How they'll finish... maybe
As the 2007/08 season draws ever closer, the final few transfers of the summer are being concluded to try and give each team the best chance of success.
Man United have spent the most and it should guarantee them the title, while Liverpool may have the edge on a surprisingly stingy Chelsea this season. As for the rest, there are few surprises, although all will become clear by May 2008.
Manchester United have spent over £50million this summer on Anderson, Nani and Owen Hargreaves and are a team building for the future. Surprising most by winning the league last season with free-flowing attacking football, United have built on an already strong squad and have very few weak links.
The returning Ben Foster is unfortunately out until March with a knee injury, but Tomasz Kuszczak will provide competition for Edwin Van der Sar in goal, while United have released the inconsistent Kieran Richardson to Sunderland. Only a major injury to either Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo could dent their title hopes and even then they are covered. With Carlos Tevez finally manufacturing his exit from West Ham.
Squad depth is a key component of success, and Liverpool have shown great ambition in the transfer market this summer that could see them finish second. With the young Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel arriving, Rafa Benitez has managed to cut much of the dead weight from the squad, including the likes of Craig Bellamy and Luis Garcia.
However, Liverpool still lack the experience to push all the way, although their squad has been strengthened significantly. A new stadium, more money than you could shake a stick at and a tactically astute boss are all good for the club, but they still won't get the title.
A second season without a title could well spell the end of Jose Mourinho's reign at Chelsea, unless he wins the Champions League of course. Third place may seem a little odd for a team who were steamrollering the League only a year ago, but without Didier Drogba and Michael Essien, who they will lose for the African Cup of Nations after Christmas, Chelsea will be up against it.
The signings of Tal Ben Haim, Steven Sidwell and Claudio Pizarro will not have set the fans' pulses racing, although they have added some depth to a squad that was mostly playing out of position last season. Florent Malouda has arrived, although most likely to replace Arjen Robben on the wing and the Blues are still missing a quality right-back.
Fourth position can be seen as a success considering the summer that Arsenal have had. Losing talismanic skipper Thierry Henry will certainly have had an effect on Arsene Wenger's young squad, but not as much as losing Wenger himself. Having not committed himself to the club beyond his 2008 contract, these are worrying times for Gunners fans.
Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue will be missed during the African Cup of Nations, although Wenger has bought Bacary Sagna from Auxerre to fill in the gaps; while Croatian Eduardo Da Silva will attempt to fill the boots of Henry. Still shell-shocked by their captain's departure, Arsenal's youngsters would do well to secure Champions League football in yet another 'season of transition'.
Make no mistake, Arsenal will be pushed all the way by a Tottenham side keen to end the 'Big Four' domination. With some excellent summer business, including the likes of Darren Bent and Gareth Bale arriving at the club, Martin Jol finally has a squad worthy of competing for a place in the Champions League.
Keeping Dimitar Berbatov was important, although his goals alone won't be enough to make Spurs history. Inconsistency will still be a problem and unless Spurs can cut out some defensive lapses, then they will find themselves in the UEFA Cup again, playing second fiddle to their North London neighbours.
Everton have shown in recent years that they are something of a 'yo-yo' team and in this respect, one would expect them to finish mid-table after an impressive sixth place finish last term. However, this may be the season that the routine is broken.
Showing more than enough last term to suggest they will be able to secure UEFA Cup football, the likes of Joleon Lescott, Mikel Arteta and Andy Johnson will be key to the Toffees' success. New signing Phil Jagielka will bolster the defensive options, and Steven Pienaar will add variation to midfield.
If anyone can take Newcastle back to the top half of the table, it is Sam Allardyce. Bringing in some respected top flight performers in Joey Barton, Mark Viduka and Geremi, Allardyce is still keen to add some defensive stability to his side.
Getting rid of some deadwood in the form of Olivier Bernard, Titus Bramble, Craig Moore and Antoine Sibierski, he also chose to release Scott Parker to West Ham. It remains to be seen who else will come in, but the record of the manager alone is enough to suggest that a successful season for Newcastle isn't far away.
After a fairly dismal run of draws last season, culminating in an 11th place finish, Aston Villa have a lot to prove this summer. Manager Martin O'Neill has cleared a few squad players out of the way to make room for Marlon Harewood and Nigel Reo-Coker from West Ham and a place in Europe would be most welcome.
If they can stop drawing with sides that they should beat, Villa will succeed and an 8th place finish is not out of their reach. They have good young talent in the form of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young and just need some consistency to put a good run together in the forthcoming season.
In contrast, Portsmouth are a side who will struggle to recreate the successes of last season. In the top five until Christmas, it seems likely that they will follow a similar fate this year by missing out on Europe as the season draws to a close.
Sylvain Distin, Sully Muntari and David Nugent will all add some depth to Harry Redknapp's squad, although Pompey may not have enough qualilty to clinch a European place this season.
