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How will the Premier League unfold?

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Phil McNulty | 07:30 UK time, Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Chelsea and Manchester United set the tone for the battle at the top of the Premier League in a Community Shield encounter liberally sprinkled with spice and confrontation.

The traditional quartet will jostle at the sharp end of the table - but can anyone break up the cartel of the so-called "Big Four"?

Can Liverpool end a 20-year wait to bring the title back to Anfield? Who will emerge from the pack? Who will consolidate? Who will be condemned to a season fighting for survival? It will all unfold once the top-flight campaign commences next Saturday.

Time to polish off the crystal ball and study the prospects of those hoping to make an impact in the Premier League in 2009/2010.

Andriy Arshavin will be a key figure for Arsenal

ARSENAL

Arsene Wenger heard the first strains of discontent from the previously unquestioning Arsenal support last season after four years without a trophy. Is potential now simply a cover for under-achievement at the Emirates?

For all that, there is still no-one better to guide Arsenal's fortunes - although a meaningful title pursuit and at least one piece of silverware is required.

Wenger has done superb business to take the best part of £40m off Manchester City for Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure, although £10m recruit from Ajax Thomas Vermaelen will be expected to toughen up a defence regarded as having a soft centre.

Andriy Arshavin's genius was underscored last season, while Robin van Persie is a glorious talent when fit. Big season for Theo Walcott - with the incentive of a World Cup at its conclusion.

If Wenger can add a midfield enforcer (surely the return of Patrick Vieira came from the realms of romance rather than realism) then Arsenal may last the pace better than last season.

Will be attractive and dangerous - but the cups remains their best bet. Not title winners.

Verdict: Fourth.

ASTON VILLA

Big season for Villa and boss Martin O'Neill. Sixth place was not exactly a disappointment last time out, but they faded spectacularly late in the season and made no serious impact in the cups, the tame Uefa Cup exit causing particular consternation.

O'Neill has stuck to his tried and trusted policy of investing mainly in English talent, with Stewart Downing arriving from Middlesbrough as the highly-experienced and influential Gareth Barry moves to Manchester City.

Fabian Delph comes from Leeds United with rave reviews but no Premier League pedigree - so he is one for the future as opposed to one to make immediate impact.

Expect the usual O'Neill template of pace, power and width, with Ashley Young the jewel in Villa's crown. O'Neill will also surely have addressed the reasons why Villa fell off the cliff after threatening the Champions League places.

Dangerous on their day, especially away from home, but I expect more of the same in terms of league placings with more emphasis on success in the cups.

Verdict: Top Six.

BIRMINGHAM CITY

Birmingham City were functional as opposed to spectacular in winning promotion last season, but that will matter not one jot to their experienced manager Alex McLeish. The means justified the end.

Now the real battle begins and Birmingham have been busy working the markets. Joe Hart is a sound signing on loan from Manchester City in goal, but Barry Ferguson never cut it in the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers in his prime, so it takes a leap of faith to imagine he will do it now - although it is one McLeish is happy to take for a player he knows well.

James McFadden has top-flight experience in attack, but the real wild card is club record signing Christian Benitez, who arrived from Mexican side Santos Laguna for a fee that could rise to £9m. Unknown quantity and much will depend on how he adapts, especially with a chequered injury history.

Roger Johnson, a £5m buy from Cardiff, was a good performer in the Championship and he is another whose development in the Premier League is key to Birmingham's hopes. May just have enough to stay up.

VERDICT: Season of struggle.

BLACKBURN ROVERS

Sam Allardyce negotiated a route to Premier League survival for Blackburn last season, and expect them to nestle comfortably in and around mid-table this time, despite the loss of Roque Santa Cruz to Blackburn.

Allardyce's tactical approach may be an acquired taste for some - it was certainly not acquired in Newcastle - but he fashioned a system to suit Blackburn. El-Hadji Diouf, Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts should give them a threat up front, while Ryan Nelsen and Christopher Samba will operate within the no-frills defensive framework Allardyce demands.

VERDICT: Mid-table comfort.

BOLTON WANDERERS

Gary Megson fights a permanent - and mostly losing - battle for the affection of Bolton fans, but he kept them up last season and will have high hopes of repeating the feat.

Sean Davis will provide experience in central midfield, while keeping hold of the coveted Gary Cahill is a coup for Megson. He will now have assistance from new boy Zat Knight.

Kevin Davies will be his usual physical self up front, and it is highly unlikely many Bolton games will have the purists purring, but the thick-skinned and combative Megson will be supremely disinterested in that small matter.

Whether Bolton fans like him or not, I expect Megson to retain their Premier League status once more.

VERDICT: Tough but survivors.

BURNLEY

Fantastic story and the return of one of football's great old clubs will add real romance to the Premier League - but how will they fare?

In Owen Coyle Burnley have one of the best young managers in the game and it is a tribute to both him and everyone at the club that Celtic's attentions were deflected as Turf Moor basked in the after-glow of promotion.

Coyle is a disciple of the passing game, but realism suggests he will tailor this style for the top flight and bank on Steven Fletcher, a £3m buy from Hibs, to bring goals south of the border.

Wade Elliott is already being tipped as a Premier League star of the future, while all men of a certain age will keep an eye on how 37-year-old Graham Alexander copes with the Premier League.

Expect some great occasions at Turf Moor this season - and nothing more than a gut feeling tells me tee-totaller Coyle may just celebrate survival.

VERDICT: Staying up but only just.

CHELSEA

Carlo Ancelotti is the latest manager through Stamford Bridge's revolving door and needs to make a fast start as the legacy of Guus Hiddink's masterly spell in charge remains fresh in the memories.

If Chelsea's players respond to Ancelotti's urgings and the big players - John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien - stay fit, then they will be serious contenders for every competition.

Chelsea's attempts at big-spending have been thwarted by Real Madrid, but Yuri Zhirkov is a gifted left-sided player and Daniel Sturridge was a real talent in the making at Manchester City.

Miserly in defence, versatile in midfield and powerful in attack, Chelsea also possess the concrete-clad mental strength needed to last the whole course.

If Ancelotti makes the transition from Serie A and AC Milan to the Premier League, Chelsea will be the team to finish above to win the title.

VERDICT: Second.

EVERTON

The FA Cup final and fifth place in the Premier League was a superb return for an Everton squad ravaged by serious injuries down the spine of the team - Phil Jagielka, Mikel Arteta and Yakubu - and built without the aid of a huge budget.

The motivational and organisational skills of manager David Moyes and the resilience of his squad must not be under-estimated, but financial circumstances make it almost impossible to forecast a similar league finish this term.

Chairman Bill Kenwright has been unable to bring major investment to Everton, while close rivals Villa, Spurs and particularly Manchester City have splashed out. It leaves Moyes to perform a trick which gets more difficult with every passing season.

Everton's determination to keep Joleon Lescott away from Manchester City shows they still have ambition, but without the money to fuel that ambition it is hard to see another fifth place this season.

VERDICT: Top Ten.

FULHAM

Roy Hodgson used all his years of expertise to take Fulham to seventh and a place in the Europa League last season - a superb effort and one that made him a candidate for Manager of the Year.

Hodgson built an attractive side on sound defensive principles and they are especially formidable at home. He will hope to keep central defender Brede Hangeland beyond August, while Danny Murphy's experience and tactical awareness keeps things ticking over in midfield.

With Hodgson in charge Fulham can expect more of the same this season.

VERDICT: Mid-table security.

HULL CITY

Phil Brown's feat in keeping Hull City in the Premier League last season should have been heralded as a miracle - but some of the lustre of the achievement was lost because of an astonishing collapse that brought only one win in their last 21 league games.

Brown was heavily criticised for his infamous half-time team talk on the turf at Manchester City, and even his celebratory survival sing-song at the KC when Hull lost to Manchester United but stayed up was used as a stick to beat him.

It will be even tougher this time (surely there cannot be another miracle start?) and Brown has had trouble tempting his top transfer targets to Hull City, with Michael Owen, Habib Beye, Bobby Zamora and Fraizer Campbell all going elsewhere.

Defender Michael Turner is admired by many top clubs, so it will be an even bigger test of Brown's managerial abilities this time around. He may at least be able to call on £5m signing Jimmy Bullard at some point this season as he recovers from another serious knee injury.

Great support that graced the Premier League last season, but a very long road ahead, I fear.

VERDICT: Relegation.

Glen Johnson will strengthen Liverpool's defence

LIVERPOOL

Hopes have never been higher that the title will be reclaimed after a 20-year barren spell - but was last season the great missed opportunity or the primer for the Premier League crown?

