Happy new year, football-wise (tomorrow anyway). With that in mind, I thought I would offer up from preview thoughts and predictions.
All predictions guaranteed to be 100% wrong on your money back. I'll offer up my thoughts on each team alphabetically, along with my predicted order of finish in the table.
Arsenal - 2nd
Arsenal is a team with a huge number of questions heading into the beginning of the season. How can they replace Henry? They can't. Can they cope with life without the best striker in the world? They can, perhaps. While Arsenal haven't made a lot of noise in the transfer market, they have addresses a number of their needs: goalkeeper (check), right back (check), striker (check). There are some questions, however, remaining: left winger (not so check). I expect that there will be another signing to the Arse, and, with the team spirit they've been showing and behind van Persie's goal tally, they'll just pip Liverpool for third. Challenging for the title isn't out of the question, but its may be just a little unrealistic. At the very worst, they finish fourth again.
Aston Villa - 7th
The second season of the Randy Learner regime, and Aston Villa will out-perform the Cleveland Browns. They won't set the world on fire, but will continue to show improvement, earning a place in Europe this season.
Welcome back Mr. Short Leash, Steve Bruce. He may be gone by Boxing Day. All kidding aside, I expect Birmingham to be in the relegation fight until the last game of the season. Unfortunately, I think they will fall just short of staying up. They'll be gamers and pick off an upset here and there, and Muamba will look like a very smart transfer come Christmas, when bigger teams will be sniffing around for him.
Blackburn - 5th
Mark Hughes will continue the renaissance at Blackburn, leading them to Europe, if not to the heights he hopes for (though I'm sure the fans will be happy). Brad Friedel, unlike his former rival Kasey Keller, isn't past it quite yet, and he should keep them in a few games they shouldn't be in. They can knick some points and potentially be looking at Europe. I expect this to be Hughes' last season with the Rovers. I'm guessing he'll replace Mourinho at Chelsea after this season.
Bolton - 11th
Ahh, my least favorite team. Losing Sam Allardyce will hurt them greatly. As much as I loathe him, he made them successful. They really haven't lost anyone other than their manager, but I expect them to struggle. They'll pull it together at the last because they still have some quality players, and the fact that are teams that are in much worse shape than they are.
Chelsea - 4th
Why so low? The African Cup of Nations when they'll lose their spark plugs. On talent alone, they win the league every time. But the niggling injuries are already adding up for the start of the season. With Didier Drogba our in January, I see them losing any hope of the league in the winter when he is away. Shevchecko and Ballack will be much improved, but without Robben to provide the late spark (assuming he is off to Real Madrid), it won't quite be enough. Mourinho will likely leave after this season.
Derby County - 20th
Straight relegation. No hope for them at all. At best, expect a finish of nineteenth. I am looking forward to seeing Benny Feilhauber play in the league though,
Everton - 9th
I'll say it for the record. David Moyes is a fantastic manager. Does he have enough to improve Everton's place on the table though? I don't think so. Everton usually falls back when they have a European campaign to worry about. They won't fall as far this season as in seasons past though..
Fulham - 10th
Here's my gamble. Smart money has Fulham barely escaping the drop once again. Lawrie Sanchez has spent lots of money on journeymen though. About mid-season, I expect Clint Dempsey to emerge as a chief playmaker, whether he is feeding McBride or no, and fire them to respectability. Healy will impress as well. Of couse, I could be full of beans.
Liverpool - 3rd
Probably a very contentious choice (and the choice that's worth a bottle of single malt for me). Two scouser friends will likely call foul here, but I call them like I see them. Sure, your team has addressed some needs. But, Torres and Voronin have yet to adjust to the English game, so you can't expect that much from them (I remember Reyes). Gerrard is still the best man in his position in the English game, so they won't fall too far, but I see Liverpool as more of a cup team (and that includes the Champions League, where they may get their sixth). In any case, second through fourth should be a dogfight this year).
Manchester City - 13th
It's Sven-a-po-looza! Transfer madness. Who are these guys again? I don't think even the manager has seen some of them play. City will definitely improve on its play, if not much on its position. How could they not? But seriously, Sven is a proven club manager, and he's now freed of using English players exclusively. They could be laying good groundwork for next season.
Manchester United - 1st
The best team in the premiership just got better. Hargreaves, Tevez, Nani, and Anderson. Who did they lose? No one of note. Their only question marks are whether Giggs and Scholes can continue their late season renaissance (and in preseason, it looks like that's the case). Until proven differently, Ronaldo is the best player in England (especially now that Henry is gone). The top of the table will be tighter than last year, but I can't see them losing.
Middlesbrough - 16th
Eh. Who cares. They stay up, in an especially unexciting manner. Missed out on Alan Smith. See immediately below. They'll be in the relegation fight for sure.
Newcastle United - 12th
I'll be honest. I'm not sure what to make of Newcastle. Allardyce isn't know for playing the type of football that Newcastle's fans like. They have lots of new defenders, and if Owen gets hurt and Martins, transfer (both very likely), I'm not sure who will score the goals. They could challenge for a UEFA Cup spot. They could sink into a relegation fight. I really have no idea.
Portsmouth - 6th
Portsmouth will continue to improve. I think fifth position may come down to the last couple of matches of the season. Look for David Nugent to get better as the season progress, as he'll watch Kanu very closely.
Reading - 14th
Reading won't have the cinderella season they had last season, but they won't every be seriously threatened with relegation either. They'll consolidate a bit this year, even though they'll slip a few spots. This team could become a fixture in the middle of the table for the next few years. Of course, losing players to injuries received while stretching in bed is never a good sign.
Sunderland - 15th
Of the new teams this year, Sunderland are the best bet to stay in the top flight. Roy Keane does not accept losing, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts to losses this season. I do look forward to watching the Black Cats play though.
Tottenham - 8th
There's too much expectation for Spurs to challenge for the top four. And every time they have expectations, the team always seems to find someway to fall short. I'm sure a lot of folks will think I'm crazy, but I see them disappointing their fans again this year. Sure, they've spent a lot of money, but they still haven't addressed their main needs. Berbatov can't do it alone, but Darren Bent isn't the answer to anyone's prayers (certainly not 18 million's worth).
West Ham United - 17th
Same place as last year. A whole lot less controversy. Losing Tevez is going to hurt, and Bellamy is no replacement. How long until there are fights at Upton Park?
Wigan Athletic - 19th
Paul Jewell resigns. Why? Wigan are going to be dreadful. They'd be a lock for the bottom is Derby weren't in the league.