Jeff StellingSky Sports' beating heart and pulsing brain
The title race will be closer than last season, but Manchester United have already struck a real psychological blow by beating City in the manner they did at Wembley on Sunday. City might bear the scars of that for a while.
United have certainly bought well and their younger players Ã¢ÂÂ Smalling, Nani, Hernandez, the Da Silva twins Ã¢ÂÂ will all have learnt and improved too. They would certainly be my tip for the title.City will be up there again, and exactly how they do may depend on how well Aguero slots in, but I see them finishing second. I think Liverpool's feelgood factor could see them finish third and we saw glimpses at the end of last season of how much of a handful Luis Suarez is going to be for opposition defences. I donÃ¢ÂÂt necessarily think Chelsea and Arsenal are that much, if any stronger than last season.
There are a few question marks around Chelsea, the new manager is very inexperienced Ã¢ÂÂ so can he achieve the same success as somebody like Carlo Ancelotti? TheyÃ¢ÂÂll also need Fernando Torres to score some goals, and IÃ¢ÂÂm not entirely convinced he will. But they still have a solid look about them and weÃ¢ÂÂll see more of Ramires this season. They should have enough know-how to pip Arsenal to fourth.
Everybody knows the kind of players Arsenal need to buy Ã¢ÂÂ solid defensive players, and itÃ¢ÂÂs almost like Arsene Wenger cocks a snook at them by going out and signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. HeÃ¢ÂÂs undoubtedly a fantastic prospect, but heÃ¢ÂÂs the last thing they need at the moment. God knows what Arsenal fans must make of that. IÃ¢ÂÂm a big fan of Arsene Wenger, but IÃ¢ÂÂm left scratching my head at times.
IÃ¢ÂÂll also be interested to see how Tottenham get on. I know they havenÃ¢ÂÂt really strengthened but if Ledley King and Gareth Bale can stay fit and they keep Luka Modric they could do well. I canÃ¢ÂÂt imagine Jermain Defoe struggling as badly as he did last season and I can see HarryÃ¢ÂÂs team having a good year.IÃ¢ÂÂve got a funny feeling Norwich might do OK too. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve always scored goals Ã¢ÂÂ last season they scored in 20 of their 23 away games Ã¢ÂÂ and itÃ¢ÂÂll be interesting to see if Grant Holt can do it at the top level.
But itÃ¢ÂÂs hard to see their fellow promotees QPR surviving. DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroy will get a modicum of goals, but itÃ¢ÂÂll be a bit of a miracle if Neil Warnock keeps them up. I think Blackburn will go down too Ã¢ÂÂ I just donÃ¢ÂÂt think the owners have a real grip on reality. Wigan, meanwhile, canÃ¢ÂÂt keep scraping out of it forever.If you asked me to put money on somebody to win the Golden Boot IÃ¢ÂÂd go with Suarez Ã¢ÂÂ I was really impressed with him last season, heÃ¢ÂÂll get great service and I think heÃ¢ÂÂll work well with Andy Carroll.
1. Man United 2. Man City 3. Liverpool 4. ChelseaRelegated: QPR, Blackburn, Wigan Athletic Top scorer: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Jeff was talking on behalf of Soccer Saturday Super 6, the free-to-enter online predictor game, with a double jackpot of ÃÂ£200,000 on Saturday 13 August.
Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking)Editor, ZonalMarking.net
Manchester United have strengthened and will improve on last year. Manchester City will maintain a challenge but they draw too many games. Chelsea will take a while to get used to Andre Villas-Boas's methods and be a bit predictable. And Arsenal will do the same as ever...
I think Tottenham might surprise people and push on a bit, but not into the top four. I also fancy Wolves to be better than last year - they've got Roger Johnson in, and they'll keep more clean sheets. I think Bolton might be a surprise name to be involved in the relegation fight: they've lost some key attacking players. As for top scorer, I'll go for Robin van Persie, though for an outside bet, maybe Jermain Defoe...
