Its that time of year again, when everyone thinks they know how the forthcoming Premier League campaign is going to pan out.
Last season, it turned out that I didn't know very much. Of the twenty Premier League placings, I only got three spot on. They were Arsenal in 4th, Wigan in 11th and Sunderland in 16th.
Elsewhere, my biggest errors were Portsmouth to finish 5th (they finished 14th as they went through three different managers), Fulham to finish 15th (Roy Hodgson masterminded a 7th placed finish), and Middlesbrough to finish 12th (they were relegated in 19th place).
I did get 11 teams within three places of their finishing position, so it wasn't a complete disaster, but there is plenty of room for improvement in 2009-2010, so here goes:
PREMIER LEAGUE PREDICTION 2009-2010
I am a great believer in the theory that to win the title, if you are not the reigning champion, you have to have come close the season before. With that in mind, realistically only Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea can win the league this season.
Liverpool are going to manage it sooner or later; like Manchester United before them, they are too big a club to not win the league forever. If Torres plays 30 plus league games, that could make the difference.
STAR MAN - FERNANDO TORRES
2ND MANCHESTER UNITED
Even in transitional campaigns, United do not often finish outside the top two. With Ronaldo and Tevez gone, and Fergie already talking up tactical changes, a fourth straight title might be a step too far. It is far from impossible, but the simple law of averages suggests that it is less likely, although they will inevitably be there or thereabouts.
STAR MAN - WAYNE ROONEY
They may be the bookies favourites, but I do not agree on this occasion. Yet another new manager for an ageing squad to relate to does not equal instant success in my opinion. Of course, they will be very strong, very hard to beat, and will challenge in all competitions purely because of the quality at their disposal, but Ancelotti has only won a single league title in his career, and I can't see that changing in his first year in a new country.
STAR MAN - MICHAEL ESSIEN
4TH MANCHESTER CITY
From 10th to 4th in one season, is it possible? I think it is. Last season Manchester City were seriously affected by a UEFA Cup campaign. This time they are not in Europe, so will play significantly fewer games. Fewer games, plus a vastly strengthened squad equals fast improvement in my mind. This could be the beginning of a big change at the top of English football.
STAR MAN - GARETH BARRY
When I predicted Arsenal to finish 4th last term, IInbox (0) was accused of writing the Gunners off in some quarters, so I imagine similar criticisms will follow this prediction. In my mind, though, it is the obvious progression, or lack of, for the team.
Two more big players sold in the summer, and to an obvious rival, which suggests the expense of the Emirates is beginning to hamper them in the short term. Long term, they might be the team to beat, but it could be a few tough seasons for Arsenal fans before we get to that point.
STAR MAN - ANDREI ARSHAVIN
Steady Everton have reached something of a zenith; without investment, they can't realistically finish much higher, but they have enough of a quality advantage over the rest of the division to ensure they will do well again. If their strikers stay injury free, they could be in the mix for 4th place.
STAR MAN - LEIGHTON BAINES
'Arry somehow managed to negotiate an 8th place finish last term after the disasterous start...I can't see how they are going to get much higher than that, though. The squad has been improved, but the reliance on Ledley King's leadership still worries me defensively, and other than Palacios, the central midfield lacks quality also.
STAR MAN - LUKA MODRIC
8TH ASTON VILLA
At xmas 2008, I honestly believed Villa might finish 4th last season. It didn't happen, in fact, it spectacularly didn't happen, as their form collapsed. Martin Laursen, the best centre-back outside the top four, has retired, and Gareth Barry, one of the best midfield players outside the top four, has moved on. Villa appear to have lost all momentum, and I can only see a disappointing season for Villains.
STAR MAN - ASHLEY YOUNG
9TH WEST HAM
Gianfranco Zola quietly did an excellent job with the Hammers last term. Signings and sales have been minimal, but they are a tidy little team with some good young players and not qualifying for Europe last term will be a blessing in disguise. They are not ready for that yet, but they will be comfortable.
