Mancini, a man for all seasons?
Over the last few days, a fair number of journalists have predicted that come the end of the 2011-2012 season, Arsenal will miss out on the Premier League's top four for the first time since 1995-96.
Such a notion would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. In fact, up until the final months of last season, it was inconceivable to suggest that Arsenal would implode in such spectacular fashion.
Manchester United are still being tipped by many to win the 2011-2012 title, but the surprise of the preseason is that Manchester City has now joined Chelsea as an interchangeable prediction to finish runner-up or in third place.
Looking ahead, the idea of United being considered title favourites may join Arsenal's presumptive top-four finish as a thing of the past.
The enormous—and, frankly impossible—task of finding Alex Ferguson's successor is nearly at hand. David Gill, United's Chief Executive, has talked openly about Ferguson's coming retirement—indicating that the board is already lining up potential replacements for the Scot.
Jose Mourinho is the obvious front-runner, but he may not wish to be the immediate successor to Fergie (surely following Ferguson's successor will come with less pressure).
Whatever happens, there is a chance that United will slip up during the approaching campaign. I for one think it will be a couple of seasons before United find any sliver of equilibrium once the great man retires.
Chelsea and Liverpool join United as clubs entering an adjustment period.
Chelsea is risking a lot on a young manager whilst getting one season closer to losing key, aging players to retirement. John Terry (30), Ashley Cole (30), Frank Lampard (33), and Didier Drogba (33) won't last forever.
Liverpool's rejuvenation project is well underway, but do so under a more experienced manager—Kenny Dalglish. It's a bit of a gamble, however, and may end badly, as their new playing style may offer little more than a top six position.
Arsenal are already struggling to remain on an even keel and six years without a trophy means that players such as Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas are ready to move on. How long before Robin Van Persie thinks the same way?
Of course replacing these players is difficult, but when you have a manager who hates the idea of spending big you are already at a disadvantage.
How much longer will Arsenal keep their faith in Arsene if the trophy-less drought continues?
So the traditional top four are looking more vulnerable than at any time in the Premier League's history. With Manchester City riding high after last season's third-place finish—and tipped to improve upon that ranking this season—something's gotta give.
It could also mean that Manchester City are primed to enter a decade of dominance.
Of course there are lots of ifs and buts in such a prediction and many of the potential downside issues are avoidable for United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, but the plain truth is that many of the pieces are already in place that would allow City domination.
United still need to replace Fergie at some point, Chelsea need to replace a number of senior players, Liverpool are searching for a new team, and Arsenal are struggling to find a way forward.
It's far from inconceivable that each of these "classic" top four teams could be changing managers within a couple of seasons, creating further opportunities for City to further chip away at the stranglehold those sides once held on the top four, and subsequent Champions League monies.
Ironically of course, the only team in the Premier League that did not need CL cash was City and yet they could end up with the bulk of that money, causing their rivals even more problems.
How could United cope if they lost the £40-50m expected each season from a top four finish, for example?
So with a little bit of good fortune, Manchester City could well end up being the team for the 2010s.