After looking into my crystal ball (well, my Racing Post pullout preview), I have drawn some conclusions on what will transpire in the forthcoming Premier League season. A season, I hope, that maintains last season’s intrigue but sees a significant upgrade in playing quality, so that the league can get close to the moniker of being ‘the best league in the world’.
In terms of the title, Manchester United look well positioned for a fifth title in six seasons. They will no doubt face a substantial challenge from their local rivals Manchester City who man-for-man look more than United’s equal, but they are not comparable to the red half of Manchester when it comes to fostering a team spirit, which in turn has helped to develop United’s legendary winning mentality, evident in their comeback triumph in last weekends Community Shield.
Other factors in the champions favour include excellent defensive cover for the perennially crocked Rio Ferdinand, and the likelihood of Wayne Rooney returning to optimum form.
So, United for me, but Manchester City to come a relatively close second, hampered by Roberto Mancini’s innate negativity.
The two Manchester juggernauts will be joined in the Champions League berths by traditional title challengers Chelsea and Arsenal.
@JamieBrannon10 thinks we're seeing that grin again this year
If new Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas had invested heavily and wisely this summer then a case could have been made for a championship success. However, Abramovich is seemingly reluctant to indulge in an intense spending spree to regenerate an ageing squad, so a mediocre campaign beckons unless cup success can add some gloss.
I have written Arsenal off many times before when it comes to finishing outside the top four, but Arsene Wenger keeps confounding me, so I refuse to suggest anything less than fourth, despite his stubbornness or blindness to address areas of weakness that have held them back since their last trophy six years ago.
They need a commanding centre-back and a destructive midfielder in the mould of Patrick Viera.
Although the impending sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri for a combined fee of close to £60m should free up funds to iron out these deficiencies.
Knowing Wenger though, he will recruit a diminutive ball-playing midfielder, and then claim he is looking to the future!
As for relegation, you are foolish to predict all three promoted clubs going down as this has only happened once in Premier League history. However, my hunch is that two will perish.
Firstly, Norwich City will gain admirers for their aesthetically pleasing football but ultimately lack the Premier League class and experience to ensure a second season. This is evident in their uninspiring transfer dealings which have seen them capture players who never set the Championship alight never mind the top flight.
Secondly, despite the mega-rich ownership QPR look ripe for an immediate return to the second tier, principally because their owners have not backed manager Neil Warnock with sufficient to make a serious indent in the league. A farce of season may beckon, if the owners start interfering with Warnock’s stewardship.
Jay Bothroyd has joined; however, his capture doesn’t alter my view that a distinct lack of firepower will be their Achilles heel.
Joining two of the new boys will be Wigan Athletic who have been punching above their weight at this level longer than many anticipated. Reality will bite this season, which is a pity, as Roberto Martinez’s decision to stay as manager was an admirable gesture of loyalty given his undoubted potential to go far in his career. For me even if Hugo Rodallega is retained they will fall short in the goalscoring department and generally their squad looks weaker than principal relegation rivals.
Those rivals will include Blackburn Rovers, who have new ownership but an inexperienced manager, although with a solid platform at the back to build a survival foundation.
Bolton Wanders look vulnerable after the sale of Johan Elmander, and Daniel Sturridge has returned to parent club Chelsea after last season’s loan.
They possess just enough solidity and variety in their play to maintain top flight status.
Cases could be made for several others, but those sides generally have the necessary fire power to do nothing more than flirt with relegation and avoid the visceral agony of relegation.
All that’s left to say is to advise you to visit your nearest bookmaker and enjoy all the excitement and acute disappointment that ante-post betting brings when by December you realise your betting dreams have been ripped right open at the seams. Don’t panic though, as you can reload your betting arsenal by reading the Racing Post halfway supplement with new recommendations, out just before Christmas.