The Way I See the Premiership 2006/2007

My (sometime) annual indulgence

Ok so I missed out doing this last year due to laziness issues.  Maybe I was bored by the whole Chelsea circus which turned the Premiership in to a Hollywood remake of a superior Japanese movie where everyone knew the ending.

But perhaps this season is going to be a little bit different.  We’ve already seen a confused-looking Chelsea line-up outplayed by the improving Liverpool, strides have been made by the likes of Newcastle, Spurs and Everton, and Martin O’Neill has checked in to Villa Park with an eye on once again turning water in to wine.  So are we set for some surprises in 2007?

Arsenal
Last season (LS): 4th
In: Tomas Rosicky (Borussia Dortmund, £7m), Joe O’Cearuill (Watford, undisclosed), Vincent van den Berg (Heerenveen, undisclosed), Fran Merida (Barcelona, free)
Out: Sol Campbell (Portsmouth, free), Mark Howard (Cardiff, free), Michael Jordan (Chesterfield, free), Robert Pires (Villareal, free), Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastian Larsson, Fabrice Muamba (all Birmingham, loan), Graham Stack (Reading, loan), Denis Bergkamp (retired)
A new stadium but pretty much the same old team.  Only Pires could be considered a first-teamer from those who have departed.  While Sol Campbell’s career will continue to peter out on Portsmouth’s time and money, it does leave Arsenal a little short at the back.  Senderos is injured, Cygan is useless and Johan Djourou is inexperienced.  With Ashley Cole still looking to burrow his way out Arsenal could also find themselves relying heavily on Gael Clichy and Mathieu Flamini for the upcoming season. The exciting Tomas Rosicky should have no problem filling the gap left by the non-flying Dutchman, Denis Bergkamp.  Outside of the exceptional Fabregas, are the combined talents of the ageing Ljungberg, disappointing Hleb, erratic (and want-away) Reyes and unspectacular Gilberto enough to push Arsenal in to a championship-challenging position?

Keeping Thierry Henry was their best signing (cliché alert – no, not Gael Chiché) and if Robin van Persie continues his good form from last season, Arsenal will score goals galore.

Prediction: 2nd
Why?: It’s a solid looking squad, although somewhat short of manpower.  If they stay relatively injury-free then Wenger will guide this team safely in to the Champions League spots, vying for the league title for a while before it eventually slips out of their grasp.
Look out for: Theo Walcott to make his mark … on loan at West Brom.
Aston Villa
LS: 6th
In: Martin O’Neill (manager), Damian Bellon (St Gallen, undisclosed), Yago Bellon (St Gallen, undisclosed)
Out: David O’Leary (manager), Jamie Ward (Torquay, free), Ulises De La Cruz (released)
Let’s start in the obvious place.  Aston Villa have signed 17-year old Swiss twins, Damian and Yago Bellon.  Bizarre. David O’Leary is gone, thankfully,  two awful seasons enough to seal his fate and possibly end his managerial career.  Martin O’Neill is a prize capture for Villa and the fans are understandably ecstatic at the news.  Furthermore the departure of Doug Ellis, the lumbering and ineffective chairman, is on the brink of reality with American tycoon Randy Lerner set to purchase the club.

No changes in the first team squad means that O’Neill may write this season off as a learning experience, perhaps adding some new faces in January.

Prediction: 10th
Why?: O’Neill’s influence will be enough to ensure that the club don’t become embroiled once again in a relegation scrap.  With Birmingham and West Brom relegated, the club will enjoy not having any local derbies to be embarrassed in.  They need players all over the pitch with Gareth Barry probably their best player.  And that just doesn’t sound right.
Look out for: This ramshackle collection of mediocrity to hold their own.
Blackburn Rovers
LS: 6th
In: Jason Roberts (Wigan, £3m), Benni McCarthy (Porto, £2.5m), Jason Brown (Gillingham, free), Francis Jeffers (Charlton, free), Zura Khizanishvili (Rangers, undisclosed)
Out: Craig Bellamy (Liverpool, £6m), Paul Dickov (Man City, free), Gary Harkins (Grimsby, free), Jerome Watt (Northampton, free), Lorenzo Amoruso, Vratislav Gresko (both released)
Lorenzo Amoruso was still at Blackburn last season?Blackburn did some canny business by offloading the effective Bellamy and bringing in two quality strikers in Jason Roberts and Benni McCarthy.  It’s amazing to see that McCarthy has arrived for such a small fee when previous attempts by Middlesbrough and West Ham over the previous seasons were set to cost the clubs upwards of £5m.  Anyway, Francis Jeffers joins them and the limited Shefki Kuqi in a forward line that should score some goals.

