Premier League 2014-15: Who will finish where?
Louis van Gaal has arrived at Old Trafford, Luis Suarez has left Anfield, and Manchester City and Chelsea have spent big again - so with the new Premier League season just days away from kick-off, here are my predictions for where each team will finish.
The selection of Chelsea as champions is made with some conviction after manager Jose Mourinho's summer in the transfer market - but choosing who will fill the other Champions League places has never been more difficult.
So much so that the eventual finishing positions of those in contention - assuming champions Manchester City finish in the top two - may well come down to the deals done by Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal before the transfer window closes at the end of August.
At this stage you would hesitate to risk a penny with any confidence on who will finish third, fourth or fifth.
The fight for survival will be a scrap as well. The Premier League will be more competitive than ever.
Use the Twitter hashtag #plpredictions to discuss where you think teams will finish and look out for a series of votes about the Premier League.
I tipped them for the title last year when Mourinho returned but the lack of a goalscorer - and narrow defeats at places such as Aston Villa and Crystal Palace - ended their hopes.
Last season: Third
MANCHESTER CITY (Runners-up)
Deserved champions last season despite not being at their superlative best for all of the campaign - an indicator of just how much quality is in manager Manuel Pellegrini's squad.
Yaya Toure seems to have got over his hissy fit about his lack of a birthday cake and Eliaquim Mangala has arrived from Porto in a £32m deal, as well as Bacary Sagna on a free from Arsenal, to strengthen their defence. It will be interesting to see whether Willy Caballero emerges as a serious challenger to Joe Hart in goal and how much Frank Lampard figures.
City will be in the top two once more - but they will face a fierce challenge from Chelsea to hold on to their title.
Last season: Champions
MANCHESTER UNITED (Third)
The David Moyes experiment was a dismal failure so United have gone for vast experience and a proven track record in Louis van Gaal, fresh from taking the Netherlands to the World Cup semi-final.
Do not expect United to be on the outside looking in at the top-four fight again this season - but it will still be intriguing to see what Van Gaal can get out of a squad that looked in serious need of renewal last season.
Ander Herrera will provide class in midfield and Luke Shaw youthful quality at left-back, but United need to add authority in central defence (would you trust Chris Smalling and Phil Jones against opposition of the highest calibre?) and in central midfield. Van Gaal must also get the attacking partnership of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie moving smoothly.
Not title contenders just yet - there may yet be world-class additions before the transfer deadline that could change that, of course - but do not expect any repeat of the misery Old Trafford suffered under Moyes.
Last season: Seventh
The start of a wonderful new Anfield era or the great missed opportunity? Time will tell how Liverpool's fatal faltering with the Premier League in their own hands last season will eventually be viewed.
There will be no more Luis Suarez, who has taken his magnificent talent but desperately flawed personality to Barcelona, but manager Brendan Rodgers has been investing heavily to ensure a 31-goal void is filled.
This will mean more responsibility for Daniel Sturridge but Rickie Lambert will hope to weigh in with his share of goals if he gets the chance, while another Southampton import Adam Lallana will be a creator when fit, along with £20m winger Lazar Markovic from Benfica.
|Liverpool under Brendan Rogers|
|In Rodgers's first season in charge, Liverpool finished seventh with 61 points, winning 16 league matches, losing nine and scoring 71 goals.|
|Last season they finished second, with 23 points more, winning 26 matches, losing six and scoring 101 goals.|
The most important buy of all, once again from Southampton, may yet be Dejan Lovren, adding authority that has been missing from Liverpool's defence since Jamie Carragher's retirement - not helped by the uncertain efforts of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
I do not feel Liverpool will be champions and they will be in a real dogfight for a top-four place, but put money on a cup win and a decent showing on their return to the Champions League.
And, it should be added, if Liverpool do finish fourth this should not be regarded as failure after last season. Rodgers was way ahead of schedule with that one.
Last season: Second
Arsene Wenger looks refreshed after ending his long wait for a trophy with last season's FA Cup success - and the signing of world-class forward Alexis Sanchez and the comprehensive Community Shield win over Manchester City has only increased the new optimism around Emirates Stadium.
Signings such as Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy have fleshed out the squad, but they are still short of that title quality and not yet challenging the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City over a whole season, unless a commanding defender and high-class central midfield can be added before deadline day.
The Gunners are a great bet for another cup though as there is so much talent in the squad even before you get to Sanchez.
I think they will end up battling Liverpool for a top-four place - and business done between now and deadline day could help decide it.
