As promised, here is the rest of my team-by-team preview of the new season.
Manager: Roberto Mancini
Last season: 5th
Players in: David Silva (Valencia, £25m); Yaya Touré (Barcelona, £24m); Aleksandar Kolarov (Lazio, £17m); Jérôme Boateng (Hamburg, £10.4m)
Players out: Valeri Bojinov (Parma, undisclosed); Gunnar Nielsen (Tranmere Rovers, loan); Martin Petrov (Bolton Wanderers, free); Benjani Mwaruwari, Sylvinho (released).
It goes without saying that this is a crucial season, both for City and for their manager Roberto Mancini. Anything less than Champions League qualification will almost certainly see him sacked, especially given the £75million worth of new signings. Mancini has sensibly recognised there is no need to tamper with his side’s prolific strikeforce, instead spending most of his money on shoring up an unreliable defence. With more competition for places, the likes of Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott will be looking to improve on disappointing debut seasons, and Mancini will hope his whole team steps up a gear.
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson
Last season: 2nd
Players in: Chris Smalling (Fulham, undisclosed); Javier Hernández (Guadalajara, undisclosed)
Players out: Zoran Tošić (CSKA Moscow, undisclosed); Matty James (Preston North End, loan); David Gray (Preston North End, free); Tom Heaton (Cardiff City, free); Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover, free); Febian Brandy, Sam Hewson, Scott Moffatt (released)
Last season was a huge disappointment for Manchester United. No one can argue with that. Aside from losing their Premier League crown and disheartening exits from the Champions League and FA Cup, Ferguson’s side simply did not play that well. If previous form is anything to go by, the Scottish manager will not let his side do the same again. The return of Owen Hargreaves will be a massive boost for United, while some of their younger players will have learned valuable lessons from last season, not least Rafael da Silva. If Rooney and Nani repeat their dazzling form of last season, and are joined in doing so by any one of Hernández, Berbatov and Owen, then the title is well within their grasp.
Manager: Chris Hughton
Last season: 1st (Championship)
Players in: James Perch (Nottingham Forest, undisclosed); Dan Gosling (Everton, free)
Players out: Jonny Godsmark (Ashington, free); Max Johnson (Inverness Caledonian Thistle, free); Michael McCrudden (Derry City, free); Wesley Ngo Baheng, Nicky Butt, Frank Wiafe Danquah, Darren Lough, Callum Morris (released)
About a year ago, Newcastle United seemed to be in complete disarray, losing 6-1 to Leyton Orient just weeks before their Championship campaign. But then something clicked, and they brushed aside all competition, racing to the title. Credit must be given to Chris Hughton for getting a group of players used to playing at a higher level to give their all in the second tier. They have enough quality and enough know-how to stave off relegation this time round, but without the funding for further signings Newcastle look unlikely to trouble the top half of the table.
Manager: Tony Pulis
Last season: 11th
Players in: Florent Cuvelier (Portsmouth, undisclosed); Carlo Nash (Everton, free)
Players out: Andy Griffin (Reading, nominal fee); Diego Arismendi (Barnsley, loan); Ibrahima Sonko (Portsmouth, loan); Steve Simonsen (Sheffield United, free); Nathaniel Wedderburn (Northampton Town, free); Amdy Faye (released)
Last season’s improvement on an impressive debut Premier League season was a bit of an illusion, and Stoke will do well to avoid resting on their laurels. Their 11th place finish was achieved largely due to the paucity of the teams below them, and even then Tony Pulis’s side needed a couple of results towards the end of the season to steer them away from danger. A relatively small squad may struggle if players start to pick up injuries, but they should have enough grit and determination to keep their heads above water. It looks like the board have given Pulis some money to spend, and a strike partner for Ricardo Fuller will be high on his list of priorities after the Potters only netted 34 goals last year.
Manager: Steve Bruce
Last season: 13th
Players in: Simon Mignolet (Sint-Truidense, £2m); Marcos Angeleri (Estudiantes, £1.5m); Titus Bramble (Wigan Athletic, £1m); Ahmed Al-Muhammadi (ENPPI, loan); Cristian Riveros (Cruz Azul, free)
Players out: Lorik Cana (Galatasaray, £5m); Daryl Murphy (Celtic, £1.4m); Nyron Nosworthy (Sheffield United, loan); Roy O’Donovan (Coventry City, free)
2009/10 was a season of two halves for Sunderland, with an impressive few months overshadowed by a seemingly-irreversible slide down the table in the new year. One would hope Steve Bruce has recognised his side’s faults, and indeed he looks to have spent wisely so far this summer. If the strike-partnership between Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones kicks into gear properly – and with Riveros’s distribution there is no reason for it not to – this should be a comfortable season for the Black Cats.
