Predicting How the 20 Premier League Sides Will Finish Next Season
This Saturday marks five weeks until the new Premier League season begins.
Euro 2012 is not yet two weeks past, and there is still an Olympic football tournament to enjoy before the big kick-off on August 18, but already here we are looking ahead to the new campaign getting underway.
Newly-crowned champions Manchester City will be attempting to prove they are no flash in the pan by retaining their title, while the battle for their crown and the Champions League places below them could be more congested than ever.
Reading, Southampton and West Ham United will all try their hand at avoiding relegation, as all three promoted sides did last season.
Here is how the Premier League table could look come the end of the 2012/13 season next May.
20. Wigan Athletic
The Latics have had a great time in the top flight considering their meagre resources, but they only survived last season by putting together a thrilling run for the final six weeks, having been abject for the rest of it.
If Roberto Martinez keeps on applying for every job going, then he may well be gone by the New Year. The club has already lost Hugo Rodallega and is likely to lose Victor Moses too, making them even more toothless in front of goal.
After playoff final defeat last year, Reading bounced back in the best way possible as they won promotion to the top flight the following season, as winners of the Championship.
Brian McDermott's side will still be buzzing as they prepare to welcome the best teams in the land to the Madejski Stadium, but with some underwhelming summer signings and an inexperienced manager, they could be in for a rude awakening.
18. Stoke City
The Potters are a model case study for any manager who wants to know how to survive upon promotion to the Premier League with an unfancied team.
However, last season it looked as though plenty of teams were finally working out how to deal with Stoke's rough style and one-dimensional tactics, and the coming campaign could be the one when the bubble finally bursts.
Just the one newly-promoted side going down then, according to this list, but the Saints may survive by the skin of their teeth.
In Rickie Lambert, Nigel Adkins's side have got an asset worth its weight in gold for a team which has just come up to the top flight: a proper goal-scorer. If Lambert can find his feet early, he could fire the Saints to safety.
16. Norwich City
The job Paul Lambert did in extracting the most he could out of a squad full of players who had spent the majority of their careers in the lower leagues was nothing short of phenomenal.
Now with Lambert gone to Aston Villa, new incumbent Chris Hughton will struggle to repeat that miracle, especially with no notable signings made as yet to bolster the squad.
15. West Bromwich Albion
Steve Clarke is a real unknown quantity as he embarks upon his first-ever full-time management role. The Scotsman had what could be described as a bit of success at Chelsea by Jose Mourinho's side, but stints as No. 2 at West Ham and Liverpool were at best forgettable and at worst regrettable.
Along with Kenny Dalglish, Clarke struggled in following Roy Hodgson at Anfield and he may find it even more difficult to do so now that he is flying solo at a club where the now-England manager had time to make his mark.
14. Queens Park Rangers
Just as they did last season, QPR are currently collecting players as though they were stickers. They have hardly offloaded any of the dead wood amassed under Neil Warnock's tenure, and the numbers in their first-team squad are swelling close to the 40-mark.
Now that Mark Hughes has a whole summer to plan ahead for QPR, they should steer clear of the relegation scrap they became embroiled in last season, but little more than that.
13. Swansea City
Losing a manager who defined the style a team played as much as Brendan Rodgers did at Swansea could well have been a mortal blow for the Welsh club, but they pulled off a real coup in bringing in Michael Laudrup.
The Dane, a wonderfully cultured midfielder as a player, should be able to maintain Swansea's signature passing style, and with a couple of astute signings could prove a real hit at the Liberty Stadium.
12. West Ham United
Say what you like about Sam Allardyce—and many people do—but the man knows how to exceed expectations.
West Ham may have only come up via the playoffs in the end, but—as this brilliant statistics-based article on Allardyce's career published by Forbes shows—the Hammers are set to finish four places and with five points more than you would expect.
Martin O'Neill's arrival last winter had the desired effect, with the Northern Irishman instilling a trademark "bounce" into Sunderland's performances, as he does with every team he takes over.