Liverpool lost only two league games last season and still finished second. It was too many home draws that did for them and they cannot afford a similar failing this season.

Glen Johnson is a sound, if expensive, recruit at right-back, but it is in question whether the gifted but fragile Alberto Aquilani can make Liverpool's midfield tick over in the manner of Xabi Alonso, now a part of the Real Madrid re-fit.

Liverpool's title hopes rest on manager Rafael Benitez refusing to become distracted by Manchester United, as he did so pointlessly last season, and on the well-being of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

If this world-class pair stay fit and play in the manner that propelled Liverpool so beautifully through the last three months of last season, then all the optimism and expectation is justified, despite a stuttering pre-season.

VERDICT: Champions.

MANCHESTER CITY

The great unpredictables - even when they are backed by the biggest transfer fund in British football. Such finance brings pressure and Manchester City and manager Mark Hughes need to make a fast start.

Make no mistake, they are a better squad than last season but they will be judged on how swiftly Hughes marshalls those new recruits.

Gareth Barry is an excellent common sense signing, while Carlos Tevez will provide attacking verve and industry. Kolo Toule is a steady performer, but question marks remain over the expensive Roque Santa Cruz (fitness) and Emmanuel Adebayor (consistency.)

Stephen Ireland is as influential as any of the big-money buys - an outstanding midfielder - and do not expect Craig Bellamy to accept his time is up as he fights for a place with Robinho, Tevez, Santa Cruz and Adebayor.

The big worry is central defence, which is why Everton's Joleon Lescott was pursued with such vigour. How Hughes strengthens in that area will be crucial - but still an unknown quantity.

VERDICT: Europa League places and cup contenders

MANCHESTER UNITED

Old Trafford is now a Cristiano Ronaldo-free zone - but where there is Wayne Rooney there is hope and Sir Alex Ferguson will have a glint in his eye as sets his sights on a fourth successive Premier League and passing Liverpool's record of 18 titles.

Ferguson must find a way of compensating for Ronaldo's departure, but not many predicted signing Michael Owen from Newcastle United would be part of his solution.

This could yet prove a master-stroke and he will provide competition for Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov, while Antonio Valencia has already shown his promise in pre-season.

Rooney carries so many of United's hopes on all fronts this season, but he has the ability and confidence to cope.

But how will the elder statesman Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes fit in? Will Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic stay fit? Will Ben Foster finally succeed Edwin van der Sar in goal?

The biggest question of all is how the old master will shape his side without Ronaldo. How Ferguson does it will decide the destiny of their season.

It is the most hazardous of occupations to predict United will not win the title, but a quartet of Premier League triumphs may just be beyond them.

VERDICT: Third.

PORTSMOUTH

Not huge amounts of good news here. Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch gone, more departures possibly in the offing and all pre-season plans shrouded in the uncertainty of a protracted takeover.

Throw in the bad publicity of David Nugent and Marc Wilson being fined two weeks' wages after a "serious breach of club discipline" on a trip to Portugal and you get the idea. Optimism is in short supply.

The Harry Redknapp era, when players like Crouch and Jermain Defoe were arriving and the FA Cup was being paraded, seems an age away and the highly-respected Paul Hart faces a huge task to stop the slide.

Pompey simply have to hang on to keeper David James and the creative force of Croatia's Niko Kranjcar in midfield otherwise this season will be a long haul, probably into the Championship.

VERDICT: Relegation.

STOKE CITY

To visit the Britannia last season was to sample Premier League life in the raw - something that also applied to Stoke City's opponents. Noisy, atmospheric, exhilirating and the main reason Tony Pulis's side stayed in the division.

Stoke, backed by feverish fans, made it a harrowing afternoon for many Premier League sides, although there was more to them than Rory Delap's much-publicised long throws.

Pulis built a side in his own image and likeness. Hard-working, honest, uncompromising, and it was a winning formula for survival.

The Britannia may not be such a culture shock this season, but I still back Stoke and Pulis to have enough about them to maintain their Premier League staus.

VERDICT: Staying up again.

SUNDERLAND

Just survived last season, but a shrewd choice of manager in Steve Bruce and a big transfer budget that he will manipulate wisely means they can look forward to better times this season.

Bruce has excelled in the past in the transfer market, utilising contacts abroad while scouring for talent at home. He may be a Newcastle United fan, but Sunderland are in safe hands.

Darren Bent has been derided for his time at Spurs, but he scores goals and is a wise acquisition, while former Marseille captain Lorik Cana will add (and this is putting it politely) steel in midfield. Fraizer Campell is a promising talent, and if either he or Bent forms a partnership with Kenwyne Jones then Sunderland could be in business.

VERDICT: Top ten.

Peter Crouch will boost Tottenham's front line

TOTTENHAM

Harry Redknapp's shrewd manouevres in the transfer market and the use of the forces he inherited meant good progress was made by Spurs last season - now there will be expectations that he will build on that platform.

No close season is complete without hectic transfer activity down the Lane, and the addition of Kyle Naughton to Spurs' array of right-backs is a shrewd move. He was widely regarded as the most promising young defender outside the Premier League when he was at Sheffield United.

Luka Modric will again be the brains of the operation while we can expect to see Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe reunited once more in attack after their brief partnership at Portsmouth. But what of Robbie Keane? Surely the happy wanderer will not find himself surplus again?

Central defence is a worry, not because Spurs lack quality but because they lack good health. Ledley King, Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Dawson are all troubled by injuries, hence the outlay of £8m on Sebastien Bassong from Newcastle United.

Spurs have talent but will they have the consistency? If they do, expect further improvement.

VERDICT: Top six and potential cup winners.

WEST HAM UNITED

Gianfranco Zola made a promising start at West Ham last season - no surprise there given his pedigree, style and personal dignity.

He has footballing principles that appeal to the Upton Park psyche and with the astute Steve Clarke at his side, expect West Ham to settle comfortably towards the middle of the Premier League.

Nothing in the way of serious big-money signings in the new frugal era, but plenty of quality sprinkled around Zola's squad in the shape of keeper Robert Green, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Jack Collison and others.

Young players have been secured on long-term contracts while all at West Ham will hope the outstanding Dean Ashton can finally rid himself of injury.

VERDICT: Middle of the road with cup ambitions.

WIGAN ATHLETIC

Steve Bruce's departure was a blow to Wigan, but chairman Dave Whelan has attracted someone regarded as one of the brightest and most imaginative managerial talents in the game in Roberto Martinez.

Martinez is unproven at Premier League level, but his Swansea City side won rave reviews for their cultured approach and it will be intriguing to see if the Spaniard can transport this to the top flight.

He suffered a grievous loss when Antonio Valencia went to Manchester United, but he has placed his trust in two of his Swansea City old boys in the shape of striker Jason Scotland and gifted midfield man Jordi Gomez.

James McCarthy was regarded as a major prospect in Scotland with Hamilton while Wigan fought off interest from old boss Bruce at Sunderland to sign Honduras midfield man Hendry Thomas.

Wigan will aim for survival again - and if Martinez achieves this he can regard it as a job well down.

VERDICT: Lower reaches but staying up.

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS

Just like Burnley, another great old name returns to the Premier League and we should welcome them with open arms.

Mick McCarthy's wise leadership and experience will be a huge help this season - as will the passionate Molineux crowd, although there will be times when they have to stick by their side in adversity.

McCarthy will hope Kevin Doyle's £6.5m arrival from Reading as partner to the prolific Sylvain Ebanks-Blake will give Wolves the firepower to keep them up.

Andrew Surman's ability to make the leap from Southampton to the Premier League will also have an influence while Michael Kightly is another they will lean on.

McCarthy is realism personified and he knows survival is the aim as they return to the elite - anything else will be a plus.

VERDICT: Fighting Birmingham for final relegation place.

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Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    I Think you are pretty spot on there Phil, I am a liverpool supporter and agree the pre season hasnt been full of wins, but in patches we have bee superb and we have also been playin a whole host of youngsters more so than united and chelsea i must add, i do believe its goiing to be even tighter than last season, United have lost the the 2nd best player in the world (behind the COMPLETE Steven Gerrard) and influential Carlos Tevez and not replaced them with any better than they already had, where as chelsea have kept all there stars, and liverpool have bought in the best Right Back in country and added a midfielder, who i agree is not as good as Alonso BUT IS better than the rest of midfielder we have so its still better than we already have, unlike United as i stated, The interesting thing for me is how quickly Arsenal are being written off, they still have fabregas, Gallas. van persie, Walcott and Sagna to name a few, i agree 4/5th spot but i think they will still push early on and maybe, just maybe sustain the pressure till the end. As for City, time is a big thing and they want instant success, rarely happens, and they are still frail at the back and in the wide areas, as for there strikers hardly 'top goalscorers'!

    top 4 - Chelsea,Liverpool,United and Arsenal.
    Europa League - Spurs,City and Aston Villa
    Relegated (3 of) - Hull,Burnley,Portsmouth and Wolves

    What do you think?

