Premier League Season Predictions

Posted by Ravi Ubha

Manchester City celebration
no_source / PAUL ELLIS/Getty ImagesWill Manchester City successfully defend its Premier League title?

Euro 2012 and the Olympics made the summer progress much quicker for soccer fans usually tortured by a nearly three-month adjournment.

Yes, the new Premier League season is already here.

Manchester City is seeking a repeat, while Manchester United and Chelsea hope to make its stay at the top a brief one.
How will all 20 teams finish? Here's our forecast, which is sure to go as pear shaped as Andy Carroll's Liverpool career.

20. Reading: Reading won the Championship thanks to the stingiest defense in the second tier – and a tidy manager, Brian McDermott – but it's unlikely the Royals will be as efficient as they face much stiffer competition.
Reading has always spent within its means and will be relying on its lone big signing, Pavel Pogrebnyak, to carry much of the load up front. If Adam Le Fondre, who has scored everywhere, and Pogrebnyak can add support, Reading has a chance of staying up. Jason Roberts contributed last season, although he's never been able to produce in the Premier League. McDermott's team will scrap, but Russian owner Anton Zingarevich needed to give the gaffer a little more cash to spend in the off-season.

19. Wigan: Roberto Martinez's good relationship with owner Dave Whelan kept him at Wigan when Aston Villa was hovering last year, and Martinez was initially the favorite to land the Liverpool job when Kenny Dalglish left. Martinez stayed put. The Spaniard earns praise for sticking to a pleasing style, and not many teams performed better than the Latics in the final two months of the season. One more time they escaped relegation.
However, striker Hugo Rodallega and midfielder Mohamed Diame, who has the potential to be world class, have exited, and Victor Moses, the top performer down the stretch, may join Chelsea. This time, Martinez won't be able to engineer another minor miracle, even if Martinez signed a replacement for Rodallega, Arouna Kone.

18. Swansea: Unable to retain Gylfi Sigurdsson, Swansea lost a rare, valuable commodity: A goal-scoring midfielder. Even more vital was the loss of manager Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool and highly rated but overvalued midfielder Joe Allen, now a Red, too. Scott Sinclair could join them in leaving, linked with Manchester City.

Michael Laudrup, the former Real Madrid and Barca man, stepped in and vowed to stick with Rodgers' version of tiki taka.
Laudrup has had mixed success as a manager and will have to acclimatize to a new league. At least he'll have attacking midfielder Michu, who attracted interest from bigger clubs, Danny Graham, who proved he can score in the Premier League, and keeper Michel Vorm.

But all the changes make Swansea the likeliest candidate to suffer from Second Season Syndrome.

17. Southampton: Three years ago, Southampton was in trouble financially. Its future hung in the balance. But saved by late Swiss owner Markus Liebherr, the Saints under Nigel Adkins have earned promotion in successive campaigns. They played an exciting, attacking brand of soccer that produced a Championship high 85 goals.
Following Carroll and Grant Holt, could Rickie Lambert become the third big striker from a promoted side in three seasons to take the EPL by storm? Jay Rodriguez, a top prospect bought from Burnley, Adam Lallana, Guilherme (Guly) do Prado and Billy Sharp all scored at least nine league goals in the Championship, giving Southampton more scoring options than Reading. If Southampton bypasses a return to the second tier, like Norwich, goals, not defense, will be the reason.

16. Norwich City: Expect less excitement at Carrow Road this season. Paul Lambert bid adieu and in came the more cautious Chris Hughton. Hughton did little wrong at Newcastle and Birmingham, and he wants to shore up Norwich's leaky defense. Outside the bottom three, no one conceded more.
Yet outside the top 10, no one scored more. Bettering the defense would lead to more draws, for example, away from home, but also fewer wins, and wins, not draws, are more crucial at the bottom of the table. That's Hughton's conundrum. Holt pledged his future to Norwich weeks after handing in a transfer request, and assuming he's fit, will hit double digits again in the Premier League to help Norwich steer clear of the bottom three.

15. West Ham: When West Ham played Blackpool in the Championship playoff final at Wembley, it was good news for the Premier League: One charismatic manager would be returning to the elite division. Ricardo Vaz Te's late goal meant Sam Allardyce, not Ian Holloway, got the nod, also saving 'Big Sam' from the sack.
With Allardyce's vast experience, and mostly success, in the Premier League, West Ham has a head start on Southampton and Reading. The Hammers have players with Premier League experience in veteran Kevin Nolan, always good for goals from midfield, Mark Noble and Jack Collison, to name a few. Alou Diarra adds steel in midfield. If Vaz Te can back up his impressive 2011/2012, he'll be the offensive leader. And Allardyce's teams will always nab goals from the trusted long ball approach. West Ham will do enough to survive.

