Right then. As everyone knows, I'm not really very good at this... but it's become a bit of a tradition around these parts.
So. Here we go then.
ST's CUAS Predictions for the 2007/8 Premier League Season
1. Man Utd **Champions**
They may be pissing off their season ticket holders with their stealthy price rises, but the Glazers are certainly letting SAF invest in the team.... Hargreaves in particular should be crucial in adding a bit of ballast to a very attack-heavy team. The signing of Tevez could also be a masterstroke (match fitness permitting). How the hell do you go about marking a front three of Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo? Mind you, am I the only one getting a bit bored of Ferguson’s feud with the BBC? Old Carlos is amusing enough, I suppose, but isn’t it a bit ridiculous that he’ll talk to that clown Gary Newbon at halftime in the Champions League, but won’t be interviewed by MotD?
One to watch: Michael Carrick. Two-footed, great passer of the ball and with something of an eye for goal...It should be interesting to see how he blossoms now he will be free of anchorman duties. Giggs and Scholes are also crucial.
Fantasy Football signing: blimey, take your pick. The defence will be tight and the forwards will be free scoring. I've gone for Patrice Evra myself.
Surprisingly frugal in the close season, and already looking like they might have an injury crisis on their hands... but you can hardly write them off. The same thing was true last year and they still managed to push Utd close. They do seem very reliant on Terry, Lampard and Drogba though, and with all three injured going into the start of the season, it should be interesting to see how they cope.
One to watch: Jose Mourinho. The special one looked on the edge of walking out a few times last season. He's apparently patched up his relationship with Abramovitch, but will he make the end of the season?
Fantasy Football signing: Plenty of people will opt for Terry, Lampard or Drogba, but I always go for Petr Cech. His injury last season cost Chelsea the title.
The new owners are certainly splashing the cash in an attempt to bridge the 21 points difference between them and Manchester Utd. Will Torres, Babel, Benayoun et al make any difference? Nah, they'll still finish 3rd. Expect a lot of bleating about history and tradition – as if this should somehow actually count for something in a title race.
One to watch: The real question is not where Liverpool will finish in the league, but how long will Rafa's beard last before he realises it is a catastrophic mistake...
FF signing: One of the defenders. Torres will be pricey and won't score enough goals.
This is a big season for Martin Jol. Spurs have made steady progress in the last few years, but with Arsenal's apparent slump, this looks like being their big chance to break into the top 4. Jol has been given time and money. If he doesn't do it this year, what odds on the Tony Soprano-a-like wearing a concrete overcoat and sleeping with the fishes?
One to Watch: Jermaine Defoe. If he doesn't get the hint and do one soon, he'll be getting a lot of splinters.
FF signing: Berbatov or Bent are worth a look, although both will be expensive. Should be some value in the defenders though. I've gone for Michael Dawson.
Interesting times at the Emirates. Thierry Henry limped and sulked his way to 11 goals last season and on the face of it will be very hard to replace. In practice though, the team might actually thrive now they have to look elsewhere for their inspiration. Fabregas is developing into one of the best midfielders in the world and players like Hleb, Gallas, Rosicky, Eboue, Adebayor and the like have a lot of quality.
One to watch: Arsene Wenger. It's a big season for the inscrutable one. Will his friend David Dein return with some new owners, or will this be the final stand of one of the Premier League's longest serving and most successful managers? Is it just me, or does he look a bit Belgian?
FF signing: Eboue has been playing on the wing in some pre-season friendlies. Could be worth a look as the defence is likely to be solid.
Everton under Moyes have seemed to lurch from good season to bad season and then back again. They did well last year, but I reckon they'll break the jinx this time around and push for Europe again this year. They've not signed much, but what they've signed looks like it could "do a job".
One to watch: Phil Jagielka. Where will he play? Full back? Centre Back? Midfield? Goal? Truly the MacGyver of footballers.
FF signing: Arteta. Lots of assists. Perhaps Cahill if he stays fit and plays as a second striker.
Blimey, doesn’t it seem like a long time since Sir Jack Walker and Alan Shearer were celebrating beating Man Utd to the title. Fifteen years, in fact, and they’ve been relegated since then too. Still, Mark Hughes seems to be doing a decent job, although they are quite dull, aren’t they? Still, I imagine they’ll be effective again this season, although quite how useful Roque Santa Cruz will be in the Premiership remains to be seen.
