1) Manchester United
7) Aston Villa
9) Manchester City
13) West Ham
17) West Brom
20) Hull City
I wish I could write different.
I wish I felt confident that this was the year, which I didn’t even believe before last night’s ignominy. I wish I could write that I didn’t think it would be same old, same old at the top of the table. But I can’t see any different.
I do believe this is the strongest Liverpool squad under Benitez. I do believe that if players can stay healthy (especially in defense), Liverpool will be better than last year. Dossena and Agger should improve the backline, which was my biggest concern from last season. Keane adds another dimension to the front line. And the young players such as Insua, Nemeth, Pacheco, Plessis and Spearing look ready for some first-team action.
But Manchester United and Chelsea are still far stronger and more experienced in the title chase. I still don’t know if I trust Chelsea – Scolari’s never done it at club level and they’ve got a packed midfield to accommodate – while Manchester United can’t play as well as they have the last two seasons (can they?), but both teams look head and shoulders have the rest. And unfortunately, I think it’ll be a two-team title race by the spring, with Arsenal, Liverpool and maybe Tottenham or another surprise duking it out for the other CL places.
In addition, and while I don’t put much store by it, yesterday’s game showed that Liverpool’s lacking a winger if they can’t get width from the flanks and the midfield’s congested (not completing any passes doesn’t help though).
I still think Liverpool’s good enough for third, and could even pull a title race out of their asses if pieces fall in the right places, but it’d take a lot of things to go well for that to happen. And regardless of league position (as long as it’s top 4), all I really want to see is progress, the same thing I’ve ask for every season.
For the rest of the table:
Tottenham, Pompey, Villa, Everton
Any of these teams could seemingly threaten the top 4. We saw signs of it last season; all keep improving, all keep closing the gap. Everton fans may be upset with a lack of signings so far, but if it ain’t that broke…
I still don’t trust:
Newcastle, Manchester City
No matter the money spent, I don’t know if these two will make the leap forward. Newcastle is Newcastle, while as much as I like Mark Hughes as a manager, I don’t trust Thaksin’s meddling. Jo should bag a bunch of goals once he settles after returning from the Olympics though.
Punchy, but still in the lower half:
These will not be fun away games. Keane will continue to improve the Wearsiders, while Megson has a decent replacement for Anelka in Johan Elmander.
Probably on the downswing:
Blackburn, Boro, West Ham
One of these three could easily slip into the next category. I feel bad putting Paul Ince’s side here, but I don’t know if he’s ready to manage at this level, and the losses of Bentley and Friedel will definitely be felt. Sorry, Guv’nor.
In for a relegation fight:
Fulham, Wigan, Stoke, Hull City, West Brom
I thought about combining the last two categories, because I don't think there will be much between 13th and 18th. I always fancy at least two promoted teams to drop back down, and Hull and Stoke seem as likely as Derby, Watford and others who eked promotion. West Brom is probably the strongest of the three and has the best manager in Tony Mowbray. That Wigan barely hung on by fingernails last season makes me think Albion could pip them to 17th.
FYI: I'm not doing the weekly Premiership predictions this season. They were far too embarrassing. Might transfer over to doing the CL once the group stages start, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.