I'm looking at this Big 7 as Chelsea, Man Utd, Arse-nal, Spurs, Man Citeh, Liverpool and, don't laugh, Everton. The plus 1 is Aston Villa - not because I think they can win the league, but because I think they will play a massive role in who eventually wins it. Aston Villa are this year's king-makers!
I wanted to leave this until as late as possible before writing it, purely and simply because most of the more significant transfer deals will be conducted over the next 3 weeks. Yes, there have been some important ones so far, but the tell tale ones will start next week. But I'm getting an idea of how I believe it will pan out this season and I've got eight months to make amends for anything really outrageous.
My guess is that most pundits will go one of three ways - they will either deem Man U or Chelsea as likely champions, but the brave few will go for Man Citeh. I believe the pundits will be suggesting that the 4th Champions League spot is going to be a battle between Arsenal, Liverpool and maybe Spurs (depending on how they handle European hangovers). No one will believe Everton stand a chance and that might have been an oversight.
In a change to my usual format; this is how I see the season concluding:
20th - Blackpool. There will be some real highs (probably beating Spurs or Man Citeh at home) and a lot of lows. A promising start will turn to mush, but Ian Holloway is virtually bullet-proof and won't lose his job unless he attacks his bosses. They will be mourned on their departure, because they have great fans - every other club will say so!
19th - WBA. Now, De Matteo might be the first management casualty; this team will flatter to deceive and will lose games by the handful, but probably only narrowly.
18th - Wolves. Avoided the drop last year because it was very poor in the lower reaches of the table. Don't score enough goals.
17th - Bolton. Owen Coyle might have a better team than he did at Burnley, but not by much. They will have runs, but will; be let down by a distinct lack of quality.
16th - Blackburn. It's a toss up whether these or Bolton will finish here. Big Sam doesn't have a good enough team to compete and one has to hope that some of hopeless hopefuls of last year come good.
15th - Newcastle. I'd sort of like to say they'll finish higher, but I'm betting most Geordies would bite my hand off at finishing 15th. They will have an edge over other strugglers.
14th - West Ham. After last season, anything above a relegation dogfight would be acceptable. Grant will stabilise the ship; will show promise.
13th - Wigan. Most people fancy them to go down and for Martinez to be fired. I think he'll have learnt from his first season and will be able to build; if he doesn't lose his players with ability in the next 3 weeks.
12th - Stoke. Ambitious club. Will improve and won't be scared of better opposition. However, still too much deadwood at the club for it to harbour a top 10 finish.
11th - Sunderland. Better than those below them. Not better than the ones in front. There could be a big gap in points before we get to...
10th - Birmingham. No better or worse than last season. I sort of fancy the boss to be the first to be sacked; but I don't think they're relegation material just yet.
9th - Fulham. It will be a steady and positive season for Mark Hughes. After the highs of last season, this might be a bit dull.
8th - Aston Villa. This is where I feel it starts to get really interesting, because, as I said, I feel Villa could be king-makers, but ultimately, they will be the losers. Villa still struggle for strength in depth and injuries could play a big part. Will cause umpteen shocks, but be shocked themselves at times; losing any ground they might have made up.
7th - Everton. I fancy 7th will be an unfair position to finish and it might be down to goal difference or a few points at most; because I think no more than 5 points is going to separate the top 3 and a further 5pts the next 4. In a nutshell, this team will draw too many games against teams they should beat.
6th - Spurs. I think they will do well in the Champions League, maybe even getting to the knockout stage, but the amount of games, injuries and lapses against lesser teams will see them have just the one season in the Champions League.
5th - Man Utd. The biggest shock of the season will be the team supreme's failure to get into the CL. They will be in the hunt for the entire season; in cups as well, but eventually the imbalance and dependence on specific players will take its toll. The misery will be compounded by...
4th - Man Citeh. They'll do what the minimum requirement was, but it may end with Mancini getting the boot. They will do what they did last season and be there all the time, but in the end they will win a lot of the games they drew last season and squeak over the line and break the Reds hearts.
3rd - Liverpool. It pains me to forecast this, even more in some ways than it does to forecast the eventual winner's. But I think Hodgson will do enough to put this team back on the right track. If fit and confident, Torres and Gerard are world beaters and with the right man leading them they will turn it around (especially if they get bought). Or, alternatively, they fizzle and pop and finish 7th.
2nd - Chelsea. They just won't have enough.
1st - Arsenal. This is going to surprise even the most firmest believers in my sanity, but I think this could be the year that they pull it off, against all expectations. I think they have enough youth and flare to damage teams and if they can score goals rather than try to pass the pall into the net, they will ultimately break my heart...
Yeah, I'm still wondering if I should just lie and not go with my beliefs...
FA Cup: Spurs (there's a 1 at the end of the year)
League Cup: Man Utd (but my gut feeling is that Everton might win it)
First manager sacked: Steve Bruce or Alex McGleish
Champions League: Barcelona (Spurs to be knocked out by them in the knockout or QFs)
Europa League: No one we care about.
Other forecasts: Charlton to win League 1. The Cobblers to struggle in the bottom half of the table of League 2. Stevenage to threaten for a play off position, but finish 11th. Rushden to gain automatic promotion to League 2 with Kettering. (Hey, some of it's got to be wishful thinking!)
Next season there will be a new player in the premiership; one with the 2nd richest man in the world at the helm. QPR could be the surprise package of 2011/12.
As for England and the new squad. Ho-hum. My bemusement is tempered a little by the fact that Defoe, Lennon and Crouch may have been left out with Spurs game against Young Boys of Switzerland in mind, but this wasn't what I expected and I'm not dramatically hopeful of any kind of improvement. The future is bereft of English talent, at the moment.