THE RUNNERS AND RIDERS
Liverpool - Stoke City
Last Year: 6th
Big Signing: Stuart Downing £20 million from Aston Villa
Good news: Genuine optimism and a new attacking flair last seen during the mid 1990s 'Spice Boy' era.
Bad News: Dodgy pre-season form plus some defensive performances also reminiscent of the 'Spice Boys' era. In desperate need of a new centre-half.
Last major trophy: FA Cup (2006)
Although its tempting to look with some worry over a poor pre-season the truth to Liverpool's Dalglish revolution is probably best observed by how they finished last season. Added to that with the high-profile signings of Stuart Downing, Charlie Adam, Jose Enrique and the promising Jordan Henderson there is definitely the intent to do well this term. Contrast that to the dithering seen at the Emirates then you can see why we think the Reds may replace them in the Top Four places come the end of the season. The new American owners have backed the managerial team to the hilt now its the turn of Dalglish's men to deliver. It may not be their year this time around but Liverpool are certainly going to be fun to watch.
Last Year: 3rd
Big Signing: Sergio Aguero £38 million from Atletico Madrid.
Good News: Champions League qualification and a first piece of silverware in the cabinet since 1976, surely they'll now need to extend it.
Bad News: The awful thought that United may still pip them once again.
Last major trophy: FA Cup (2011)
The only frustration for City fans was that great though last season was (and it was!) it could have been even better. Whereas a certain other team down the road go for the jugular and eke out the three points, at times City appear happy to accept just a point. For the Premier League trophy to find its way into the Etihad Stadium this is an extra string that they'll need for their considerably richer than you bow. That said, the stunning debut of Sergio Aguero plus the possible capture of Arsenal's Samir Nasri suggests that this is something they'll be more than capable of doing, if Roberto Mancini is prepared to let them off the lead from time to time. Man for man they are by far the best team in the division, now is the time for them to prove it. And if in the end they do come up short don't bet against them having a very good season in the Champions League. By the way, who is that Carlos Tevez bloke?
Odds: 6/4 FAV
Prediction: 1st (CHAMPIONS)
Last Year: 1st
Big Signing: David de Gea £17.8 million from Atletico Madrid.
Good News: Clinched a record nineteenth title and following some summer tinkering look set to make it number twenty.
Bad News: The retirement of three United legends; Giggs and Fergie himself may only be a few short years away.
Last major trophy: Premier League Champions (2011)
United come into a new season freshened up with new signings Ashley Young, Phil Jones and Edwin van der Sar's replacement long-term David de Gea. Having now firmly established themselves as England's most successful club Fergie will hope to put them firmly out of reach. Even accommodating for increasing injuries the spine of the side looks as strong, despite ongoing injury concerns for Ferdinand and Vidic. And if anyone thinks that the emergence of their 'nosy neighbours' will cause them to falter they may want to think again. The bloody-mindedness of the manager reflects perfectly on the team who'll now have the incentive to work doubly-hard as always. Added into the mix you have United's outstanding home form where they only dropped two points all last season, and that to West Brom. If that sort of form is maintained the Premier League trophy is going nowhere. But is there any hope for the chasing pack? The early form of De Gea has caused a few anxious reports and some of their away performances last year were nothing special. Overall though Manchester United know how to win Championships, the others frankly don't.
Prediction: 19th (RELEGATED)
Last Year: 12th
Big Signing: Yohan Cabaye
Good News: A few new signings and the hopeful return of Hatem Ben Arfa from long term injury.
Bad News: Still no sign of the Carroll money, the strange sale of Kevin Nolan to West Ham and the ongoing stranglehold of Mike Ashley and his cronies.
Last major trophy: Inter Cities Fairs Cup (1969)
Yet another summer, yet another summer of turmoil at St James' Park. This time centreing around the continuing adventures of one Joseph Barton esquire. Added to the mix at football's own clown academy is the disquiet surrounding manager Alan (Aha!) Pardew who has hardly set the imagination alight up on the North East. Constant rumblings about him being one of Mike Ashley's 'yes men' has done him little favours. On top of that the sales of many of the men who did so well in the Premier League last season has upped the pressure a fraction more. Certainly the opening day scoreless draw at home to Arsenal could yet prove to be a vital point, but as the season wears on things could get decidedly uncomfortable in the St James' hot seat. The Magpies could well be involved in another relegation fight and one which they may not win.
last Year: 2nd in the Championship.
Big Signing: Steve Morison £2.8 million from Millwall.
Good News: After a despairing slide into League One following two successive promotions the Canaries find themselves back in the Premier League.
Bad News: Delia Smith retiring as head of the club's catering business... that's it.Last major trophy: League Cup (1985)
Six years after their last dalliance with the top flight, Norfolk's finest are back. But this time they'll hope to survive for more than one season and with manager Paul Lambert having instilled a strong level of belief with his players there'll be no need for a slightly tipsy Delia to step onto the pitch and ask where the 'twelfth man' is. Lambert seems to be trusting City's survival on youth and combined with enthusiasm of both players and manager they could well provide a few nasty surprises for the unwary visitors to Carrow Road. Survival is a very realistic target. We're also looking forward to seeing if captain Grant Holt re-grows that bushy 'tache for 'Movember'.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Prediction: 20th (RELEGATED)
Last Year: 1st in the Championship
Big Signing: DJ Campbell £1.2 million from Blackpool.
Good News: A first season in the Premier League since 1996 and a takeover by Tony Fernandes.
Bad News: Uncertainty over the future of manager Neil Warnock as well as few pre-season signings.
Last Major Trophy: League Cup (1967).
Despite the joy surrounding promotion back to the top flight a cloud of uncertainty hung miserably over Loftus Road throughout the summer. Constant rumours over the future of manager Neil Warnock as well as uncertainty over a possible takeover all came to something of a head with an opening day home thumping at the hands of Bolton Wanderers. Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes has since bought the club and furthermore has promised funds for new signings. Which is not a bad plan to be starting with. Names such as DJ Campbell and the perma-injured Kieron Dyer have already joined the club, not exactly earth-shattering signings to get you off your £50 a game seat! On the plus side last season's magician Adel Taraabt has vowed to stay on despite reported interest from French giants PSG. The Hoops may well need him. Fernandes has also promised to back Warnock, but as Sam Allardyce discovered last season sometimes new owners make a sacrificial lamb out of the manager. If they pull the plug on Neil Warnock's tenure the Hoops may well quickly find themselves back in the Championship.
Last Year: 13th
Big Signing: Jonathan Woodgate FREE
Good News: Yet another season in the Premier League to defy and annoy the critics.
Bad News: Rumours of a softer approach to their play were dispelled on the opening day against Chelsea.
Last Major Trophy: League Cup (1972).
If Stoke can match the achievements of last season then manager Tony Pulis will again have done an exceptional job. The highlight of last season was primarily their FA Cup run. Which, following an exceptional 5-0 hammering of Bolton in the Semis, took the Potters to their very first ever Final and also qualification for Europe. Not bad for a team derided by some as little more than a pub side. Certainly Pulis won't and care what the critics say about him and his club and will no doubt carry on in the same vain. Another season clear of relegation worries beckons for Stoke, the Europa League won't quite know what's hit it.
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