Well, we are nearly there and boy what a summer it’s been. Another managerial change, and much to the chagrin of Villa fans (at the time), not to mention those Blues across the City, we only went and took their manager—who’d have thought it.

So with the big kick-off just under two weeks away I turn my focus to the entire PL, not just our beloved Villa. I preview the fortunes of each team, picking out the star men at each club and the players to keep an eye on, as well as predicting the final finishing place for each team.

Of course, much can change between now and the season’s end so this is merely a guide as to the time of writing, but given my Copa winning tip in Uruguay I am confident that I won’t be too far away with most predictions. As ever it will be great to hear everyone’s thought’s: Maybe you fancy something completely different or have spotted a player that you think will star in the year ahead. Or maybe you agree with my assessment and can reinforce my belief. The teams are listed in alphabetical order, so part one covers A to M, with teams starting N to W featuring next week.

Runners and Riders

Arsenal: The ongoing transfer saga of captain Fabregas hangs over the Emirates, and with Nasri equally unsettled I think this will be the last season of Arsene Wenger’s reign. Add growing fan impatience and Wenger’s reluctance to buy big to the uncertainty over the future of their star players, and I think it will be another season of ‘if only’ for the Gunners. Gael Clichy is a loss at LB and has yet to be replaced. And for all their nice football, they lack a knockout blow compared to their title rivals, although the signing of Gervinho is good business. Sure they have great young players but it’s experience they lack and they lack a winning mentality. The defence in particular is a huge concern, particularly CB, with only Vermaelen showing real class—although young keeper Szczesny is certainly a great hope behind them.

Star Man: Cesc Fabregas. If he stays. Team leader and inspiration.

One to Watch: Wojciech Szczesny. World-class in the making, the young Pole is finally the answer to their goalkeeping woes.

Prediction: 4th

Aston Villa: A preseason which started with the controversial appointment of McLeish, but suddenly things are starting to look up. A good start is key to winning over the naysayers, and with an exciting blend of youth and experience we could be the surprise package this time around. In Given and N’Zogbia we have signed genuine quality to compensate for the loss of Young in particular, and it’s a chance for the other players so often overlooked when Young was here to take centre stage. We should certainly be less predictable than recent seasons and we have players with lots to prove who now will get their chance—I think of Warnock and Ireland in particular. With the defence better organized, and Darren Bent a guarantee of goals at the other end, we can be genuinely optimistic about the season ahead. The midfield formation holds the key and Makoun in particular will be a household name by season’s end. A cup final could be on the cards.

Star Man: Darren Bent. A goal machine who does exactly what it says on the tin.

One To Watch: Stephen Ireland.
Looks to have finally got his head right and if he gets back to the form he showed at City will be a revelation behind Bent.

Prediction: 7th & League Cup Champions

Blackburn Rovers: I can only see a season of struggle for Rovers who are going nowhere fast under Steve Kean. I will be stunned if he is still boss come Christmas, let alone the season’s end. They can be difficult to beat at Ewood, being organised and combative, but their away form is poor to say the least and they are limited tactically with a small squad. Phil Jones is a loss and Chris Samba remains a target for numerous clubs and could yet move: if he does they are in real trouble. When Kean stated he sees them playing in the Champions League within four years, I genuinely thought it was a typo that was supposed to read “Championship.” Uninspiring leadership can prove costly—just ask West Ham. I predict a relegation fight they will only just survive.

Star Man: Paul Robinson. Will be vital to their cause and has fully recovered from his England nightmare.

One to Watch: David Hoilett. The Canadian showed glimpses last season and will improve—an exciting prospect.

Prediction: 17th

Bolton Wanderers: In a season which promised so much last time around, Bolton eventually fell away badly in the new year and I expect a repeat of their 14th-place finish. Bolton will have to cope without the goals of both Johan Elmander and Daniel Strurridge this season and herein lies their problem. They do have a solid team, however, and Coyle will look to bring in some loan signings again to compensate given their cash problems. The big question mark is over the future of Gary Cahill, who has long been linked with a move away and has one year remaining on his contract. The only notable signings have been in midfield with Reo-Coker and Darren Pratley joining. Expect decent football again from a manager I have a lot of time for—his honesty is quite refreshing and, while aware of his team’s limitations, he sets them up to play decent football.

Star Man: Gary Cahill. Imperative that he stays if they are to retain a solid foundation at the back.

One to Watch: Lee Chung-Yong. Very tricky winger, his name literally translates as Blue Dragon.

Prediction: 14th

Chelsea: Surprisingly quiet to date in the transfer market given the obvious change in direction I expect under Villas-Boas. The loss of Michael Essien is a blow and I think it will take time for the new manager to transform an aging and ultimately defensive team into an attacking force such as he had at Porto. There will be massive pressure on Torres to recapture his form of a few years ago and Boas himself could find himself under pressure if Abramovich’s recent history is anything to go by—especially given the harsh sacking of Ancelotti, who did very little wrong. They certainly have the squad to challenge, however I think they’ll struggle to match last season’s 2nd place, and FA Cup glory is their best chance of silverware this time around.

Star Man: Frank Lampard.
Will again have to provide the goals from midfield, especially if the strikers fail again.

One to Watch: Ryan Bertrand. Promising LB and England U21 international may get some game time, especially in the cups.

