As is perhaps traditional on the eve of the new season, I thought I’d put out my predictions for the winners and losers come the end of the 2012/3 campaign. Feel free to let me know what you think, and we’ll have a look again come May!
Champions: Manchester City
Rest of top four: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea
Relegated: West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City, Reading
Although they haven’t been as active in the transfer market so far, I still fancy Manchester City to win a second successive title. They have effectively gained a player in Carlos Tevez who played only a minor role last season (at least on the pitch), and as long as they can cope with the loss of Yaya Toure to the African Cup of Nations mid-season, and probably strengthen at the back, I still think they’ll be too strong for the rest. You can expect Manchester United to put up a mighty fight to regain top spot, and the signing of Van Persie will certainly make them an even stronger proposition this time round. And although Arsenal have lost the impressive Dutchman, they’ve bought well in the summer, so I expect them to finish third. Chelsea still have the experience and the players to get the final Champions League spot, pipping the other contenders who I expect to be Spurs, Newcastle, and a revitalised Liverpool.
At the other end, I predict a tough year for West Brom without Roy Hodgson. Steve Clarke will have to maintain Albion’s excellent defensive performances and hope for a good number of goals from Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie. Of the clubs who will experience second season syndrome, I expect Norwich to suffer the worst and face the drop, although having said that, I don’t expect as strong a performance from Swansea this time round either. Of the promoted clubs, unless Reading get a lot of goals from Pavel Pogrebnyak, I don’t expect their stay in the Premier League to last longer than the one season.
Champions: Bolton Wanderers
Promoted: Cardiff City
Play Offs: Leicester City, Leeds United, Middlesborough, Brighton & Hove Albion
Relegated: Barnsley, Bristol City, Ipswich Town
Bolton look best equipped of the relegated sides to bounce straight back, not only with new players signed, but also players missing due to injury returning to bolster the squad. There still seems to be too much unrest at Blackburn, and a lack of confidence at Wolves to see them challenging. Malky Mackay has bought well in the summer, and I expect Cardiff to go one better than last season and get the second automatic spot. In terms of play-off challengers, Brighton are another team who have strengthened well in the summer, Leicester still have the players capable of making a challenge, and I fancy Neil Warnock will work his magic again to bring Leeds into contention. Middlesborough have the experience of missing out last season to aid them to gaining the final spot.
At the bottom, Barnsley were fortunate for the demise of Portsmouth that allowed them to escape the drop. Similarly, Bristol City fell short of the 50 point mark that usually defines safety, and their squad doesn’t look much better equipped to improve on last season. Ipswich I am predicting as the surprise package down the bottom, a mixed preseason means nothing, but the squad lacks depth and is carrying some expensive dead wood and this could cause problems. Crystal Palace will be relying on a lot of young players to keep them up, so will need a strong start similar to last season if they are to avoid getting involved at the wrong end of the table. Of the promoted sides, Huddersfield look in most danger of slipping straight back down, and much depends on them keeping hold of star striker Jordan Rhodes.
Champions: MK Dons
Promoted: Swindon Town
Play Offs: Brentford, Crawley Town, Scunthorpe United, Sheffield United
Relegated: Portsmouth, Walsall, Hartlepool United, Doncaster Rovers
MK Dons have been knocking on the door for a couple of seasons and I fancy them to go one better this season, they look best equipped to lead the way. Swindon are on a strong upward momentum, and they look a team that could go straight through League One. In the play offs there looks like a number of teams who could finish in the four spots, including last year’s runners-up Sheffield United. Scunthorpe look a strong side but might not have enough goals in them to get automatic promotion, Crawley have the finances to compete in the league, while both Colchester and Brentford have quietly been building effective sides, and I’m going for Brentford to just pip the Essex based club to the final spot.
At the other end, Portsmouth are in such a mess, you want them to just complete the season; if they do they only look likely to go one way. Walsall have had a huge player turnover which could go either way for them, but I’m predicting it’s downwards. Bad news for Jeff Stelling is that I feel his Hartepool United team don’t have enough goals in them to survive, and Doncaster are another club in something of a mess after poor management, so I fear they may have a second successive relegation.
Champions: Bristol Rovers
Promoted: Gillingham, Southend United
Play Offs: Bradford City, Cheltenham Town, Chesterfield, Wycombe Wanderers
Relegated: Barnet, Burton Albion
League Two is another one where there seems to be a lot of teams with realistic ambitions of promotion. In terms of the likely automatic choices, you have to fancy Mark McGhee’s Bristol Rovers, and I’m going for them to top the table come May. Martin Allen has a habit of putting good sides together, so I’m going for Gillingham to join them, and Southend have further strengthened an already decent squad. There are a number of sides contesting the play-off spots, and as well as the clubs mentioned above, promoted Fleetwood have a squad capable of making a challenge, also Torquay I expect to be there or there abouts.
At the bottom end, as a Hertfordshire lad, it pains me to say it but I see another season of struggle for Barnet, and it may be third year unlucky for them. Of the other clubs likely to join them, I’m going for Burton Albion to return to the conference.
Ok…that’s my neck on the line…what do you think? Feel free to comment below.