1. Man United 2. Man City 3. Chelsea 4. ArsenalRelegated: Norwich, Blackburn, QPRTop Scorer: Robin van Perise (Arsenal)
Michael Cox runs ZonalMarking.net, a website about formations, tactics, and anything else deemed geeky enough for inclusion.
Mark LawrensonBBC, Daily Mirror
Manchester United have the best manager, a team able to deal with all different competitions, strong competition for places, a good balance of youth and experience, hunger and a real winning mentality. Apart from that theyÃ¢ÂÂve got no chance.
IÃ¢ÂÂd say Manchester City second (under the proviso the dynamic of the dressing room is right), Chelsea third, Liverpool fourth and Arsenal fifth. Not being in Europe is a massive boost for Liverpool in terms of getting back into the top four.
At the other end, itÃ¢ÂÂs almost impossible for Norwich and Swansea to be able to attract the kind of players that are going to help you stay in the league.
Blackburn also worry me. Players now just want to leave, IÃ¢ÂÂm not sure what the owners are doing. I they'll regret sacking Sam Allardyce, no disrespect to Steve Kean. He could well be the first manager sacked: the owners have dropped him right in it. Once you start selling players without giving the manager the budget to buy you the kind of quality to keep you in the Premier League, heÃ¢ÂÂs got no chance.
Top scorerÃ¢ÂÂs a far more difficult one. IÃ¢ÂÂd probably go with Wayne Rooney. Javier Hernandez had a really good season last year, but it will be a bit more difficult this year, because people will understand how he plays now.
I think Wolves will have a good season. They play for the manager, he knows what heÃ¢ÂÂs doing, Roger JohnsonÃ¢ÂÂs been a good signing for him and MickÃ¢ÂÂs got a little bit more competition for places up front and in midfield.
What were they, 15 minutes away from relegation? I donÃ¢ÂÂt think that will be a problem this season. I think theyÃ¢ÂÂll be well clear of it.
You canÃ¢ÂÂt keep selling your best players, as Aston Villa have done of late. I know theyÃ¢ÂÂve signed Darren Bent, but theyÃ¢ÂÂve taken away his supply line. The other problem for Alex McLeish is heÃ¢ÂÂs come from the enemy, so if he makes a bad start thatÃ¢ÂÂs going to be a real problem. They might finish just short of half-way.
I think everybody is going to love watching Sergio Aguero. And IÃ¢ÂÂm quite looking forward to seeing David de Gea, purely because balls come into the area in the Premier League completely differently than they do in La Liga. IÃ¢ÂÂm sure heÃ¢ÂÂll be really, really good, but itÃ¢ÂÂll be interesting to see his approach.
1. Man United 2. Man City 3. Chelsea 4. LiverpoolRelegated: Norwich, Swansea, Blackburn Top scorer: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Mark was talking about the forthcoming season at the Kinect Sports for Xbox 360 football event at the Sports CafÃÂ©, Central London
James Maw (@JamesMawFFT)FourFourTwo's online features editor
It's hard to look beyond Manchester United as champions, although if Carlos Tevez ends up staying at Manchester City they'll have a good shout. City will have to settle for being runners-up, followed by Chelsea then Liverpool. At the other end, assuming nothing massive changes, will be QPR, Swansea and Blackburn.
I'm not convinced Aston Villa will have a particularly good season, but given everything will be going through Darren Bent, he'll be a good shout for the Golden Boot. I've got a nagging feeling that Spurs may start slowly, particularly now they'll be playing catch-up in terms of games played and starting up at Old Trafford. Let's see how they react to that. Across North London, it'll be interesting to see how Arsenal fit in Gervinho, and more specifically what his arrival means for Theo Walcott.
I don't think Newcastle will do as badly as many others are suggesting. They're not the only side to lose players this summer, and they've brought in a few interesting-looking signings and hopefully Hatem Ben Arfa will be back from his latest knock sooner rather than later. They won't get near that top six from last season, but if they hit the ground running I think they could still finish in the top eight.
It pains me to say it, but Roberto Martinez could be the first manager in trouble if Wigan are struggling again, which doesn't exactly look unlikely given they've lost Charles N'Zogbia and not replaced him.