To be honest it’s a bloody good squad and with Emerton, Gamst Pedersen, Reid and Savage in midfield it’s really only in defence where you might reason that Mark Hughes needs to land himself a commanding central player.

Prediction: 6th
Why?: Same as last season for Blackburn and they could actually nick fifth.  But let’s assume their defence isn’t solid or experienced enough to push them that far and that they will be quite happy with UEFA Cup football again.  Mark Hughes may not emulate Kenny Dalglish’s achievement but you could argue he’s done just as good a job in context.
Look out for: Jeffers to flop once again in what must surely be his last opportunity in the top flight.
Bolton Wanderers
LS: 8th
In: Abdoulaye Meite (Marseille, undisclosed), Quinton Fortune (Man Utd, free), Idan Tal (Maccabi Tel Aviv, free)
Out: Radhi Jaidi (Birmingham, £2m), Bruno N’Gotty (Birmingham, free), Jay-Jay Okocha (Qatar Sports Club, free), Chris Howarth (Oldham, loan), Bedi Buval , Khalilou Fadiga, Matt Jansen, Oscar Perez (all released)
You have to wonder where all the money goes.  The club have had consistently high league finishes, UEFA cup runs and they hardly have a huge salary budget, yet they have spent no money and off-loaded one of last seasons regular player, Radhi Jaidi. Quinton Fortune is a good professional but he’s not going to exert the sort of influence on the pitch that Bolton might need.  At the moment that falls primarily to Kevin Nolan and Gary Speed.  Speed is 37 next month and you wonder how far those legs will take him.
Prediction: 14th
Why?: Their pre-season has been awful, drawing one and losing five.  My concern is that the pony’s trick has been discovered.  Their end-of-season form in 2006 was woeful and if that continues in to the new season, Bolton may find themselves out of UEFA Cup contention by Christmas.  Relying so much on the power and presence of the reborn Kevin Davies means they frequently walk a line depending on his fitness.
Look out for: Allardyce to moan his arse off about internationals and referees as the results go against him.  What a very unpleasant individual he is.
Charlton Athletic
LS: 13th
In: Iain Dowie (manager), Amdy Faye (Newcastle, £2m), Djimi Traore (Liverpool, £2m), Simon Walton (Leeds, £500k), Cory Gibbs (Feyenoord, free), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Middlesbrough, free), Gonzalo Sorondo (Inter, free), Christian Bolanos (Deportivo Saprissa, loan)
Out: Alan Curbishley (manager), Jay Bothroyd (Wolves, free), Francis Jeffers (Blackburn, free), Chris Perry (West Brom, free), Chris Powell (Watford, free), Sheku Kamara (Watford, undisclosed), Robert Elliot (Accrington, loan)
After what seems like fifty years in charge, Alan Curbishley finally stepped aside after the declining fortunes of his Charlton side over the last two seasons.  Whether Iain Dowie has the ability to consistently deliver a top-half finish for Charlton is another thing.  It is doubtful that Charlton would ever have found themselves in relegation trouble under Curbs but Dowie has not proven his top-half credentials yet in his short managerial career.His moves are a mixed bag.  Faye is an average Premiership player, Traore an error-prone bag of nerves, Walton an unproven teenager and Gibbs yet to make his mark in European football.  However the signing of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is a great one for Charlton and although now 34, he is still capable of scoring about 15 goals this season.

Elsewhere the squad is solid.

Prediction: 13th
Why?: Same as last season for Charlton which should be seen as a bit disappointing I suppose.  Too many teams are likely to have improved more than Charlton have this season for them to make enough progress up the table.
Look out for: Jimmy Floyd, that lovable rascal.
Chelsea
LS: 1st
In: Andriy Shevchenko (AC Milan, £30m), John Obi Mikel (Lyn Oslo, £16m), Salomon Kalou (Feyenoord, £3.5m), Michael Ballack (Bayern Munich, free), Hilario (Nacional, free)
Out: Eidur Gudjohnsen (Barcelona, £8m), Damien Duff (Newcastle, £5m), Asier Del Horno (Valencia, £4.8m), Carlton Cole (West Ham, £2m), Jiri Jarosik (Celtic, undisclosed), Hernan Crespo (Inter Milan, loan), Anthony Grant (Wycombe, loan), Glen Johnson (Portsmouth, loan), Dean Furman (Rangers, free), Danny Hollands (Bournemouth, free)
This reeks of Jose Mourinho’s last season.  He’s always prided himself on how his close-knit team stick together and everyone pulls in the same direction.  Well two things happened this summer.  First of all the rumblings of discontent began within his squad.  Gudjohnsen, Duff, Cole, Johnson and Crespo all got tired of being rotated or not getting a game at all.  Del Horno was set to be dropped after a poor season (at a considerable loss) and Carlton Cole clearly realised that his career was wasting away at Stamford Bridge. The second thing that happened was for the first time big world stars made their way to the Bridge; Shevchenko and Ballack, two of the biggest names in world football are set to change the dynamic in the dressing room.

