unsettled; this is without considering Fabregas and Nasri who are on the verge of a move. Will Bendtner stay or go? What is happening with Almunia? Rumblings about Arshavin wanting to leave that were prevalent early in the summer but seem to have subsided. There are question marks over every section of the side. An inexperienced Goalkeeper, lightweight defence, an injury prone midfield and a lack of variety in attack don’t make for good reading. The big name signings in key areas, most notably in the centre of defence have so far failed to materialise but surely now given the inevitable departures of two key players Wenger must spend? Nobody is sure and the lack of faith in the Wenger ethos seems to grow amongst the fans from day to day. He must now spend to rebuild the side around Wilshere, but this is no easy task especially so late in the day with no pre-season games left in order to bed in new players. In this cut-throat league you need to be on it from day one or you will get left behind and I fear this is what will happen to Arsenal. There are some positives however, they still have a number of players with fantastic ability and as a unit their aptitude for passing the football is unrivalled. They now more than ever need to keep their big players, Van Persie and Vermaelen fit and hope that Wenger spends and spends big. Every Arsenal fan will be hoping their season doesn’t fall apart before it has begun with a tricky Champions League qualifier against Udinese followed by massive early season clashes with Liverpool and Man United.
The blue half of Liverpool has had a much quieter summer than their red rivals. The lack of new signings is a worry, but nobody would be surprised if David Moyes unearths another gem from the youth academy that steels the limelight. This is a team that are incredibly well organised, very tough to break down and difficult to beat and if they start this season how they finished the last one they will keep the top six honest. With the quality of Arteta and the goals of Tim Cahill Everton have the players to worry most teams and there is nothing that suggests this year will be any different.
8th West Bromwich Albion
This is a team that are on the up and they are my dark horses for the season. Exciting in possession with lots of pace and skill in the side they have the quality to unlock most defences and in Peter Odemwingie have found a reliable source of goals. Having had the chance to work with the players in pre-season expect Roy Hodgson to have them far more organised defensively than last year and with the addition of Ben Foster in goal, things are looking good for the baggies.
9th Aston Villa
I expect to see a return to the Villa that did so well under Martin O’Neill, built on a strong defence. Alex McLeish will have a lot of work to do if he wants to win the respect of the fans and I think this will be one area where the club will suffer. I can’t see Villa playing the open attacking football that the fans crave which I think will be a source of frustration, but I do think they will be much harder to break down and in Darren Bent you have someone who will always score goals at this level. So I’m predicting a solid if unspectacular season.
I’m a big fan of Martin Jol, he’s a character and that’s something that football needs. I think there will be a big contrast in his approach to that of Mark Hughes, who carried on the work that was started by Roy Hodgson in making Fulham a strong defensive unit. If Jol’s time at Spurs is anything to go by this won’t be an approach he’ll appreciate. However, Jol has enough experience to know that you don’t come into a club and try and change things overnight so I expect to see much of the same from them again. How much money Jol has to spend to bring in his own players will determine how quickly the side progresses but I think Fulham’s season will be defined by how well they fare in the cup competitions, both European and domestic.
Steve Bruce has rebuilt the team, he has made a huge number of signings and that can have dramatic and usually negative effects on a football club. The upside to this is that the vast majority of his signings are players that are already established in the Premier League. The likes of Wes Brown and John O’Shea I think represent fantastic value as they both have a vast amount of experience. Bruce will be hoping that they bring the famous Manchester United winning mentality with them and that it rubs off on the rest of the squad. Certainly nobody would question their professionalism and I think this will be a benefit to players like Connor Wickham who is looking to make his way at the top level. Gyan has a season of Premier League football under his belt and I expect him to step up and perform better this year and with the strong defensive additions I think Sunderland will prove to be a formidable prospect at home especially if they can get the passionate but fickle crowd on their side.
12th Bolton Wanderers
I don’t think that Bolton are as strong as they were last season, but I think the other clubs around them have got worse. The signing of Daniel Sturridge was an inspired bit of business last term and his goals and invention will be missed. Rumours of the acquisition of Wright-Philips would certainly go some way to readdressing the balance, but with the loss of Elmander a lot will rest once again on the strong broad shoulders of Kevin Davies. The loss of Stuart Holden and Lee to injury is also a blow but I think the squad has enough about it to remain confortable.
13th Newcastle United
Never far from the headlines, the recent twitter escapades of Joey Barton come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the man and the club. They seem to be in a perpetual state of disharmony. The recent sale of Enrique to Liverpool will do nothing to calm the fears of fans that Mike Ashley is intent on selling off all the club’s best players and the promise that the 30 plus million raised by the sale of Andy Carroll would be invested straight back into the playing squad seems like a distant memory. Keeping Barton could prove to be vital as Newcastle failed to win all six of the games last season in which he did not play. Even if he is to leave however, Alan Pardew still has enough quality at his disposal that they shouldn’t ever be in any danger of the drop, but that won’t be much consolation to Newcastle fans who always want to see their team challenging for trophies. It’s also worth mentioning that as difficult as it can be to go to St James’ park, if the locals are restless the tables can quickly turn and relegation trouble has a nasty habit of sneaking up on you.