1. Man United 2. Man City 3. Chelsea 4. LiverpoolRelegated: QPR, Swansea, BlackburnTop Scorer: Darren Bent (Aston Villa)
James Maw is FourFourTwo's online features editor and resident grumbly mumbler.
Charlotte Jackson (@CharLouJackson)Sky Sports presenter
Manchester United are team to beat and have strengthened their squad and with good young players in Phil Jones, Ashley Young and David de Gea. Manchester City may need to replace Carlos Tevez, but they have the money to do so.
With Chelsea in transition with a new manager, Arsenal losing players, Spurs having made no signings and Liverpool having a few new players to bed in I think City will grind out wins and improve on last season's league position.
Chelsea still have an old squad, and a manager who's unknown in the Premier League Ã¢ÂÂ but they still have enough quality and experience to get third.
It's always tough for the side that comes up via the play-offs and I don't think it will be any different for Swansea. Despite being considered one of the richest clubs, QPR haven't made any significant signings and you always sense things could go wonky there. All the promoted sides will try and play the right way but with Norwich also not making any real proven Premier League signings I think they will struggle to get the goals to keep them up.
Rooney will be top scorer; he's due a good season. You have to think United will be the most consistently attacking side and with Hernandez injured for the start of the season, I'm going with Rooney.
1. Man United 2. Man City 3. Chelsea 4. LiverpoolRelegated: Swansea, QPR, NorwichTop Scorer: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Charlotte Jackson is a Sky Sports and Al Jazeera presenter and 71 Degrees North co-host - charlottejackson.tv
Luke Moore (@LukeyMoore)Football Ramble-r
Top Four, in order, will be Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool. Bottom three, not in order: Wigan, Blackburn and Swansea. Top scorer will be Manchester City's Sergio Aguero Ã¢ÂÂ the man is an all round superstar. Wonderful technique, superb speed and the nous to play a bit further forward than Carlos Tevez and cause absolute havoc. Just need to make sure Roberto Mancini doesn't tinker with him too much and that he gets enough games.
I think Fulham could have a decent season under Martin Jol as well; he's an astute manager with experience of doing pretty well in this division (something that's often overlooked), and has made a decent signing in John Arne Riise. If you look at the players they have at their disposal, they can easily challenge for a European place if they keep them fit: Mark Schwarzer, Brede Hangeland, Riise, Danny Murphy, Damien Duff, Clint Dempsey, Bobby Zamora.
Other business: Liverpool will be back to their old self and have a say in where the title goes this season. They play Chelsea in their last home game, and that could be huge.
Luke Moore is a member of The Football Ramble, an award-winning podcast released every Wednesday
Louis Massarella (@MassarellaFFT)FourFourTwo commissioning editor
I can see Manchester City winning the title. Bonkers, I know. Especially after the Community Shield lesson (if that matters). But I think last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs Champions League final is key. Manchester United were so far behind Barcelona, and what do they really have to prove by winning another Premier League title? Winning another Champions League is the only thing that can really reaffirm FergieÃ¢ÂÂs greatness. City, on the other hand, will have the hunger of winning their first league crown for ages. If Mario Balotelli stays fit and focused, if they can hold firm at centre-back and if Mancini can stop being so Italian and go for it a bit more (they have the players, after all), they can win it. Three big ifs, though...
People are getting carried away about Liverpool. Sure, there'll be a feelgood factor, but they have a lot of new players to bed in, and the majority of the new signings are unproven for any team used to anything above mid-table. Chelsea are still strong but needed to freshen up more in terms of personnel and tactics, and I'm not sure Andre Villas-Boas will be brave enough to risk upsetting all the big egos. Arsenal have been written off, but will have a point to prove. Still loads of clout going forward, Aaron Ramsey could be an adequate replacement for Cesc. They'll still be Champions League material if they sign a decent centre-back by the end of August. Why oh why did Wenger not sign Shay Given, though?!
