“Although each of last season’s top-three have changed managers, for Chelsea this feels more like a return to the good old days rather than a step into the unknown. The Mourinho-effect is likely to bring back the feel-good factor to Stamford Bridge after the sometimes poisonous atmosphere under Rafael Benitez last season. It’s not all just about the Portuguese, however; the Blues have made some astute signings, and with Oscar and Eden Hazard having a year’s Premier League experience under their belts, Chelsea look like a sound bet to crown Mourinho’s return with the title.”
Matt Gompels: Man United
“Whilst my head sees a conservative, Mourinho-managed Chelsea as the pragmatic choice for title winner, my heart would love to see United finally bring David Moyes’ some overdue silverware. The gravity of Alex Ferguson’s departure has made it easy to forget that United’s principal title rivals have also undergone extensive summer upheavals. Whilst Pellegrini seems to have brought a degree of sobriety to Man City relative to the often volatile Mancini, The Citizens’ extensive foray into the transfer market means that they are likely to be something of an unknown quantity, for at least the first part of the season. Conversely, Chelsea have been uncharacteristically quiet in the transfer market this year, and with a number of key players, Lampard and Terry in particular, approaching the twilight of their careers, I wonder whether the well documented ‘Mourinho-effect’ will be enough to re-invigorate a return to Premier League glory. United, admittedly, are not without their own troubles, with Rooney and the Fabregas saga at the center. Yet Alex Ferguson is no fool, United will have been well prepared for the inevitable transition, and I’m backing David Moyes for a title defence.”
Jonathan Mishull-Beech: Chelsea
“Have the best manager in world and a squad which is both competitive and a cohesive unit. Manchester United to come third, due to the loss of Ferguson and a squad which arguably overachieved, when considering their poor defence. City to come second on pure talent, but too many individuals to win the title.”
Grant McWalter: Arsenal
“Bold I know. But with the top three all changing managers, and Arsenal apparently committed to getting a talismanic striker by the end of the window, I think this could be Wenger’s last chance of a title. They’ve steadily built a good side, which just lacks that central striker, not just to get goals, but also to act as someone for the team to rally around. They could also do with a physical defensive midfielder, and more competition at centre back. But if they manage that, then a productive season with silverware (at last) surely awaits.”
“The self-proclaimed ‘Happy One’ looks for all the world an even better manager than he who guided Lampard and co. to an unprecedented ’04-’05 campaign in which the Blues turned Stamford Bridge into a fortress, establishing a defensive discipline which formed the backbone of subsequent league wins as well as the oft-derided European Cup win of 2012. With the magnificent trio of Hazard, Mata and Oscar backing up a good-old-fashioned powerhouse in the returning Romelu Lukaku, the Chelsea pensioners look to have found life in the old bones yet as they eye up yet another record-breaking season. With astute signings in the shape of Andre Schurrle and Marco Van Ginkel (who is bound to surprise plenty after an immensely impressive pre-season,) Chelsea look too strong for opposition wracked with managerial mishmash and transfer speculation.”
THE REST OF THE TOP FOUR
Joe Mansour: Man City, Man United, Tottenham
“Predictably, City have been active in the transfer window, but Manuel Pelligrini’s hiring seems to have added an uncharacteristic air of stability to City’s transfer business: Jesus Navas in particular looks an astute buy. Despite David Moyes’ well-publicized struggles in the Rooney and Fabregas affairs, predictions of Man United’s demise have been exaggerated, and although the title may be beyond them this year Robin van Persie should ensure a top-four finish. Joining them will be Tottenham; with or without Gareth Bale, the additions of Paulinho and Soldado to an already strong squad should give Spurs’ fans their much sought-after Champions League place. A lack of a top-quality signing at Arsenal, despite it being clear that there is money available, may cause unrest amongst fans of the Gunners, and this could finally be the year when Wenger’s magic runs dry.”
Harry Noad: Man City, Man United, Tottenham
“Though many have asked questions of City’s defensive capabilities, it looks likely that critics will again eat their words once pure firepower puts the blue half of Manchester firmly in second spot at the expense of their crosstown rivals. Alvaro Negredo brings buckets of goals from his time in Spain and should look to pin down a striker spot alongside the showstopping Sergio Aguero. With the free-scoring Edin Dzeko and new boy Stevan Jovetic providing competition, this is a forward line that is brimming with goals. Add in David Silva and the unstoppable Yaya Toure and you have genuine title contenders, even with a new manager and insatiable owners to consider.
It seems unlikely that the Red Devils will fall too far off their (effing) perch, but a slight decline seems inevitable in the aftermath of SAF’s incomparable reign. Though the goals of Robin Van Persie were undoubtedly key in their recapturing of the Premier League last season, it is his sometime strike partner who really holds the key to United’s chances this season. If (as has been mooted) Rooney does make the move to Chelsea this summer, he will be signing his long-time manager’s death warrant as his pens his shiny new (blue) contract. On his day, Rooney is as good a striker as any in the league, and will surely come back to bite if given half a chance.”