It should be noted as well that Abramovich will not be impressed by a third failure to win the Champions League.  It is likely that Mourinho himself will realise that the writing may be on the wall at that point and simply move on to another club.

Kalou looks to be a good signing and Mikel may make a Wayne Rooney-style impact after his outrageous and protracted £16m transfer from Lyn Oslo/Man United/who knows(?).  The most interesting thing to watch will be which four players are going to play in midfield.  If you consider Makelele to be indespensible as the holding midfielder and Lampard/Ballack to be automatic choices, where is the width going to come from?  Robben, Wright-Philips, Cole and Essien will all be battling for that one slot and it could be the one part of this season that causes Mourinho a few headaches.

Prediction: 1st
Why?: I thought Chelsea would find it hard to retain last season but they won it pretty much at a canter.  I can’t see this season being too much different.  The best player to leave was Gudjohnsen but when you effectively replace him a £30m superstar, it’s hard to feel sorry for them.
Look out for: Schevchenko will score about 25 goals in the Premiership.
Everton
LS: 11th
In: Andy Johnson (Crystal Palace, £8m), Joleon Lescott (Wolves, £5m), Tim Howard (Man Utd, loan)
Out: Jay Harris (Accrington, free), Laurence Wilson (Chester, free), Duncan Ferguson, Paul Hopkins, Christian Seargeant, Le Tie, Sean Wright, Stephen Wynne (all released), Nigel Martyn (retired)
Everton recovered from last seasons awful start to finish a respectable eleventh but there isn’t really anywhere for David Moyes to hide this year.  The purchase of James Beattie was criticised by many observers but the former Southampton man finally started to come good with 11 goals last year.  Now with Andy Johnson (21 Premiership goals in 2004/5) paired up front with him – at considerable cost – Chairman Bill Kenright will expect Everton to be in UEFA Cup contention again this season.The purchase of Joleon Lescott, and retention of Joseph Yobo, is good news for Everton fans.  They will also be hoping that Nuno Valente can capture some of his World Cup form and that the ageing David Weir/Alan Stubbs play less games.  In midfield Mikel Arteta was named fans player of the year for last season and should be influential again.  Tim Cahill’s goals are crucial and Leon Osman has progressed very well at Goodison.  However the likes of Simon Davies and Kevin Kilbane have not reproduced previous good form and might find themselves struggling to get in the team.  The loan capture of goalkeeper Tim Howard to replace the retired Nigel Martyn is a decent move too.
Prediction: 7th
Why?: I’m sticking my neck out here but Everton have done exactly what they needed to do this summer – top striker, good defender and a decent goalkeeper.  If Kilbane regains his form of two seasons ago then the midfield should have a very solid look about it.  If Johnson/Beattie score the goals that their talent suggests, it’ll be a good season for the Toffees.
Look out for: Victor Anichebe – an 18-year old Nigerian striker who will get some time on the pitch this season.
Fulham
LS: 12th
In: Jimmy Bullard (Wigan, £2.5m), Gabriel Zakuani (Leyton Orient, £1m), Björn Runström (Hammarby, £700k), Franck Queudrue (Middlesbrough, undisclosed)
Out: Dean Leacock (Derby, £375k), Darren Pratley  (Swansea, £100k), Liam Fontaine (Bristol City, undisclosed), Adam Green (Grays, free), Neale McDermott (Carlisle, free), Zesh Rehman (QPR, free), Ricardo Batista (Wycombe, loan), Tony Warner (Leeds, loan)
It’s always a strange sight when a player at a middling club switches allegiances to another middling club.  But that’s what Jimmy Bullard and Franck Queudrue have done.  Luckily for Chris Coleman he has recruited two good Premiership players who will enhance his team.  Less is known of his other recruits with highly-rated DR Congo international defender Gabriel Zakuani making the move across London from Leyton Orient and Björn Runström, a Swedish striker, making the move from Hammarby. No one of consequence has left the club but contract-rebel Steed Malbranque is set to sit in the reserves for a year.  He’ll be missed.
Prediction: 12th
Why?: Bullard and Queudrue are two excellent signings and despite the probable loss of Malbranque, Fulham have a squad that’s good enough to avoid relegation but not strong enough to come close to challenging for Europe.  Mid-table beckons.  Will it be enough for Mohamed al-Fayed?
Look out for: Papa Bouba Diop is hard-working and can score goals.  Criticial to Fulham’s season.
Liverpool
LS: 3rd
In: Jermaine Pennant (Birmingham, £6.7m), Craig Bellamy (Blackburn, £6m), Mark Gonzalez (Albacete, £4m), Gabriel Paletta (Banfield, £2m), Fabio Aurelio (Valencia, free)
Out: Fernando Morientes (Valencia, £3m), Djimi Traore (Charlton, £2m), Antonio Barragan (Deportivo, £680k), Dietmar Hamann (Man City, £400k), Bruno Cheyrou (Rennes, free), Carl Medjani (Lorient, free), Michael Nardiello (West Brom, free), Djibril Cisse (Marseille, loan), Chris Kirkland (Wigan, loan)
Some of the last remnants of the depressing Gerard “Five Trophies in One Season” Houllier regime were shipped out this summer with “The New Zidane” Bruno Cheyrou sold on at a £4.5m loss, Carl Medjani (who?) released and Djibril Cisse sent (along with his broken leg) on loan to Marseille with a view to a permanent move.Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez, a man who found himself under pressure early last season after a dismal run of results, has gone British, signing two tearaways in Pennant and Bellamy for a combined £12.7m.  Much will hinge on how these two settle in with hopes for Bellamy very high.  Mark Gonzalez will battle to make the left-hand side of midfield his ahead of John Arne Riise (the world’s most unlikely womaniser) while the injury-prone Fabio Aurelio will hope to do the same to Riise at left-back.  Gabriel Paletta (20) may start challenging the increasingly-slowing Sami Hyypia for a starting spot.  Up front, Crouch and Fowler are unlikely to deliver 20 goals apiece.

