How they'll finish... maybe
As the 2008/09 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.
Chelsea have a new manager and with Big Phil Scolari on board, it might just be enough to pip United to the title. As for the rest, there are few surprises, although all will become clear by May 2009.
Chelsea have not spent as much as they have in previous seasons, but shoring up the right-back slot with Bosingwa and adding more creativity in Deco will make them tougher opponents this season. Add another world-class striker (Robinho?), ensure that both Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba return to their devasting best and new boss Felipe Scolari could pick up the title in his first season in England. Injuries may play their part, but the depth of the squad means the new boss can call upon the likes of Wayne Bridge, John Obi Mikel, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Alex if things take a turn for the worse.
After winning the double last year Man Utd are in a strong position to challenge them, although the impact of Ronaldo's transfer saga cannot be understated. Despite choosing to stay at the club the Portuguese 'slave' will still miss the start of the season and the disruption caused by his summer activities may harm the team's title ambitions. While the squad is still immensely strong, an injury to key defenders Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic could scupper their charge late into the season.
As usual before the Premier League season starts it is very hard to leave Liverpool out of the contenders for the title - until the season actually begins that is. On fire Fernando Torres should link well with new-boy Robbie Keane, but Liverpool have struggled in the League and the other arrivals so far: Philipp Degen, Andrea Dossena and Diego Cavalieri won't change that.
At Arsenal though, it's the lack of signings that could hinder their aspirations for the new season. Samir Nasri and Aaron Ramsey have come in, but transfer talk has unsettled Emmaneul Adebayor and the departures of Alexander Hleb, Gilberto Silva, Mathieu Flamini and Jens Lehmann have robbed the squad of experience. Should still get Champions League football though.
Leading the way in the transfer market, Tottenham may just miss out on the top four, but it won't be by much. Luka Modric could be one the best signings in recent times and Juande Ramos has already shown that he has more than enough to take the club to the next level. UEFA Cup football beckons this season, if not more.
Riding high on Joleon Lescott's goals last year, not much has changed for Everton this summer although the strength of the squad should still see them qualify for the UEFA Cup. Little transfer activity has not improved the squad much and they really can't rely on a defender to be their second top scorer again, but still have a few quality players.
After finishing sixth last season and impressing with their attacking football, Aston Villa have two barriers to their new season preparations. First, the saga surrounding Gareth Barry and second, their tiny squad. A lack of depth means they may not make it into Europe, although they have the potential to go on a good Cup run with the likes of Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Curtis Davies playing well.
Another club with potential are Portsmouth although, after their FA Cup winning season, it may prove difficult to live up to expectations. That said, the strike partnership of Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe looks impressive and if they can strengthen their squad after the departure of Sulley Muntari to Inter, they'll do alright.
Even with Mark Hughes and new £20million Brazilian striker Jo, Man City still look dogged by inconsistency. Chances are that they'll either start really well, or really badly, and yet end up mid-table somewhere. City fans will be pleased that their relegation battles are behind them, but will hope to get into Europe in a way that does not involve the Fair Play table.
Considering they spent a majority of last season in 10th place, West Ham can't be shifted from the spot next season either. Struggling with injuries and over-inflated salaries, the Hammers have added Swiss defender Valon Behrami, but little else to their mid-table squad and shouldn't pose a threat at either end of the table.
Wigan will rely on Steve Bruce's magic to keep them out of the danger zone again and he has already done his bit in the transfer window, bringing in Olivier Kapo and Amr Zaki to play alongside the impressive Wilson Palacios and Antonio Valencia. Building on the second half of the year, Bruce has the ability to take the club back to the heights of their first season in the top flight and should escape the relegation battle with ease.
Newcastle, too, should be fairly safe, although it does depend on King Kev sticking to his attacking formation and bringing at least three more players in. Defensive stability is important if they are to learn the mistakes of last year and while Michael Owen may not be too happy with a mid-table finish, most Toon fans won't mind too much as long as they are kept entertained.
Most Middlesbrough fans, though, won't be happy if they finish below their Tyneside rivals. If the likes of Stuart Downing, David Wheater and Afonso Alves continue last year's form, they'll finish well clear of trouble; but inconsistency has been a problem for Southgate and an injury to one of these three could see them slide.
Having finished 2007/08 in 7th place, Blackburn fans can expect a tough season under new boss Paul Ince. Not quite relegation fodder, the heart of the side has been ripped out with David Bentley's departure and, even if Roque Santa Cruz stays, it may prove a tough ask for Rovers to finish above mid-table.
Try as they might, Sunderland have just not been able to bring the type of player they want to the Stadium of Light. El-Hadji Diouf, Teemu Tainio and Pascal Chimbonda are all decent squad players but the Black Cats lack any real quality to improve their side. With Kenwyne Jones injured, Roy Keane's motivational techniques may not be able to keep them afloat for much longer, although they are still in a better position than a few others in the League.
Fulham, for example, have got rid of one their best players from last season, Brian McBride, although to their credit they have replaced him with Andrew Johnson and Bobby Zamora. The club have been busy in the transfer window bringing in John Paintsil, Zoltan Gera, Mark Schwarzer and a host of others, but still look like a defensively unbalanced side who will be fighting for their top-flight place come the end of the season.
However, someone has to go down and this season it looks likely to be Bolton. Despite spending a massive £15million on Johan Elmander and Fabrice Muamba, the Trotters have not strengthened enough to suggest they will be safe. Releasing a number of experienced players, the club may struggle with a weakened squad and Gary Megson may be one of the first managers to get his P45.
The other relegation places have to go to the other two promoted clubs. Firstly, Stoke who valiantly signed Dave Kitson and Seyi Olofinjana for £9million, but have done little else to suggest that they won't be whipping boys for the rest of the League. Tony Pulis' men should be a hard side to play against, but the step up may prove too high in terms of gathering points.
Finally, Hull, in the top flight for the first time. The club have also tried their hardest in the transfer market but ended up with a variety of fading stars, including George Boateng, Tony Warner, Geovanni and Bernard Mendy. Losing 4-0 to Crewe Alexandra in pre-season may be a sign of things to come and it would be brave to bet against Phil Brown's men propping up the table.