After a summer of sport that has spoilt us all, especially those lucky enough to live in the UK and become a part of the Olympics, the start of the football season has somewhat crept up on us.
I will be the first to admit that the excitement and pride that I have felt through much of the summer has meant that my build-up to the new season has been somewhat low key compared to years past. No daily countdown, and no trawling the web hoping for rumours to become a little more factual. Or at least not as much of that anyway.
But it is here and that means it is prediction time again. After my success last year (I tipped City to edge United despite howls of derision from many on here), I enter this year confident, which probably means that you can ignore all of my picks for the next nine months or so.
Here we go then, in all its splendour, this is what (with a little luck and a favouring wind) the Premier League table will look like at the end of May 2013.
1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United
9. West Bromwich Albion
10. Aston Villa
12. Queens Park Rangers
18. West Ham United
Like last year I can’t see past City being crowned champions again. Despite a quiet summer by their recent standards they still have the strongest squad in the league with depth at all positions. This, allied to the fact that their belief they can win the league now has some factual evidence to back it up means that they surely have to start the season as favourites. Also, if things are maybe going slightly awry come January they have the financial clout to be able to do something about it, a luxury few can match.
I have been impressed with United’s dealings this summer but the lack of a world class holding midfielder means that they just miss out on top spot for me. Yes Michael Carrick is good but apart from him there is a worrying lack of midfielders able to dominate games. And no, Paul Scholes will not play forever.
Perhaps the most improved team this year will be Chelsea. Stamford Bridge will be home to perhaps the most attacking midfield the Premier League has ever seen but the two other departments are still cause for concern. Can Torres get back to his best? If he can’t who can step up? Danny Sturridge has showed glimpses but nothing like the consistency that would be needed to lead the line and Romelo Lukaku has made a loan move to West Brom. As for the defence well problems abound. John Terry is not getting any younger, David Luiz is not getting any more reliable and Gary Cahill is not good enough to build a title winning defence around. Add to this the lack of a natural right back and the decline of Petr Cech and that midfield is going to have be very good to counter the issues at the back.
Arsenal will have another season where finishing in the Top Four will have to suffice. The loss of Robin Van Persie is a blow but at least Arsene Wenger has bought well this summer with Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud all adding quality to the team. If they get off to a good start then they may be able to mount a half challenge for the title but that is a long shot. More likely is that they may finally end their trophy drought this season with victory in one of the domestic cup competitions.
Outside of coveted Champions League places Spurs Newcastle and Liverpool will battle it out for the Europa League place(s) with Everton just behind. Andres Villas Boas has a lot to prove in this country and with a squad full of pace and short of overbearing player power cliques he has a much better chance of succeeding than he ever did at Chelsea.
Newcastle appear to have bought wisely again and if they can add Mathieu Debuchy to their squad then any lingering doubts about their defence will be gone. Their main worry will be seeing if they can get the two Dembas, Cisse and Ba to share the goals a bit more, Ba went very quiet towards the end of last season, something overlooked thanks to the impact of his international team-mate.
Liverpool have made a brave choice to employ Brendan Rodgers. A man with only one season of top flight management can not be expected to change the style of play and subsequently the fortunes of one of the giants of English football in the space of a few months. The signings of Borini and Joe Allen hint at a long term vision of attractive football but this season will be about learning and morphing the club around the Rodgers style.
Frankly the middle of the table is so tight that places 9-14 are fairly interchangeable. Points of interest include Steve Clarke finally getting a team of his own to manage and QPR attempting to secure their status by buying as many players as possible will work.
At the bottom of the table I have gone for West Ham, Southampton and (apologies Gaffer) Swansea as the teams to go down. Unfortunately for Southampton I just do not see enough quality in the squad to keep them up and I think that an awful lot will rest on the shoulders of Ricky Lambert, a man who has played one season above the third tier.
Swansea face a tough test this year. They are in the same position as Norwich, with a new manager after the last one was so good he had to move on. However Norwich’s squad appears to have a bit more versatility about them whereas I fear for Swansea if their admittedly very pretty plan A does not work. Michael Laudrup is also not known for being a scrapper, he has only lasted one year at each of his previous three clubs.
Finally, the last club to fall through the floor will be West Ham. Again there appears to be a degree of arrogance slipping into the aura of the club. Whilst they have a squad that on paper looks good enough to stay up, the pressure to do things in a certain way is always present at Upton Park and if form starts to slip and performances get ugly then the fans will not be slow to turn on Sam Allardyce, a manager they are still not overly keen on despite him getting them back to the promised land at the first attempt. I fear that we could quite easily see another horror show from The Hammers, with no Scott Parker to attempt to rescue them this time.
The coming season has a lot to live up to following the ups and downs of the previous campaign but it promises to give it a run for its money, much like United and City at the top of the table.
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