Predicting All 20 Final Premier League Positions for 2011-12
There's more than a quarter of the season gone, and the English Premier League table is quickly taking shape.
Manchester City lead the way following their blistering start, but will Roberto Mancini's side be able to sustain their challenge until May? Can Newcastle United defy the odds and qualify for the Champions League? And which sides will face the dreaded drop when the 2011/12 season is done and dusted?
These and all the other questions are addressed as we predict all 20 final positions. Please feel free to add your own opinions.
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1. Manchester City
Can anybody stop Roberto Mancini’s men from bringing the league title back to the blue half of Manchester for the first time since 1968?
On the evidence on show at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge over the past two weekends, probably not. With at least two top-class internationals competing for every position, City have the squad and the momentum to end United and Chelsea’s six-year domination of the Barclays Premier League silverware. Who says money can’t buy success?
2. Manchester United
Sir Alex Ferguson is still licking his wounds after the disastrous loss to their "noisy neighbours," but with 25 years experience at the helm, he will make sure United fight to retain their title until the very end.
Most fans will be hoping that Ferguson looks into bringing in some more experience in during the January transfer window, but he appears set on giving youth its chance. The problems in defence and central midfield mean that although they will come close, Wayne Rooney and Co. may be forced to play second fiddle this time around.
3. Tottenham Hotspur
Once considered outsiders to return to the Champions League after their successful debut last year, Spurs now look capable of equalling their highest finish since 1990 under Harry Redknapp.
With London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea both struggling at the back, Ledley King’s fitness will be crucial to ensuring they can keep enough clean sheets to maintain their push for the top three. The partnership of Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor supplied by Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon looks to be a match for anyone going forward, so it could be a season to remember down at the Lane.
Andre Villas-Boas has struggled to put his stamp on his new club and must act fast to turn things around.
They still have a squad that is capable of challenging for the title, but the serious defensive frailties that were so exposed by Arsenal and Robin van Persie last week make them very vulnerable. Failure to at least qualify for the Champions League would mean the young Portugese boss is likely to be shown the door, so pick them to squeeze home by the finest of margins.
Signs of a revival at the Emirates are certainly promising, but Arsenal still have a long way to go.
Robin van Persie has at least lifted the gloom that surrounded the club after a summer of high-profile departures, and the improved performances of Aaron Ramsey have also helped the cause. But the leaky defence means they will find it tough to see off Liverpool and one of their London rivals to extend Wenger’s proud record of qualifying for 14 consecutive Champions League campaigns.
The King Kenny revolution has got most Liverpool fans dreaming of a return to the glory days, but they remain a work in progress.
Luis Suarez’s presence should mean they have a real chance of sneaking into the top four, especially if he can start to click with Andy Carroll. However, a record of just two clean sheets so far may mean they have to be satisfied with another sixth-place finish.
7. Newcastle United
Alan Pardew’s men are riding high in the top three at the moment and will definitely take some shifting.
The top-flight’s meanest defence have helped Newcastle remain unbeaten with more than a quarter of the season already gone, but they will face a real test of their credentials before Christmas. The talents of Yohann Cabaye and Demba Ba still give them a chance of gate-crashing the top six, although they will have to finish above some pretty big names to do that.
8. Stoke City
It’s not been the best season so far for Stoke fans, but they have enough quality to mount a charge to finish at least in the top 10.
The distractions of the Europa League have definitely had an impact on results for Tony Pulis, and much will depend on how far they go in that competition. But with a solid defence and excellent home record, there is every chance they could emerge from the pack and scrape into eighth.
David Moyes has found the going tough down at Goodison Park, and Everton are nervously looking over their shoulders at the moment.
The lack of finances mean they are relying on a tiny squad that nonetheless still has enough quality to move up the table. A lack of goals so far from the usual sources Louis Saha and Tim Cahill is a worry, but when they find their form, the foundations are there for a long unbeaten run.
