Playing the precarious predictions game
It is that time of the year again - time to blow the cobwebs off the cracked and notoriously unreliable crystal ball to gaze into what 2012 holds for football.
In the game this would be called a hospital pass and is accompanied by the supposedly consoling words from your superiors such as: "Don't worry. No one will remember if you get it wrong."
Just like no-one remembers a now infamous tip that suggested Liverpool would win the title in 2009-2010, a prediction that came agonisingly close to success and was only off-target by 23 points and seven places.
Any potential England success at Euro 2012 requires a dynamic and organised midfield. Photo: Getty
The highlight of this year's football calendar is Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine - with Fabio Capello and England offered the opportunity to set the perfect mood music for the subsequent London Olympics.
England qualified convincingly once more but the debacle that was the South Africa World Cup campaign in 2010 ensures expectations remain on the ground floor. Capello has fashioned a younger element to his squad in the last few months to increase optimism levels.
And he will hope Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere can return to full fitness to form a potent midfield partnership that will give England a base to ensure they are still in contention in their final group game against co-hosts Ukraine, when Wayne Rooney returns from the ban that means he misses out against France and Sweden.
England are firmly in Europe's second tier behind European and world champions Spain, as well as Netherlands and the dangerous, maturing Germany.
The Republic of Ireland face a tough assignment in their group against Spain, Italy and Croatia - but, if there is one man who will relish the task of finding a way through, it is the old master coach Giovanni Trapattoni. They have the capacity to cause a shock.
Capello's reign ends after the tournament and reality dictates that a semi-final place will allow him to leave with dignity, while the last-eight also holds the potential to provide a familiar stopping point for the campaign.
This means 2012 requires the Football Association to name a successor to the Italian. All football logic dictates Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp will be that man. Boxes are ticked in his nationality, football philosophy and ability to bring the best out of big players with shrewd man-management.
If Redknapp goes who steps in at Spurs? This appointment may be shaped by whether Everton chairman Bill Kenwright concludes what seems an endless search for investment to help manager David Moyes.
Moyes celebrates a decade in charge at Goodison Park in 2012 but will struggle to move Everton further forward without new finance. He has the careful fiscal attitude that might appeal to Spurs chairman Daniel Levy if a vacancy arises and Moyes retains huge respect from his peers.
Two predictions that have been removed from the equation have been to foretell the fates of Manchester United and Manchester City in the Champions League after their elimination. Even if they had come out of the group stage, it would have been the supreme optimist who predicted success had they come up against teams of the calibre of Barcelona and Real Madrid. In fact, I can't see further than Barcelona in 2012.
The Europa League now claims the Manchester clubs' attention - and both have a real chance of emerging as eventual winners - but the big prize at stake is the Premier League and this looks increasingly likely to be a battle fought purely within the confines of the city.
The biggest challenge to that supremacy is coming from a different quarter of London as Tottenham move into exciting contention with a brand of football that stays true to the greatest White Hart Lane traditions with pace, passing and goals.
Spurs remain the outsiders to break up the Manchester duo, but the entertainment produced by Redknapp's side has been one of the features of the season and makes them as watchable as any team in the Premier League.
Will they win the title? They are outsiders - but have such verve and quality that they are sure to have a say in the shake-up.
It remains hard to look beyond Barcelona as Europe's best side throughout 2012. Photo: Getty
City's finances have fashioned a hugely impressive squad but United have recovered superbly, in the league at least, from the humiliation of a 6-1 beating by their neighbours at Old Trafford.
My pre-season prediction was that United would finish ahead of City and claim a 20th crown. Roberto Mancini's side look in the sort of shape to reverse the tip but, for now, I will stick with my earlier call until such time that it is impossible to ignore the evidence produced at Etihad Stadium. Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool will fight it out for fourth behind Spurs for the remaining Champions League place.
Arsenal and Chelsea are now England's representatives in the Champions League, but I no more see them lifting the trophy than I did United or City. They have tough ties against AC Milan and Napoli in the last 16 - and, while they may make further progress, they do not have any of the appearance of potential winners.
Kenny Dalglish's hopes of putting Liverpool back among the Champions League places have been undermined by a lack of goals, an unlikely faultline given the Scot's £78m investment in attacking talent in the shape of Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing.
Despite this, they look well equipped for a cup run and I can see Dalglish having a real chance of bringing silverware back to Anfield in either the League Cup or the FA Cup.
Steve Kean's future at Blackburn, and the abuse he has been receiving from his own supporters, has been part of the Premier League narrative in 2011. How long will he survive to add further chapters in 2012?
Blackburn's fall from grace under Indian owners Venky's has been well chronicled and how this fine old club pulls itself out of this turmoil will play a huge role in whether they survive in the Premier League.
The relegation battle has a Lancastrian look with Blackburn, Bolton and Wigan at the bottom and none giving the impression of moving into comfort zones in the coming months.
I tipped Blackburn and Wigan for the drop back in August, along with Swansea City, but Brendan Rodgers's side have shown enough to suggest they can survive. This drops Bolton into trouble and their decline has been alarming since their FA Cup semi-final thrashing against Stoke City at Wembley last season.
So Blackburn and Wigan will continue to have the black border around their names when it comes to relegation but expect this to be another last-day decision.
So there it is. The crystal ball goes away again but one thing can be said with some certainty - 2012 has all the ingredients to be another landmark year in football.
And as for the predictions? Please heed these words: "No-one will remember if you get it wrong."