10. Portsmouth (Last season – 9th)
In: Nugent, Utaka, Distin, Hreidarsson, Muntari, Cranie, Mvuemba, Reynolds
Out: Todorov, Fordyce, Griffin, Mbesuma
After last season’s success, Harry Redknapp has added to the squad wisely, with a mix of experienced players, used to the Premiership, European players with real potential, and David Nugent, who is likely to impress himself upon the Premiership.
Redknapp has a habit of getting the best out of his players, and given that their squad looks relatively strong this season, I can’t imagine they’ll be anywhere near the bottom. Fratton Park still earns them plenty of points, so another top ten finish is perfectly achievable.
I would also be surprised if their spending has finished. Expect another couple of names before the end of August.
9. Aston Villa (Last season – 11th)
In: Reo-Coker, Harewood, Forrester, Lichaj
Out: Hughes, Samuel, Davis, McCann, Angel, Henderson, Hendrie, Olejnik, Sutton
Martin O’Neill has now had a full summer to tweak his squad, and he normally does that extremely well, picking the players he feels he can work well with. But so far, his signings have been few and far between, so I’d expect at least two more before September comes around.
O’Neill is the right kind of character to make Reo-Coker focus on his football, but the other ex-Hammer, Marlon Harewood, is surely a step too far. There’s only so much distance managerial talent goes before the player actually needs to have some ability of his own.
The squad clearout has certainly happened, with so many fringe players leaving, but they still need a couple of new faces. I expect O’Neill to get the chequebook out again, and Villa to push hard for a European place.
8. Newcastle (Last season – 13th)
In: Viduka, Barton, Rozehnal, Geremi, Smith, Cacapa, Enrique
Out: Parker, Bramble, Sibierski, Moore, Bernard, O’Brien
One of the perennial questions asked before the start of every season is: will this be the season that Newcastle finally win something? But is never is, and this season will be no different.
Viduka is a good signing, as Owen doesn’t count as anything other than a stretcher tester these days, and Barton will add the spike to the midfield in a way that Sam Allardyce likes. In fact, Newcastle are managing a complete turnaround – after being everyone’s second team when Keegan was making them play stunning football, they will now be turned into a physical team of long ball merchants. Will the Geordie fans accept it? If they’re successful, of course. If not, this may not be Allardyce’s dream job.
I would imagine they would do better than last season, but not well enough to reach Europe. Expect to see a lot of Newcastle’s coaching staff on MOTD, as Allardyce continues his pathetic boycott of the BBC.
7. West Ham (Last season – 15th)
In: Parker, Faubert, Wright, Bellamy, Ljungberg
Out: Konchesky, Reo-Coker, Mears, Benayoun, Harewood, Sheringham, Newton, Carroll
I should be predicting exactly where West Ham are going to finish in the Championship, but they managed to cheat and lie their way out of trouble and maintain their position in the top flight.
Now shorn of Carlos Tevez, they need goalscorers, but the returning Ashton and Bellamy should provide plenty of those. Faubert is out for six months, and Ljungberg’s signing is only a good one for Arsenal if you’ve seen his slow down over the last couple of years. Parker, meanwhile, will probably do the job that Reo-Coker was supposed to do, but he’ll carry it out well. I’ve always rated him very highly.
I can see West Ham pushing on from how they finished last season, and may even creep into a UEFA Cup place. We may not like the fact that they’re still in the Premiership, but we’ll have to get used to it – they’re here to stay now.
6. Tottenham (Last season – 5th)
In: Bale, Taarabt, Berchiche, Bent, Kaboul, Rose, Boateng
Out: Hallfredsson, Ziegler, Yeates
Ah, common prediction number two – Spurs will break into the top four. In fact, they’re apparently closing the gap on the top four all the time. Which is why, of course, they finished so much further behind last season. Er….logic?
Let’s get real. Pundits are predicting Spurs to finish above Arsenal because it seems to be the common option. Yet whenever Spurs’ first team faced Arsenal’s kids last season, they were utterly outclassed. That should be the reality check.
Darren Bent is a decent striker, but 16m is utterly ludicrous. And what makes the signing even more bizarre is that he joins their most occupied position, so how exactly will he improve things? Where they need reinforcement is at the back, where they were as leaky as a chocolate teapot. And I can’t see their stability being any better than before.
Spurs fans will be beside themselves with gloating optimism at the start of the season, but towards the end they will once again be silenced. They are nowhere near good enough to challenge the top four yet.