The new Premier League season is now less than 24 hours away, but how will it pan out? We've asked a few respected media types (and oiks from our office) to share their predictions for the coming season...
Gary Parkinson (Editor, FourFourTwo.com) I wrote last year that Man City would push hard for the title but fall away in spring as they concentrated on the Champions League and their neighbours used their experience to pull clear domestically. I was wrong then Ã¢ÂÂ although few predicted both Manchester clubs would be out of UEFA's chief beanfeast before Christmas Ã¢ÂÂ but I'll say the same again this year.
Retaining the title is harder than winning it, even if you've waited decades, and Roberto Mancini has some long unfinished business with the Champions League. City will push hard to keep their long-sought gong, and their squad is wide and deep enough to fight on two fronts, but Financial Fair Play is already making City sell to buy and those who aren't first choice may start to find their feet itching.
Unity of purpose has rarely been a problem for Sir Alex Ferguson and he will relish wresting control back from his neighbours. Unusually old for an Old Trafford recruit these days, Robin van Persie is United's biggest outlay since they bought Dimitar Berbatov on the day City's Sheikh moved in, and although Glazernomics will continue to drain the club's resources, United have a title-winning squad and an astonishing array of firepower.
If the Red Devils have a weakness it might be in the holding midfield position, but Roy Hodgson will hope it helps Tom Cleverley develop, Fergie will be ecstatic to see the unheralded but ever-excellent Darren Fletcher recover from illness, and there's a near-century of experience in Giggs, Scholes and Carrick. The old knight might also experiment with Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones in midfield roles, although the latter may start to replace Rio Ferdinand in the games that matter.
Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal will hope to keep pace, but none will. They'll all play good attacking football and battle for the top four, which would be fine if they didn't have such high expectations. Speaking of which, Liverpool have a cow of a start and mustn't start to doubt another manager making a step up. Few Evertonians doubt David Moyes, and their belief may be rewarded if Nikica Jelavic, Steven Naismith and Ross Barkley dovetail.
It brings no pleasure to say that they may not be challenged by Newcastle, whose success last season was delightful but built on fine margins: they cleared more shots off the line than anyone else, and nobody won fewer points from a losing position. Just to stand still, they need all their key men to play above themselves Ã¢ÂÂ again.
Even so, they should be well clear of relegation, protected by a buffer zone of teams battling around midtable Ã¢ÂÂ Fulham, Stoke, Sunderland, West Brom if Steve Clarke can step up, Norwich under the quietly consistent Chris Hughton. Mark Hughes will drag QPR into that bunch, doggedly followed by West Ham unless Sam Allardyce is hounded out by ticket-waving purists, and Paul Lambert will aim to take Villa there first in the hope of better things later.
Which leaves four teams in trouble. I fear for Swansea, who need to find a back-up plan under a manager yet to set the world alight. Reading rather ground their way to promotion and 1-0 wins are much harder to come by in the top flight; conversely, Southampton's rather more flamboyant outlook might leave them open at the back. And Wigan can't survive forever while selling their best players, taking risks on replacements and fighting off approaches for their manager: they may experience the bitter taste of relegation for only the second time in their 35 league seasons.Top four: Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, ChelseaBottom three: Swansea, Reading, Wigan Top scorer: Sergio Aguero (Man City)
David Hall (Editor, FourFourTwo Magazine)Top four: Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal, TottenhamBottom three: Wigan, West Brom, West HamTop scorer: Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
Ben Welch (FourFourTwo Performance)Top four: Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal, TottenhamBottom three: Swansea, Reading, WiganTop scorer: Wayne Rooney (Man Utd)
Tony Barrett (football writer, The Times)Top four: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, ArsenalBottom three: Wigan, QPR, ReadingTop scorer: Wayne Rooney (Man Utd)
Dan Walker (broadcaster, BBC Sport)Top four: Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, LiverpoolBottom three: Swansea, Reading, NorwichTop scorer: Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Eamonn Holmes (broadcaster, Sky News)Top four: Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City, SpursBottom three: Fulham, QPR, WiganTop scorer: Wayne Rooney (Man Utd)
Louis Saha (Sunderland)Top four: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, TottenhamTop scorer: Robin van Persie (Man Utd) or Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Kevin Davies (Bolton Wanderers)Top four: Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal.Bottom three: Wigan, Southampton, Reading.Top scorer: Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Mark Watson (comedian, broadcaster, FFT blogger)Top four: Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, ArsenalBottom three: Southampton, Fulham, WiganTop scorer: A rejuvenated Carlos Tevez (Man City)