  • Comment number 2.

    Wow I am shocked at this revelation Phil.I would have thought YOU would definately go for Man U or Chelsea.
    But I do agree with the outcome.

  • Comment number 3.

    As usual, Everton hugely under-rated. Apparently, two consecutive 5th place finishes counts for nothing.

    And I can't see Liverpool winning the league without better striker cover. When Torres doesn't play, they will have real problems up front.

  • Comment number 4.

    Have to disagree here... I would think Wolves and Birmingham will stay up before Burnley...

    Liverpool will never win the league this year... losing Alonso is a massive blow.. and only getting 3.5 for Arbeloa then spending 17 on Johnson is nuts.. Rafa needs a reality check with his transfer dealings.

    I think Chelsea have one or two more buys in them.. if one of them is another striker who can offer something different to Drogba and Anelka then I think they could be in business... Deco could be like a new signing if they tailor their midfield to him.. I don't understand the chasing of Pirlo when you have Deco there.. undoubtedly a great player but if Deco struggles I would imagine Pirlo would too as they are similar players with similar tempos..

  • Comment number 5.

    Liverpool first and United third? Phil... is that really you?!?

  • Comment number 6.

    Yes Phil - excellent predictions and I do feel Liverpool will be Champions IF they can keep Gerrard/Torres/Mascherano injury-free. They were the best team of the last 2 months of last season and really should have won the League. Time will tell.

  • Comment number 7.

    If we're basing this on logic, how can you suggest Liverpool will win the league Phil?

    They are still massively, massively dependent on Gerrard and Torres. Man Utd and Arsenal can afford to have injuries to any of their players and have enough strength in depth to cope. Liverpool don't.

    And do you really think Torres, in particular, will be fit all season?

    The signings of Aquilani and Johnson aren't enough to paper over this problem.

    And how many world-class players do each of the top four have?
    Man Utd: Ferdinand, Vidic, Rooney, Evra
    Chelsea: Lampard, Essien, Terry, Drogba,
    Arsenal: Fabregas
    Liverpool: Torres, Gerrard, Mascherano

  • Comment number 8.

    Great Blog.

    But can't see anything but man u walking away with it again.

    I'm interested... are the media saying Arsenal will finish 4th because they believe it, or because they've been writing us off for years and keep ending up with egg on their faces?

    I think Liverpool might struggle - have a feeling Gerrard/Torres might pick up a long term, and I don't think Carragher has the legs he once had.

    Chelsea will be powerful, but might fade towards the end of the season with old legs.

    Will hopefully be an epic league battle (especially around 6->8th).

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    AMAZING.......Liverpool fan backs Benitez to win title! Surprised that YOU tipped Man U to stay up though Phil....;)
    The relegation places will be more exciting than the title chance I reckon and it'll all pale in comparison to the joy of the Championship.
    COYRAWW!

  • Comment number 11.

    As a red through and through, it pains me say it, but top 10 for everton? understatement! our blue "friends" wil be placed higher than that. moyes has the nouce to get them playing well, and if his squad stays fit, push anyone for europa league places, verging on champions league if arsenal have a bad year.

    nice to see you tipping us for the title, but i don't think we want the pressure.

  • Comment number 12.

    I was worried you might have jinxed it phil, but on the basis that we haven't won the league when you've said we wouldn't, I'm prepared to let you off!

    I'm suprised by your Everton prediction. I'd still have you 5th or 6th. Mind you, that new kit won't do them much good.

  • Comment number 13.

    sofablade, I think you'll find Phil is a Toffee.

  • Comment number 14.

    Typical optimistic review by a Liverpool fan there - always the same, "this is our year", "we've turned the corner", etc, etc.

    Compare:

    "Will Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic stay fit?.....a quartet of Premier League triumphs may just be beyond them"

    "the well-being of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. If this world-class pair stay fit and play in the manner that propelled Liverpool so beautifully through the last three months of last season, then all the optimism and expectation is justified, despite a stuttering pre-season."

    (but not quite 'beautifully' enough, eh, Phil?)

    Notice in the wording how Phil tries to justify the 3rd place for United seemingly on United players not staying fit (and not having adequate replacements like Johnny Evans) , but brushes over the possibility of Liverpool players being injured. And if Torres and Gerrard do get injured, have they got adequate replacements? I somehow think not. And what about when Benitez does his usual squad rotation? That's when Liverpool come up short because their squad players aren't good enough but Phil neglects to mention this as usual.

    And somehow I don't think Liverpool will get as good results against the top teams as they did last season, or end up playing a quarter of their premier league games against 10 men as they did last season (with Alonso being responsible for something like 6 or 7 opponents being sent off against him alone).

    With all this going for them last season, that was their big chance, and they blew it (despite playing 'beautifully', eh, Phil).

    Hasn't the 'stuttering pre-season' shown you anything, Phil? Face it, they're just not good enough (again).

  • Comment number 15.

    Agree Liverpool look good when all are fit - but we all know that doesn't happen. Any injury or loss of form to Torres or Gerrard and they are out. Man U have lost depth in their squad, as have Arsenal. Sure Chelsea have not bought significantly, but they have not lost anyone like the others, and that depth and consistency I think we see them with the title this season.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    Agree with a lot of what is said...but can't see Liverpool winning the PL anytime soon. Aquilani is an unknown and Benitez let Fergie get under his skin last season so SAF will be out to irritate Benitez at other crucial moments this season. When Gerrard or Torres have been injured Liverpool look at little out of fizz and now that Alonso is gone then the impetus in midfield has diminished.

    For me Chelsea will win the league. Ancelotti will almost certainly buy a big name before the end of August despite saying Chelsea are finished in the transfer market.Chelsea haven't lost any of their core squad from last year and the acquisitions of Sturridge and Zhirkov look sound business. Also, a very favourable fixture list at the start of this season should see Chelsea hit the ground running and develop a winning momentum that might carry them nicely into the crunch games against the other top six sides.

    Top 6: Chelsea - Man Utd - Liverpool - Arsenal - Everton - Man City

    Bottom 3: Wolves - Bolton - Hull

  • Comment number 18.

    I think there should be no criticsm at Phil (there hasn't been yet)for suggesting Liverpool as Champions. It is his opinions. Being a LFC fan, I honestly beleive Liverpool should have been champions last season as they were the best team. But ManU grinded out last minute winners in the late season and it made the difference.

    I think it was a missed chance last season. This time, I don't think we can do the double over ManU or Chelsea, but atleast if we don't drop points over the lower teams then these doubles won't matter.

    I don't think Alonso will be missed but what effect that has on the team, I don't know. I still have hopes but losing faith in Rafa.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Phil,

    Your prediction is so predictable. Predicting Liverpool to win the league has been the biggest joke for last 10 years and it only gets bigger and bigger. There is no doubt what so ever that Man United will definitely struggle with the loss of exceptional CR especially to force wins against teams in the bottom half of table who will only defend but will definitely do better against the top 6 teams. Yes, there is no magical player in ManU's ranks now but ManUtd didn't have magical players in 1999 but they still won the treble. The key to ManU's success this season is how well they start and if they start well, then they will definitely win the league. If you had tipped Chelsea to win the league then i can understand your prediction being objective and logical and by predicting Liverpool to win the league, you have thrown logic out of the window. Chelsea has not lost any key players and in fact has added Zhirkov, Drogba looks much more motivated and Carvalho is back. To win a championship, you need lot of luck to go with skilled players and Liverpool had more than their share of luck last year but still finished second. Liverpool didn’t fare well in Carling Cup and FA Cup which also helped them in their pursuit of the BPL but still fell short.

    Thanks for hyping Liverpools's title chances though.....It only helps ManUtd's cause.....but please remove your Liverpool glasses before looking at the Crystal Ball....

    Did you get a chance to look at Lawro's predictions ? He must have done with a a heavy heart.......

  • Comment number 22.

