With the Premier League returning this weekend here is my run down on what is to come for each of this year’s teams…
How Arsenal fare is dependent entirely upon the result of the next few weeks regarding the transfer window. If Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leave the club then Arsenal could be battling for a place in the top 5. It really could be that bad. However, for now they still do have these two truly world class players and with them they are title contenders.
Sadly for them it seems a formality that Fabregas will depart as soon as Barcelona meet Arsenal’s asking price, I think that they need to act fast and sell Fabregas in order to allow them time to spend his money wisely on players who could just about keep them in the hunt for silverware.
- Arsenal must endeavour to hold on to their best players
Key Players: Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri (if they stay!)
Ones to watch: Gervinho and Jack Wilshere, Prediction: Struggling to make the top four
For a club with European ambitions Villa underachieved by far last season and have now lost their two best players from the last campaign. Downing and Young have moved on and this is a huge blow for the club, but replacement signing Charles N’Zogbia is a great coup. He has been outstanding for Wigan and I believe he will shine at Villa Park, and if new gaffer Alex McLeish manages to bring in someone of Shaun Wright-Phillips’ calibre on the other wing then we could see a return to the top 7 for Villa.
A strong centre-back pairing of Dunne and Collins should thrive under McLeish’s guidance, and ‘Big ‘Eck’ will hope that record signing Darren Bent can cash in at the other end of the pitch in his first full season at Villa. Another great piece of business is the signing of Shay Given, he is a world class keeper and will more than fill the void left by Brad Friedel’s departure.
- Villa’s marquee signing of the summer
Key Players: Charles N’Zogbia and Darren Bent
Ones to Watch: Shay Given and Marc Albrighton, Prediction: Pushing for Europe
This season could be a long hard slog for Steve Kean. He was left to deal with the aftermath of Sam Allardyce’s unjust sacking last season and from the moment he took over the club were on a progressive downhill slide. However, eventually Kean did manage to exact some character from his troops and they narrowly avoided the drop.
This time out Kean should be hoping for at best a return to mid-table mediocrity but I’m not sure that will satisfy the new owners. It is absolutely essential that Chris Samba remains at the club, as they would probably have finished bottom last season without his defensive qualities. If he does go then the replacement must be top class or Kean could soon be out of a job and Blackburn could be struggling to survive.
Key Players: Chris Samba, Paul Robinson
One to Watch: Mauro Formica, Prediction: Relegation battle but ultimately survival
Last season was a very strong year for Owen Coyle and his charges. I’m sure that more of the same would content most Bolton fans, but Owen Coyle is a man who is unlikely to rest on his laurels. His drive to make Bolton succeed as a club that can play ‘real’ football rather than as a ‘long ball’ outfit is incredibly admirable and thus far it seems to have been a roaring success. A top half finish is again attainable, but they will greatly miss the services of Daniel Sturridge who was outstanding whilst on loan at the club from January.
Key Players: Gary Cahill and Kevin Davies
One to Watch: Chris Eagles, Prediction: Mid-table
How will A-V-B cope with following in Jose’s footsteps? The comparisons are certainly their to be drawn but it would be unfair to expect Andre Villas-Boas to have the same impact upon the club that Mourinho did. Jose was a phenomenon and happened to time his arrival at the club perfectly to receive the greatest of Abramovic’s financial generosity whereas A-V-B has thus far not been able to explore the full depths of his owner’s bank account.
This season will be a huge test of character for Chelsea who just about managed to save an immensely disappointing campaign last season with a late charge back up into second place. For a while it seemed that they may not even make the top four, but it is testament to their experience and character that they did recover. At present they have a very good squad but maybe one more world class ball player wouldn’t go amiss if they hope to challenge on multiple fronts this time out. The major concern for their new manager must be the fitness and form of Fernando Torres, who could be the key to their title challenge if he begins to fire.
- Can A-V-B put Chelsea back in contention
Key Players: Frank Lampard, Fernando Torres
Ones to Watch: Romelu Lukaku, David Luiz, Prediction: Title hopefuls, 2nd place
You can’t help but feel a little sorry for David Moyes. Year upon year his thread-bare squad keep coming up with the goods and keep finishing in and around the European places. For a lot of clubs this would provide the foundation for challenging for bigger and better honours, but the limited funds at the club have persistently prevented such a rise to prominence.
