Hypothetically, were Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs to be relegated after a match fixing scandal who would win the next Premiership title? I suppose it’s unlikely to happen, but who will finish 6th this season and win the last UEFA cup spot is still an intriguing question, with many possible outcomes.
It may be contested that Spurs should be included in the countries elite but year on year Daniel Levy stumps up the cash for major investment, and even before the sale of Carrick they had invested heavily in Berbatov and Zokoro. Their failure at the final hurdle last season will spur (pardon the pun) them on this season. An improving, youthful Arsenal team and a well strengthened Liverpool team will push Chelsea harder this season. With Man United it’s more intriguing. A better midfield should propel them forwards but a few key injuries could result in another faltering campaign. So barring any unforeseen situation the top 5 of last season look set to stay that way.
So of the rest who will be favourites to achieve the coveted 6th spot?
The candidates are Aston Villa, Blackburn, West Ham, Newcastle United, Manchester City, Everton and Bolton Wanderers.
Much depends on whether they can get in Martin O’Neill. He has an excellent reputation of getting the best out of his teams. With him on board, even without any signings, I see a vast improvement on the uninspiring O’Leary. If a new consortium or Ellis don’t get their man then more woes for the Villa are just around the corner.
Prediction: 9th (with O’Neill) 17th (without O’Neill).
Mark Hughes has so far done fantastically well in his first role at club management. After the departure of Sourness he’s turned the clubs fortunes around, providing steeliness that makes them difficult to beat. The loss of Bellamy in the summer will be tough on them but Hughes has spent his budget well, acquiring Jason Roberts and Benni McCarthy. A distracting EUFA cup campaign will make it hard for them to sustain another assault on the 6th spot they achieved last season.
Big Sam’s star seems to be on the wane after missing out on the England job. Having done really well for Bolton in recent years it seems to me he’s taken them as far as he can, and now would be a good time for a fresh start for both club and manager. With a several players released by Bolton this summer Big Sam has yet to provide his usual inspired signings. If nothing much changes then expect Bolton to fall off the pace.
Andy Johnson’s signing is an inspired piece of business and I disagree with anyone who says this player isn’t worth the £8million paid for him. I rate this player as one of the best finishers in the country, and goals win you games. James Beattie will also be a better player partnered with Johnson. Not quite convinced yet with Everton’s defence but with the likes of Cahill and Arteta in midfield there is plenty of quality in this team.
. Man City
My own team was threatening a European place for two thirds of last season only to fall away badly at the end. Unlucky with injuries Stuart Pearce had not much available in reserve. This summer, however, he has bulked out the squad with some quality additions. The captures from Serie A of Osomane Dabo and Bernardo Carradi are the ones to look out for. With a clutch of quality youngsters getting better each year I predict a good season for my club.
With no Michael Owen or Alan Shearer Newcastle will struggle unless they can bolster their strike force before the window closes. The quality signing of Duff would be great for any team but Newcastle are already strong in this position with N’Zogbia. To me it seems that 2 real quality centre half’s need to be brought in (and I don’t mean Sol Campbell) if this club is ever going to realise it’s ambitions. And finally my instinct tells me that Glen Roeder is not a good manager; Despite Newcastle’s up turn in fortunes when he took over last season I think this was more due the relief of the appalling Sourness leaving, and the cloud that was lifted.
West Ham United
The big surprise package of last year was West Ham United. Hungry and confident they have quality all over the pitch and I can envisage another good season for them this year. Again the EUFA cup may be an adverse distraction from the Premiership as they may not have the strength in squad numbers. The one player crucial to their success this season will be Dean Ashton. I had my doubts about him before he joined West Ham but I have to say how impressed I was with him when he helped West Ham knock my team out of the FA Cup, respect. If he stays fit all season then West Ham will do very well.
Editor’s Note: Bernard’s made his picks for the race to 6th spot in the next Premiership season – time to tell us your picks.