Last season: 3rd
Manchester City are being predicted to have a title push after signing Sergio Aguero, Stevan Savic and Gael Clichy this summer. Defensively, they have strengthened what is already a robust unit, and City seem to be avoiding a pitfall that many fall into; sacking a manager too easily. Whilst many accusations can be thrown at the Sheikhs who run the club, they deserve significant credit particularly given the criticism levelled at them at the time for sacking the ineffectual and limited Mark Hughes and replacing him with Roberto Mancini. With the exception of Andre Villas Boas, Mancini is probably the most tactically sophisticated manager in the league, and has crafted an intelligent side, weeding out the big egos at the club and moulding a team based of players willing to play for the team. When Tevez goes, City will still have a threatening forward line. David Silva provides creativity in front of Yaya Toure and Nigel de Jong, but how to get the best out of Aguero and Edin Dzeko? James Milner is a limited player, vastly overrated, as is Shaun Wright Phillips, whilst Gareth Barry has seen better days. City will challenge for the title, but they still have some way to go to figure out how to win the league.
Prediction: Title challenge
Last season: 1st
Manchester United won the league last year without ever really being at their best, but they didn’t need to be. Arsenal’s title push self imploded, Chelsea went into hibernation for the winter and Manchester City didn’t show the ambition to push on.
But United were still impressive in their uncanny ability to win games and get the results needed. In large part this owes to the fact that whilst they may not have the fantasy of past United teams, they have incredible efficiency. Ryan Giggs, despite his years, continues to lay on crucial passes at crucial moments, usually for Javier Hernandez or Wayne Rooney to score. And that is where United are so devastating. Give them a chance, and it will be taken. And in Hernandez, they have one of the world’s most outstanding talents. Nani has found some end product to his sometimes overly exuberant style, and in Antonio Valencia they have a player who offers both industry and skill. Ji Sung Park too, is the epitomy of United. He never runs out of energy, fights to the end and usually scores at crucial moments, as well as being technically excellent.
It is at the back where United are maybe most impressive though, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand a wall which attacks find it difficult to penetrate, unless armed with the creative tools of a Xavi or Andres Iniesta. With new additions at the back in Phil Jones and David De Gea, and Ashley Young offering a new attacking option, United are the best equipped team at the time of writing in the title charge. The one accusation that can be levelled at them is that they lack creativity in attack and that last year they were outplayed on occasion against teams they should have beaten easily, such as West Brom. But then again, they beat West Brom anyway, which sums United up perfectly. At present, the only team with the required tools to go the distance in the title race.
Prediction: Title winner
Last season: 12th
It’s been quite a summer for Newcastle United, who have been drawn into a war via twitter with their players. Jose Enrique and then Joey Barton have taken to the social media waves to criticise the club.
Something must be going on behind the scenes, as the club has despite the poor headlines, made some promising signings. Perhaps they just need a better PR agent. Or fans who pay attention. Either way, there is some promise in the moves they have made. If the injury prone Sylvain Marveaux can stay fit after moving from Rennes, whom he helped to a storming season last year in France, they have an excellent attacking midfielder to provide chances for Demba Ba, whose brief spell with West Ham last season showed that he could be trusted to find the net regularly. But Newcastle need another forward. They were rejected by Lorient’s Kevin Gameiro, a race they never looked like winning as they were up against much bigger clubs in PSG and Valencia. But they did surprisingly lure Yohan Cabaye from Ligue 1 champions Lille, a superb signing, an a huge improvement on Kevin Nolan or Joey Barton, whichever of the two he replaces.
Newcastle are still in the market for a forward, and are looking at PSG’s Melvut Erdink. His signing would go some way to solving their problems, but Newcastle’s defence looks vulnerable and without more goalscoring threats, may struggle to improve on last year’s finish. But they have bought intelligently, looking at the Ligue 1 market. Your average French player costs less than your average English counterpart, and usually has more technical skill and tactical awareness, which will serve Newcastle well. Though there is an adaptation period, France is the league most closely suited to the Premier League in terms of style and quality, and it is much easier to adapt coming from Ligue 1 than La Liga or Serie A.
Prediction: Lower mid table obscurity
Last season: 2nd in the Championship
Norwich came up last season in impressive fashion with Paul Lambert guiding his team back to the promised land after six years away. They won’t, and haven’t, spend millions in order to stay up, but rather would take the measured approach. Indeed their long term plan accounts for the possibility of relegation.
But they have brought in Anthony Pilkington and Steve Morrison from the lower leagues, and taken James Vaughan from Everton to bolster their attack. With the prolific Grant Holt and the creative Wes Hoolahan, Norwich should have plenty going forward but how well they fare defensively will be a key question. They conceded plenty of goals last season, indeed more than any of the other teams in the top six, and will hope Richie de Laet and Kyle Naughton, on loan from Manchester United and Tottenham respectively, can help shore up their back line.
Prospects of survival are realistic, but it will be a tough ask for Lambert’s men, whose team’s lack of experience at this level could count against them at the end of season relegation crunch.