Luke Irelan-Hill rubs his Premier League crystal ball.
It has been 26 years since Manchester United started a league campaign without Sir Alex Ferguson and the first time in Premier League history, and this year five other teams start the new campaign with a new manager at the helm.
The ‘Special One’ is back at Chelsea, Manuel Pellegrini has taken over at Manchester City, Roberto Martinez has taken over from David Moyes at Goodison Park and Mark Hughes is back in management at Stoke City.
And with the new season starting tomorrow there are three main questions to be answered. Can Manchester United win their 21st title? Can Manchester City turn the city blue again? Can Jose Mourinho recreate former glories at Stamford Bridge?
Chuck in the question of who will win the battle of North London between Arsenal and Spurs and can those newly promoted sides defy the odds and stay up?
Only one thing is left, to make those predictions which normally come as close to reality as my Saturday afternoon accumulators.
The expected return of Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge will certainly add box office to the Premier League, but he will have to defy the old adage about never going back. But if there is one man who will believe he can do just that it is Mourinho and I am tipping him to bring the title back to the Bridge.
Mourinho is still chasing the missing part of his jigsaw in the form of a big signing with many believing it to be Wayne Rooney, but he does inherit a team that won the Europa League last season under Rafael Benitez. Oscar and Eden Hazard will be better for their Premier League experience and Juan Mata is a world class player.
Romelu Lukaku looked to be developing as an outstanding talent at West Brom and a lot of Chelsea’s success will hinge on whether or not he can score goals on a regular basis. Mourinho also has the safety net of relying on his old boys such as Petr Cech and Frank Lampard.
One thing is for certain, Mourinho has something to prove and I fully expect him to do that in the shape of the Premier League title come May.
Manchester City (Runners-up)
With Roberto Mancini gone because of City’s failure to defend their title and dressing room disharmony, many fans will hope Manuel Pellegrini can bring success back to the Etihad.
City have strengthened, unlike their rivals, with the signings of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic for a combined total of around 90 million pounds.
Add this to the likes of Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero and this is as powerful a squad as the Premier League possesses. If they can recapture the squad spirit that saw them win the 2011-12 title in such dramatic style then they are unquestionably potential champions – and a half-decent Champions League campaign would be big progress.
Manchester United (3rd)
There is arguably no bigger task in football than replacing Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm at Old Trafford after the Scot stepped down after 26 years at the help. David Moyes must surely have wished to have had a big signing in place by now, but as it stands there have been no high-price newcomers to add to a title-winning squad.
Old Trafford will take some time to get use to life after Sir Alex Ferguson, problems with Wayne Rooney apart, this is a squad that needs the addition of a world-class midfield players. It still, however, possesses the brilliance of Robin Van Persie.
The Red Devil’s may have romped to the title in style last season but will find it harder with Mourinho back at Chelsea and Manchester City splashing the cash.
This season is a big task for a manager who, no matter how much experience he had at Everton, will find the expectation at Old Trafford on a different level to anything he has ever experienced in football.
Tottenham Hotspur (4th)
The battle for the final Champions League place will be fought in north London between Spurs and Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger is use to getting the better over his rival, but he still needs to do major work in the transfer market to ensure that they once again secure Champions League football again – an achievement that is most realistic for them this term.
The Gareth Bale saga is still hanging over White Hart Lane like a black cold and it will be a massive blow to their season expectations if they lose their most prized possession.
But, with the 2 squads as they are going into the weekend, I’ll put my money on it being Tottenham’s time to grace the Champions League stage again.
The key for Spurs is to hold on to Bale but to also try not to rely on him too much. Paulinho has the potential to be outstanding and he adds a strong presence alongside Mousa Dembele and Sandro. Roberto Soldado should bring goals while Nacer Chadli and Etienne Capiue add depth and quality.
This was to be the season that Arsene Wenger dusted off the cheque book and made some world-class signings. Unfortunately for Arsenal fans they have again failed to make even a small indent on the transfer market.
Gonzalo Higuain got away as he signed for Napoli; Luiz Suarez for £40,000,001 didn’t come off, and after that things have gone a bit quiet at the Emirates.
For that reason alone I believe this will be the season that finally see’s Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League which could also spell the end for Arsene Wenger.
Miracles have been seen on Goodison for the last 11 years under David Moyes but with his move to replace Sir Alex Ferguson it is now transition time at Everton.
This season will be a big examination for Everton and their new Spanish manager, Roberto Martinez. The biggest question is did Martinez under-perform in letting Wigan get relegated or was he punching above his weight in winning the FA Cup?
A change of style will be seen at Goodison this season as Martinez sets about implementing his attractive passing style and the arrival of old backroom staff and players such as Arouna Jone, Antolin Alcaraz and Joel Robles hints at the heavy Wigan influence.
The key for Everton is to keep hold of Leighton Baines and Marouana Fellaini. If they can do this then I believe they can finish above their Merseyside rivals.
Last season was a learning curve for Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager. He had a few emphatic victories but they failed to make their mark against the bigger sides. They now need to keep moving in the right direction and ensure they pick up wins against the clubs below them whilst trying to take points from the teams above them,
Phillippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge could become star players for them this season and if they keep hold of Suarez and get him playing football again they could prove to be the surprise package. However Suarez is never far away from the headlines, for the wrong reasons, and I believe for this reason they are unpredictable.
