It has been a wholly undramatic summer of transfer activity so far. Steady accumulation, sensible buys, nothing to frighten the season ticket holders has been the way of things. The bigger stars of the World Cup have headed to Spain. The Premier League has been left with the rest.
There may still be frenetic action ahead. My namesake may explode with excitement as the window slams shut on his head. But for now we are obliged to make predictions for the forthcoming season on the basis of what little has been done this summer. So here goes. In ascending order, this is how I expect the Premier League to look come May.
20. Burnley: Excellent young manager, admirable team spirit, the Lancastrians have everything required to make a decent stab of their return to the top. Except an adequate squad.
19. Leicester: The keeper may be a familiar name, David Nugent may have scored more penalties than anyone else in the top four divisions last season, but the gap between Championship and Premier League will be prove to be a yawning chasm.
18. Southampton: One successful season has seen the club’s assets systematically stripped by a combination of ruthless rivals in the division and a board that is either keen on a quick buck, or asleep at the wheel. There is nothing in the replacements for the sadly departed (both on the pitch and in the dug out) to suggest much grounds for optimism.
17. Crystal Palace: Losing your manager just before the competition starts is never a wise move. To let the manager who saved you from disaster last season go seems beyond careless. Without Tony Pulis, it is hard to see anything other than a long, desperate struggle ahead. Still, with their ceaselessly noisy fans behind them at least the players will know someone around the club cares about staying up.
16. Swansea: Gary Monk is a good man, who deserves a decent run in management. The fear is, with his team weakened by the departure of Michu and with the big boys circling Wilfried Bony rapaciously, he will struggle.
15. West Bromwich Albion: Eccentric managerial appointments aside, Albion have enough momentum and Premier League experience to survive. Just. With 15 draws last season, they showed they can compete. If they could convert those draws into wins it will be easy. If only.
14. Sunderland: It is indicative of how weak the Premier League looks this season that it is possible to suggest Gus Poyet’s team look safe. Still, Jack Rodwell could be an important buy if he stays fit. And Lee Cattermole remains a referee’s favourite: they have to keep up those booking stats somehow.
13. West Ham United: Somehow Sam Allardyce limps on. Presumably he knows exactly where the terrible secrets of Messrs Gold and Sullivan are buried. And as he continues in employment in the East End, we can be certain of two things: the fans won’t stop moaning about him even as he ensures their team remains comfortably in the division.
12. Newcastle United: I know, 13th seems ludicrously optimistic for an operation as dysfunctional as St James’ Park. But somehow Alan Pardew will muddle through, despite or maybe because of the summer clearout he has engineered, which at times resembled an everything-must-go sale at one of his boss’s high street sportswear outlets.
11. Aston Villa: Again, predicting such an elevated position for Villa offers further proof that this is probably the weakest Premier League in the competition’s two-decade long history. But provided Christian Benteke can be kept fit and focused (two things singularly lacking last season) they will be comfortable. Particularly as Roy Keane should be able to scare the rest of the team into providing the Belgian with bullets.
10. Hull City: Steve Bruce made himself the most popular manager in the division by taking Hull to nose-bleed inducing heights last season. The hangover may be significant, and losing Shane Long not an easy blow, but a midfield of Snodgrass, Livermore, Huddlestone and Ince suggests easy safety.
9. Queen’s Park Rangers: The combination of Harry Redknapp and money is not always a happy one, but in a division where finance is everything, the Londoners have the resources to thrive. And Rio Ferdinand could be Harry’s Dave Mackay (that’s one for older readers).
8. Stoke City: Mark Hughes seems to have found his natural home. The fans love him, the players have responded to his methods, plus he has a chairman happy to fund him. There may even be talk – which will ultimately come to nothing – of a Europa League bid.
7. Tottenham Hotspur: Mauricio Pochettino looked a class act at Southampton last season. Now we will see whether that was illusion or fact. Obliged largely to stick with the Bale-funded splurge squad cobbled together by Andre Villas-Boas, a Champions League spot looks beyond him.
6. Everton: Romelu Lukaku is a terrific signing, but may not be enough to secure a top-four finish. After all, he was there last season. As was the other major summer signing, Gareth Barry. Still, at least Ross Barkley has been persuaded to stay.
5. Liverpool: It will be tight at the top, but two things have changed for Liverpool after their success last season. Firstly they are involved in the Champions League which will drain resources and resolve. And secondly they are lacking the man who got them there.
4. Manchester United: Last season offered compelling evidence that the most important man at a football club is the manager. And United have resolved that issue by appointing the right one this time. But despite the improvements Louis Van Gaal will bring, the weaknesses that undermined David Moyes have not been fully addressed.
3. Arsenal: With the last two domestic trophies available already on the sideboard, the Gunners will be full of confidence. They have the players too. Yet a win in a cup competition – maybe even the big one in Europe – looks more likely than a title run. Which should be enough to keep the regulars pacified. Or at least those regulars who can be bothered to turn up and use their season tickets.
2. Manchester City: The time to improve is when you are on top. But Frank Lampard on loan hardly constitutes the most stellar summer of signings. Still, the squad remains enviable. Though not quite good enough to win it two years on the bounce.
- Jim White
1. Chelsea: Jose Mourinho has not won a trophy in the past two seasons. This is not a man prepared to let that record stretch to three. His squad looked pretty useful last season. Now he has actually got a striker, the only way is up…
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