Michael Cox (Football writer, FFT blogger)Top four: Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal, ChelseaBottom three: Reading, Southampton, SwanseaTop scorer: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Joe Scarborough (broadcaster, MSNBC)Top four: Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, LiverpoolBottom three: Wigan, Southampton, West HamTop scorer: Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Guillem Balague (Spanish football expert)Top four: Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, LiverpoolBottom three: QPR, Norwich, SouthamptonTop scorer: Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
Daniel Taylor (Chief football writer, the Guardian/Observer)Top four: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, ArsenalBottom three: Norwich, Southampton, WiganTop scorer: Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Grant Wahl (writer, Sports Illustrated)Top four: Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, ChelseaBottom three: QPR, Reading, West BromTop scorer: Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Charlotte Jackson (broadcaster, Sky Sports/Al Jazeera)Top four: Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal, ChelseaBottom three: Norwich, West Brom, ReadingTop scorer: Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Hayley McQueen (broadcaster, Sky Sports)Top four: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, ArsenalBottom three: Wigan, Southampton, NorwichTop scorer: Robin van Persie (Man Utd)
James Maw (Online Features Editor, FourFourTwo)Let's be honest, last season's Premier League was so full of surprises that you could hardly blame somebody if their predictions proved to be wide of the mark. I say this not only as a defence of my own shoddy forecast last August (Darren Bent probably would've finished top scorer were it not for that injury...), but also to highlight the fact that this season will be equally tricky to predict.
Having underachieved on the European front last term, I'd wager Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini will be under pressure to deliver an improved continental showing this time round, and that may lead to a slight tweaking in focus which could hand their neighbours the impetus to reclaim the crown they see as their own.
Despite both losing their line-leading forwards this summer, Arsenal and Chelsea have both recruited well enough to be confident of top four finishes. I suspect the battle for those last two Champions League berths may not be quite as fierce as 2011/12. Liverpool still look a way off that level, while Spurs have got Modric and Adebayor-shaped holes which still need filling in vital areas of the pitch, though leaving it late in the summer window almost worked perfectly last season. Newcastle may be the best bet to displace the Gunners or the Blues, but the extra burden of European football is likely to stretch their squad, even if their star men are rested.
At the gloomy end, there don't appear to be any obviously weak teams. The three promoted sides have all brought in good players, while those who escaped by the skin of their teeth last year have generally been able to hold on to their stars. But this could be the season Wigan finally tumble through the trap door. As impressive as they were last spring, it's hard to see them repeating the trick, particularly as you'd assume most opponents will be taking them a little more seriously this time around.
Reading surprised everybody, not least Fulham, by signing Pavel Pogrebnyak at the start of the summer. The Russian, who spent the second half of last season at Craven Cottage, has proven pedigree, but at the other end Chris Gunter and Adrian Mariappa are being thrown in at the deep end - they've previously played just 24 top flight matches between them. Although there'll be money to spend, they still look weaker than the other two promoted sides and it's hard to see them not struggling at present.
Things seem to have gone a little stale at Stoke. Last season, the Potters scored ten fewer goals than 2010/11, and conceded five more, this is a worrying sign, even if it did equate to them collecting just one point fewer than the previous season. It was inevitable owner Peter Coates would eventually demand a tightening to belts, with the Staffordshire club spending heavily since their promotion to the Premier League in 2008. Michael Kightly and Jamie Ness are decent acquisitions, but do they have the quality to lead a resurgence? Teams aren't struggling to cope with Tony Pulis' side as much as they were two or three years ago, if that trend continues, there could be a very long season ahead.
As far as the Premier League's top scorer is concerned, it would be foolish to look outside Manchester, and if Robin van Persie hits the ground running and avoids injury - no mean feat - he should certainly be getting the service to score a similar number of goals as last season.Top four: Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, ChelseaBottom three: Wigan, Reading, StokeTop scorer: Robin van Persie (Man Utd)
But enough about us, what do you think? Tweet your predictions to @FourFourTwo