Last season: Fourth
It's been an excellent summer so far for manager Roberto Martinez and chairman Bill Kenwright. They have extended the contracts of outstanding youngsters such as Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman and John Stones, while breaking their transfer record to sign £28m Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea - the sort of deal designed to end perceptions, occasionally encouraged under David Moyes, of a former giant now only aspiring to punch above its current weight.
Watch out for Muhamed Besic (not least for his tackling). The Toffees need another quality striker but will be fighting in and around the top-four places yet again under the shrewd and positive Martinez.
They will hope Europa League commitments do not debilitate a smallish squad.
Last season: Fifth
Here we go again. Another season at Spurs and another new manager. Mauricio Pochettino did an outstanding job at Southampton, advocating a high-intensity, pressing, attacking style.
He will surely benefit from time and patience at Spurs. Chairman Daniel Levy's reputation could not survive another short managerial tenure.
Pochettino inherits a highly talented squad and we can expect some big-name signings before the deadline, as is the Spurs way. He may also want to see if he can get a bit more out of the players who under-achieved after the big Gareth Bale spend last season, such as fellow Argentine Erik Lamela, while hoping Dane Christian Eriksen produces more of the same.
I see them around the top six again but not in the title hunt. As usual, it might be worth a punt on a cup.
Last season: Sixth
NEWCASTLE UNITED (Eighth)
There was turmoil on Tyneside (again) last season - a situation not helped by the indiscipline of manager Alan Pardew when he abused Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini and headbutted Hull City's David Meyler. He needs a good start and it is fair to say he has had a decent summer to set the Toon Army up for the new season.
There are high hopes for Remy Cabella, the attacking midfielder signed from Montpellier, as well as well Siem de Jong, the former Ajax captain. Jack Colback will also be keen to impress after making the contentious move from Sunderland.
There's enough talent in this squad to make the top 10 - but since when did any prediction involving Newcastle have logic attached?
Last season: 10th
Mark Hughes achieved an excellent ninth place last season after taking over from Tony Pulis, although a little too much was made about the supposed sea change in style, which was something of an insult to Hughes's predecessor.
Hughes still did an excellent job, however, and there is no reason to suspect anything other than a similar finish this season, especially backed by magnificent support at the Britannia Stadium, intimidating and atmospheric at all times.
Plenty will be keen to see whether Hughes can revive the career of forward Bojan Krkic, still only 23, signed from Barcelona.
Last season: Ninth
Sunderland's miraculous escape from relegation, with a draw at Manchester City and wins at Chelsea and Manchester United, was one of the stories of last season.
Now manager Gus Poyet can build on that and has invested £10m in midfielder Jack Rodwell, talented but injury-plagued, from Manchester City. He will still need extra firepower, hence his continued pursuit of Liverpool's Fabio Borini, instrumental in that remarkable conclusion to last season.
The air should have cleared on Wearside after the Paolo di Canio farce that began their season and the great escape that ended it, so expect Sunderland to fare much better this season.
Last season: 14th
WEST HAM (11th)
What are we to make of the Hammers? Co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold have demanded more attacking football from manager Sam Allardyce and a new attack coach has arrived in Teddy Sheringham.
And Sullivan's belief that West Ham made a mistake in paying £12m for Andy Carroll has only been reinforced by the former Liverpool striker's latest lengthy spell on the sidelines.
In other words, they and Allardyce may need a promising start to stop the storm clouds rolling over Upton Park.
This will dictate much of the shape of their season. Mid-table at best.
Last season: 13th
CRYSTAL PALACE (12th)
|A second straight Premier League season at last for Palace|
|Promoted from Division 1 in 1991-92 - Relegated from Premier League in 1992-93|
|Promoted from D1 in 1993-94 - Relegated from PL in 1994-95|
|Promoted from D1 in 1996-97 - Relegated from PL in 1997-98|
|Promoted from D1 in 2004-05 - Relegated from PL in 2005-06|
|Promoted from Championship in 2012-13 - Finished 11th|
You suspect manager Tony Pulis's major transfer market work is still to come this month, adding to the likes of Fraizer Campbell and Brede Hangeland as he attempts to build on the miracle he pulled off in keeping them up last season.
Whatever happens, the combination of Pulis's proven managerial ability and the atmospheric surroundings of Selhurst Park should mean another season of Premier League survival at a place where watching football is a great experience.
Last season: 11th
Manager Steve Bruce did brilliantly to keep Hull City up and reach the FA Cup final last season - and once again he has been working the markets to complete deals for Jake Livermore, on loan last season, and the likes of Robert Snodgrass and Tom Ince.