Benitez already deserves the Manager of the Month award for bagging £5m from the sale of flops Djimi Traore and Fernando Morientes.

Prediction: 3rd
Why?: He’s spending a lot of money (and some of it dubiously) but he’s quickly building a team that could challenge for the league in the coming seasons – just not this season.  The Peter Crouch purchase is still a mystery – so much money for a limited player when he could have signed similar, highly-rated European-based players for roughly the same fee (Dimitar Berbatov, Dirk Kuyt).  But anyway, as long as Liverpool keep in touch Benitez will stay until he wins the league.
Look out for: Momo Sissoko – he’s getting better every week.
Manchester City
LS: 15th
In: Bernardo Corradi (Valencia, £1.5m), Joe Hart (Shrewsbury, £600k), Dietmar Hamann (Liverpool, £400k), Ousmane Dabo (Lazio, free), Paul Dickov (Blackburn, free), Hatem Trabelsi (Ajax, free)
Out: David James (Portsmouth, £1.2m), Lee Croft (Norwich, £600k), Willo Flood (Cardiff, undisclosed), Bradley Wright-Phillips (Southampton, undisclosed), Mikkel Bischoff (Coventry, free), David Sommeil (Sheff Utd, free), Geert De Vlieger, Karl Bermingham (both released)
Cliché number 1393874: “He’s a breath of fresh air”.  Stuart Pearce tells it like is and makes no excuses, often dismissing his team as rubbish (as he often had to in the second half of last season).  One thing is for sure, another season like the last and Pearce might find the Man City faithful turning away in their droves.  His summer signings are rather underwhelming with perhaps only Dietmar Hamann set to make a sufficient impact. Ousmane Dabo has a reasonable European pedigree but not one that would have top clubs banging his door down while right-back Hatem Trabelsi is a solid signing if he stays fit.

Bernardo Corradi has a mediocre striking record although he did manage 13 Italian caps (and two goals).  Paul Dickov might be more likely to score the goals that City will need to stay out of a relegation scrap.  Lee Croft, Willo Flood and Bradley Wright-Phillips all dropped down a division rather than sit on the substitutes bench and I’m somewhat surprised that these young players decided to move on so early in their careers.

David James has moved on.  Oh well.