    As a Liverpool fan, I would be delighted if your prediction about us finishing as champions comes true. Sadly, I don't share your optimism. Had we kept hold of Alonso, maybe we could have done it this year. Without him, and without Aquilani for maybe the first two months of the season, I think we'll struggle.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    Nice one Phil.
    Reading the predictions from the esteemed NOTW sports journos on sunday only 1 tipped Liverpool to win with Rob Shepherd predicting LFC to finish outside the top four!
    Is it easy to get a job in sports joournalism as i've been spouting nonsense for years without any financial renumeration.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    "When Torres doesn't play, they will have real problems up front."

    Who finished top-scorers last season, with injury problems seeing Torres missing a hatful of games and our preferred partnership playing together a grand total of 12 times?

    Do people just stick their fingers in their ears and go 'Laa laa laa laa' when the facts are there in front of them?

  • Comment number 27.

    What a surprise, Phil McNulty tips Liverpool to win the league. Predictable much? I remember last season with two games to go you wrote an article titled "Liverpool on the road to glory" then one week later you were writing and congratulating Man Utd for their triumph. You do write some absolute rubbish a lot of the time Phil. While on that subject, all this dross about Utd being in some sort of crisis because they lost Ronaldo is really getting old. No player is bigger than that club, Ferguson has proved that over and over again with Cantona, Beckham, Stam, van Nistelrooy yet you still spout your garbage.

    You fail to mention that Liverpool are a nothing force without Gerrard and Torres so I guess you will change your mind AGAIN if they get injured for 3-4 weeks.

    I would love for Arsenal to win the league but can't see that happening with their weak squad. Another Utd triumph wouldn't be so bad if not to just shut everyone up about Ronaldo.

    The season hasn't started and already a pro-Liverpool article.

  • Comment number 28.

    As a Liverpool fan I'm ever the optimist and while I'm happy to agree with Phil's crystal ball, I think it will definitely be a three horse race and it's difficult to choose between them.

    I'd just like to point out that this 2 man team argument aimed at LFC is getting really tired. Did Gerrard and Torres play every game last season when they we were only a handful of points behind the champions, mainly a result of too many draws against teams we should have beaten? The simple answer is no, they didn't. Liverpool would miss Mascherano, Torres and Gerrard massively if they were out long term, the same way Chelsea would miss Drogba, Lampard or Terry and Man U would miss Rooney, Ferdinand or Van Der Sar. All 3 teams have very good squads, who suffers the most from injuries is impossible to predict.

    Incidentally the addition of Aquilani indicates a system with less emphasis on 2 holding midfielders than last season and hopefully more attacking impetus. Bringing on Lucas for a winger / attacker when we needed a goal seemed a regular ploy that cost us a lot of points, hopefully Benetiz has realised this.

  • Comment number 29.

    akaTommySmith were you joking when you said Fabregas is Arsenal's only world class player? If so, let me set the record straight:

    Arsenal: Fabregas, Van Persie, Arshavin, Clichy.

  • Comment number 30.

    Its a brave pick but Liverpool had their best season for a long time last year and a lot of pundits will want to predict the moment that their 1st premier league title finally happens.

    That said, Liverpool benefitted from United's slow start and Chelsea's mid season turmoil last year but faltered when it really mattered. Its fine to say the were great for the last 3(?) months but by that stage they were out of serious premiership contention and the pressure was off. And when they did look like winning something, they blew it with 2 Keeganesque 4-4 draws. Alonso is also a big loss.

    Chelsea have the most settled team in that they haven't lost any big players, although they have a lot of 30somethings. If Ancelotti can keep Drogba fit and focused, Terry and Lampard provide the leadership and Cech gets his form back then they will be hard to stop. Don't forget that despite all last season's problems (and only getting 1 point off Liverpool and United) they were only 3 points beind Liverpool's best ever premiership season, while besting them in the champions league and winning the FA Cup. You can see why Fergie respects them.

    United have changed the most and have lost the world player of the year. They have gambled on Owen and Valencia and are relying on their experienced players stepping up and the defence staying fit. They are likely to change their style of play and are also going for a 4th sucessive title, unprecedented in the modern game.

    Despite that, if you bet blindly every season that United would win the premiership, you'd be well ahead by now. Fergie is the master of the title race and the players have the experience. They will also not let it go without a fight. I trust Fergie, he has been right too many times before...

  • Comment number 31.

    It'll be business as usual in the predictable Premier League so lets not get too excited

  • Comment number 32.

    Liverpool champions - really, Phil? I was expecting to get some professional (?) and logical prediction on this year's Premier League, instead I read this nonsense.
    Yes Man Utd will struggle this season, but so will Liverpool. Even with the loss of CR7 and Tevez we are still better off than Liverpool losing Alonso.
    I expect some heavy rivalry for the title between Man Utd and Chelski.

  • Comment number 33.

    So Liverpool's success depends on two players out of a squad of 20+ staying fit, when they have no adequate replacements. Yet United won't win because some of our players might get injured, despite the fact we have several covering players for every position?

    That makes no sense, Phil. Absolutely none.

  • Comment number 34.

    The prospect of passing Liverpools title haul will be a huge motivator at OT this season for both Fergie and the players - I think we'll come 1st/2nd in another run off with Liverpool.

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 36.

    To akaTommySmith...take your point about Torres and injuries, but these are imponderables. What if Rooney got injured and was ruled out for months? How would Manchester United cope? What if Frank Lampard got injured and Chelsea were without him?

    Of course all the top teams hope their best players stay fit - and at this stage we have to make the assumption they will. I do make the point, however, that Liverpool's chances do depend on Torres and Gerrard staying fit.

    Let's call that my prediction's safety net shall we??

    And let's hear from fans of every club. Don't let supporters of the top four hog the debate. I want to hear from you all.

  • Comment number 37.

    Im alivepppol fa for the last twenty years and i beg to differ with Phil we dont have depth and for you to win the league you need 16-18 players particualrly with the injury prone Gerrard and Torres
    The owners have not splashed the cash and i we nneed to get one more striker Aquilani is a gamble adjusting to the Premier leguie wont be easy .I would have loved to go for for playweers who have played in the EPL for the ,last couple of years

  • Comment number 38.

    #28

    I think the Liverpool "2 man team" theory has been spread by Liverpool fans as much as anyone else. When things went wrong last season, the party line was that Liverpool didn't have the resources to compete with Man United or Chelsea as they had only 2 world class players. I'm sure if things go wrong again this time, the same arguement will be used.

    You can't have it both ways...

  • Comment number 39.

    7 Teams in the top 6?

  • Comment number 40.

    Good response Phil - cheers

  • Comment number 41.

    Liverpool Champions?? are u having a laugh? They loose Alonso and replace him with that italian bloke who is injured most of the time. A big injury to either Gerrard/Torres and the season is over for them.

  • Comment number 42.

    "pass liverpool's record of 18 titles"

    Maybe you have forgotten but this record is not liverpool's alone, united also hold the record of 18 titles...

    Phil the difference is Torres and Gerrard are regularly injured, case in point Torres limps off on Saturday and Stevie has pulled out the England squad. As a United fan I am happy for United not to be favorites heap the expectation on the pool. Similar to the expectation heaped on them last january, expectation which resulted in episodes of Football focus in building up to what surely seemed to by the pool's title (we had Alan Hansen walking around the streets of Anfield) only for them to crumble at Stoke a day later.
    By all means phil heap on the expectation...

  • Comment number 43.

    #18

    Being a LFC fan, I honestly beleive Liverpool should have been champions last season as they were the best team. But ManU grinded out last minute winners in the late season and it made the difference.

    -----------------------------------

    One of the most hilarious statements I've read in a while. The best team WINS the league and as far as I can recall Liverpool didn't.
    Oh and don't the best teams win when they aren't playing well?

    Liverpool winning the league? Yup, It's "their year" again. For some reason I think I've heard this all before, but maybe it's just me. Never mind.

    My heart says Man Utd but my head says Chelsea.

    Lets see how things go, but I am delighting in us being written of and Liverpool being tipped to win the league!(Again)

  • Comment number 44.

    It's so funny how so many posters say about Liverpool only having 2 players - Gerrard & Torres and if they are injured we'd struggle. Can I ask how we did against the other teams in the top 4 last season despite in many of those games not having both players in the team? Yeah that's right, we took 14 points from 18.

    Don't forget Liverpool only had Gerrard & Torres in the team for something like 15 out of the 38 league games and still finished 2nd. Chances are they will play considerably more games this season than last, as they did the season beforehand.

    Yes Liverpool have lost Alonso, but let's look at his contribution last season and the season before in comparison to Ronaldo's over the last 2 seasons for Utd. It does not compare. How many Utd fans would argue that Alonso is anywhere near one of the world's greatest players? Answer= none.