10. Aston Villa
Villa have become the new draw specialists in the Barclays Premier League, with six so far, and Alex McLeish’s influence hasn't taken long to rub off on his new team.
The Scot has made them hard to beat, but after losing Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, the onus for goals falls squarely on the shoulders of Darren Bent and Gariel Agbonlahor. A series of emerging youngsters hint at a brighter future for the club, but 10th is the highest they can expect this time.
Martin Jol is still waiting for things to really get going despite having started earlier than anyone else back in July.
Fulham's numerous Europa League fixtures have contributed to a poor start, but the recent victories over QPR and Wigan show they are still a force to be reckoned with. Bobby Zamora is the focal point of an experienced side, so they will be pushing towards the top half of the table by the time May comes around.
12. West Brom
A four-match unbeaten run was ended against Liverpool, but Roy Hodgson is starting to carry on where he left off last season by guiding The Baggies away from the dropzone.
The loss of new signing Shane Long following Alan Hutton's horror challenge last week was a big blow, although Peter Odemwingie is now looking back to his best. Some crucial home fixtures before Christmas will give Hodgson's side the opportunity to move futher up the table, even if they will struggle to match last season's 11th place finish.
13. Norwich City
Defying the skeptics who saw them as big favourites for an immediate return to the Championship, Norwich currently find themselves just behind Arsenal in the standings in eighth spot.
The limited resources at Paul Lambert's disposal mean it will be almost impossible to sustain such a high position all season, but escaping relegation definitely looks within their grasp. They need to build on their steady start and hope Lambert's magic touch since he took over the club at the lower end of League One can continue.
The Super Hoops are certainly enjoying themselves back in the top flight.
The victory over Chelsea has been the highlight of a topsy-turvy season under Neil Warnock that currently sees them well clear of the bottom three. Whether they can stay out of trouble will depend on whether Adel Taarabt can find his feet and provide the goals they desperately need.
After winning their two opening matches, many pundits tipped Wolves for a top 10 finish. How quickly times change.
Mick McCarthy's war with the home fans hasn't helped matters, but they face a crucial clash with Wigan on Sunday to ensure they don't slip into the bottom three. Lest we forget, however, Wolves have been here before and have plenty to make sure they will escape with something to spare.
Steve Bruce looks to have found a winner in young striker Connor Wickham, and he will hope his goals may turn some draws into victories.
Having showed signs of real promise last season, however, the rest of the side is still under-performing with particular concerns at the back. The dreaded R word is never welcome on Wearside, but they should be able to escape by a couple of points.
17. Swansea City
You'd have got pretty good odds on all three promoted teams not being relegated at the start of the season, but Swansea look good enough to make the cut.
Currently lying in 10th spot, the first Welsh club to play in the Premier League have been surprisingly tight in defence in the main, and their home record gives them a real boost. Striker Danny Graham looks like a shrewd buy, and he will need to maintain his recent form if the Swans are to survive by the skin of their teeth.
18. Bolton Wanderers
Bolton are the big surprises of this season after the promise of Owen Coyle's early reign.
Their awful defensive record is by far the worst in the Premier League, and the prospect of losing lynchpin Gary Cahill in January will be a bitter blow. Coyle knows he needs to start picking up points soon, or Bolton will be playing second-tier football for the first time in more than a decade.
19. Wigan Athletic
Roberto Martinez has his team playing good football as usual, but this time, it may be too much to ask for them to stay out of trouble.
Five points from their opening 10 matches is certainly not the start Wigan fans would have had in mind, and there will have to be a major turnaround for them to survive again. A paltry six goals this season is the key to their problems, and Hugo Rodallega needs to start showing why he is so highly rated.
20. Blackburn Rovers
The knives have been out for Steve Kean for a while now, as Blackburn have slumped down the table.
It remains to be seen whether he can ride out the storm until the end of the season, but Rovers look destined to struggle regardless. Bottom of the pile looks the likely outcome to complete a miserable season for Lancashire.