There comes a time in every correspondent's life when he must place his hand in the fire. When he, or she!, feels the urge to go against everything he knows and make some predictions. For me, that time is now and with the way this season is shaping up I have very little chance of making accurate guesses. Anyway, here goes.
One thing that is undisputable this season is that the battle for the Champion’s League places will be even more bloodthirsty than usual. From my vantage point, there are seven teams with realistic aspirations of finishing up there (United, City, Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Villa and Spurs) and one set of fans who see it as their divine right (Newcastle).
Just quickly, I would like to say I am delighted to see the Geordies back in the top flight. It is easy to paint their supporters as delusional muppets (and I won’t do that) but my goodness they are loyal and they really do love their team. That is fine by me, and if you subscribe to the theory that football is entertainment, then Newcastle being around is a very good thing.
Every man and his dog and the dog’s vet will be predicting that this is City’s year to finish in the top four. I am not that man, nor his canine. This is not because of some misguided sense of civic pride. It is because I strongly expect the Bitters to change manager at some point during the season and place a large bullet hole in their own feet.
The Harry Redknapp management experience is in phase two at Tottenham. Phase one involves charming the fans and board and achieving moderate success. Phase two invariably tells a tale of overspending and sending the club to the brink of bankruptcy. I expect more money to be spent at White Hart Lane, Spurs to fail admirably in the Champion’s League and finish 6th this season. Then Harry can move straight on to phase three where he leaves via a back door as the club goes into administration and he starts the whole routine again with a new set of suckers.
Liverpool might just do something. Hodgson is an extremely good man manager, which is the exact opposite of Rafa Benitez, and with Joe Cole they now have three good players. Chances are that at any given time one of them won’t be injured and Roy will have the rest of the team playing out of their skins. Much as it hurts me to say it, Liverpool are a danger this year.
This Year's Top Four
So if all of these teams are going to be gunning for the top, who are the team that shall fall? I’m going to put my very fragile reputation on the line and guess Chelsea. Ancellotti’s Milan only one title and this year they will be going hell for leather to win the European Cup. I also don’t think their squad has been much improved by losing Cole, Ballack and possibly also Cashley. Outside the top four? I’m not sure, but not title contenders either.
Arsenal and Villa have both, in recent years, earned my respect through playing attacking football with a core of young players. Under Wenger’s stewardship you would expect them to be getting closer to winning the title rather further away. This could be their year. Alas for Villa, they keep being raided by bigger spending clubs and something may well crack, be it either Randy Lerner’s patience or Martin O’Neill’s temper. I have a feeling this will be the Ulsterman’s last year in Birmingham.
Where United sit in all of this is difficult to gauge. Where Fergie presides it is difficult to see United finishing outside of the top two. However, none of us can yet foresee the role injuries will play or how much the anti-Glazer stuff will play out this year. One thing is certain. They’ll put up a hell of a fight. Whether or not that’s enough to stop Newcastle winning the league though, I just couldn’t tell you.
Follow Mark on twitter and at thedevilinme.co.uk
Photography from Segozyme and Sailing "Footprints: Real to Reel" (Ronn ashore) at FlickrCcoms