    How many would say Ronaldo is/was the best player? A huge amount! So let's be honest we have improved by signing Johnson and getting rid of Arbeloa and possibly weakened by losing Alonso (let's give Aquilani a chance before writing him off without even kicking a ball!)
    But - Utd are undoubtedly weaker having lost Ronaldo who contributed far more goals/assists than Alonso has done.

    Also to the poster who mentioned Rafa's rotations - this is again another myth. Ferguson rotated just as much last year and won the league, so please check your facts before using these tired old myths!

  • Comment number 45.

    "United have lost the the 2nd best player in the world (behind the COMPLETE Steven Gerrard)"

    I hate it when Liverpool fans state the above, Xavi and Iniesta are the most complete players in the world. For Gerrard to be World Best he needs to perform on the International Stage and then needs to keep the ball better (like all English players)

    Anyway, Phil is not far off, to be honest any of Chelsea, Man U and Liverpool could win the title but I personally think Chelsea are slight favourites

  • Comment number 46.

    Starts again the plainly irritating and taunting cries of the curse of football,namely manchester united,their fans and the bewitched old face. Tell me except for a few games last season when did united played a premier league winner standard? Can AF win any silverware without using his hypocrite behaviour and tongue?maybe few years back but never now.
    Coming on to the matter,they talk a lot about gerrard and torres staying fit! But do you guys watch the same premier league? Kyut is the best utility player in europe. Riera's talent,who says hes not world class?aquilani was even under AFs eye. And evra a world class player?from when?maybe from last sunday?no international club'll ever buy carrik and fletcher. If liverpool can add a volante or a consistent striker,i see no club nearing the heights.
    West ham will be the team to look for this season rather than mancity and everton.aston villa need someone inspirational in their squad and tottenham,i hope for 6place and a cup win. Chelsea are liverpools main threat and arsenal will keep the 'curse of football' below them at 4th.i'd rather see westham enter the elite 4 at the cost of manU. Its Sir Benitez's time.

  • Comment number 47.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 48.

    It would be interesting to see every pundits predictions for the last 5 or so years and compare then to what the actual tables ended up like. And also maybe take note of any changes to their prediction over the season.

    Often at the start of the season a large number of pundits are plumping for Liverpool to win and they haven't done yet, and often said poundit will change their mind halfway through the season.

  • Comment number 49.

    To akaTommySmith:

    Fabregas isn't even our best player - so not quite sure how he's our "only" World Class player. The best player at Arsenal is Robin Van Persie and Arshavin certainly fits in the same catagory as somebody like Rooney in terms of ability and product.

    I'm not sure abotut the term "worlc class" but I would argue that they fit into the same bracket as the others you've listed.

  • Comment number 50.

    Istanbul2005_4eva:

    My comments were aimed at the original article by Phil - I don't know where you got the idea I was replying to you from!

    Anyway, on to your comments:

    So, Fletcher and Carrick are not as good as Liverpool's midfield? United's midfield isn't just those 2 by the way - it varies depending on the system and the opposition. Amazing, that a midfield that contains players that, in your opinion "have not quite cut it yet in the prem, and Scholes and Giggs that managed a few cameo's last season" has managed to win the title for the last 3 years, eh? And then you're comparing it to a midfield that has lost one of their key members (Alonso) and has brought in an unknown in Aquilani? Not forgetting Hargreaves (if he ever gets fit!) who missed virtually all of last season.

    And your comments about 'bacon face' just show how immature your are, I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 51.

    I'm actually going to engage in a bit of wishful thinking and agree with Phil's top four (although I still think Liverpool need a better attack force, shouldn't have sold Alonso and should sell Lucas stat, but that's just my opinion). The realist in me though thinks Chelsea might just snatch it as Ronaldo is too big a loss to United and they haven't really got a huge star of that calibre any more. Although to be fair to them and Chelsea they bought what was needed...

    Mark Hughes needs to be very very careful about managing his team selection unless Man City want to have some angry players come the end of the season. I suspect sacrifices may have to be made as otherwise I can see Tevez in particular demanding to move again for precisely the reason he left United. That said though City having loads of new players might be a kick up the behind for Everton and Villa and may make them fight harder to stay roughly where they were last year.

    Going down? Birmingham (classic yo-yo team), Burnley and Hull/Portsmouth. Wolves will struggle but will stay up just.

  • Comment number 52.

    I don't think any of the Top 4 look significantly stronger than last season. Suspect it will come down to who gets a quick start and then injuries. Probably would go for Chelsea as likely winners as they have incredible consistency. I think Liverpool are very capable of winning it but the chances of Gerrard or Torres getting an injury are high and they throw too many points away. Man Utd are a tough one - my hunch is that their squad will surprise everyone. They have lost the star player but may end up being a better team. Would put them second favourites but would not be surprised to see them win again. Arsenal look in big trouble - high chance of being outside Top 4 and then they are in financial doo-doo.

  • Comment number 53.

    "(surely the return of Patrick Vieira came from the realms of romance rather than realism)"
    I feel the same way about Owen at United.

    "but the real wild card is club record signing Christian Benitez"
    Vickery would seem to disagree

    Burnely will do better than you rate them. You only have to look at how the played in more than one match against top opposition last year. They will finish high up this season and slump next season.

    I think liverpool blew it last time out and missing Alonso will have more of an effect than United missing Livperpool.
    You have once again Vastly underestimated Alex Ferguson. The title is Uniteds for the loosing this season. I actually expect, genuinely to see a more cavalier style of play and to see them crush teams this year.
    Pretty much in agreement for the relegation crowd, but I think Hull will do okay.

  • Comment number 54.

    I also note that 'Liverpool's very average squad' which 'just aren't good enough to sustain a 38 game campaign to win the Premier League'
    managed to come within 4 points of beating the so-called best side in Premier League history, despite missing its preferred strike pairing for all but twelve games.

    Laa laaa laaa laaa laaaa......

  • Comment number 55.

    My prediction:

    1. Chelsea
    2. Man Utd
    3. Liverpool
    4. Tottenham
    5. Everton
    6. Arsenal

    I'll be back in about 9 months to claim my fiver

  • Comment number 56.

    United, Chelsea and Arsenal were all below par last season whereas Liverpool over performed. No Phil, Liverpool blew their chance and will be back to normal this season i.e. third or fourth.

  • Comment number 57.

    The games we couldn't convert into wins from drawers last season weren't games that Torres and Gerrard weren't playing! So many people seem to believe the red top press that it just isn't true that we can't beat teams when either of these players aren't fit. We did the double over utd without these 2 apart from 10mins as a sub for Gerrard.

    I pretty much agree with the predictions, surprise surprise, that Chelsea and Liverpool will battle it out at the top. I think places 3 and 4 will be played out between Spurs, Man City, UTD and Arsenal. Spurs have now got real squad depth and very good strikers and watching Man City go forward is like watching the Arsenal team that won the league (in preseason anyway).

    Anyone who properly follows liverpool and isn't just on here to wind us up will know that preseason has nothing to do with how we play in the league. We usually lose or draw at least half the games we play and this preseason has been no different. Rafa just uses them as training games to get the lads fit....this is probably why 5 no longer bothers to pick up the preseason games as the performance has nothing to do with how we will play in the league. Next Sunday's game against Spurs is going to be crucial for us to get off to a good start...and Lucas is looking very good as well!!

  • Comment number 58.

    As a LFC fan, I would love to see the title come back to where it belong but I can see Chelsea winning the Premiership this season.

    They had a really good pre-season as well strengthened their already strong squad, without losing any major players.

    Losing Alonso was a big blow as he a barn-storming last season which was why we played so well as he played a majority of the games. Recent season Aquilani is still out for another 2 months and will definitely require a good long period to adjust to the frantic pace of the Premiership.

    And selling Arbeloa, a Spanish international and consistent defender is a poor business - Yes, he had a 1 season left on his contract but he was capable of playing anywhere in the back four and so, would have gotten plenty of playing time.

    Some comments refer to lack of backup for Torres but both Kuyt and Babel are capable of playing upfront though I don't expect much from Voronin. I would have love to see Owen back at LFC but with Benitez one man upfront with Gerrard playing behind system - Owen neither has the speed or height to play as a solo striker. I predict that Owen will do well alongside Rooney/Berbatov and have a decent season.