Prediction: 3rd & FA Cup Winners

Solid and unspectacular best sums up the Toffees, who have probably reached a ceiling unless they can attract investment and a move from Goodison. A strong starting XI, their strength is mainly in defence and midfield, and it’s their lack of goals that has hampered them in recent seasons. Expect a repeat. They usually start poorly and give themselves much to do, however they do tend to come on strong after Christmas and I expect the same again. This time around, though, with other teams flexing financial muscle, I expect they will slip a few places unless Moyes can get in a loanee or two up front. Beckford is consistently inconsistent scoring the chances he really shouldn’t, and missing the easy ones—and this must be very frustrating for fans.

Star Man: Tim Cahill. The Aussie’s goals and aerial presence are vital to Everton’s chances

One to Watch: Seamus Coleman. Reminds me a lot of Gareth Bale, I expect the Ireland international to be a star for years to come and a target for top teams next summer.

Prediction: 10th

A great move in securing Martin Jol as manager after Mark Hughes’ shock departure. Fulham will continue to play good football under the Dutchman, however I think they’ll slip a few places as the players get accustomed to yet another new manager—their third in as many seasons. A solid and established squad, Fulham have a strong spine in Schwarzer, Hangeland, Dempsey, and Zamora, and it’s the latter’s goals that were missed last season. John Arne Riise is the pick of their new signings, the others relatively unknown to obscure in this country. But Jol has an eye for talent and I’m sure all will cope with the rigours of the PL.

Star Man: Bobby Zamora. A proven goalscorer at this level, his partnership with Dembele could be exciting and unpredictable in equal measures.

One to Watch: Marcel Gecov. Czech U21 international midfielder who starred at this summer’s Euro Finals, being named in Team of the Tournament.

Prediction: 12th

Liverpool: I’m not quite sure what to make of Liverpool, who have invested heavily if not absurdly in this transfer window. Do Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, and Jordan Henderson represent value for money coming in at a cool 49M? Not for me, especially given that they are top-heavy in midfield as things stand. Downing will be particularly important, and his delivery is seen as crucial to Carroll in particular. I think they would have been better off addressing areas that definitely needed reinforcing such as in defence (CB and LB would have been priorities for me), and this failure to do so (to date, at least) will again cost them a Champions League spot.

Star Man: Luis Suarez. His goals will be vital to any challenge they mount. Skillful, and a Copa winner over the summer, he tends to dive a lot and is very unsporting, but a great player nonetheless.

One to Watch: Emiliano Insua. Could be the answer to their LB woes if only they’d give him a run. However he, much like Johnson on the right, is a better attacker than defender.

Prediction: 5th

Manchester City: It’s now or never for Mancini, and after last season’s 3rd-place finish nothing less than a title challenge will suffice for the oil-rich half of Manchester. They finally started to look settled and played like a team toward the latter part of last season, which culminated in FA Cup success having resembled something more akin to skip-full of limbs pre-Christmas; every week saw needless changes just for the sake of it. I think Mancini finally knows something like his best XI and they have everything in place to win a first title in over 30 years. Having again shown no sign of let-up in transfer policy, Mancini’s main task will be keeping his glitterati playing staff happy. If he does, there will be a Blue Moon casting shadows over the rest of the PL and, in particular, over their bitter rivals across town. Even the Tevez saga doesn’t appear like it will de-rail them, with Aguero more than adequate as replacement if indeed his compatriot moves on.

Star Man: Vincent Kompany.
If there was a better defender last season, I didn’t see him. Every team needs a leader, Kompany is City’s. Most consistent player in the league for me.

One to Watch: David Silva.
Stop-start campaign last time as he got to terms with English football—he will be awesome this time around.

Prediction: Champions

Manchester United:
The current champions, if anything, look slightly weaker this time around despite spending a small fortune on De Gea, Ashley Young, and Phil Jones. All three are players of great promise and will improve, however not in time to prevent their city rivals from stealing a march and taking their crown. Van Der Sar is a huge loss and it’s a huge ask for De Gea to replace him seamlessly. Jones probably wasn’t really needed—I get the feeling Fergie bought him to simply prevent others, although he’s a better player than Smalling. I’m surprised Fergie didn’t go big and buy a world-class CM. They have too many similar players in Fletcher, Carrick, Park, and Anderson, and with Scholes gone and Giggs a year older again, it’s here were they are weakest—if indeed you can call that midfield weak. They won’t give up their title without a fight and could yet retain it if Fergie does as I suggest. I think Ferguson may also have one eye on restoring credibility having seen his troops taken apart by Barcelona in the European final, and this European quest (forlorn as it is) may give his neighbours the space they need.

Star Man: Wayne Rooney. His goals will be vital if Utd are to retain the title. Great when things go his way, but when they don’t…

One to Watch: Javier Hernandez.
Great debut season and Gold Cup winner with his nation. He now faces the weight of responsibility, and teams will know him, which makes it harder this time.

Prediction: 2nd

What do you think?

So that concludes Part 1. Obviously not all the One to Watch players are rookies, some like Stephen Ireland have a point to prove, while Hernandez and Silva face their second season—which can be a lot tougher as teams have been exposed to them already and will be ready for them this time.

So have I missed out on someone? Do you think City can be champions? Indeed, the Top 4 (according to me) featured in this part: Do you think anyone else can challenge from the teams listed above?

What about the transfer policies of the above teams? Did Liverpool really spend well this summer?

I’d love all your feedback and of course Part 2 comes next week, where the focus is going to be on the drop—with none of the above picked out as being relegated (however Blackburn are very close to it by my reckoning). In addition, I’ll also predict the league champions from across all the English divisions as well as my winners for the major continental and international tournaments in my Bozzy’s Banker section.

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