The 2013/14 Premier League season is almost here. Summer break is over, players and managers alike are out working hard in pre-season training.
This year there are some huge story-lines going into August, and with the shake up regarding management at Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, the Premier League is going to be even more unpredictable than usual.
Here is the way I expect the top 10 teams to finish this coming season:
So maybe it isn’t a popular choice given that Manchester United essentially ran away with the Premier League last season. But in all honesty, I can’t help but feel that Manchester United were gifted the league title, just as Manchester City were the year before. Chelsea were in turmoil last season and it’s a miracle - despite the massive amount of talent in their team - that they finished 3rd and won the Europa League.
The internal politics of the club were on display for all to see, and with the appointment of Rafa Benitez the club plummeted in reputation.
Now, however, Jose Mourinho is back and I can’t see the 'Happy One' letting this continue.
With the additions of Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel to players like Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Ashley Cole and David Luiz - coupled with the returns of Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Mourinho himself – Chelsea are in pole position to make a strong run at the Premier League title.
2. Manchester United
Manchester United haven't lost any key players but it has lost its heart and soul - Sir Alex Ferguson.
When Ferguson retired lots of names were thrown around as replacements, including Mourinho. Manchester United opted to go with Everton manager David Moyes.
While what Moyes did at Everton was admirable, he doesn’t exactly have a winning pedigree.
However, Moyes didn’t have the players that he will have at his disposal at United and Everton, and he certainly didn’t have the same transfer kitty. If Sir Alex hand picked David Moyes for the job, you have to think he knows what he’s talking about – but I'm not sure that the move will translate into immediate success.
If United cannot hold on to Wayne Rooney and replace him with a Robert Lewandowski or a Thiago Alcantara type player, make no mistake: it is a massive downgrade.
Wilfried Zaha is a talent, but he may not be ready to make an impact from day one. Ferguson could galvanise players at the drop of a hat. Can Moyes do the same?
Moyes has never won any major silverware in the top flight - I don’t think he’ll crown his debut season at United with silverware either.
3. Manchester City
Everything I said about Moyes works for Manuel Pellegrini. The only difference being over 10 years ago, Pellegrini won a league championship with the best club in Argentina, River Plate.
City probably have the most talented squad in the league, even with Carlos Tevez leaving. Manchester City brought in Jesus Navas and Fernandinho so Pellegrini has all the pieces to win and win big, but I still feel like this is a downgrade in manager from Roberto Mancini.
My only issue here is keeping all the ego’s happy, not to mention how focused the higher-ups at City will want the team to focus on doing much, much better in the Champions League.
The bottom line here is that I don’t buy Pellegrini being able to do a better job than Mancini.
Every year we think it’s the year Arsenal will drop out of the top four and every year they defy the odds.
I have them finishing 4th this year because of the stability they have with Arsene Wenger and the fact that while they have been linked to players like Gonzalo Higuain and Wayne Rooney, I don’t buy that they’ll sign either.
With Wenger having signed French striker Yaya Sanogo and chasing another young French striker in Geoffrey Kondogbia it seems like normal service has resumed with regard to Arsenal’s transfer dealings.
I would be very surprised if a player like Higuain arrived at the Emirates stadium this summer, and even if he does I still think Arsenal will finish 4th.
5. Tottenham Hotspur
There’s just something about Spurs that I can’t get my head around. Spurs have a great player in Gareth Bale but the players around him aren’t really up to scratch to compete for the title, or really to sustain a charge for the top four.
I know what you’re going to say, they finished 4th the year Chelsea finished 6th and won the Champions League. They also cut ties with Harry Redknapp and brought in Chelsea reject Andre Vilas-Boas.
They have brought in Paulinho, who didn’t look all that impressive at the Confederations Cup, and look set to bring in Christian Benteke to improve the squad further.
The problem is, Benteke is prone to being caught offside and Spurs already have a Paulinho, his name is Sandro. Remember him?
I also think that teams will figure out Bale this year. He’s a great player, but if you can stop him cutting in on his left foot, what damage can he really do? For me, Spurs need to make a massive marquee signing to be considered a genuine top four side, let alone a title contender.
And it wouldn’t hurt if they got somebody other than Villas-Boas to manage the squad either.
This was a toss up for me, as I think Liverpool and Spurs are interchangeable for 5th and 6th place. Brendan Rodgers has shown some weakness managing a club with a big reputation but by the end of last season, he seemed to be getting into his stride.
If Liverpool can manage to keep Luis Suarez, the addition of Iago Aspas actually would make me consider a coin flip between them and Arsenal for 4th.
The problem is they won’t keep Suarez, he’s as good as gone and while Aspas is potentially a superstar, he’s not as talented as Suarez is. Not by a long way.
Look for Philippe Coutinho to run the midfield for them this season.
7. West Bromwich Albion
Steve Clark has gone from strength to strength in his managerial career and managed an eighth placed finish last year with West Brom, and Albion's highest position in Premier League history.
Clarke had some help last season from Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku but with the Belgian international set to start the season with Chelsea, West Brom have rescued veteran striker Nicolas Anelka from his Chinese nightmare.
I actually like the Anelka acquisition a lot. In my opinion they have replaced Lukaku’s goals with Anelka’s intelligence - he could easily contribute 20 goals this season, whether he is scoring them or providing an assist.
West Brom haven’t lost anybody of note, they’ve brought in an experienced striker in Anelka to pair with Shane Long and they’ve got Steve Clark. A good cup run could see them enter Europe. After all, if Wigan can get into Europe, why not West Bromwich Albion?
Michael Laudrup continues the Swansea philosophy. Rodgers started it, and now Laudrup is running with it. The Swans are in Europe this upcoming season after winning the Capital One Cup last term.
They have brought in Wilfried Bony from Vitesse Arnhem, which gives them some added firepower and in turn takes some of the goalscoring load off of Michu.
Bony scored 31 goals in 30 games last season, but remember, this is the same league where Chelsea flop Mateja Kezman scored 106 goals in 126 games for PSV Eindhoven. I’m not saying Bony will suffer the same fate, but I’d watch carefully.
All in all I think Swansea have improved their squad, but in spite of that I think they'll finish just one place higher than last season. They won’t be easy to beat in the Europa League next season and an extended run in the competition could see them slow down towards the end of the season.
I was going to put them 7th, one place below where they finished last year but I just can’t see it.
I don’t think Arouna Kone is much of an upgrade on what they already have and while there is a lot of excitement about Barcelona youngster Gerard Deulofeu coming in on loan, I don’t think he adds as much as people are expecting him to. After all, there must be a reason Barcelona let him go on loan in the first place? Antolin Alcaraz could shore up the defence a little but honestly I’m not too crazy about bringing in players from a team that were relegated the previous season. Is it an upgrade?
The biggest loss Everton have had is their manager. While I’m not a fan of Moyes per se, I’m even less of a fan of Roberto Martinez. I think the talent in this squad helps Everton finish in the top 10, just, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they finished lower than mid-table.
Yes, I’m going there! Southampton were unlucky to finish 14th last season in my opinion and have some great talent in their side.
Players like Gaston Ramirez, Jack Cork, Jay Rodriguez, Morgan Schneiderlin and Adam Lallana have been added to with the quality additions of Victor Wanyama and Dejan Lovren.
Mauricio Pochettino was a surprise acquisition with Nigel Adkins doing so well last season, but I think it’s a move in the right direction and I think the Saints have a top 10 finish this season.
Rest of the way:
11. West Ham United
14. Norwich City
15. Stoke City
16. Newcastle United
17. Cardiff City
18. Aston Villa
20. Crystal Palace
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