In the last six years, Blackburn have averaged 10th position in the table, so where better to put the league's most accomplished mid-table team? A number of players impressed last season, most notably David Bentley and Morten Gamst Pedersen, although they have not strengthened in defence.
Dutch U21 starlet Maceo Rigters has arrived, along with Bayern Munich's Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz, but it is highly unlikely that they alone will spur Rovers on to European glory. Something will have to change if Blackburn are to avoid mid-table mediocrity again this year.
After the season they had in 2006/07, West Ham would probably be quite happy with a mid-table finish. Although given the amount of money that has been invested at the club by Eggert Magnusson and friends, perhaps not.
Realistically it will take time for the Hammers to bounce back from the disappointment of last year and the upheaval of players that occurred over the summer. The Carlos Tevez affair will not have helped their preparations for the new season either; while Scott Parker and Craig Bellamy do not have a great history of settling quickly at a new club. Freddie Ljungberg will add some calming experience to the midfield.
Manchester City are something of an enigma at the moment, given that they have a new chairman, new manager and at least seven players (at time of writing) added to a threadbare looking squad - with more expected before the start of the season.
Dependant on who else they bring in, City could either be pushing for Europe or fighting off relegation, although you have to take into account that Sven Goran-Eriksson is now in charge. The Swede will be shrewd with his £50million, already attempting to solve the goalscoring crisis by bringing in Italian Rolando Bianchi, Bulgarian striker Valeri Bojinov, Brazilian midfielder Geovanni and Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov. Mid-table is a safe bet, but it really could go either way.
Inconsistent Middlesbrough look a safe bet to finish in mid-table, as they seem unable to put a decent run of wins together. With a good set of youth players and a striker, in Yakubu, who could be a 20 goal a season player, it is surprising that they have struggled in recent years.
Jeremie Aliadiere may get the chance to shine that he did not get at Arsenal, while Turkish striker Tuncay has a decent international record. The defence has been bolstered by Luke Young's arrival, although they still don't quite have enough firepower to challenge for Europe.
After such an impressive first season in the top flight, Reading may suffer from second-season syndrome as they seek to continue their great form in the Premier League. 14th would not be a disaster for a club who have lost one of their most influential players, Steve Sidwell, in the summer.
Survival in a tricky second season is important and although relegation does not look like an issue, Steve Coppell has been quiet on the transfer front so far. Unlikely to improve on last year's eighth position, Reading can be happy with a mid-table finish and continuing success as one of the league's most popular teams for neutrals.
With an unproven manager, in Sammy Lee, and Sam Allardyce forging a new dynasty at Newcastle, Bolton Wanderers may find themselves in trouble this season as they try to continue Big Sam's good work.
Bolton's only signing of note so far has been Fulham's Heidar Helguson, while they have also picked up Gavin McCann and Jlloyd Samuel from Villa. Losing influential defender Tal Ben Haim will be a big loss and 'Little Sam' may not have what it takes to keep the club on the up.
Despite spending £20million in the summer, Fulham are in a similar position. Bringing seven new players to the club, including most of the Northern Ireland team, Lawrie Sanchez has high hopes for Fulham, although will do well to avoid a relegation fight.
Struggling under Chris Coleman last season, the bulk of the squad have failed to show they are good enough to stay in the Premier League; although will most likely survive again given the teams that appear below them.
One of those could be Sunderland who are certainly a team on the up, and with manager Roy Keane at the helm, one would think that they had just enough to stay in the Premier League. You certainly wouldn't want to be in the dressing room if they didn't.
Despite a failure to lure any big name players, they have brought in a few unproven signings, including Michael Chopra and Anthony Stokes, and have the potential to stay afloat. Keane will instill a fighting spirit in the side and that may just see them survive.
Of those unlucky enough to fall into the category of relegation, Wigan have failed to convince anyone that they are worthy of staying in the top flight; least of all with their summer signings.
Titus Bramble and Mario Melchiot have unhappy memories of the top flight and will form a shaky partnership in Wigan's defence; while Jason Koumas, another not to have proved himself in the league, will be their best hope of midfield creativity. Another side to have an unproven manager, Wigan's Chris Hutchings may be one of the first to get his P45 before the season ends.
Alphabetically, Birmingham have started the season very well, in third to be precise. Although it would be wishful thinking to suggest that anything other than a relegation fight is on the cards for Steve Bruce's Blues.
Even recruiting some of Arsenal's youth team may not help, as Seb Larsson and Fabrice Muamba remain unproven in the big time. Gary O'Connor looks the most likely to impress, although it will be defensive frailty that could cost them their place in the league.
Propping up the table for the 2007/08 season is Derby County. While they have recruited Welsh goalscorer Robert Earnshaw and veteran defender Andy Todd, the Rams simply aren't strong enough to stay up.
A lot will rest on the young shoulders of midfielder Giles Barnes, but if Derby find themselves in trouble early on, then their first season in top flight for over five years could just be a shop window for their young talent to showcase their skills to other clubs.