14. Aston Villa: A ball hasn't been kicked, but the mood is so much better already among Villa fans: The unpopular (from the start) Alex McLeish is no more, replaced by Paul Lambert, a manager who puts more emphasis on going forward.
That change in philosophy, coupled with Villa's younger players having a year more experience, should lead to better results. Ron Vlaar is a good buy in the center of defense, taking the spot of the mediocre James Collins. The best news, though, for Villa is the return to fitness of Darren Bent, a proven predator in the box. If Marc Albrighton, once he comes back from injury, and Charles N'Zogbia can recapture the form of two seasons ago, even better.
Don't look for a top-half finish. But this season will be smoother than the past two.

13. West Bromwich Albion: He's worked under managers with hefty reputations – Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Dalglish and Gianfranco Zola. Now Steve Clarke has a chance to shine on his own as West Bromwich Albion boss. The bad news for Clarke? WBA can only go one way, and that's down, after achieving its highest ever finish in the Premier League (10th) with Roy Hodgson in charge.
That said, not many Baggies fans would expect another top 10 finish. They'd take 17th. Clarke won't mess that up. The signing of Markus Rosenberg gives Clarke three, maybe four, decent strikers for a team of West Brom's calibre (Peter Odemwingie, Shane Long and the wildcard on loan, Romelu Lukaku, are the others).

12. Sunderland: Martin O'Neill is in charge for the entire season (presumably), so the Black Cats needn't worry about relegation. O'Neill lifted Sunderland when he took over from Steve Bruce in December, and he continues to be one of the most respected managers around.
But Sunderland needs to get the chequebook out to help the Northern Irishman. The options in the attacking third are limited to Stephane Sessegnon, Sebastian Larsson and James McClean, and McClean is inexperienced.
Sunderland wants to buy Steven Fletcher from relegated Wolves. Fletcher would give Sunderland an established striker; injuries have hampered Fraizer Campbell, but even without them, is he Premier League quality?

11. Stoke City: They continue to be the most unfashionable team in the Premier League, but Stoke City won't mind one bit. Stoke defied the odds to stay in the Premier League when promoted in 2008 and has been fairly comfortable ever since, boosted by the loudest fans in the division.
Nothing suggests Stoke's Premier League spot will be under threat this season, and not competing in the Europa League makes Tony Pulis' imposing side sharper. The signing of midfielder Michael Kightly brings a little flair, and one of these seasons striker Kenwyne Jones will live up to his potential.
Watching Rory Delap's long throws into the box (Ryan Shotton is the heir apparent) never gets boring.

10. QPR: May 13 was a turning point in Manchester City's history: An injury-time win over QPR sealed the Premier League title. It was also an important day for QPR, which survived despite the last-gasp defeat. Who knows how much money wealthy owner Tony Fernandes would have spent if Rangers dropped down.
Fernandes is keen to avoid a jittery relegation scrap, and in allowing manager Mark Hughes to spend, he'll be breathing easier in April and May. Ji-Sung Park, Junior Hoilett, Andy Johnson, Robert Green, Djibril Cisse, Bobby Zamora and Fabio da Silva (on loan) have given Rangers a different, and much better, look compared to 12 months ago. All Cisse needs to do is stay away from the red cards.

9. Fulham: Martin Jol continues to transform Fulham. Danny Murphy's five-year spell at Craven Cottage came to an end, and strikers Zamora and Johnson, once Fulham's starting two, made the short trip to QPR. Clint Dempsey – who Jol wants to stay – is desperate for a move to a bigger club and may well still get his wish.
Jol's first season was a success. Fulham overcame a slow start to finish ninth, and Jol made potentially one of the signings of the off-season by landing Rodallega. His two goals for Wigan last season aren't an indication of his ability. Holding on to Dempsey and Moussa Dembele would prove to be another scalp. Watching winger Kerim Frei develop will be fun.

8. Newcastle: At the start of last season, Newcastle was simply hoping to stay in the Premier League. By the end of it, the Magpies were almost in the top four. Alan Pardew did a sterling job behind the bench – Chris who? – and made the signing of the season when he brought in Papiss Cisse from Freiburg. Cisse picked up where Demba Ba left off, scoring 13 goals in 14 league appearances. Many were of the spectacular variety.
The midfield gelled, Fabricio Coloccini played like a captain in the heart of the defense and Tim Krul emerged as one of the league's top keepers. But time for a reality check. Cisse won't be as good (he can't, can he?), the defense will ship more goals and playing in the Europa League will stretch Pardew's squad. Still, the Geordies won't be upset with a second straight top-10 result.

7. Everton: Goodison Park won't be the same without Tim Cahill, the towering Australian who always seemed to score key goals. He was a fine servant, even if he slipped last season. Everton manager David Moyes never has much cash to throw around, yet he was able to reacquire Steven Pienaar to give Everton another fan favorite. And Steven Naismith, one of several who left financially stricken Rangers, pads the midfield. If Naismith can rediscover his pre-injury form and adapt to English soccer, he could be one of the pickups of the season.

