So with the new season about to start it’s time to look at who will be in the running for honours; who will be comfortably safe and who is likely to struggle. Each season you can safely split the League into three groups: top; middle and bottom. If you had to offer one main criticism of the Premier League it is that it’s pretty predictable in that you know who will be at the top come the end of the season. For everyone else it’s about trying to be in that middle third, safe from being sucked into a relegation battle from which three will fall through the trapdoor no matter how much money is spent.
Of course it’s not easy to predict where clubs will finish while there is still a couple of weeks until the closure of the transfer window. A couple of astute signings by a club can increase their chances of success – whether those chances are measured in terms of winning the league; qualifying for the Champions League or simply staying up. Similarly a club losing a key player close to deadline day could be the difference between mid-table security and relegation. At the time of writing some clubs, like ourselves and Man City, have made their key buys while others such as Arsenal and Man United have yet to make theirs. But as things stand I see it as follows:
The Top Group
For the first time in ages there is uncertainly at the top with both Manchester clubs and Chelsea starting with new managers. Nevertheless you can’t look beyond them for the top three places and I see it as:
2. Man City
3. Man United
I think both Chelsea and Man City underachieved last season and handed the title to United, although admittedly they took it with both hands and comfortably walked away with the League. But I don’t think they were that good a team and I believe both Chelsea and Man City will be calmer off the pitch and better organised on it next season. If Chelsea land Rooney then I can’t see anyone beating them to the title this year. If not then just maybe Man City can catch them.
Despite the ambitions on Merseyside I believe that the battle for fourth place will again be in North London though both Arsenal and Spurs have had a difficult summer. However Spurs have made some very good purchases and while they may or may not sell Gareth Bale they can’t lose either way. If they keep him then he will get them to fourth place and if they sell him then they will bring in other key players.
Arsenal on the other hand have had a very strange summer. Only one player brought in and, wait for it, 22 players released and another five sent on loan. Presumably they are offloading quantity in favour of quality but their pursuit of Luis Suarez seems to be as futile as that of Gonzalo Higuain. They do have a new Chairman however, who goes by the name Sir Chips Keswick. I’m sure this will be a huge comfort to their supporters. Whatever Arsene Wenger says publically they need to strengthen before the deadline even to get 5th place. If they don’t I can see them mid-table by Christmas and Wenger will finally have to admit defeat and leave.
The Middle Group
Now I am one of life’s pessimists and firmly believe that thirty years of watching the Swans has directly contributed to my state of mind. Despite this however even I can’t continue to fight the surge of optimism that been building in me over the last few weeks. I believe Swansea City will finish in 6th place next season. There I’ve said it. Fate tempted. This is not only the best Swansea squad I have ever seen but I think it is one of the best, well balanced squads in the League itself and I don’t see progress in Europe as causing us a problem in the League. Following closely behind us to secure seventh will be Liverpool who are gradually improving under Brendan and they will be followed by Fulham; Southampton and West Ham. All three have strengthened this summer and will look to build on last season.
10. West Ham
Finishing comfortably near the top half will be Everton and West Brom. Everton will take time to settle into the Martinez way of playing and, like Liverpool last year, it will be a season of adjustment and consolidation. However enough pretty football will be played to keep fans off Martinez’s back and he will have the support of a boardroom still traumatised at losing David Moyes. However Moyes may yet come back for some of the better Everton players which could see Everton fall further. It has been a very conservative summer for WBA and the only real change has been Anelka for Lukaku. This is a big loss but it will be offset slightly by Steve Clarke gaining valuable experience last season and for that reason along I see them only dropping down a couple of places.
12. West Brom
The Bottom Group
The remaining eight teams will all face a relegation battle. The North East looks like being the funniest place to be (unless of course you support one of the two teams there) with the bizarre appointment of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football at Newcastle and the car crash waiting to happen that is Paulo Di Canio at Sunderland. I wonder what odds the bookies will give on both Alan Pardew and De Canio being sacked by Christmas? Not very long ones I imagine and I believe that both teams have a good chance of being relegated. I predict that Norwich and Stoke will avoid the drop but their fans will face a long unhappy season with average football, played by average footballers directed by two very average managers. I can see Aston Villa also surviving again next season but am not convinced that they will show the signs of real progress that their fans will crave.
So that leaves the three promoted clubs. It would be very easy simply to say that the three that have come up will all go down again. That’s the lazy view that your football pundits tend to go with and, unlike me, they get paid to write their stuff. However I do genuinely believe that two will go down and those two are Hull and Crystal Palace. As much as I have a soft spot for Palace and their manager I don’t really think they expected to be in the Premier League and having lost Saha and Murry (to Man United and injury respectively) I can’t see how they will survive. I hope they enjoy their season however and it will at least give Jonathan Williams Premier League experience ready for when we sign him next summer!! Hull are an average side who will huff and puff and eventually go down even though Danny Graham will I’m sure get double figures for them next season. That just leaves Cardiff City who, out of all the promoted clubs have spent the most. Surprised? Me neither. They will survive – just.
15. Aston Villa
20. Crystal Palace