Matt Gompels: Chelsea, Man City, Tottenham
“With big name signings in Paulihno and Soldado, Tottenham are the talk of this transfer window. Factor in the increasing (!) possibility that prize asset Gareth Bale will remain at the club, and I think AVB will bring Champions League football to White Hart Lane next season. If Arsenal continue to stick to their guns (sic) and refuse to open that wallet, I can’t see them challenging Spurs.
VERDICT: Man City, Man United, Tottenham
Joe Mansour: Crystal Palace, Hull, Stoke
“Despite their managers’ top flight experience, a lack of Premier League pedigree amongst the playing staff could mean that Palace and Hull both struggle this year. Palace still lack a goalscorer, and will miss Wilfried Zaha, whilst despite the signing of Yannick Sagbo from Evian Hull missed out on both Charlie Austin and Gary Hooper, while fellow relegation candidates Cardiff have added well to what was already the strongest of the three Championship squads. Joining Palace and Hull will be Stoke City; fans are divided as to whether the Potters over- or under-achieved under Tony Pulis after five years in the top flight, but a weak squad will not be helped by the frosty reaction to Mark Hughes’ appointment. Like Wigan last season, Stoke may well finally pay the price for their acceptance of mid-table mediocrity.”
Matt Gompels: Hull, Stoke, Norwich
“The rough, raw determination that characterised Stoke under Tony Pulis seems to have dissipated somewhat under Mark Hughes, and I don’t think his side have enough stuff to keep their heads above water, or enough tough to come out of a relegation scrap. On paper, Crystal Palace would also seem like strugglers and they still lack a proven goalscorer, but cult Bristolian Ian Holloway showed with Blackpool that he could run a side on a shoestring and entertain us along the way. With Cardiff investing heavily and extensively in their squad, Hull would also seem a the more likely bet for an instant return to the championship, and as a left field pick, second season syndrome could well be on the cards for Chris Hughton’s Norwich.”
Jonathan Minsull-Beech: Hull, Cardiff and Stoke
“Palace to stay up as they are far more defensively sound than Blackpool were, and for sentimental reasons- I love Ian Holloway. Cardiff to go down because of a lack of firepower- whilst lots of different players scored, no one deadly goalscorer and the defences are better in the premier league, so can’t rely on the miserly defence that got them the title. Stoke have a weak squad and Mark Hughes has done poorly in his last 2 managerial appointments. Steve Bruce is a good championship manager, but not quite premier league standard, and Hull have failed to reinforce well over the summer.”
Alex Tyndall: Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Hull
“Given that Ian Holloway’s already said Palace are on “a hiding to nothing,” it’s clear not even the boss is expecting much from the Premiership. I have little faith in Steve Bruce at Hull. As a manager he’s never impressed me and I don’t see it changing this time. I’m willing to be surprised, though. As for Villa, they came out of last season in 15th, and have a really tough start (Games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool). They may well struggle to gather momentum in the critical run-up to Christmas. If things go wrong for them they may well be scuppered.”
Harry Noad: Crystal Palace, Hull, Sunderland
“A difficult choice, not because many teams stand out as relegation candidates but rather because the field is much stronger than it has been in seasons past. Crystal Palace look to be the only dead cert for the drop after failing to add to a squad that struggled at times in the second division last season. Glenn Murray’s injury woes mean Palace are deprived of the one player (following Zaha’s departure) that could feasibly be called ‘premiership standard’ for what could prove to be a vital first few gameweeks of the season. Though Dwight Gayle looks a decent signing, he is the very essence of unproven, and may struggle to cope with breaking down the best defensive lines in the country.
Despite having the affable and deceptively intelligent Steve Bruce at the helm, the newly Christened Tigers look set to go crashing out of the PL with more of a whimper than a roar. An impressive campaign last season papered over significant cracks in the lineup, with a few glaring holes yet to be filled over the summer months. Still, with the notable coup of Tom Huddlestone’s signing and a few more mid-sized names in the pipeline to join an already well-established core, Hull have a real chance of ‘doing a West Brom’ and establishing themselves as a club that overperforms year-on-year despite their modest means.
Sunderland, in contrast, have in Paolo Di Canio as unpredictable a boss as any, a man who looks as likely to set the Stadium of Light on fire and storm out as play attractive football and earn points on a regular basis. The clever signing of Emmanuelle Giaccherini could prove a masterstroke, but players like Stephane Sessegnon look to have lost much of their shine over the past twelve months. With the uninspiring Danny Graham shipped off to relegation rivals Hull, Steven Fletcher will be hard-pressed to get anywhere need the return Sunderland need of him if they are to mount a reasonable assault on mid-table. With Cardiff making all the right moves in the transfer market and leaning on the substantial skills of Malky Mackay, they look to have enough in the tank to ensure that it isn’t a case of three up, three down for the 2012 Championship promoted sides.”
VERDICT: Hull, Stoke, Crystal Palace
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