Now that he can set about building his own team on Wearside, or at least moulding them to his own preference, this will be the true transitional season for them after last term's overriding objective of avoiding relegation was achieved.
10. Aston Villa
The sooner we all manage to forget the crime against football that was Alex McLeish's Aston Villa team last season, the better for everyone.
At least now they have a manager in Paul Lambert who will employ a far more cavalier style of football that could even propel the Birmingham club back up the table.
When Mark Hughes walked out on Fulham after just one season in charge, he thought he could get something better. He got the QPR job.
So it was up to Martin Jol to take his opportunity for a second crack at management in England, and in an impressive first year at Craven Cottage has got Fulham playing some attractive football and several exciting young players coming through.
Brendan Rodgers has taken on an absolutely huge job at a pivotal time in the history of Liverpool Football Club, and he must be given the time to impose his style on the squad and the club as a whole.
Such epic rebuilding is likely to mean that there may be bad results along the way, but the important thing is that the Reds will continue constructing a team to bring the good times back to Anfield in the long-term, not one which is launching an assault on the top four just yet.
For Everton fans, a happy side effect of Liverpool's struggles last season was seeing their own team finish above them in the league for the first time in seven years.
A lot will depend on how long their customary bad start lasts, and how many of their star players they lose to bigger clubs in the transfer window, but the Toffees should have it within them to repeat the feat next season.
6. Tottenham Hotspur
Not so long ago, the departure of Harry Redknapp would have been viewed as a disaster for Tottenham fans. This summer, however, it felt like the time was right for the man who turned their fortunes around following the inept reign of Juande Ramos to leave.
If Andre Villas-Boas is backed by the board and the players, and the club is successful in the transfer market, then Spurs may be able to pull off the trick of enjoying a transitional season without losing much ground to the teams around them.
5. Newcastle United
While Spurs have to press the reset button, Newcastle are able to continue their upward trajectory without breaking stride.
With the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa now having plenty of games under their belts and Papiss Demba Cisse unleashed from the start of the season, big things can be expected of the Magpies.
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Robin van Persie will leave Arsenal this summer, just as Cesc Fabregas, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira have before him.
Every time these superstars have jumped ship, it has felt like the end of the line for Arsenal. Yet every time they still manage to at least retain a top-four place, if not challenge for the title for much of the season.
With the arrivals of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, the Gunners may actually benefit from sharing the goalscoring burden next season.
3. Manchester United
As much as they were only beaten to last season's title by a single goal scored right at the very end of the campaign, few would argue that United were comfortably the second-best team in England last season.
They have moved to address the lack of dynamism and creativity in their midfield with the rather impressive capture of Shinji Kagawa, but aside from a couple of other young players, the Red Devils will have a very familiar look about them when they start the season.
This coming campaign looks like it could mark the beginning of another major regeneration at Old Trafford, but they still have more than enough quality so as not to worry about finishing in the Champions League places.
European champions Chelsea—that still hasn't sunk in, has it?—have wasted no time in setting about making themselves a proper title-challenging outfit again this summer.
While the departure of Didier Drogba will be keenly felt, the acquisitions of Eden Hazard and Marko Marin should help soften the blow. Plus, as a recently-rejected bid for Andre Schurrle shows, they are not done investing in Roberto Di Matteo's squad yet.
If Hazard, Marin and Juan Mata can all combine to once more get the goals flowing from the toes of Euro 2012 Golden Boot Fernando Torres—that still hasn't sunk in, either—then they will take some beating next season.
1. Manchester City
Something would have gone very wrong somewhere if the reigning champions weren't the favourites to retain the trophy just months after lifting it.
While each of their main rivals has made at least one major signing already this summer, City have so far been quiet on the transfer front.
But they can afford to be, for they already boast a star-attired array of talent which last season combined to become a proper team.
They showed the resilience to overcome disappointing results and form. They displayed the sheer determination to deliver when all looked lost in the very final moments of the season and snatch glory from the jaws of defeat. They looked, in short, like champions, and nothing has changed in that regard.