I have no doubt that David Moyes and his squad will again do well this season and a top 8 would yet again be a great achievement. One can only wonder how long such a quality manager can put up with a lack of resources, a shortcoming which has scarcely allowed for any real progress in recent years.
Key Players: Leighton Baines and Mikel Arteta
One to Watch: Jack Rodwell, Prediction: Mid-table
Martin Jol is a very good manager and a very likeable man. He is the sort of manager who people want to do well, as he did with Tottenham, and I think he will do well again at his new club. If Fulham can hole on to their key players like Bobby Zamora and Brede Hangeland then they can expect to challenge for a top-half finish this season.
Bobby Zamora and Brede Hangeland
Ones to Watch: John-Arne Riise and Andy Johnson, Prediction: Mid-table
More big spending from King Kenny seems to have breathed new life into the Anfield faithful. For the first time in quite a while there is real reason for optimism and a return to the top 4 is not out of the question.
The new signings made my the Kop hero need to be given time to gel and as such it could be a tricky start to the forthcoming campaign, but I can see this being a strong campaign for Liverpool. The players that Kenny has brought to the club are not only high-class players but they are also full of Premier League experience. It will be exciting to see how they get on this time around and the budding partnership of Carroll and Suarez should be looked forward to with particular relish.
- Could Adam prove another major Scottish success at Anfield
Key Players: Steven Gerrard, Charlie Adam and Luis Suarez
Ones to Watch: Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, Prediction: European qualification
As much as it pains me to say it City are genuine title contenders. I personally believe that this year might be little too soon for them but their squad is far too strong to rule them out.
If they can hold on to Carlos Tevez and keep him sweet for at least half the season then they have a real chance of keeping pace with the likes of Chelsea and United throughout the season. Their squad now boasts an impressive array of talent and they will only improve with time, if the likes of Aguero settle quickly then they are a force to be reckoned with.
- Will he stay or will he go?
Key Players: Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Carlos Tevez (if he stays!)
One to Watch: Sergio Aguero, Prediction: Title battle, 3rd
The champions look like the favourites again this season and their second half performance in the Community Shield was full of promise. It seems that the youthful new signings are out to prove a point, and the products of their youth system likewise.
Trying to fill the void left by super stars Van Der Sar, Neville and Scholes is a thankless task but Sir Alex’s young hopefuls seem to be up for the challenge and they’ll need to be. Once again it seems that Ferguson has moved smartly in the transfer market and if the rumours are true then Wesley Sneijder could yet be on his way to Old Trafford. At present United might be short of one more truly world class player is they are to challenge Barca for European honours but Sneijder could go some way towards bridging the gap between them and the current kings of Europe.
- The man to fill the Paul Scholes void?
Key Players: David De Gea, Luis Nani and Wayne Rooney
Ones to Watch: Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley, Prediction: Title defence
Will quarrels between Newcastle fans and the board ever end? Probably not if the club keep offloading their best players and fail to bring in suitable replacements…
If the likes of Joey Barton and Jose Enrique follow Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll out of the exit door then Newcastle could be in for a tough season. The four previously mentioned players were amongst Newcastle’s best performers last season and if they were all to leave then it would be a terrible shame. On the plus side though, they have managed to bring in some quality. Young Frenchman Yohan Cabaye looks a good buy if he settles in quickly and Gabriel Obertan could also be a steal at £3 million. The former Manchester United player never quite broke through at Old Trafford but he has shown more promise in their pre-season campaign.
- More tough times ahead for the owner
Key Players: Cheick Tiote and Joey Barton (if he stays!)
Ones to Watch: Yohan Cabaye and Gabriel Obertan, Prediction: Mid- to-lower table, potential relegation threat
The surprise package of last year’s Championship season have it all to do to maintain their Premier League status this season. Anything 17th or higher would be a great result for Paul Lambert and his players and they must make a couple of late signings if they are to achieve this.
At the moment Lambert’s squad looks a little lightweight and lacking in real quality. They desperately need to find an ace in the pack just as Blackpool did last season with Charlie Adam and David Vaughan and even that might not be enough to keep them up.