Prediction: 11th
Why?: I quite like Man City and would like to see Pearce do well.  Claudio Reyna, Joey Barton, Richard Dunne along with young Micah Richards and the impressive Georgios Samaras should provide enough quality to ensure they are safe from a relegation scrap this season.
Look out for: Micah Richards.  He’s good.
Manchester United
LS: 2nd
In: Michael Carrick (Tottenham, £18.6m), Tomasz Kuszczak (West Brom, loan)
Out: Ruud van Nistelrooy (Real Madrid, £10.2m), Jonathan Spector (West Ham, £500k), Sylvain Ebanks-Blake (Plymouth, £200k), Quinton Fortune (Bolton, free), Eddie Johnson (Bradford, free), Tommy Lee (Macclesfield, free), Phil Picken (Chesterfield, free), Ben Foster (Watford, loan), Tim Howard (Everton, loan), Lee Martin (Rangers, loan), Luke Steele (Coventry, loan)
As a Tottenham fan I’m still laughing all the way to the bank with the ludicrous fee Sir Red Face paid out for Michael Carrick.  Anyway let’s see how he does – Fat Frank became quite a good player at Chelsea so perhaps Carrick will too.  The loan signing of Tomasz Kuszczak will present Alex with a good triple-word score at club Scrabble parties.Ruud is gone and the goals will have to come from Louis Saha (15 goals in two seasons), Alan Smith (Roy Keane’s replacement has 7 goals since 2004) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (no Premiership goal since 2003) – oh and Wayne Rooney too.
Prediction: 4th
Why?: Unbelievably Ferguson is still at the helm as United continue to paper over the all-too-obvious cracks.  A first team squad containing the likes of Silvestre, O’Shea, Fletcher and Richardson would have been unthinkable 4-5 seasons ago.  As Arsenal and Liverpool continue to make impressive inroads and recruit better players, United could slip further behind – especially without an out-and-out goalscorer.
Look out for: Gabriel Heinze to show Patrice Evra how it’s done.
Middlesbrough
LS: 14th
In: Julio Arca (Sunderland, £1.75m), Herold Goulon (Lyon, undisclosed)
Out: Franck Queudrue (Fulham, undisclosed), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Charlton, free), Danny Graham (Blackpool), Brad Jones (Sheff Wed, loan), Doriva (released), Colin Cooper (retired)
I wonder if Herold Goulon has ever seen a map of Britain?  Along with the more knowledgeable Julio Arca, Goulon is the only new arrival at the Riverside this season.  A long-running attempt to sign Chelsea defender Robert Huth collapsed when the defender failed a medical and Middlesbrough will be sweating over the center of defence with Southgate effectively retired and Ugo Ehiogu injury-prone, they need a reliable player to play alongside Chris Riggott. Some of the young players have shown promise in the last few seasons (James Morrison, Lee Cattermole, Jason Kennedy and especially Stewart Downing) but it’s unlikely they can provide enough quality to help Boro sustain a top half place this year.  Up front there is plenty of quality on show from powerful Yakubu, the much-improved Mark Viduka, the enigmatic Massimo Maccarone and the almost-forgotten Malcolm Christie so it’s at the other end that the worries are.
Prediction: 17th
Why?: It’s going to be touch and go for Boro this year but they should just about keep out of danger.  Gareth Southgate’s appointment reminds me of Chris Coleman’s at Fulham.  Likeable as he is, I just can’t see Southgate pushing Boro forward and he is likely to be a stop-gap manager until Gibson can recruit someone more experienced, perhaps from the lower leagues.
Look out for: James Morrison looks to have the potential to win a place in the Boro side.
Newcastle United
LS: 7th
In: Damien Duff (Chelsea, £5m)
Out: Amdy Faye (Charlton, £2m), Michael Chopra (Cardiff, £500k), Lee Bowyer (West Ham, undisclosed), Daryl Smylie (Livingston, undisclosed), Martin Brittain, Tony Caig, Robbie Elliot (all released), Lee CLark, Alan Shearer (both retired)
Glenn Roeder leads a club to seventh place in his first season…then effectively relegates them the following year.  Might sound like a much-repeated, overly-clever account of how Roeder’s West Ham career may be about to mirror his Newcastle career, but bear in mind that he first “achieved” such a fate with Watford!  So is it going to be a repeat performance?  Roeder sacked with Newcastle in the bottom six?Damien Duff is the only signing and while providing great value for money (assuming he stays fit), Newcastle are still several players short.  Alan Shearer is retired, Michael Chopra has moved on, Michael Owen might be out injured for the season – Luque and Ameobi anyone?  The defence is also a shambles.  Bramble and Boumsong are the footballing equivalent of Abbot and Costello, except funnier.