Blackburn have sold Phil Jones, Jermaine Jones has gone back to Germany after loan spell and Chris Samba might have gone by the end of the month. And theyÃ¢ÂÂve signed... Er... No, me either. Swansea will be well organised, have a plan and momentum. I'm just not sure they have the players to stay up (especially now QPR have signed a couple of decent strikers). The Toon, well, theyÃ¢ÂÂre always a crisis waiting to happen and have sold Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique and could also lose Joey Barton. The players they have signed will also need time to bed in. The crowdÃ¢ÂÂs anxiety, as usual, will get through to players and manager.
1. Man City 2. Man Utd 3. Chelsea 4. ArsenalRelegated: Blackburn, Newcastle, SwanseaTop scorer: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Louis has worked for FourFourTwo for as long as anybody can remember
Kevin Coleman (@BPFootball)Co-Editor, BackPageFootball.com
I've seen many people suggesting that it'll be another runaway title for Manchester United, but I firmly believe Manchester City can push them all the way. Given the amazing strength in depth up front and the quality in midfield, City have the ability to win the title.
However, I've a feeling it'll be one year too early for Mancini's men Ã¢ÂÂ given it's their first year having to tackle the busy Premier League/Champions League schedule, which takes a while to get used to. If Mancini can loosen the reins in some way and let the players express themselves, there'll only be a handful of points in it at the end of the season.
United have strengthened impressively this summer, not flaffing about and waiting for things to happen but going out and splashing the cash. They have the best wide players in the league, and with the quality of strikers and the possibility of Wesley Sneijder to complement them, it's really theirs to lose going into the start of the season.
It's easy to rule out Arsenal, seeing as they're about to sell Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, but if Wenger can buy well this month it'll be foolish to write them off making the top four this season. Unfortunately for them, Liverpool have been busy this summer and have focused on their weaknesses Ã¢ÂÂ unlike Arsenal so far.
If Liverpool can keep Andy Carroll fit there's no question that he'll score goals. Liverpool now seem to have quality in numbers, and with the midfield that they have at the minute Ã¢ÂÂ with a solid enough back four Ã¢ÂÂ they have the goods to get back into the top four this season at the expense of Arsenal.
As for relegation, it's not an easy one to predict this year, given the quality of the sides coming up into the Premier League. I think QPR will be safe, and Swansea won't be too far behind them. Swansea may surprise a few this season, a la Blackpool last year, but I think they have the quality to sustain a decent performance throughout the season and survive the season. Norwich have some decent players but overall I don't think they have the quality to achieve anything more than a survival fight, and I expect them to be one of the three going down.
Wigan have done well to survive over the last couple of seasons, and were very lucky to beat the drop last season. Having sold one of their key players, Charles N'Zogbia, Wigan may fall further into the relegation battle and this year I don't think they can escape Ã¢ÂÂ especially if they replicate last season's poor form.
The last relegation position will probably be a final-day decider, but looking at Blackburn I just don't think they have the quality or the confidence to rise about last season's 15th place. With Phil Jones sold and Chris Samba possibly following him out the club, they've been severely dented and will be sucked in to a relegation battle with the likes of Wolves and Swansea, who should be safe.
Top scorer? Tough question this year, with a lot of quality candidates. Wayne Rooney will be there or thereabouts as he is every year, as will Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll, Darren Bent, Carlos Tevez if he stays and Fernando Torres, who I think will explode this season. But my nod goes to Javier Hernandez, who I think is one of the most natural goalscorers there is anywhere in Europe at the minute. If he plays, even if it's only a matter of coming off the bench, he'll score goals.
BackPageFootball.com provides a variety of football articles from a number of different people, be they young journalists or armchair fans.Robbie Savage (@RobbieSavage8)BBC Radio Five Live, Daily Mirror, etc
Champions will be Man United, without any doubts. I think City will push them close this year. For the top four IÃ¢ÂÂm going for United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool; I think Arsenal will slip out. For relegation, IÃ¢ÂÂm going to go for Swansea, Blackburn and QPR. For other strugglers, youÃ¢ÂÂve got to look at Norwich, and possibly Villa: McLeish has done well for Birmingham, but heÃ¢ÂÂs going to be under massive pressure.