Once again survival can be considered success and Bruce, too often unsung, has been around the block enough times to ensure this happens.
Last season: 16th
Turmoil is hardly a strong enough word to describe the Saints' summer. Manager Mauricio Pochettino departed to Spurs, Lovren, Lallana and Lambert to Liverpool, Shaw to Manchester United and Calum Chambers to Arsenal. Not quite a case of will the last one out switch off the lights, but hardly ideal for new manager Ronald Koeman.
Morgan Schneiderlin claims he is not "mentally or physically" ready to play after being linked with Spurs - a reflection on Saints rather than Spurs, it should be stressed.
So how does Koeman deal with it all? Well, by relying on Saints' brilliant academy and the likes of full-back Matt Targett and midfielder Harrison Reed, alongside new £10m keeper Fraser Forster and the highly rated midfielder Dusan Tadic, brought in for £10.9m from FC Twente.
Ryan Bertrand will add additional experience on the left.
No-one can expect any repeat of last season's excellent finish after such a decimation but do not have Southampton down for automatic relegation either. That said, it is a big job for Koeman over the coming months.
Last season: Eighth
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (15th)
Harry Redknapp is back in the Premier League and has got Rio Ferdinand with him to provide experience and guidance in central defence alongside another new boy, £8m Steven Caulker from Cardiff. He will also expect good things from Jordon Mutch, another who was a shining light in the Bluebirds' relegation season.
There should be enough experience on and off the pitch to see QPR stay up - and it would be a huge bonus for Rangers if no-one was tempted to come in for the excellent Loic Remy after the collapse of his move to Liverpool.
Last season: Fourth in the Championship (play-off winners)
Manager Garry Monk has got his feet under the table now after succeeding Michael Laudrup and the return of forward Gylfi Sigurdsson from Spurs will provide a lift.
Monk will be desperate to keep hold of striker Wilfried Bony, but this may prove difficult as the transfer deadline approaches. If he goes, this will ramp up the pressure on Bafetimbi Gomis, who has finally arrived in the Premier League on a free from Lyon after seemingly being linked with a move to England for decades.
I'm not expecting great things from Swansea but not expecting relegation either.
Last season: 12th
ASTON VILLA (17th)
The great success of Villa's summer has been managing expectations - currently there do not seem to be any beyond another season of struggle, perhaps ending in relegation.
Owner Randy Lerner's failure to sell the club has led to stagnation and, even worse, the arrival of the likes of Joe Cole and Philippe Senderos suggests a club in decline unless new owners can be found.
And what of the new managerial team, with Roy Keane as assistant to manager Paul Lambert? An inspired choice or a manager working with his successor?
Either way, barring dramatic events inside the next fortnight, I fear Villa will be battling the drop. A sad state of affairs. They will struggle to stay up at this rate.
Last season: 15th
Another passionate football area returns to the Premier League - and Leicester are another club who will be able to congratulate themselves on a job well done if they stay up.
Manager Nigel Pearson took his team up with something to spare last season and will now need a good return on a club-record investment of £8m in striker Leonardo Ulloa, who arrived from Brighton where he scored 16 goals in all competitions last season. He has already been on the mark in pre-season.
I still feel the Foxes will struggle to survive.
Last season: Champions (Championship)
WEST BROM (19th)
The appointment of Pepe Mel was ill-advised and almost ended in relegation - and his replacement by former Everton academy director Alan Irvine is also a gamble, given his lack of success in managerial roles at Preston and Sheffield Wednesday.
Irvine is a highly regarded coach but he will have a very tough job on his hands with a side that finished just three points off relegation last season.
Last season: 17th
20. BURNLEY (20th)
|Burnley's first three fixtures|
|Chelsea (H) 18 Aug|
|Swansea (A) 23 Aug|
|Man Utd (H) 30 Aug|
Burnley will get used to being tipped for relegation, and I am not about to buck the trend - but if there is one prediction I wish to get hopelessly wrong it is this one.
This is an old club with great tradition, heart and a wonderful atmosphere inside Turf Moor. The night when they marked their return to the Premier League after 33 years with Robbie Blake's winner against Manchester United in 2009 was a spine-tingling occasion. The old place shook - literally.
Burnley will need more of that this season and they will look to the goals of Sam Vokes and Danny Ings as well as the inspirational leadership of one of the best emerging young managers in Sean Dyche.
Survival will be their equivalent of winning the title - and Dyche will have them believing it can be done against all the odds. Two nice opening home games against Chelsea and Manchester United.
Last season: Second (Championship)