    One thing I would like to see from Benitez is actually playing more youngsters from the reserves or at least put them on the bench to give them playing time, so we don't need to spend a bundle of money each season. Man Utd have integrated youngsters like Welbeck, Evans, Gibson, Macheda into their 1st team squad and likewise with both Chelsea/Arsenal youngsters.

  • Comment number 59.

    I think Liverpool's main problem will be Benetiz's natural caution, especially at home. His tendancy to rest the big players and not pick attacking sides against the lesser teams was the main problem last season so it will be interesting to see if he has learnt that lesson.

    Chelsea are a bit of an unknown quantity in terms of how the manager sets them up for games where the opposition "parks the bus". Big Phil struggled with those games and it will be interesting to see how attacking the team is against Hull.

    If either Chelsea or Liverpool can get their home form right then I can see them finishing above United to take the title.

  • Comment number 60.

    Good blog but it won't be Liverpool although I'm amused at the rabid musings of the top 4 supporters! Most likely team in my opinion is Chelsea, as many people have already pointed out Liverpool border on a two man team and which muppet thought Glen Johnson was the best right back in the country?! Man Utd will be consistent as always but I can't see where Ronaldo's goals are going to come from whilst Chelsea still have Drogba, Anelka (golden boot) and Lampard all available. Arsenal will play some lovely football as always but they don't have the steel or the consistency for the long haul.

    For what its worth I'd go with,

    1. Chelsea
    2. Utd
    3. Liverpool
    4. Arsenal

    Europe

    5. City
    6. Everton
    7. Spurs
    And I don't think Villa will do as well this year.

    Relegations much easier, Birmingham, Wolves, Burnley and Pompey will be in the fight, they'll be pretty poor and I suspect it'll be who's the least worst rather than the best if you know what I mean but if pushed I'd say I have a funny feeling Burnley might just do it. Oh and Hull will be down at the bottom as well

  • Comment number 61.

    I've got to say that this is possibly the hardest title race to predict in a long while. With Utd having weakened their squad and Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal pretty much standing still I can see only 10 points separating the top 4, with Man City very close behind in 5th. No one is talking about City challenging (rightly so) but I have a feeling that if they get a couple of wins early on that they will be near the top of the table until February-ish, before class finally tells and the big 4 pull away.

    If you were putting me on the spot I would have to go with Chelsea. I don't think Ancelotti was the best appointment for them, but he is a pragmatist and a populist who I think will just allow the players to tick over and give them a fair amount of leeway, which I think the likes of Drogba, Terry and Lampard will respond to well. For me they would have won the title last season if Essien had stayed fit and they'd had a less maverick personality than Scolari in charge. Essien is the best box-to-box midfielder in world football - put simply he is a beast who dominates midfields single-handedly. He gives amazing balance to their side, something that Liverpool don't have (with Gerrard playing the number 10) and United don't have (their centre mids are good, but don't have the legs). It's also the last big year I think for a lot of their squad - Drogba and Lampard will be past their peak next year, as will Terry and Carvalho arguably.

    So - it's Chelsea to shade it for me, so long as Ancelotti plays his cards right and massages the players' egos in the right way.

    One variable that you haven't considered though Phil is the African Nations Cup this year. I know this contradicts my prediction, as Chelsea will be hit hardest, but don't underestimate how losing some players for up to a month in arguably the toughest part of the season could make a difference at the top and the bottom.

  • Comment number 62.

    Once again it is nice to see that every pundit is writing off Hull City and that you have jumped on the bandwagon Phil...I think Hull will suprise people this season, again, our problems in the 2nd half of the season came down to one reason, we couldn't score, we had manucho (worst player EVER) and cousin (lazy lazy lazy and selfish)as our only striking options (i refuse to acknowledge Folan as a striker)a combination of lazy (cousin) and horrendously dreadful (manucho) this season we are looking like having altidore, camara, cousin and ghilas, agreed hardly world beaters but so much better than what we ended the season with. We have in the past week strengthened midfield and are linked with further improvements, again not world beaters but better than we had last year.

    UTT

  • Comment number 63.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 64.

    To Aka TommySmith, Don't you consider Arshavin as a world class player?. I certainly do.

  • Comment number 65.

    Haha, Liverpool? This is their year right? Even Lawro can't see them coming in the top 2. What if Torres or Gerrard get injured? Ngog, Lucas?? No Alonso, Aquilani? Italians don't settle well in England and he is very injury prone.

  • Comment number 66.

    I'm a Liverpool fan, but I am a bit shocked by this Phil. me thinks you are letting your heart rule your head!

    Why? Because Rafa hasn't been able to buy who he wanted (Silva and Villa plus a back-up centre back) because of the lack of funds. We've lost our most pivotal player (Alonso) and replaced him with an unproven, injury prone one (Aquiliani). We still have no quality back-up for when Torres gets injured (why didn't we get Owen?). Lucas will have to play more due to losing Xabi. Arbeloa was better than Johnson. And we missed our best chance last season.

    I think we will be lucky to finish 3rd.

    Predictions: 1. Chelsea, 2. Man Ure, 3. Liverpool, 4. Arsenal with City, Villa, Everton and Spurs the next four.

    Relegation: Hull, Burnley (unfortunately) and Wolves

  • Comment number 67.

    Surprise surprise, BBC Journalist tips Liverpool for title. Almost as predictable as the annual cries of "this is our year" coming from the Anfield fans only to be quickly replaced with "next year will be our year". Look no further than the two teams that played at Wembley on Sunday, the champions will be one of them. Will be interesting to see the shake up from 4th to 8th with Arsenal needing to improve to see off the likes of Everton, Villa and possibly Man City and Spurs.

  • Comment number 68.

    Liverpool will not finish 1st. They will not take 14 points of the big 3 as they did last season. They talk about utd missing ronaldos goals, what about alonso's winner when u beat chelsea last season. What about the 5-6 players getting sent off fouling alonso and therefore you winning or drawing the games. You will not this many points. Phil - I think he is having a laugh with this article. He wants to create pressure for liverpool and their fans expectations and wait 2-3 months when he will write another blog stating Benitez not fit to be liverpools manager. All i can say is keep writing Man U and chelsea off see what happens come May.

  • Comment number 69.

    Agree with Sputnik, nice to see a Liverpool fan with some realism around this season, everyones pretty much stood still or arguably in the case of UTD, Liverpool and fractionally Arsenal, gone backwards, Chelsea's squads aging I agree but they ain't collecting their pensions just yet.

    No Pompey for relegation though? I'd put them above Hull in the race for the drop

  • Comment number 70.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 71.

    Phil, I hope with all of my heart that you are right and Liverpool do finish as Champions...........but I can't see it.
    Rafa has made TWO huge mistakes in disrespecting/losing Xabi; and not signing Owen. The latter being the bigger mistake.
    OK so very few people actually like the guy, but if there was one team he would have put heart & soul into, it would have been Liverpool - and he was free!!
    Where is the cover if Torres gets injured or just needs a rest?
    Our first 11 will still hold its own against the big teams but when we need squad players to roll over Hull, Stoke, Wolves etc where are they? Not on our bench!
    Sadly I think we'll finish third; Rafa will leave; Yanks will go (thankfully); rich Arabs will buy the club; Jose Mourinho will come in; a goalscorer will be bought along with maybe one or two others; AND Liverpool will win EPL and CL in 2011.
    You heard it here first.

  • Comment number 72.

    Uh oh I criticised the pro Liverpool journalist and now my comment has been referred for moderation so it can disappear up the page and remain unread.

    1. Utd
    2. Chelsea
    3. Arsenal
    4. Liverpool

  • Comment number 73.

    I got some Lulz from this article..... I could of done betters i finks...

    This time next year you will be writing the same "it could be our year" crap again...and again... and again...

    Its a 2 horse race between Man utd and Chelsea.. Both have looked good pre-season. Both looked strong in the community shield. Liverpool had a good season last year... Without Torres and Gerrard they have a team not capable of finishing in the top 7.

  • Comment number 74.

    I think that in the last 2 years, Liverpool won 67% of Premiership games Alonso played and 46% of games he didn't. So while his direct contribution wasn't on the same level as Ronaldo, he was clearly very important to the Liverpool team. Based on those stats, is Aqualini really up to replacing him?

  • Comment number 75.

    Man Utd and Everton are doubted pretty much every season. Can Man Utd match their achievements of last season blah blah blah. Everton are on to small a budget and will not be so lucky blah blah blah. Everton are clearly top 6 contenders. Not because of their players. Because of Moyes. The man is brilliant. And Man Utd may have lost Ronaldo but I would be more worried if we'd lost Ferdinand or Vidic. They are the bedrock of the team. Man Utd will always score plenty of goals. But not conceding as many is the difficult part. And I think it's been proven that Man Utd has by far the best central defensive partnership.

