I believe it’s Chelsea’s time again. They’ve hardly splashed the cash on new recruits so far this summer, but unlike the other serious title contenders they have managed to keep hold of their best players, the likes of Frank Lampard and John Terry, and this could be the difference for them this season. After several relatively barren years, the players seem determined to prove themselves once again.
2. Manchester United
However much a dislike him, and take extraordinary levels of delight from his misfortunes, I have to admit that Cristiano Ronaldo is a fantastic player. He was integral to Manchester United’s success over the last three seasons, and I just don’t think they can begin to fill the void in terms of goals and assists left after his departure to Real Madrid. They’ll still be a force to be reckoned with, but I predict they’ll come just short of a fourth straight title.
Last year provided Liverpool’s best chance for glory in a long time, and after falling so narrowly short, it will be hard for them to motivate themselves for another push for the title. They’ve lost one of the best midfielders in the world in Xabi Alonso, and their signings to date aren’t hugely exciting. The key to their fortunes will be Bruno look-a-like Fernando Torres. If he stays fit, he should score at least twenty goals, firing Liverpool up the league. Without him, they look rather blunt though, showing they lack the strength in depth displayed by either Manchester United or Chelsea.
After finishing fifth last season, David Moyes’s side look like having a good chance to break the top four’s chokehold on the Premier League. With a very able core of players, including Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill and the hugely under-rated Phil Jagielka, and a superb manager, I have a feeling that this could be a big season for them.
Arsenal, the big three’s little brother, have done little in recent years to prove themselves worthy of their billing as one of Europe’s best clubs. With key squad members Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure finally having enough of Arsene Wenger’s whining and leaving the club, and Cesc Fabregas a target for Barcelona, their squad is far too inexperienced to make waves at the top. I foresee a disappointing season for their fans.
6. Manchester City
Oil-rich Manchester City’s ascent to unthinkable wealth has been one of the biggest footballing stories of the past year, many expect their financial riches to begin to manifest themselves with on-pitch success this season. They’ve without doubt vastly strengthened their squad this summer, bringing in the likes of Adebayor, Toure, Gareth Barry and Carlos Tevez, but great sides aren’t built overnight; their players will need time to get to know each other and form a team, rather than just a group of spectacularly well-paid individuals, as their poor pre-season form has shown. They should improve on last season’s mid-table finish, but I see them finish no higher than sixth, which should represent acceptable progress for their supporters and benefactors.
7. Aston Villa
After looking for many months to be possible title challengers, Villa’s 2008/09 season fell away badly after they threw away a 2-0 lead in the last three minutes to draw 2-2 at home to Stoke in March. After that, confidence at Villa Park has been low, and although they’ve made some good signings in the last month or so, I see them as a club that has ceased to move forward, so I see a seventh placed finish as about right for them.
8. Tottenham Hotspur
With Harry Redknapp beginning his first full season at the helm, Spurs finally have a modicum of stability, but they have become a difficult club to succeed with. Redknapp has bought solidly, bringing Peter Crouch, a player I really look up to, back to the club, but I believe that their side lacks the spark that will take it from being a good one to one capable of pushing for honours.
9. West Ham United
After narrowly missing out on European qualification last term, the Hammers will be looking to go one step further this season, and are one of a number of sides that can realistically aspire to a top seven finish. With no eye-catching signings to date, however, I expect them to slide slightly backwards, while to achieving a respectable top half finish.
10. Blackburn Rovers
After achieving his brief of maintaining Blackburn’s top flight status in his first months in charge of the club, Sam Allardyce will look to achieve with Rovers what he did with Bolton, and take a relatively small, unfashionable club to the upper echelons of the Premier League table. With his own players now brought into the club, they should certainly do better than last season’s struggle against relegation, but, particularly without main striker Roque Santa Cruz after his move to Manchester City, I can’t see them troubling the top teams. A solid mid-table finish then.
Roy Hodgson did wonders last season, taking his Fulham side to a seventh placed finish and Europa League qualification. The general consensus is that this will hinder their chances of domestic success this time round though, as one of the smallest squads in the league could find themselves playing the best part of 70 competitive matches in the season, depending on how far they go in Europe and in the FA and League cups. They haven’t really strengthened this summer, so in my opinion will struggle to replicate last year’s heights.
12. Wigan Athletic
Under Roberto Martinez, one of the brightest young managers in the game, Wigan should produce some of his trademark brand of exciting, attacking football. In my view though, the players they have are not capable of doing so to any great avail. With the Premier League’s smallest, poorest clubs we have often seen that simple, direct football is more effective than anything fancier, just ask West Brom fans, and with no proven Premier League goalscorer in the squad, I don’t expect the Latics to make any real waves.
Sunderland have spent big this summer, splashing out particularly on Darren bent, who should bolster their attacking options, and with the dependable Steve Bruce as manager, I don’t foresee a repeat of last year’s relegation fight for them, but for me their squad still lacks the strength to be anything more than a lower mid-table side.
14. Stoke City
Our twelfth placed finish last season certainly made a mockery of the pre-season expectations of many, including one thick Paddy, but the second season at the top for promoted sides is notoriously more difficult than the first. So long as our home form remains good, and our away record is better than last year’s, which isn’t asking much, any bout of second season syndrome should be little more than a mild one. I predict a final position of fourteenth, which would suit most Stoke fans just fine.
15. Bolton Wanderers
Seemingly now stuck in a lower mid-table rut, I see little change on the cards for Bolton. For me they look too strong to go down, but not good enough to do much more than survive once again.
16. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves have, in my opinion, the best chance of the three newly promoted sides of extending their stay in the top flight. They have in Sylvan Ebanks-Blake probably the Championship’s best player last season, and I’m interested to see how he adapts to premier League life. If he continues to score goals they way he did when firing his club to promotion, he will be a great asset for Wolves, and could well be the difference in keeping them up.
17. Hull City
Hull boss Phil Brown, fresh from two months of media exercises to boost his profile, has spent the last few weeks frantically being rejected by targets. His squad looks week, but so do several others, and they can come anywhere close to reproducing last year’s stunning start, they should do enough to avoid the drop. With most clubs it’s vital to keep a high spirited, well motivated dressing room, with Brown it’s important to keep his centre circle happy. Either way, this could be crucial to their fortunes.
Strapped for cash and forced to sell all their best players over the last twelve months, whilst only able to bring in free signings and loanees, the outlook seems bleak for Pompey, and I can see relegation on the horizon for them, after several years of mixing admirably with the Premier league’s richest and best.
19. Birmingham City
A yo-yo club in recent years, after promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt, I believe Alex McLeish’s Birmingham will struggle once again. Without too many high quality additions to their squad this summer, they could easily find themselves kicking-off a Championship season once again this time next year.
After what many said about Stoke a year ago, I’m loathe to write off a club before they’ve even kicked a Premier League ball, but I believe that Burnley are ripe for the drop. Though they have been busy in the transfer market this summer, the majority of the players they have brought in are inexperienced and unproven at Premier League level. Experience is key for a newly promoted side. Burnley lack it, and, I fear that their romantic time in the top flight could be rather short. Then again, we proved everyone wrong, so why can’t they?