After what seemed like an eternal summer, the Premier League will return in all its excitement and rampant hyper-activity on Saturday. At this glorious stage of proceedings, fans of each of the 20 clubs are full of optimism and intrigue about what their side might be able to achieve. Here’s how the table might look and why in nine months’ time, long after the cold, hard reality has set in.
[Note: Transfers in the remaining weeks of the window could yet have a significant impact on the season, but, for the purpose of this prediction, only clubs' squads at the time of writing have been considered.]
1. Manchester City (9/4 with Bet 365)
The Premier League champions from two years ago and last year’s runners-up have upgraded their manager as well as their squad. Manuel Pellegrini will bring a quiet assurance and greater identity to the side than did predecessor Roberto Mancini. After the missteps last summer, City have also done their business early this time around and Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas should all add quality and settle quickly.
2. Chelsea (9/4)
The Premier League’s top three from last season all have new managers, but Chelsea have a man who has been there and achieved much in the recent past. Jose Mourinho has something to prove after a disappointing spell at Real Madrid and has added promising youngsters Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel, while welcoming back Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne from loan spells. But, lacking a top class striker, and given that he is in charge of a squad largely built for a manager with a directly opposed philosophy, Pep Guardiola, Mourinho may just come up short in his first season back at Stamford Bridge.
3. Manchester United (5/2)
David Moyes faces a mammoth task after taking over from Sir Alex Ferguson and things have not gotten off to the start he would have liked. The club’s transfer business has lacked the discreet integrity of the previous regime and crucially no significant signings have yet been made. That is a worry given that Manchester United have not possessed the league's best squad on paper for several seasons now and it is a credit to Ferguson that the club has enjoyed the success it has in that time. In his first season in the big time it is unrealistic to expect Moyes to do the same.
4. Tottenham (33/1)
While the Gareth Bale saga has dominated for much of the summer, Tottenham have quietly gone about adding real quality to their squad. The club broke their transfer record to sign a box-to-box midfielder perfect for the Premier League in Paulinho and then did so again to finally secure a reliable operator to spearhead their attack in Roberto Soldado, while gifted Belgian winger Nacer Chadli has also arrived. Andre Villas-Boas’s side are perhaps only lacking a true playmaker to be in a position to pose a real threat to the top three.
5. Arsenal (10/1)
Thus far, despite plenty of talk, Arsenal have yet to delve into the much vaunted war chest that is supposedly at Arsene Wenger’s disposal this summer. Unless that changes, Wenger will again have to rely on players who are not up to the standard of being regulars in a sidewith the Gunners' alleged aspirations. There is certainly potential there but established quality is needed, otherwise not only will Arsenal not fight for the title but they may finally succumb and fall behind their bitterest of rivals.
6. Liverpool (28/1)
Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool showed real signs of progress following the January arrivals of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge. The capture of Spaniard Iago Aspas adds an extra option in attack, while Simon Mignolet should provide more stability than Pepe Reina between the posts. And, if Luis Suarez does stay, there is strong reason to believe that the Uruguayan will put all this summer’s bitterness behind him as soon as he steps out on the pitch.
7. Everton (250/1)
Roberto Martinez showed plenty of potential as a manager at Wigan and now has a chance to build on that at a higher level. The Spaniard’s possession-based approach may take some time to be fully adopted, but with the signing of Arouna Kone and loan capture of Barcelona’s Gerard Deulofeu, Everton should be attractive going forward. If Martinez can retain much of Everton’s defensive strength from recent seasons then a top-eight finish should again be on the cards.
8. Swansea City (1500/1)
Providing the dispute with manager Michael Laudrup that reared its head during the summer is put to bed then there is reason to believe that Swansea can enjoy another strong season. The big-money signing of the already impressive looking Wilfried Bony is a major statement of intent and will allow Michu to thrive in his best position off a main striker.
9. West Ham United (2000/1)
The permanent capture of Andy Carroll and the addition this week of Stewart Downing leaves no doubt about West Ham’s strategy this season. While it may not be pretty for some, Downing and Matt Jarvis supplying a plethora of crosses for Carroll -- if he stays fit -- should be effective.
10. West Brom (1500/1)
Steve Clarke’s first season as manager tailed off somewhat after a spectacular start and the loss of Romelu Lukaku is a blow. However, the signings of Nicolas Anelka and last season’s Championship Player of the Year Matej Vydra should ensure a solid campaign.
11. Southampton (2000/1)
Many criticized his appointment at the time, but Mauricio Pochettino’s positive impact on Southampton in the second half of last season was immediate. Victor Wanyama should add real drive to their midfield and there could be plenty more surprises of the kind they produced against Manchester City.
12. Aston Villa (2000/1)
Despite their struggles last season, there remained a justifiable sense of optimism about what Paul Lambert was trying to do with his young squad. Having crucially persuaded Christian Benteke to stay and added more steel at the back with Jores Okore, Villa should escape relegation drama this time around.
13. Norwich City (4000/1)
A disastrous run of results almost brought Norwich right into the thick of relegation trouble last season. But the big summer capture of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, as well as Celtic’s Gary Hooper, should see Norwich more threatening up front, while the signing of midfielder Leroy Fer is also encouraging.
14. Fulham (2000/1)
While Dimitar Berbatov wowed at times, a sense of malaise engulfed Fulham for much of last season, particularly in the closing weeks. There must be doubts whether Martin Jol can revive an aging squad while the loan signing of Adel Taarabt could cause friction on and off the pitch.
15. Newcastle United (1000/1)
Although they have the quality in their squad to repeat their top six form of two seasons ago, Newcastle could equally again experience the same struggles as last term. The appointment of Joe Kinnear does not bode well for the atmosphere around the club and it could yet result in real disaster next May.
16. Sunderland (2500/1)
Sunderland have been active in the transfer market, but there must be doubts whether the tactically useful Emanuele Giaccherini can take on a starring role, while, in the case of the still-rough-around-the-edges Jozy Altidore, scoring a hatful of goal in the Eredivisie is not the best indicator of having Premier League quality. More importantly, the intensity both of manager Paulo di Canio’s personality and in terms of what he requires of his players could cause problems over the course of a long season
17. Cardiff City (5000/1)
Cardiff appear determined to ensure that if they do return to the Championship it won’t be for the lack of trying. The Premier League’s second Welsh side have added Premier League quality in Steven Caulker and former Sevilla pitbull Gary Medel, while Danish youngster Andreas Cornelius could prove an ideal partner for Craig Bellamy.
18. Stoke City (3000/1)
The idea of Tony Pulis getting Stoke to punch above their weight was long one of the Premier League’s great myths. Now, Mark Hughes, a manager with much to prove, is left with an expensively assembled squad that has offered little beyond functionality in Pulis’ rigid system. A difficult season lies in store.
19. Crystal Palace (10000/1)
As he did with Blackpool, Ian Holloway should bring plenty of excitement to the Premier League both on the pitch and in his interviews. Ultimately, though, a squad that has lost its best player, Wilfried Zaha, to Manchester United and last season’s Championship top scorer, Glenn Murray, to injury, is unlikely to be enough to prevent Palace’s promotion resulting in just a single season in the top flight for the fourth time in 20 years.
20. Hull City […Tigers] (7500/1)
Steve Bruce deserves much credit for leading Hull to promotion in his first season in charge, but has much to prove back in the Premier League after a less than impressive spell with Sunderland. With a squad lacking top-flight quality, the newly branded Tigers may go down rather meekly.