Midfield is solid with Scott Parker, Charles N’Zogbia and Nobby Solano but will Kieron Dyer be fit to play more than one game in a row?  And just what is James Milner’s situation?

Prediction: 9th
Why?: I don’t know to be honest with you.  Part of me feels that they will do nothing this season and hover in the bottom six of seven.  But then the other part of me thinks they will pick up a few good players before the transfer window closes and again in January and battle their way in to the top half.  Either way I don’t think Roeder is going to bring European football to St James’ Park for a second season (ie they won’t win the UEFA Cup either)
Look out for: Shola Ameobi to score double-figures.  Seriously, I don’t think he’s that bad.
Portsmouth
LS: 17th
In: David James (Man City, £1.2m), Sol Campbell (Arsenal, free), David Thompson (Wigan, free), Glen Johnson (Chelsea, loan)
Out: Brian Priske (FC Bruges, undisclosed), John Viafara (Southampton, undisclosed), Gregory Vignal (Lens, free), Hayden Foxe (Leeds, free), Vincet Pericard (Stoke, free), Gary Silk (Notts County, free), Aliou Cisse, Andrea Guatelli), Sander Westerveld (all released)
Wasn’t the end of last season fun with wheeler-dealer ‘Appy ‘Arry returning to helpless Pompey for hapless Alain Perrin after walking out on them 12 months earlier?  Although he pushed them in to the relegation zone upon his arrival including picking up just one point out of twenty-four between January and March, a last minute Pedro Mendes winner against Manchester City on March 11th kick-started an unbeaten run of six games which ultimately led to their survival.Although taken over by Russian millionaire Alexandre Gaydamak, Redkapp has found it hard to spend the money being given to him.  David James is a so-so acquisition who on his day is great but on other days is, well, you know – a calamity.  Campbell, despite his mental breakdown last year, can thrive out of the spotlight and Thompson and Johnson are decent players.  The off-loading of a string of nobodies (Priske, Viafara, Pericard) is an attempt to cleanse the clubs of the miss-steps taken under Professor Alain Perrin.
Prediction: 18th
Why?: No great escape this time for Redknapp who has been thwarted in his attempts to sign top players like Nicolas Anelka, Stilian Petrov, Gareth Barry and Jefferson Farfan (well, relatively top players).  If he is unable to get some quality in it is unlikely that the current squad can keep them out of the relegation scrap.  Lomano Lua Lua is the only top quality striker they have with the occasionally impressive Todorov (30 goals in 76 games) frequently injured.
Look out for: Lua Lua is the man.
Reading
LS: 1st in Championship
In: Seol Ki-Hyeon (Wolves, £1.5m), Sam Sodje (Brentford, £350k), Graham Stack (Arsenal, loan)
Out: John Mullins (Mansfield, free), Jamie Young (Wycombe, free)
They broke records all over the place last season but it is unlikely that Reading can complete the miracle this year with their biggest signing being a Championship player who failed to convince in that division.There is little Premiership experience in their squad and clearly the likes of John Oster, Steve HuntIbrahima Sonko and Steve Sidwell are going to have to step up to the plate.  Have Dave Kitson and Leroy Lita got enough in them to reach double figures this season?
Prediction: 20th
Why?: It’s a shame because I like Reading but it’s hard to imagine them winning more than 5 or 6 games this season.  Coppell has done a brilliant job though and there will be no shame in going back down again.
Look out for: Kevin Doyle scored 18 goals last season, joint top league scorer with the more-renowned Dave Kitson.  Can he do it again?
Sheffield United
LS: 2nd in Championship
In: Claude Davis (Preston, £2.5m), Rob Hulse (Leeds, £2.2m), Geoff Horsfield (West Brom, £1.2m), Mikele Leigertwood (Crystal Palace, £600k), Chris Lucketti (Preston, £300k), Ian Bennett (Leeds, undisclosed), Christian Nadé (Troyes, free), David Sommeil (Man City, free), Li Tie (free)
Out: Smon Francis (Southend, undiscolsed), Bruce Dyer (Doncaster, free), Phil Barnes (Grimsby, free), Luck Beckett (Huddersfield, free), Gary Mulligan (Gilliingham, free), Jonathan Forte (Doncaster, loan), Geoff Horsfield (Leeds, loan), Kevan Hurst (Chesterfield, loan), Ian Ross (Notts County, loan)
So just what is going to happen with Sheffield United?  With Neil Warnock pulling the strings, who knows?  A lot of people are tipping the Blades to go straight back down.The “players in” column is certainly a motley crew – Horsfield has already left on loan for Leeds for a start.  Chris Lucketti is a 34 year old center-back, Claude Davis an aggressive defender and Christian Nadé a player with just 8 senior goals in 68 games for Troyes and Le Harve.  Sommeil and Le Tie have valuable Premiership experience.
Prediction; 16th
Why?: I think they might just do it.  By hook or crook – and with the assistance of cult hero Ade Akinbiyi (remember when he <a href=”http://www.sporting-heroes.net/files_football/AKINBIYI_Ade_20011103_MM_L.jpg>took off his shirt</a> after scoring the winner in some Sky game years ago).  It will really all depend on how the other strugglers get on and if some of last year’s Premiership teams struggle as I expect then Warnock may live to fight another day.
Look out for: Warnock’s nuttiness on the sidelines.  It’s brilliant.
Tottenham Hotspur
LS: 5th
In: Dimitar Berbatov (Bayern Leverkusen, £10.9m), Didier Zokora (St Etienne, £8.2m), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Lens, undisclosed), Dorian Dervitte (Lille, undisclosed)
Out: Michael Carrick (Man Utd, £18.6m), Grzegorz Rasiak (Southampton, £2m), Stephen Kelly (Birmingham, £750k), Mournir El Hamdaoui (Willem II, undisclosed), Dean Marney (Hull, undisclosed), Mark Yeates (Hull, loan), Johnnie Jackson (Colchester, free), Claude Seania (Watford, free)
After a run-in with some lasagne last May, Spurs will be determined not to miss out on the big prize this season.  Against all the odds they came close to upsetting the form-book, losing the fourth-place they held for four months on the final day.  So in order to improve the squad, Jol has sold his best player.  Uh…Well to be honest I don’t believe he has.  Michael Carrick had a decent season but is by no means irreplaceable.  Didier Zokora has come in for less than half the money Jol managed to squeeze out of the Big Red Machine and rumours are that he’s … better than Carrick!  And more dynamic!  With Assou-Ekotto looking set to start at left-back, Lee Young-Pyo looks like he’ll have to battle for the right-back slot with Paul Stalteri – two of those most inept defenders in the league last season.