Key Players: Ritchie De Laet and Grant Holt
Ones to Watch: James Vaughan and Simeon Jackson, Prediction: Straight back down
Last season was a real triumph for Neil Warnock as QPR romped to the Championship title. Now Mr.Warnock finally has the chance to avenge his misgivings over how his former club Sheffield United were relegated from the top division last time he was managing at this level.
If the club can keep the super-talented Adel Taarabt happy then they could very stay up on their return to the Premier League.
- All the ability in the world, but can QPR get the best out of their main man?
Key Players: Adel Taarabt and Jay Bothroyd
Ones to Watch: Alejandro Faurlin and Kieron Dyer, Prediction: Survival
Tony Pulis has built a reputation for upsetting the odds with his Stoke team which is founded upon a strong defence. This pre-season has proved that more of the same is set to continue as Pulis has brought in two more proven quality centre-backs in Woodgate and Upson both of whom have a great wealth of Premier League experience.
In addition to this strong defence Pulis will be replying on their other major strength in the wide positions to provide the attacking threat. Another top half finish is possible for the Potters.
Key Players: Ryan Shawcross, Matthew Etherington
One to Watch: Jonathan Woodgate, Prediction: Mid-table
The revolving doors at the Stadium of Light have certainly been in use this summer. 11 signings have been made and 14 players have left the club in what has been an exciting summer for the club.
Often when clubs have such a high turnover in a transfer window it can mean that marquee signings are few and far between but no one can acuse Steve Bruce of a lack of ambition in the market. He has managed to bring in two top quality defenders with Champions League experience from Manchester United and he has beaten the likes of Liverpool to the signing of young Conor Wickham who could be part of a dangerous front pairing alongside Asamoah Gyan.
Key Players: John O’Shea and Asamoah Gyan
One to Watch: Conor Wickham, Prediction: Top half
Last year Swansea proved that you can be successful in the nitty gritty of the Championship when employing an attractive brand of football. Like QPR I think that Swansea have a real chance of staying up this year and they have an array of attacking talent.
This season is an incredibly exciting prospect for Wales’ first ever Premier League team and it will be down to likes of Scott Sinclair to carry the burden of scoring the goals that they will need if they plan on hanging around at the top of British football.
Key Player: Scott Sinclair
One to Watch: Leroy Lita, Prediction: Relegation battle, could stay up
This season will be a true test of Spurs’ desire to cement themselves in the group of teams at the peak of English football. With the re-emergence of Liverpool as a threat and the ever-improving Manchester City it will be a tough scrap for Tottenham to keep themselves in the top 5.
It is absolutely essential that they manage to keep a hold of their best players and Luka Modric is certainly one of those. If Chelsea were to prise away Spurs’ star playmaker then they could struggle to pose any real threat to the top 4.
- Wanted Man
Key Players: Rafael Van Der Vaart and Luka Modric
One to Watch: Gareth Bale, Prediction: 4th-6th
Last season’s dismissal of manager Roberto Di Matteo came completely out of the blue and at the time seemed rather unfair. However, once Roy Hodgson took over at the Hawthorns the team really seemed to fire.
The Baggies will be looking to build on their promising second half of the season and have made a couple of very useful signings this summer. The arrivals of Ben Foster and Shane Long could well be enough to see further improvements this season.
- Could Mr.Hodgson impress the FA in their search for a new England boss?
Key Players: Ben Foster and Peter Odemwingie
One to Watch: Shane Long, Prediction: Bottom half
Roberto Martinez worked wonders last year to keep a lacklustre Wigan side in the Premier League. What price a similar story this season?
Well.. it looks set to be another tough one for them following the departure of there best player, Charles N’Zogbia, to Aston Villa, but as ever Martinez is confident in his ability to keep them up. Another major loss is that of last year’s loaned in Tom Cleverley who has returned to parent club Manchester United after a very useful spell at the JJB. They will do well to avoid relegation again.
Key Players: Ali Al-Habsi and Hugo Rodallega
One to Watch: James McCarthy, Prediction: Relegation battle
Big Mick McCarthy has his work cut out again if Wolves are to avoid relegation for a third season in a row. New Captain Roger Johnson looks like a very decent signing from Birmingham City where he was very impressive but their squad still looks short of real quality.
Key Players: Roger Johnson and Kevin Doyle
One to Watch: Matt Jarvis, Prediction: Bottom