Manager: Harry Redknapp
Last season: 4th
Players in: Sandro (Internacional, undisclosed)
Players out: Lee Butcher (Leyton Orient, free); Sam Cox (Barnet, free); Jimmy Walker (released)
Harry Redknapp was recently ridiculed by opposition fans for suggesting Tottenham could win the league this season, but in truth such outlandish statements may be just what the club needs. While a Premier League title may be beyond Spurs, Redknapp is surely aware of the need to spend big to even maintain the club’s place in the top four. With Manchester City breaking the bank once again, Spurs’ efforts to repeat last season’s achievements are very much under threat, and it is important for chairman Daniel Levy to appreciate that – unless he makes more funds available – 5th place is not a terrible result given the strength of their squad.
West Bromwich Albion:
Manager: Roberto di Matteo
Last season: 2nd (Championship)
Players in: Gabriel Tamaş (AJ Auxerre, £800,000); Steven Reid (Blackburn Rovers, free); Pablo Ibáñez (Atlético Madrid, free)
Players out: Jonathan Greening (Fulham, undisclosed); Borja Valero (Villarreal, loan); Joss Labadie (Tranmere Rovers, free); Robert Koren, Filipe Teixeira, Andwélé Slory (released)
Roberto di Matteo may not have any top-flight managerial experience, but his signings and style of play suggest he may be more capable of keeping the Baggies in the Premier League than previous boss Tony Mowbray. Tamas impressed both on loan last season and in Euro 2008 for Romania, while Reid and Ibáñez are dependable individuals with experience at this level. Albion have a large squad with a number of internationals, and – more importantly – they have a team spirit to go along with their individual quality. It is this which will help them grind out those much-needed 1-0s come March and April.
West Ham United:
Manager: Avram Grant
Last season: 17th
Players in: Pablo Barrera (Pumas UNAM, £4m); Frédéric Piquionne (Olympique Lyonnais, undisclosed); Thomas Hitzlsperger (SS Lazio, free)
Players out: Bondz N’Gala (Plymouth Argyle, free); Guillermo Franco, Ilan, Josh Payne, Danny Kearns (released)
It is a strange thing to say given their lowly finish last season, but West Ham’s success this campaign depends greatly on their ability to keep hold of the core of their first team. New signing Hitzlsperger may be able to provide the creative spark which was often missing under previous manager Gianfranco Zola, but Zola’s replacement Avram Grant seems to be bringing in new faces simply to complement the likes of Scott Parker and Carlton Cole. If the squad remains in one piece, last season’s relegation scare should be avoided relatively comfortably.
Manager: Roberto Martínez
Last season: 16th
Players in: Mauro Boselli (Estudiantes, £5.8m); Antolín Alcaraz (Club Brugge, undisclosed); James McArthur (Hamilton Academical, undisclosed); Ali Al-Habsi (Bolton Wanderers, loan)
Players out: Titus Bramble (Sunderland, £1m); Tomas Cywka (Derby County, free); Tomas Kupisz (Jagiellonia Bialystok, free); Mario Melchiot (Umm Salal, free); Nick Meace, Paul Scharner (released)
Wigan have flirted with relegation for several years now, and I for one do not expect this year to be any exception. They have the individual quality to unlock matches, as they showed in their remarkable comeback against Arsenal last April, but their remains a defensive frailty which leaves Martínez’s side vulnerable to the odd momentum-sapping defeat. While Alcaraz looks like a great signing, the departure of Bramble, Melchiot and Scharner leaves defensive cover rather thin on the ground, and the Latics’ fans will be hoping new man Boselli doesn’t take too long to adapt to the Premier League.
Manager: Mick McCarthy
Last season: 15th
Players in: Steven Fletcher (Burnley, £6.5m); Adlène Guedioura (RSC Charleroi, undisclosed); Jelle van Damme (Anderlecht, undisclosed); Steven Mouyokolo (Hull City, undisclosed); Stephen Hunt (Hull City, undisclosed); Geoffrey Mujangi Bia (RSC Charleroi, loan)
Players out: Chris Iwelumo (Burnley, undisclosed); Jason Shackell (Barnsley, undisclosed); Andrew Surman (Norwich City, undisclosed); Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Peterborough United, loan); George Friend (Doncaster Rovers, free); Daniel Jones (Sheffield Wednesday, free); Mark Little (Peterborough United, free)
Wolves were relatively comfortable last season, at least in comparison with their fans’ expectations before the campaign. However one should not ignore the fact that a number of teams were incredibly poor, and their tally of 38 points may have seen them relegated in other circumstances. With teams around them strengthening, the counter-attacking style employed so effectively towards the end of last season may be less successful, and boss McCarthy will need to be prepared to abandon his usual style if he wants to make effective use of new signings Fletcher and Hunt. With the energy and enthusiasm of players like Matt Jarvis perhaps unlikely to carry the same impact as last season, Wolves may lack the quality to stay afloat for a second successive campaign.
So, in the unlikely event that all my predictions come true, the final Premier League table will look something like this:
1. Manchester United
3. Manchester City
5. Tottenham Hotspur
8. Aston Villa
10. Bolton Wanderers
11. Blackburn Rovers
12. Birmingham City
13. West Ham United
14. Newcastle United
15. Wigan Athletic
16. Stoke City
17. West Bromwich Albion
19. Wolverhampton Wanderers