Up front Dimitar Berbatov is set to become the greatest Spur of all time and if Robbie Keane keeps up his great form, Spurs should have an even better points total than last season.

Prediction: 5th
Why?: You know huge advances have been made when Spurs fans are optimistic.  Anything less than 5th or 6th place would be disappointing for Spurs and could lead to the break-up of the team.  The pressure is on Jol this season.
Look out for: Michael Dawson – looks like he could be a better player than Ledley King.
Watford
LS: 3rd in Championship/play-off winners
In: Danny Shittu (QPR, £1.6m), Damien Francis (Wigan, £1.5m), Tamas Priskin (Gyori ETO, £1m), Sheku Kamara (Charlton, undisclosed), Scott Loach (Lincoln, undisclosed), Chris Powell (Charlton, free), Claude Seanla (Tottenham, free), Ben Foster (Man Utd, loan)
Out: Joe O’Cearuill (Arsenal, undisclosed), Jamie Hand (Chester, free)
When you’re bringing in hand-me-downs from wherever you can find them, what sort of player is Joe O’Cearuill to leave Watford for Arsenal!?  The 19-year old center-back has departed and in his place comes the brilliantly-named Danny Shittu from QPR.  Damien Francis, after failing to secure a first-team place in Wigan’s midfield, comes in for £1.5m and Tama Priskin is a young Hungarian striker.  Claude Seanla could be the wild card, the 18 year old former Spurs striker scoring 17 goals in 29 reserve games.  Chris Powell will add Premiership experience to the squad.
Prediction: 15th
Why?: There weren’t many Watford fans who could have seen beyond a mid-table finish at best for Aidy Boothroyd’s side last season, let alone promotion.  There’s something wonderful about his team that gives you the belief that he can extend the dream and get the best out of the likes of Clarke Carlisle, Jay DeMerit, Gavin Mahon and Marlon King.
Look out for: King scored 21 goals last season after 10 in two seasons for Nottingham Forest.  Amazing what a change of scenery can do for you.
West Ham
LS: 9th
In: Carlton Cole (Chelsea, £2m), George McCartney (Sunderland, £1m), Tyrone Mears (Preston, £1m), John Pantsil (Hapoel Tel Aviv, £1m), Jonathan Spector (Man Utd, £500k), Lee Bowyer (Newcastle, undisclosed)
Out: Elliot Ward (Coventry, £1m), Clive Clarke (Sunderland, £400k), Carl Fletcher (Crystal Palace, £400k), Chris Cohen (Yeovil, undisclosed), Darren Behcet (Yeovil, free), Shaka Hislop (FC Dallas, free), Trent McClenahan (Hereford, free), Petr Mikolanda (Mlada Boleslav, free), Stephen Bywater (Derby, loan), Yaniv Katan (Maccabi, Haifa, loan), Tony Stokes (Brighton, loan)
“Pardew Out” was a frequent chant during the promotion season of 2004/5.  I often wonder why a manager who achieved what he did – won promotion against all the odds and with the fans on his back – didn’t just stick two fingers up at the fans at the end of the game at the Millennium Stadium, go “f*** you” and walk out of the club.  Martin O’Neill endured similar while in charge of Leicester in Division One before leading them to three top-half Premiership finishes and two league cup wins.But I guess that’s why they are successful managers and I’m not.  While most fans were still uneasy with Pardew last season, he defied the odds again, kept West Ham in the top half most of the year and led them to within seconds of winning the FA Cup.  I think it’s safe to say that his position in Hammers folklore is now secure.