One to watch: Jason Roberts. He’s a funny sort of a player. He’s obviously extremely talented, but he’s promised much at a number of clubs before ultimately disappointing. He seems comfortable at Rovers, but with Santa Cruz joining the club and Benni McCarthy already there, he’s still got a lot to prove.
FF signing: David Bentley. The new Beckham?
8. Aston Villa
Martin O’Neill’s arrival last time seemed to be the most important thing to happen at Villa Park in years, and although his first season was one of steady rather than spectacular progress, perhaps we should expect more this year. Reo-Coker looks like a handy signing, but crucially O’Neill has now got his feet under the table… Mind you, I’m sure that the football will still be fairly functional with Harewood and John Carew forming a fairly muscular front two.
One to watch: Nigel Reo-Coker. After the season he’s just endured at West Ham, Reo-Coker has an awful lot to prove. If he’s left his Bentley at home, we should be fine.
FF signing: Gareth Barry. Solid points scorer with steady assists and the odd penalty. I’ve also got a soft spot for Olof Mellberg, for some reason.
Surely they can’t do as well as they did last season? They’ve got a nightmare start with games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool in their first 6 games. Mind you, with David James, Sol Campbell and Linvoy Primus anchoring their defence again this year, who knows?
One to watch: David Nugent. He was by far and away the best striker in the Championship last season and scored on his full England debut… he’s clearly brave because he snubbed Roy Keane and a possible move to Sunderland, but is he going to cut it in the Premier League?
FF signing: Matty Taylor. He did brilliantly last year, partly because he was still being classified as a defender and thus benefited from all those clean sheet points…. But he also scored some absolutely cracking goals.
Surely the biggest news for Newcastle is that they have finally got rid of Fat Freddie Shepherd and in Big Sam Allardyce, they might finally have a manager with the drive and ambition to take them somewhere. As opening statements go, releasing Titus Bramble in your first week in charge will take some beating. Good riddance and a clear sign of things to come? “Ron” Geremi is a great signing, as is Mark Viduka… and if Michael Owen stays fit then who knows where they could go? What’s going on between the chairman and Big Sam though? Where are the really big signings? Why is Dyer still there?
One to watch: Shay Given. Always the key for Newcastle when they had such a shaky defence… perhaps he’ll have a bit of protection now?
FF signing: Geremi. Class act. Took free kicks for Chelsea, so should be some points there.
Steve Coppell is a genius. They were almost everyone’s favourites for relegation last year and they nearly got into Europe. They’ve lost Steven Sidwell to Chelsea, and not signed much, so will they be able to pull off the same trick this year?
One to watch: Coppell. He’s the one who makes the difference here.
FF signing: Kevin Doyle. Proven goalscorer.
Little Sam has a tough act to follow in Big Sam, that much is for sure. We’re told that the rather robust Bolton style is going to be replaced by a shorter passing game, but frankly I’ll believe that when I see it. Kevin Davies and a fast, fluid passing game does not compute. Surely the only way is down?
One to watch: Gary Speed. He’s 37 years old and has just become the first team coach as well as the midfield lynchpin. Surely his presence in the side is absolutely critical for Sammy Lee getting his message across? How much longer can he keep going.
FF signing: Nicolas Anelka. If Bolton score many goals, surely many of them will come from here. Plus, you never know, he might end up back at Arsenal.
13. West Ham
I’m sure Alan Curbishley will just be delighted to put last season behind him, but surely things won’t be as bad this year? The signings of Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy and Freddie Ljunberg will surely help, but perhaps the biggest bonus of all is the return of Dean Ashton from injury. No Tevez this time though…. But surely they won’t need a miracle this term?
One to watch: Craig Bellamy. He’s quick and talented and sure to score goals. Mind you, he’ll be worth watching just to see how quickly he blows up and goes after one of his team mates with a golf club. If Kieron Dyer ever signs, it might be worth watching Lee Bowyer too… ding ding… round 2.
FF signing: Dean Ashton. The new Teddy Sheringham.