STAR MAN - JACK COLLISON
10TH WIGAN ATHLETIC
Some appear to be predicting a struggle for Wigan, but I do not concur with that view. Roberto Martinez is a manager who knows his stuff, and Jason Scotland is an excellent bargain signing who not many defenders will enjoy playing against.
Valencia will be a loss, but Figueroa is becoming one of the best fullbacks in the division and will be the next Wigan gem.
STAR MAN - MAYNOR FIGUEROA
7th place last season was a tremendous achievement for Roy Hodgson, but Europe League football is a taxing business, and this will surely effect the league form of a squad relatively light on quality back up. A comfortable season, though, and they will enjoy the European flavour at Craven Cottage.
STAR MAN - DANNY MURPHY
Steve Bruce has formed a fearsome top end with Campbell, Bent and Jones, surely guaranteed to get goals. Defensively, though, they worry me. Bruce will sort that over time, but it will take longer than one season to make the Mackems a top half team. A season of promise for the future though.
STAR MAN - FRAIZER CAMPBELL
13TH STOKE CITY
Stoke were the surprise of last season in the end. To finish 12th was a magnificent achievement for Tony Pulis and his players. Everyone will know what they are about this time round, but knowing about it and stopping it are two very different things. Beattie and Fuller are a quality duo in attack, and this team knows how to defend in numbers. It's not pretty, but it will be successful again.
STAR MAN - JAMES BEATTIE
14TH WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
Mick McCarthy might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he has put together a pretty good CV over the years. Many will remember his nightmare season with Sunderland, but this Wolves team are a different kettle of fish. They have real quality in Ebanks-Blake, Kightly and Doyle, and good mix of youth and experience. I think they will stay up with relative ease.
STAR MAN - SYLVAN EBANKS-BLAKE
15TH BLACKBURN ROVERS
I am finding it hard to see how Blackburn can improve much on last season's struggle. With Allardyce in charge, they should have enough to stay up, but they lack quality in pretty much all areas.
Plenty of experience, though, and this should be enough for survival, longer term, however, their Premier League status is looking suspect without some serious investment.
STAR MAN - STEPHEN WARNOCK
16TH BOLTON WANDERERS
Poor old Gary Megson: The fans don't appear to want him, but in truth he has done a pretty decent job since arriving at the Reebok. Still wildly inconsistent, but they always seem to do enough against the other bottom half sides to stay up, and I think they will manage it again.
STAR MAN - MATT TAYLOR
For Hull City 2009, read Burnley 2010. No one expected Hull to stay up, but a blistering first four months was enough in the end...just.
I think Burnley can be equally as good in the opening months of the season. They proved in the Carling Cup last term that they can mix it with the big boys, and they play an attractive brand of football. Likely to fade as they get found out in the 2nd half of the season, but Owen Coyle is a very good manager, and I think he can do it.
STAR MAN - WADE ELLIOT
18TH HULL CITY
Lets face it, Hull were pretty lucky last season. To stay up with 35 points is a rarity, and they can't afford to be so poor again for the length of time they were last season after November.
Jozy Altidore is a signing I am looking forward to seeing, but I am not sure about the squad as a whole. Phil Brown is also developing a bad habit of appearing to think he is bigger than his team and players, (whether he actually does think this or not) and this could affect morale.
STAR MAN - JOZY ALTIDORE
There are only so many of your better players you can sell before things start to unravel. Diarra, Defoe, Crouch, Benjani, Johnson are just five who have left Fratton Park in recent years. They still have James, Campbell, Krancjar and Distin, but for how long?
Paul Hart is a good football man, but I think he may be fighting a losing battle here. The good times could be over for Pompey.
STAR MAN - DAVID JAMES
20TH BIRMINGHAM CITY
I watched Birmingham a few times last season, and they did not impress me once. I honestly feel they only got promoted at all because of Burnley's cup runs, otherwise it would have been the Clarets who got the second automatic spot and someone else would have won the playoffs.
They are well-organised and hard to beat at home, but I don't see any quality, and blowing £6m on an untried Ecuadorian striker could end in tears.
STAR MAN - SEBASTIAN LARSSON
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