Simon Mignolet is a fine goalkeeper to replace Pepe Reina and Kolo Toure brings experience to fill the void left by the retirement of Jamie Carragher. I’m not expecting Liverpool to finish anywhere near the top four, seventh would be par, but they have the potential to finish above Everton.
Influential Ashley Williams’s remains at The Liberty Stadium and the £12m record buy in Wilfried Bony from Vitesse Arnhem and Michu – arguably last season’s finest piece of transfer business – will provide plenty of firepower.
More importantly for the Welsh side is that despite speculation about managerial unrest, City have backed Michael Laudrup and now they look in good shape to build on last season’s ninth place and that historic Capital One Cup win.
West Ham (9th)
Manager Sam Allardyce had his critics again last season but who can serious quibble with a top-10 finish in West Ham’s first season back in the Premier League?
The arrival of Stewart Downing should help create more goal-scoring opportunities for Andy Carroll, although their hopes for the season reply on the English striker staying fir and repaying his £15m transfer fee.
If this happens there is every chance of Allardyce improving on last season’s 10th place finish.
Aston Villa (10th)
The best news for Villa fans over the summer was Christian Benteke deciding to withdraw his transfer request and sign a new long-term contract.
Paul Lambert had a traumatic first season in charge at Villa Park with a long struggle against relegation and a Capital Once Cup semi-final defeat over two legs by Bradford City.
However Lambert is a driven man and will have learned much about himself and his players last season, which is why I am tipping them for a much more positive season.
Southampton showed real promise under Mauricio Pochettino last season and with the captures of Dejan Lovren from Lyon and Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama for £12.5m, Saint’s fans will be hoping for another season that sees them safely survive in England’s top flight.
There has been a managerial merry-go-round over the summer but for Fulham it has seen a new owner rather than manager as Shahid Khan replaces Mohamed Al Fayed.
Dimitar Berbatov will once more be their main attraction while their wild card will be Adel Tarrabt, but it will make Fulham interesting viewing and I fully expect them to stay out of trouble.
Stoke City (13th)
I believe the main reason that Stoke City have survived in the Premier League is because of the heroics of Tony Pulis. However in Mark Hughes they have captured a very capable manager, although he has supporters to convince and a reputation to repair after his dismal spell at QPR.
We have seen the successful side of Hughes at Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City (in spells) and during a tide reign at Fulham. He inherits a capable squad and finishing around 13th would be a solid achievement.
West Brom (14th)
The Baggies finished in 8th place last year but it will be extremely tough for Steve Clarke to repeat that feat.
Romelu Lukaku’s return to Chelsea is a massive loss but in his place comes the enigmatic but wonderfully gifted Nicolas Anelka who will be looking for a last hurrah in the English top flight.
Solid if unspectacular, the Baggies will be comfortable and if they can get their form going at The Hawthorns they could surprise again. Either way they will be playing in the Premier League again next season.
Chris Hughton has had a busy summer in the transfer market after an anxious end to last season. At a glance he seems to have bought well so there is real scope for potential improvement.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel at £8.5m and Gary Hooper from Celtic at £5m should bring many goals and Hughton has real belief in the talent of Nathan Redmond from Birmingham City.
It will be interesting to see how Netherlands midfield man Leroy Fer plays. The reason for predicting a 15th placed finish is because it’s always difficult for a club with quite a few signings to gel straight away. Home form will be key to survival.
Wearside will be a lively place this season with Paolo Di Canio who doesn’t know the meaning of dull. The biggest question is: will it be enjoyable?
There has been a hive of activity in the market to try and cure the Jekyll and Hyde performances of last season (Newcastle win and Aston Villa loss.)
Sunderland, like their manager, will once again be unpredictable and I fear for them if they momentum starts to swing the wrong way.
Simon Mignolet moving to Liverpool is a big loss, but the success and survival of Sunderland remains solely on Paolo Di Canio not losing his head.
The Welsh side are the strongest of the three promoted sides and are the only one with a strong enough side to possibly avoid relegation. This could depend on the fortune of Newcastle – if the Pardew-Kinnear partnership works, Cardiff could well finish in the relegation zone.
But Cardiff have a fine manager in Malky Mackay who will be desperate for Craig Bellamy to stay fit and he will want new signing Steven Caulker to continue his development. The success of £11m record signing midfielder Gary Medel is also key.
They will have the backing of a hostile atmosphere on their own ground and will hope to get off to a good start and follow the example of their fierce rivals Swansea.
The biggest dilemma at Newcastle is whether the relationship between manager Alan Pardew and director of football Joe Kinnear is going to work.
Personally I don’t think it will and for that reason alone I believe Newcastle will be relegated from the Premier League come May of next year.
Crystal Palace (19th)
There will many a noisy day and night at Selhurst Park over the course of the season but unfortunately no team has ever stayed up solely on excellent support.
I can see Ian Holloway suffering a similar fate as he did with Blackpool and the season ending in gallant relegation.
Missing out on Darren Bent was a massive blow and with Wilfried Zaha now at Manchester United they are missing that little bit of class to survive in the top flight.
Hull City (20th)
Manager Steve Bruce performed miracles last season in taking Hull City up into the Premier League answering plenty who doubted his quality as manager along the way.
Now he faces an even bigger side in keeping Hull in the Premier League – if he can achieve this it would go down as one of the greatest achievements in top flight history.
Tom Huddlestone will bring experience and composure in midfield while goalkeeper Allan McGregor has international pedigree with Scotland.
I would love to see Hull City stay up because it would be a great reward for Steve Bruce having gotten them there in the first place – however I just don’t see it happening.