This is a big season for Gareth Southgate. He’s lost Viduka and is under pressure to sell Yakubu. How will he cope without the heaviest striking partnership in the league? Jonathan Woodgate has just been named as the worst signing in the history of the Spanish League (which seems harsh) but is clearly a critical figure for the club. Sadly, he’s injured again. I predict a difficult season.
One to watch: Gaizka Mendieta. Wasn’t this guy one of the best players in Europe? What the hell happened? Where is he? Why can’t he keep people like Lee Cattermole out of the side?
FF signing: Stewart Downing. Does he really want to be at Boro? Will he be an even better pick if he moves to somewhere like Spurs?
Or “Roy Keane’s Sunderland” as everyone refers to them. Of the promoted sides, they are comfortably the favourites to avoid the drop. Whether they can or not probably depends as much on the manager as it does on the players.
One to watch: Roy Keane. He’s confounded almost everyone with how he has carried himself as a manager, but how will he cope if his team struggles? He’s tried to sign a number of players and failed in pre-season and is the £9m signing of a Scottish goalkeeper an act of genius or of desperation? Time will tell. If he loses it, I imagine he will lose it big time.
FF signing: Kieron Richardson. He’s clearly a tit, but he is a decent player and will surely score a few goals.
16. Man City
A potential England manager is replaced by a former England manager and a new owner who is under investigation for corruption and human rights abuses. Somehow that seems about par for the course with City. Eriksson has splashed the cash, but it seems likely that most of the players haven’t even met the manager yet, never mind any of their colleagues. It could be a long season.
One to watch: Sven. Secretaries beware.
FF signing. Perhaps worth taking a punt on Bianchi. Italian strikers have a dreadful record in English football, but this guy got 18 in Serie A last year… so you never know, right?
This is Laurie Sanchez’s big chance in the Premier League, and he gave up the Northern Ireland job to make the most of it. Still, his signings should make him feel right at home: Baird, Davies, Hughes and Healey were all members of the Norn Iron side that beat Spain. They only avoided relegation by a single point last season, and I imagine it could be more of the same again this time around.
One to watch: David Healy. Phenomenally successful for Northern Ireland but often starting off the bench with struggling Leeds. How will he take to the Premiership? The answer will be critical to Fulham’s chances.
FF signing: Jimmy Bullard. Not quite back from injury yet, but is capable of scoring a lot of goals from midfield. As he was out for most of last season, he should also be relatively cheap.
Steve Bruce did really well to get Birmingham out of the maelstrom of the Championship last year, and rumour has it he was inches from getting the boot at Christmas… but he hung on and his side came back strongly to clinch automatic promotion. What are their chances this year? Where are the signings? Where will the goals come from? A struggle ahead, I think.
One to watch: Gary McSheffrey. Once upon a time, the youngest player to appear in the Premier League (for Coventry, in 1999 and aged 16). He’s scored goals in the Championship and is a former England U-21 international. Can he make the step up?
FF signing. Hmm. Maik Taylor and Franck Quedrue are probably the best of a bad bunch, but you wouldn’t want to be relying on any clean sheet points. Forssell has done well in the past, I suppose.
Wigan narrowly avoided relegation last year and the signing of Titus Bramble hardly fills me with any confidence that they’ll be able to avoid the drop again this year. Paul Jewell is another tough act to follow… and is Chris Hutchings really the man to do it?
One to watch: Titus Bramble. Once touted as an England defender in waiting, now just openly laughed at for his physique and his tendency to drop at least one bollock every single game. Perhaps the politest thing to say is that he has a lot to prove.
FF signing. Jason Koumas. Wigan’s most creative player by a mile and a genuine talent. Should get plenty of assists and is a decent outside bet to be the club’s top scorer too.
Hmm. I think this is going to be a long hard slog.
One to Watch: Billy Davies. Seems a bit combustible and threatened to walk out immediately after the play-off victory last season. Who knows what he’ll do when his side start losing? Of the players, Lee Holmes is the one that is tipped for the top.
FF signing: Robert Earnshaw is unpredictable, but has scored goals at this level before.
To be honest though, your guess is as good as mine. One thing's for sure... I bet the Championship is a closer race! Could this finally be the year of the Old Gold? Super Freddie Eastwood for Golden Boot? Or 7th as usual?