Wayne Rooney will be top scorer, but I'm looking forward to watching Adel Taarabt. I think heÃ¢ÂÂll surprise people, I think he'll struggle. In the Championship he looked like a was a world-beater but it's going to be a big season for him to show people if he can do it in the Premier League. He struggled at Spurs, so let's see how good he really is. You canÃ¢ÂÂt be that good in the Championship and fail in the Premier League.
1. Man United 2. Man City 3. Chelsea 4. LiverpoolRelegated: Swansea, Blackburn, QPRTop scorer: Wayne Rooney (Man United)
Robbie Savage was launching npowerÃ¢ÂÂs Club 72 interactive website. How many of the 72 Football League stadiums have you visited?
Gary Parkinson (@GaryParkinson)FourFourTwo.com editor
For the thick end of two decades, barring an interregnum imposed by Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, it has been a surprise if Manchester United aren't champions. No alarms this year, either. Alex Ferguson has once again bought players who improve the strength of the team and depth of the squad without threatening the structure of the club, including laying the groundwork for the medium-term replacement of the Vidic/Ferdinand defensive axis. Their only problem is in goal, where they must hope David de Gea is more of a Pepe Reina than a Ricardo.
Noisy neighbours Manchester City will hope to have Fergie banging on the wall but the domestic din will taper off. From spring Roberto Mancini may focus more on the Champions League, and he may be right to; City have the players to win any one-off, but not many of them have the experience and belief necessary to get the uglier wins in less glamorous fixtures.
For that reason, I think Chelsea will finish runners-up. As the Stamford Bridge old guard gird their loins for one last job, you can imagine them grinding past City in the league (and possibly Europe) Ã¢ÂÂ as long as they don't lose faith in the new manager, as they seem to have done with his predecessors.
Fourth place is up for grabs, as is thankfully becoming the norm. After doing what they do best Ã¢ÂÂ buying young forwards, selling maturing assets, ignoring defensive crises Ã¢ÂÂ Arsenal will score and concede with pleasing regularity; if he can stay fit, Robin van Persie's a good Golden Boot bet. Spurs will be up the right end, as long as Harry Redknapp doesn't lie back and think of England, and Everton will make their annual organised charge from just slightly too far back. To their chagrin, neighbours Liverpool look to have the squad, management, ownership and Europe-free fixture list to push on; their development may be measured by how long they stay in the title race.
Down at the tradesmen's exit, it could be a disastrous season for Lancashire. Blackburn seem in disarray under new management, Wigan can't survive forever on Roberto Martinez's top-flight average of 1.06 points per game, and Bolton face a tough start without their two best players (three if Gary Cahill goes). This season's Big Clubs Facing Trouble could be Newcastle and Villa, while the three promoted sides will face some soul-searching if it goes wrong: billionaire-backed QPR have spent nothing, Norwich may get vertigo and Swansea's passing patterns may not bedazzle the country's elite. But they'll offer some surprises, and that's a good thing, right?
1. Man United 2. Chelsea 3. Man City 4. LiverpoolRelegated: Blackburn, Wigan, Norwich
Gary Parkinson is FourFourTwo.com editor and guitar-slinging festival-botherer.
Jon ChampionESPN football commentator
Manchester United will win the Premier League again, followed in descending order by Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
QPR will be relegated unless thereÃ¢ÂÂs a radical change in ownership. It would be very easy to say Swansea and Norwich will join them, but Wigan, Blackburn and, if they get off to a bad start, Newcastle could also be in for a tricky season.
1. Man United 2. Man City 3. Chelsea 4. ArsenalRelegated: QPR, Norwich, Swansea Top scorer: Robin van Persie (Arsenal)
It may be said every year, but the new Premier League season looks like being one of the most unpredictable yet Ã¢ÂÂ top and bottom. ItÃ¢ÂÂs hard to see anyone doing a Lady Godiva and streaking away with the title; Manchester United are favourites as ever, but they have to adapt to a changing squad. That includes a talented but inexperienced goalkeeper who will have less of a nerve-settling aura about him than the departed Edwin van der Sar. Ashley Young and Phil Jones Ã¢ÂÂ and also Tom Cleverley, returning from an accomplished loan spell at Wigan Ã¢ÂÂ appear ready to slot right into an otherwise settled team, however, and a 20th title looks likely.
