It’s difficult to see beyond the two Manchester teams and Chelsea for the 2011/12 Premier League winner.
Man City weren’t entirely convincing last season and have the added challenge of Champions League football this time around. But they have the most expensively assembled squad in the league and one which should have enough quality to compete on two fronts. If Roberto Mancini can keep most of his team happy then Man City will almost certainly be competing for trophies and I could see them as title winners.
But this is Man City. A club who don’t do things smoothly, and still have too many of the game’s most temperamental characters on their books. There is bound to be unrest of some sort, and reluctantly leaves me opting for Man United.
Arsenal may not have enough to overhaul all three sides already mentioned and claim the title, but they will still be expected to finish within the top 4, though Spurs and Liverpool will both provide strong competition for a Champions League place.
Spurs have experience of playing in Europe’s premier competition but it’s difficult not to think that they missed an opportunity to consolidate their domestic position when they missed out on a second successive top four finish, caused by a dramatic dip in league form following their European exit.
Liverpool start the season with a far stronger squad than they had available when Kenny Dalglish took over in January. The lack of European football may be seen as an advantage but will be hoping for extra games in domestic cup competitions. If the likes of Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam can add the creativity they were signed for, I predict Liverpool will be strong enough to claim fourth place.
Should both the League Cup and the FA Cup be won by a club who have already qualified for Europe through the league, a Europa League place will be on offer for whoever finishes 7th.
Aston Villa were at a similar level to Spurs only a couple of years ago, but after squandering two good opportunities to secure Champions League football they have appeared a side in decline ever since. A fact emphasized by the sale of two star players which leaves them looking too weak to compete for a European place.
Sunderland are another side who have looked to be on the verge of reaching the next level in terms of league performance only to fall spectacularly when the season entered its most crucial stage.
All of which leaves Everton as the most obvious contender. Notoriously slow starters, but David Moyes’ team are usually amongst the most consistent teams around once they’ve got themselves going.
The newly promoted trio are likely to start as favourites to go down, but rarely have the same three teams returned straight back to the Championship after only one season in the top flight.
As with last season, I expect up to seven or eight sides to be involved and there’s always a surprise or two amongst those fighting for survival.
Newcastle could be one of those, given the loss of some key players, and I don’t think Blackburn will fare much better than last season which would put them at risk of the drop, too.
Picking the three teams to be relegated before the season has started is always risky, but to avoid sitting on the fence I’ll go for QPR, Swansea and Blackburn to finish in the bottom three places.