In comes the striker that doesn’t score, Carlton Cole (12 goals in 80 games for four different clubs), left-back George McCartney to challenge the improved Paul Konchesky and 23 year old Tyrone Mears, a right-back.  His best buy could be the versatile Jonathan Spector who he has picked up for half a million pounds.

Prediction: 8th
Why?: I know West Ham fans hate Spurs fans (and a vocal minority like to make those wonderful gas-chamber noises – so charming) but I have no axe to grind with them.  I’ve always liked them and they play great football.  I fancy them to finish top half again, Pardew further establishing his legacy at Upton Park.  It’s a strange legacy though because who would have thought that a West Ham team would be successful with Spurs “rejects” all over the pitch?
Look out for: Teddy to play on longer than Stanley Matthews.
Wigan Athletic
LS: 10th
In: Emile Heskey (Birmingham, £5.5m), Fitz Hall (Crystal Palace, £3m), Denny Landzaat (AZ Alkmaar, £2.5m), Emmerson Boyce (Crystal Palace, £1m), Tomasz Cywka (Gwarek Zabrze, undisclosed), Chris Kirkland (Liverpool, loan)
Out: Jason Roberts (Blackburn, £3m), Jimmy Bullard (Fulham, £2.5m), Damien Francis (Watford, £1.5m), Alan Mahon (Burnley, £200k), Michael Hazeldine (Alloa, free), Luke Joyce (Carlisle, free), David Thompson (Portsmouth, free), Stephane Henchoz (released)
Wigan defied the gravity of expectation last season as they hovered in the top half of the table all season.  Losing their first two games to Chelsea and Charlton, they must have feared the worst; but 9 wins and a draw from their next 10 games saw that they never looked back.Emile Heskey (14 goals in 68 games for Birmingham) has come in to replace Jason Roberts (37 in 93 for Wigan – although only 8 last season) while Jimmy Bullard has left for Fulham.  Two key players departing and only serial disappointment Heskey, Fitz “One Size” Hall and Emmerson Boyce coming in to redress the balance?
Prediction: 19th
Why?: It just doesn’t add up.  Key players depart after the club’s most successful season ever – and in comes Emile Heskey.  Midfielder Denny Landzaat could be an able replacement for Bullard.  It remains to be seen.  But with the poor form hangover from last season (Wigan only won one of their last 8 games), you wonder if things will catch up with the club now.
Look out for: I don’t know really.  Let’s say Pascal Chimbonda, who of course wants to leave.  He may play out of his socks to secure that move.

And finally…

So let’s have a look at that final table….

01 Chelsea Champions
02 Arsenal Champions League
03 Liverpool Champions League
04 Man Utd Champions League
05 Tottenham UEFA Cup
06 Blackburn UEFA Cup
07 Everton
08 West Ham
09 Newcastle
10 Aston Villa
11 Man City
12 Fulham
13 Charlton
14 Bolton
15 Watford
16 Sheffield Utd
17 Middlesbrough
18 Portsmouth Relegated
19 Wigan Relegated
20 Reading Relegated
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