Likely, but not guaranteed. Chelsea and Manchester City will be hacking away at UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs ladder with money-made machetes. Teams will especially fear Chelsea as Andre Villas-Boas is something of an unknown quantity: no English side has ever faced one of his outfits. Tactical change will be gradual rather than dramatic, but if they can overcome Stoke at the Britannia in their first game, expect a flying start from then on.
Sergio Aguero is a fantastic signing for Man City, and few other changes were needed in a solid squad. They often relied on a bit of spark from Carlos Tevez and David Silva last season, though, and theyÃ¢ÂÂll need the pair on form and interested throughout the season.
Liverpool will pip Arsenal to fourth, no doubt. But if he keeps fit, Robin van Persie could be a good shout for the Golden Boot. Top scorers always need the service, so itÃ¢ÂÂd be a big surprise if it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt someone from the top five, and one player who will receive plenty of service, with the ability to create his own goals, is Luis Suarez. The Golden Boot should be his.
Down at the bottom, all three of the promoted teams have weak areas that can be exploited, but QPR look in the biggest trouble, being unable to build much on their Championship-winning team.
For the first time in years, everyone's tipping Blackburn for the drop Ã¢ÂÂ and they're right to. With an unproven, under-pressure manager having to handle his clueless owners asking him to buy Lionel Messi for ÃÂ£5 and a bargain bucket, heÃ¢ÂÂll have too much on his plate to lead his team to good results, and is a strong bet for the first managerial casualty too (depending on the situation at QPR).
Wigan may well join Rovers in the Championship. Roberto Martinez has a good team spirit going that helped the Latics to pull safety out of the bag last term, but you have to question the squad's quality at front and back. There are serious concerns over their defence, and with Charles NÃ¢ÂÂZogbia gone they need someone to step up and help Hugo Rodallega carry the goals burden.
Elsewhere, Aguero will be one to watch, but keep an eye on Edin Dzeko too. He has the talent to justify his stupendous transfer fee, and with some pre-season goals under his belt, the confidence too.
For a surprise package, in the exciting Chung-Yong LeeÃ¢ÂÂs enforced absence through injury, look no further than Aaron Ramsey. With a run of games he could be prove himself to be as crucial to ArsenalÃ¢ÂÂs midfield as Jack Wilshere. DonÃ¢ÂÂt pin too many hopes on either Jordan Henderson or Charlie Adam though: they may find it hard to hold down a place in LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs midfield.
One final prediction: Darren Bent to score an England hat-trick by this time next year. You heard it here first (ish).
1. Man United 2. Chelsea 3. Man City 4. LiverpoolRelegated: QPR, Blackburn, WiganTop Scorer: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Huw Davies is FourFourTwo's staff writer and the office blame-magnet.
------------------------------------In brief: Twitter predictions
Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian)Guardian football writer, author of Deep into the Forest, This is the One and Squeaky Bum Time1. Man United 2. Man City 3. Chelsea 4. LiverpoolRelegated: Swansea, QPR, BlackburnTop scorer: Wayne Rooney (Man United)
Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) MSNBC's "Morning Joe" news anchor1. Chelsea 2. Man United 3. Man City 4. LiverpoolRelegated: Swansea, West Brom, WiganTop scorer: Wayne Rooney (Man United)
Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague)Sky Sports, AS, The Times, Five Live, Talksport, GuillemBalague.com1. Man City 2. Man United 3. Chelsea 4. LiverpoolRelegated: QPR, Norwich, WolvesTop Scorer: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Chris O'Dowd (@BigBoyler)Actor (The IT Crowd, Bridesmaids, The Boat That Rocked, etc)1. Liverpool 2. Man United 3. Man City 4. Chelsea Relegated: Swansea, Norwich, Blackburn. Top Scorer: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes)Football Correspondent for The Times1. Man United 2. Man City 3. Chelsea 4. ArsenalRelegated: Blackburn, Norwich, QPRTop scorer: Wayne Rooney (Man United)