    Also bad article, not because you tipped Liverpool. But because there was absolutely no reasons given why Liverpool will be better than last season. And they won't. Last season was pure luck. That was the first time they seriously challenged for the Premiership and I don't expect it to be happening again looking at their players. Chelsea are the real threats. I expect it to be very close between Man Utd and Chelsea. Everyone else is pretty much irrelevant, including Man City's pathetically unbalanced squad.

  • Comment number 76.

    Chelsea drew twice against English clubs during the preseason . In both cases fielding a tough side. Anceloti might follow Scolari's fate.If that happens he might be fired earlier than Scolari. In the league there are no penalties shoot out. Unfortunately Terry is the weakest link.

  • Comment number 77.

    Hi there,

    Nice blog and I agree with your predictions.

    As an Arsenal supporter I am not going to say that we will win the league as we won't but we will do better than last year. The team is getting better and the fact that Kolo and Ade have left has been a good thing in my opinion. Kolo didn't get on with Gallas and that had a negative inpact on the team and well Ade's attitude speaks for itself (one season wonder). If we can keep the younger players at the cub for the following season then we wil be a force to be reckoned with. This season will see us win a cup competition I think and gain more experience.It would be nice for Arsene to prove that money doesn't always buy u titles and that patience, trust and hard work with young player can also work.I am not a big fan of the huge tranfer deals that are become second nature in footballn but thats another issue altogether.

    Chelsea are stil a force to be reckoned with as they have a balanced senior squad. This for me is the last season whereby they will be able to shine as their senior members are not getting any younger and they don't have many experienced young players.

    Man Utd and Sir Alex are always dangerous. But I don't see them doing that well either from the games that i have seen so far. Unless Owen and Berba wake up they have no chance.But their future is secure as Sir Alex has good young players coming up. Thats what makes hime a great manager.

    I hope that Liverpool win if it comes down to a battle between Chelsea and Liverpool, as they are a good squad and very hardworking and it was disappointing to see them loose out last season. To me they deserved the title and so will need to keep focused on the task ahead and keep boardroom issues out the spotlight.

    Man City for me will come 6th and I hope that Everton can continue doing well as I like the way that Moyes manages his teams aswell as O'neil who is also a good manager. They will hopefully finish infront of MAn city.

    As goes for the rest well can't really say. We will just have to wait and see.

    Going to be a great season of Football.

  • Comment number 78.

    I'd agree with Phil's top 3... but suspect City might pip Arsenal for 4th.

    Liverpool as Champions is a gutsy call if all you've ever heard of is Torres and Gerrard... but with Voronin back from his loan spell at Hertha Berlin, they now have better cover for Torres as a lone striker, or can pair him up with Kuyt again (anybody remember them playing together before Torres started grabbing headlines?) in a traditional twin striker set-up against those teams (Stoke, I'm looking at you) that go to Anfield and 'park the bus'.

    Chelsea are in a better position, relative to United and Arsenal, than they were 12 months ago. If the new manager can keep control of Drogba and co in a way Scolari failed to do, then avoiding Champions League qualifying next season should be a nap. The only question is, can they catch Liverpool? I don't think so, personally, but I could be wrong.

    United have lost more than Ronaldo's goals... they've lost his free kicks. As someone else pointed out, United won a few games by a solitary goal, and a few of those goals were dead ball situation won by his diving and scoring from the resulting free-kick or penalty. Take those wins away and United are down 8 points already. That's going to be tough to claw back unless Berbatov has some kind of epiphany and realises he has to work for a living. And to those still claiming Vidic is a world class defender, go and look at his performances against Liverpool and Barcelona last season... a pacey striker (or even E'to) running straight at him is all it takes to make him look distinctly average.

  • Comment number 79.

    As a United fan, I'm very interested to see how we fare this season. Logic tells me Chelsea may edge it - but this is football, there's no place for logic...

    As for Liverpool, I think it is unfair to put them down based on years of expectation. True, every year is supposedly "their year" - but how many times has that been said after them having had a season as successful as last year?

    And wasn't Torres missing for a significant part of the early season? Make no mistake - they're not a two-man team by any stretch, and will be a force to be reckoned with.

    Pompey, Burnley and Birmingham for the drop.

  • Comment number 80.

    #71

    Are you already predicting that it'll be Liverpool's premiership next season rather that this one? At least wait until the first home draw with Hull!

  • Comment number 81.

    A very interesting article I must say. For most of your opinion on each premiership team, I’d say you argued your opinion well and your conclusion was supported by your argument apart from 2 teams.

    Your argument that United will finish 3rd was very shallow, largely myopic and incredibly illogical. The only team that comes close to having a full squad to Man United is Man City, and even they are overloaded with strikers! It is clearly visible from your argument that you decided on Man United’s position first before justifying it! United clearly possess adequate replacement for all positions in the team. I see no reason why they won’t retain the League title this season.

    Your argument for Liverpool winning is solely based on Gerrard and Torres staying fit throughout the season! Have you forgotten the number of games the top four play in a season? Most top teams will definitely have players out injured at various times during the season, the key will be having players that are good enough to compensate for the loss of any key player. Liverpool has no adequate cover for Gerard and Torres – and that’s where the problem lies. The only player that comes close to being good enough is Benayoun!

    In contrast, United have a superb cover in defense for Rio and Vidic in Evans and Brown. O’Shea and Rafael, Fabio and Evra will do a decent job in the full back position (Neville will provide decent cover against mid/lower table teams). A plethora of talent exists in midfield – Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher, Scholes, Giggs, Hargreaves (eased into the team), Nani, Valencia, Tosic, Park – these players will do a decent job over any team in the League. Kiko Macheda, Rooney, Owen and Berbatov including young Welbeck will more than compensate for the loss of Ronaldo.

    Man United will not win the league because they’ll find a replacement for Ronaldo, but because they’ll concede fewer goals that they score! That is how Fergie will ensure confidence filters into the team as they change their playing system until it is perfected! I am clearly a Man United fan.

    The League will not be won on which of the top four wins the top four league, but based on how well they cope with playing the chasing pack in the mid/lower end of the table and how well their team is rotated and refreshed.

    My prediction is Man United to retain the league, 2nd/3rd to be a straight fight between Liverpool and Chelsea with 4th being up for grabs for whichever team dares.

  • Comment number 82.

    "I think that in the last 2 years, Liverpool won 67% of Premiership games Alonso played and 46% of games he didn't. So while his direct contribution wasn't on the same level as Ronaldo, he was clearly very important to the Liverpool team. Based on those stats, is Aqualini really up to replacing him?"

    I don't know, lets look have a look at the stats...oh there aren't any cos he HASN'T played yet!...err, you need to be careful with statistics, it would probably be safe to say that liverpool won the majority of the games reina played in last season...since he played in nearly all of them and liverpool only lost two...alonso contributed to those victories same way all the other players who played in those games that liverpool won...doesn't mean that JUST because alonso played those games turned out to be victories...aquilani can be judged when he has recovered from his injury and had a decent crack at playing in the starting 11...to compare him to alonso already established record is stupid

  • Comment number 83.

    Amazing how the media always yearns for 'this will be their year' as far as Liverpool's title hopes are concerned, only to then witness Utd lift the cup! This will be another one of those seasons.

  • Comment number 84.

    totally agree with pomglen's comments tho has to be said that Kuyt and Benayoun were unsung Liverpool heroes last season and lot will depend on how well they do this season. But still cant see liverpool winning this season.. there arent enough matchwinners there when torres and gerrard get injured.

    ManUtd have a tough season ahead tho they have better balance in their team this season. Better freedom for Rooney and a proper 4-4-2 will help their chances tho taking away Ronaldo has reduced their threat by so many dimensions..

    Honestly, tho a ManUtd fan myself and I hate to say it, I see Chelski winning this season. They have the desire and all the players including Terry is in the team, got some quality signings and some more are on their way.

    Arsenal, wel lets face it, no wins again.

  • Comment number 85.

    Well Phil nice article pity it is rubbish Chelsea will walk away with the title Man U will chase and Liverpool like Arsenal will hover but won't get better than third Liverpool will lose the overrated Gerrard at some stage and Torres is fragile Arsenal may surprise for a while but will lack the physical power to stay the course

  • Comment number 86.