Moyes says he's still looking around for forwards (of course they'd have to be bargains), but having Nikica Jelavic for a full season is a boost. What odds of Everton finally starting a season well? As for the departure of Jack Rodwell, well, his Everton career never really got going. Have fun sitting on the bench at Man City, Jack.

6. Liverpool: Liverpool was in a no-win situation when looking for a new manager. Hire a big name from the continent and some would have questioned why a domestic manager with a good record was overlooked. Hire that young, progressive manager and others would say he's in over his head. We'll find out soon enough if Rodgers (the second option) and the neat, possession based style he preaches will mesh with the players at his disposal. Each of Liverpool's first five league games is tough.

A new manager and different approach will have to make the difference, since Liverpool has only made two notable buys in Allen and Italian striker Fabio Borini while losing Craig Bellamy, Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt. Thinking more positively, Luis Suarez's season probably won't be interrupted by a suspension, Steven Gerrard and Lucas are healthy, and some of the posts Liverpool hit last season will turn into goals. Even with an improvement, it won't be enough to claim a Champions League place.

5. Arsenal: This summer should have been uplifting for Arsenal fans: Attacking players Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla were all handy pickups, and bullish midfielder Jack Wilshere, even if he won't be ready for the start of the season, is getting closer to a return. But then Robin van Persie was sold to Manchester United. Some Arsenal fans will say getting the reported 22 million pounds for the Dutchman was good business, but all Arsenal moves these days seem to be about business instead of winning trophies. As Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla arrived, so many other transfer targets over the years went elsewhere. Van Persie played a part in 53 percent of Arsenal's league goals last season (goals and assists), a whopping figure. Alex Song, tied for fourth in the league in assists and who often combined with van Persie, is being pursued by Barcelona. Finishing fourth should be the goal.

4. Tottenham: This is going to be interesting. Run out of Stamford Bridge by the players, Spurs, strangely (and admirably?) didn't let that deter them from hiring Andre Villas-Boas. The relaxed, arm-around-the-shoulder approach of Harry Redknapp was thus replaced by a sterner character very much into tactics. Villas-Boas said he's learned from his time at Chelsea, which presumably means he'll focus more on his man management.
You can't help but think this could go all wrong for Tottenham, but Villas-Boas, not so long ago, was one of the hottest managerial properties on the market.

Signing Sigurdsson and defender Jan Vertonghen strengthened Tottenham's squad, and Tottenham is sure to ink at least one high-profile striker (look for Emmanuel Adebayor, for one, to sign) before August concludes with the money it will receive for selling Luka Modric to Real Madrid. Tottenham is better equipped to deal with the loss of Modric than Arsenal is in losing van Persie, and will also no doubt try to import a similar midfielder. However, and unlike last season, Tottenham won't challenge for the title into the new year.

3. Chelsea: Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich finally got the title he wanted: The Champions League. But unfortunately for non Blues faithful, he hasn't gone away. Instead, the spending has ... intensified. The future is rosy in midfield, with Oscar, Eden Hazard and Marko Marin all moving to west London. Moses remains a target. It should make Frank Lampard's transition to the bench easier.

Roberto di Matteo had the golden touch when he replaced AVB, and while the gods were on his side, he was far more popular than the Portuguese. The players played for him. Di Matteo's task will be to make his newish team gel, and he'd better do it fast since Abramovich begrudgingly kept him on following the Champions League success. Didier Drogba's absence is a massive one, yet Fernando Torres will take comfort in knowing he's the main man up front. No sixth place finish this season.

2. Manchester United: Despite the capture of van Persie, question marks abound for the Red Devils, especially involving the back four. The right back (Rafael da Silva) is a young enigma who didn't cover himself in glory at the Olympics, the left back (Patrice Evra) is creaking, and the first-choice central defensive pairing that was once the best in the league (Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand) has been hit hard by injuries. Further, can keeper David De Gea be trusted yet? In midfield, United counted on someone who came out of retirement for inspiration (Paul Scholes), and a proven, aggressive ball winner is lacking.

It's not all gloomy. If Shinji Kagawa can make a quick adjustment to the Premier League, he adds much-needed creativity in the middle of the park, and van Persie can make goals, not just score them. How will Fergie slot RvP into the lineup? Behind Rooney?
Regardless, United will be chasing the Noisy Neighbours again.

1. Manchester City: Roberto Mancini's management skills were questioned, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez were trouble makers, and David Silva slumped in the second half. Despite all that, City won the title, a reflection of how poor the chasing pack was – but also City's resiliency. Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero were City's rocks up the middle.
With a first Premier League title under its belt – the hardest one to nab, some would say – making it two in a row could be easier, especially if Balotelli matures (yes, a big 'if') and Mancini makes a signing or two before the transfer window shuts.
Mancini hasn't been happy with City's inactivity in the transfer market, but can you envisage the Citizens not making moves before August ends? As it is, City still has more depth than anyone else in the Premier League.

Back-to-back titles for City, and the margin of victory will be more than goal difference.

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