The Premiership title race next year will be one of the most interesting in years. Here are my predictions for the top five, and before any claims of bias or prejudice, I am an Everton fan and I have us finishing 7th (well, maybe 6th).
Manchester United are the team to start with as current champions. They will be hit by the losses of Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes but Alex Ferguson will feel his squad is capable of coping.
If new signing David de Gea can establish himself in goal, United will have a great platform in defence with Ferdinand, Vidic, Smalling and fellow new signing Phil Jones – four of the best centre-backs in the Premiership. Ashley Young will add quality to an already potent attack though the partnership between Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez will be the crucial factor in United’s title bid.
Boss Alex Ferguson’s experience over his main competitors, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Mancini, will stand him in good stead and I believe prove decisive in regaining the title.
This year will be a very interesting one at Chelsea. How readily and effectively Andre Villas-Boas can implement his style will make or break the season. A lot remains to be seen on how the former Porto man will invest in his squad with persistent rumours of moves for both Romelo Lukaku and Luka Modric.
At the moment Chelsea need both a creative midfielder and a defensive one a-la-Essien. If they bring in these players, you would have to say Chelsea have a great chance to succeed this year. If Villas-Boas’ appointment brings stability, Chelsea can show their quality.
Working out the best way to play Drogba, Torres and Anelka will surely be a problem he will enjoy. If he gets it right, Chelsea have the potential to blast teams off the park this year. It is however a huge task to create a Championship winning side in your first year, so I feel Chelsea will ultimately fall short and come a close second.
Next for me is Manchester City whose defensive record alone puts them on a par with Chelsea. Joe Hart and Vincent Company established themselves as reliable figures at the heart of City’s defence last year. Their tireless, impressive displays gave the team the confidence to go forward and attack, something I expect more of this season.
City’s own striker conundrum will be somewhat less enjoyable for Mancini. Putting the Tevez issue to the back of his mind, he will naturally expect big-money signing Sergio Aguero to be a hit but even if the Argentine striker is, City will also require a great season from one or both of Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko.
The comparative unreliability of City’s strikeforce will place them just below Chelsea I believe, but comfortably ahead of fourth.
Fourth will be Liverpool who have seen legend Kenny Dalglish spend big in the last six months to construct a near brand new frontline and midfield. Fans will expect a lot from Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, the latter in particular a source of new-found optimism for fans.
I fully expect him to score a minimum of 20 goals this year and probably a lot more. It is Suarez who will spearhead Liverpool, buoyed by the fans’ relief and delight, into a respectable league position. I expect them to win a fair few of the big games and will ultimately pip Arsenal for the final Champions League position.
Arsenal will struggle this year I believe. The uncertainty over the future of key players Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri will surely have a negative effect on the squad. It is effectively an all or nothing year for the Gunners. Were they to fail to qualify for the Champions League, they would be powerless to keep the two, and in all probability, inadequately replace them.
Defensive problems still haunt Arsenal. Though excellent in patches last season, and undoubtedly lifted by the return of the excellent Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal’s defensive carelessness and poor mentality will be the undoing of the side this year. A fifth-placed finish will have fans raising serious concerns.