    We're a bit short on predictions on the BBC this year - last year we had Lawro (typed up so I can actually view it at work!), Hansen, Shearer, maybe Lineker too - why not this year??? I've been looking forward to them!

  • Comment number 87.

    I would suggest, mind, that Phil, you look behind you whenever you go to unlock the door of your house - there's likely to be a southern-based McFan ready to pounce after your prediction!

  • Comment number 88.

    Pretty spot on. Only thing I disagree on is the top three.

    My heart says United
    My head says Chelsea.

    Both say Liverpool in second. They quite simply haven't addressed their faults from last year: lack of depth, mainly reasonable cover up front for Gerrard and Torres.

  • Comment number 89.

    I don't know, lets look have a look at the stats...oh there aren't any cos he HASN'T played yet!...err, you need to be careful with statistics, it would probably be safe to say that liverpool won the majority of the games reina played in last season...since he played in nearly all of them and liverpool only lost two...alonso contributed to those victories same way all the other players who played in those games that liverpool won...doesn't mean that JUST because alonso played those games turned out to be victories...aquilani can be judged when he has recovered from his injury and had a decent crack at playing in the starting 11...to compare him to alonso already established record is stupid

    ---------------------------------------------------------------

    No its not stupid. That record comes out of nearly 78 games and there is a big difference in the results with Alonso in the team. Clearly its a team game and he wasn't the only factor but based on that you'd have to say he was very influential.

    So as the Alonso replacement Aqualini has a lot to live up to. If he doesn't step up, someone else will have to and no other names are being mentioned. You are talking about judging him after he has got over his injury and had a decent "crack" at playing in the team. That's fine if you want to finish in the top 4 but the title may be gone by then...

  • Comment number 90.

    I have to admit I am very surprised at this prediction Phil, I hope you are not building a platform for Benitez so that later on in the season should they falter you can happily knock him off it.

    Anyway. I think your predictions are fairly sound. I think you are being a bit harsh on Everton, Moyes is now an experienced manager although personally I think he should cash in on Lescott and look to the next two or three targets with the money. They may be weaker in one position but with £20m-£25m he could strengthen two or three positions, not forgetting CB is probably Evertons strongest area in terms of strength in depth.

    You risk the wrath of the Utd hoardes not predicting them to win the league without losing or drawing a game, though I think many of them or too immature or even too stupid to see just how bigger loss Ronaldo is to them. They may not go on a massive downward spiral but the amount of games where he alone pulled an iron out of the fire was the difference between them winning the league last season and finishing 3rd behind Chelsea to me suggests you are spot on. I just cant see their attacking options being able to do the business in the same way.

    To me though, I have to admit I fear Chelsea the most. I think that as long as we keep Gerrard and Torres fit we have a great chance. I am also interested to see how Lucas does this season. He is our only serious backup player in the centre of midfield with experience and was very good in pre season. I hope he can kick on from there.

  • Comment number 91.

    humph. We were getting some stick a couple of weeks ago for Rafa supposedly forcing Alonso and Mascherano to stay at Anfield....now when Lescott hands in a transfer request and it is rejected I expect the same people to come out and say that Moyes is wrong to hold Lescott hostage at Goodison Park. ( I don't agree with this terminology of holding players hostage btw). The relevance of this to this blog is that I think that Lescott could be the missing link...not in terms of Darwinian genetics...but in terms of sorting out the hole in the middle of the Man City defence. If he can stay fit if he gets the transfer I would put Man City in with a better chance of breaking into the top4. I am still surprised that AW didn't make a bid for him during this window.

    Part of the reason that I think many of us think that Arsenal can't challenge for the top 2 places is that not much has changed in terms of the team and its leadership that is going to help them get wins away against big physical teams. A tough tackling, physical team will always cause Arsenal problems and it is surprising that AW still hasn't addressed this known weakness with a quality DM signing. If this means we have to sit through more AW interviews where he tries to blame the referee for the Arsenal players getting tackled it will be very disappointing but expected especially after games against Blackburn, Bolton, Hull and Birmingham. Football after all is a contact sport!

  • Comment number 92.

    As a Hull City fan I am somewhat narked that you feel we will go down, but not suprised. The defence will be stabilised more this season and I don't expect City to ship as many goals as last season. The midfield is pretty strong but our main problem is scoring goals. Alitore may provide this but the creativity of the squad is low which will cause us problems in the long run.

    I think Burnley, Wolves and Pompy will go down - City to survive... Just!

  • Comment number 93.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 94.

    Title will be a two horse race - United and Chelsea. Aquilani is no replacement for Alonso, losing Alonso affects the way Gerrard can play, which in turn affects the way Livepool play as a whole and therefore inconsistent performances and draws against "lesser" sides.
    United have lost Ronaldo, but look good in pre-season, attacking as a team more, and Valencia and Nani have been superb on the wings. I dont think CR will be missed.
    On the comments about Arsenal and their world calss players, Van Persie has nto played enough to try and prove his ability, and is far too inconsistent when he does play. Arshavin - surely players need to do more than have 2 good Euro champs games (and one stinker I might add), and put 4 past Liverpool, to be considered world class???? Take away those 4 goals and his return last season was 5 goals in 17 - hardly setting the world alight. fabregas is quality, but if things arent going his way, gets stroppy and can be surprisingly dirty, and has yet to perform for a whole season, so in my eyes can also not be classed as "World Class". and someone mentione Clichy?? no comment.

  • Comment number 95.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 96.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 97.

    whatbill

    it is nonsense to use dubious statistics to support an (as yet) unprovable argument....that is the point i was trying to make... I do argee that he has alot to live up to as alonso was a great, great player for liverpool last season...we will have to wait and see whether he can take on the mantle

  • Comment number 98.

    Chelsea have a very strong and experienced side. But, ANOTHER new manager and their best stars getting old and on massive salaries. I think they are a year or so past their best, and haven't bought enough new talent to compensate. My opinion, without Lampard and Essien they would be mid-table. Top four but won't win it.

    United won't miss Ronaldo for any other reason than goals. If Berbatov pulls his socks up and Rooney takes Ronaldo's mantle, plus the development of Macheda and Owen sniffing in the box, they might be ok. My one worry for them is that they aren't getting goals from midfield. Carrick needs to step up this season and either be more consistent defensivley, or leave that to fletcher and go and get more goals. Could well win it, but will have to do better against the other 'big three' this year or they will find themselves adrift.

    Liverpool's best eleven is a match for anyone, however Aquilani for Alonso, that's bad business. I agree with an earlier poster that if a couple of their four best players pick up an injury they simply don't have anyone with either the class or the dedication to the club, to come in and cover. Gerrard was probably Messi and Iniesta's only challenge for world player of the year last year. But even he can't do that on his own all the time. Boardroom unrest too. I don't think they'll win it.

    Arsenal have a terrifying attack when all fit, pace guile, youth, craft. Arshavin, van Persie, Nasri, Fabregas, Walcott. If arsene can replace Toure with a world class central defender and acquire someone Essien-esque in his midfield I believe Arsenal will be the Barcelona of England this year. They have the talent, the manager, the ethos, the stadium and they are due a trophy. United's closest challenge? Possibly

    In conclusion Chelsea are a bit past their peak and you have to believe that at some stage big players will get injured or suspended and when that happens I am sure that Liverpool and Arsenal aren't well enough equipped to cope. But Arsenal are due some luck and I think they may be United's closest challengers this year. If Wenger can motivate them enough to play in hail at Stoke on a December Wednesday night (for example).

    Prediction:

    United
    Arsenal
    Liverpool and Chelsea tied on points.

  • Comment number 99.

    Alot of Liverpool fans seem to be telling people how they were beating other teams even without the like of Gerrard and Torres, and that they werent a two man team, and i agree. Last season you were a 3 man team, and youve just sold one of them to Real Madrid. Theres no denying that he was your best player last season and the difference between last season and the season before that was Alonso played well. Aquilani may turn out to be a good buy for you guys when he comes back from injury but if you start badly then it may already be too late by then.

  • Comment number 100.

    As a Liverpool supporter I am flattered but not convinced that we will win the league. I may go so far as to say we will even be luck to win the FA cup!!! This is because of two reasons; we have a weak bench. After the first eleven I do not think that we have a bench that can strike fear in other teams' hearts! The second reason is that we have a dithering and bumbling coach in Rafa Benitez. Last season he had a strange policy of keeping some of our best players on the bench when we were playing the so-called small teams. His explanation then was that we would see the wisdom of his policy when we are getting to the end of the season. Well the season ended and we had nothing to show for it. We will not win the title this season, not with Benitez!

 

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