14th Stoke City
Stoke are now an established Premier League side. This is an enormous compliment to Tony Pulis and Chairman Peter Coates who have transformed the club from a side rooted in the Championship in 2005 to the Stoke City we know today who venture into the Europa League this season. I for one can’t wait to see some European games at the Britannia, with passionate fans and a great atmosphere nobody will want to draw Stoke as they offer a stern and unique test of your footballing ability and character. This adventure will sadly I fear, take its toll on their league campaign. It’s a classic tale of woe, but the extra matches do have an impact and the squad is not among the biggest in the league and will struggle to cope with the extra work load especially if they are unlucky with injuries. Still, they have enough about them that they shouldn’t ever be in any real danger of the drop and hopefully this will allow them to make the most of their European adventure.
15th Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves are heading in the same direction as Stoke in establishing themselves as a Premier League side. Mick McCarthy will once again be trying to guide his team to 40 points and safety with anything beyond that being a bonus. The addition of Roger Johnson adds some much needed grit to a back line that was generous in the gifts it gave to teams last season. If Steven Fletcher can continue the form he showed at the end of last season and if Kevin Doyle returns looking as sharp and working as hard as before Wolves should have enough so that the last day of the season isn’t nearly as stressful for their fans as it was last season.
16th Blackburn Rovers
I feel like sooner or late Blackburn will get it right. There squad does lack quality especially in terms of a striker that will get goals and a lot could depend on how successful Goodwillie is as he comes south from the SPL. In Ryan Nelsen and Chris Samba they have a great defensive base and with the two Dave’s, Hoilett and Dunn they have creativity in the final third. Ewood Park is never a nice place to go and yet again I think their home form will be the key to their survival. Whether Steven Keen survives the season is an entirely different question and if I was to pick a man for the sack race, he’d be it.
17th Queens Park Rangers
I think this year’s relegation battle will be incredibly close. Neil Warnock knows how to navigate his way out of the Championship but has had far less success in keeping his teams up. QPR have a good blend of youth and experience and in Adel Taarabt they have an exciting player who offers that all important x-factor. He will no doubt infuriate as much as he impresses but he is the kind of player who at some point in the season will make match winnings contributions and that is hard to find at this level. Dyer could be a great signing if he manages to shrug off the injuries that have plagued him over recent years and QPR will be strong, gritty and organised in the way that characterises Warnock’s teams. The difference this season to his previous efforts at Sheffield United will be the money. Come January if QPR are in some trouble I think they will spend. They have far more financial clout than any of the other clubs around them and I think this will be the deciding factor. You always have to pay over the odds to get the players you need in January and for me, QPR are the team who are most capable of getting in that extra bit of quality which will keep them in the league.
18th Wigan Athletic
Wigan are the only English club never to have been relegated from the top flight, but I think their run is about to end. Roberto Martinez showed great loyalty in sticking with the club over the summer which is admirable, but I really don’t think they have the squad to survive another season in this league. A lack of summer signings and the loss of N’Zogbia to a squad that already looked thin and things don’t look good for Wigan. They are a young squad and will no doubt cause some upsets over the season and inflict regular unhappiness on pools players but unless new signings of the quality of Cleverly and N’Zogbia are made soon I think they will come up short.
19th Norwich City
Nobody predicted that Norwich would achieve automatic promotion last season. The playoffs were the best anyone could have hoped for based on the momentum gained from winning League One the previous season. Sadly I don’t think that momentum will be enough to keep the Canaries up this year. Money has been spent, with Lambert choosing to invest in young British based players with everything to prove at the top level. I expect this Norwich side to be energetic and competitive but despite passionate sell out home crowds I don’t think they have what it takes to keep teams out at the back and could well mirror the efforts of Blackpool last season. Still, this is part of a long term plan and should Norwich suffer relegation it is unlikely that any of their players would be in any hurry to leave the club making bouncing straight back up again a distinct possibility. A lot will rest on Paul Lambert, should he receive an offer from a more established team during the season and leave like Owen Coyle did at Burnley things could go from bad to worse.
20th Swansea City
Someone has to come last and my pick is Swansea. They play nice football, passing it, keeping it on the deck and looking to play through teams. They also boast an impressive defensive record in the championship so on the surface things don’t look to bad. However if you take a closer look, you see that their talismanic goalkeeper Dorus de Vries has left for Wolves and goal-getter Darren Pratley has signed for Bolton. They have signed highly rated Dutch keeper Vorm, but for the most part the squad looks thin on the ground and should anything happen to Scott Sinclair then there really isn’t much that I think will worry most Premier League defences. They need a great deal from new signing Danny Graham in the goals department if they are to have any chance of survival.
So there we have it! Just to clarify, I wrote this before the first round of matches had been played but hadn’t yet set up the blog, I could have gone for a cheeky edit, my prediction of QPR staying up is a particular case in point, where a knee jerk edit could have taken place, but I’m sticking with what I wrote originally. Let the many twists and inevitable turns of this mad league begin!