2009/10 predictions

Skysports.com give thoughts on who is going to light up the season

Last updated: 14th August 2009  

2009/10 predictions

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The Skysports.com team have been putting their collective heads on the block ahead of the 2009/10 season to predict who they think is going to light up the Premier League campaign and who is going to have a dim old time of things.

Having cast an eye back over last season's words of wisdom, it would be fair to say several people need to raise their game, although there were some notable successes.

Credit to Mark Buckingham and David Milner for going against popular opinion and backing Hull City to avoid the drop, but concerns must be raised over the former selecting Giovani Dos Santos as the player to watch, while the latter's faith in Bristol City to challenge in the Championship was similarly wide of the mark.

Milner was again on the money with his belief that Kevin Keegan could be the flop of the season, but Joe Drabble let the side down badly by allowing his heart to rule his head and backing Norwich for promotion to the Premier League.

Our esteemed and intrepid group of journalists have gone back to the drawing board and come up with their expectations for the coming season.

So, without further ado, here are skysports.com's predictions for you to deride at your leisure. Feel free to add your comments at the foot of the article.

Rob Parrish

Winners:
Manchester United - Sir Alex Ferguson's men remain the team to beat despite the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, although Liverpool will be snapping at their heels once again and Chelsea can be expected to mount a more sustained challenge than last term.

Chasing Champions League:
Arsenal will do well to retain their place among the top four with Manchester City spending lavishly throughout the summer. Tottenham should be back challenging at the right end of the table, while Everton and Aston Villa still hold hopes of gatecrashing the party.

Doomed for the Drop:
Hull City caught everyone out with an impressive start last season, but have been slumping since October last year and have failed to land the majority of their initial transfer targets. Burnley are likely to find the step up too great, while Portsmouth may find life difficult after a number of notable departures and few new arrivals.

Surprise package:
Sunderland - After two seasons battling against relegation, the Black Cats have brought in Steve Bruce as manager and made a number of astute summer signings. Challenging for Europe is being over-optimistic, but there is no reason why the Wearsiders cannot secure a top-half finish.

Top Scorer:
Fernando Torres - If he can avoid the injury problems which blighted his campaign last time out, the Spain international is a class apart and should be on course to claim the Golden Boot.

Best Buy:
Michael Owen - Sir Alex Ferguson did not have to pay a penny in transfer fees to land the former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker. Owen may be out of favour with England after a miserable and injury-hit time at Newcastle, but Fabio Capello will not continue to overlook his services once he begins to find the net at Old Trafford.

Flop:
Emmanuel Adebayor - Manchester City simply have too many frontline strikers for them all to be able to play on a regular basis and I can see the Togo international, who was brought in for another astronomical transfer fee, ending up as the odd man out.

One to watch:
Florent Malouda - The France international floundered under Luiz Felipe Scolari before showing his true talents when revitalised by Guus Hiddink in the second half of last season and should continue in the same vein as he appears to be part of Carlo Ancelloti's preferred starting XI.

Fantasy Football Must Have:
Steven Gerrard - He may be expensive, but Gerrard provides goals and assists in abundance and is certain to claim more than his fair share of man-of-the-match awards, all of which will see the Liverpool midfielder racking up the fantasy points.

First Manager To Go:
Mark Hughes - City's spending has rivalled Real Madrid's excess and suitable success will be expected, if not demanded. If Hughes' new-look side does not make an impressive start to the season, the knives will be out.

Graeme Bailey

Winners:
Has to be Chelsea for me as they are stronger, if anything, than last year and nearest rivals Manchester United look weaker, although if Michael Owen can find 30 goals in him, maybe things will be different.

Chasing Champions League:
Liverpool to take third, so Arsenal should get fourth just ahead of Spurs, but Man City, Villa and Everton will again push them.

Doomed for the Drop:
Burnley, Hull and Birmingham - but Wolves and Pompey will not be safe until very late on.

Surprise package:
After a pre-season under Harry Redknapp, Spurs could very well find this as the year they push on and take a top-four spot.

Top Scorer:
Steven Gerrard - Another top year from the Reds skipper and he will continue to relish his role behind Fernando Torres.

Best Buy:
Jo - The Brazilian showed last season, with the right manager, he could live up to his billing as a top-class striker and to get him on another season long loan is great work by David Moyes

Flop:
Christian Benitez - The Ecuador striker is a clear indication of how little £10million can get you nowadays, if Birmingham can get a goal for every £1million they will have done very, very well! I also believe Liverpool's £20million payment for Alberto Aquilani to be a great piece of business by Roma!

One to watch:
Lorik Cana - The Albanian has been an outstanding performer on the continent and to get him to sign for Sunderland was a huge coup by Steve Bruce. A top-class addition for the Black Cats.

Fantasy Football Must Have:
Steven Gerrard, with Ronaldo gone it has to be Liverpool skipper - guaranteed 20 goals at least and handful of assists.

First Manager To Go:
Phil Brown - A poor start could cost the likeable Geordie - but I can also see Alex McLeish bowing out pretty quickly at Birmingham.

James Pearson

Winners:
Manchester United - Although I believe it will one of the closest title races for years, one that could go down to the last day of the season, I think Manchester United might just shade it, despite the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo. They still possess a squad of experience and talent to envy and year on year have the desire and hunger to win yet more silverware.

Chasing Champions League:
Manchester City - Although City are regarded as the richest club in the world they are not one of the Premier League's big four. A summer of serious spending by Mark Hughes means they are now genuine UEFA Champions League challengers. Hughes could well find himself under pressure if they miss out on Champions League football.

Doomed for the Drop:
Burnley - While it is great that Burnley's fans can see Premier League football this season, I fear their love affair with England's top flight will last just 12 months. They have strengthened about as well as they could have done this summer and in Steven Fletcher they have at least one attacking threat. However, I do not believe they will lack the depth and quality to avoid finishing about the bottom three. But I wish you the best of luck!

Surprise package:
Sunderland - Sunderland have one key ingredient they lacked last season. Steve Bruce. Having the right man at the helm makes the world of difference and I can see the ex-Wigan tactician guiding the Black Cats to new heights with Darren Bent back among the goals following a largely disappointing spell at White Hart Lane.

Top Scorer:
Wayne Rooney - This is a toughie and much will depend on who stays fitter and plays in more matches. Fernando Torres, Nicolas Anelka and Wayne Rooney could easily scoop this season's accolade. I'm going to go for Rooney, who I believe will seize upon the extra responsibility bestowed upon him by Sir Alex Ferguson following Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez's exit.

Best Buy:
Michael Owen - One quantifies success based on cost compared with productivity. Considering Owen was snared by Sir Alex Ferguson on a free transfer I do not see how the striker can fail to succeed at Old Trafford. Whatever Owen produces will be a bonus considering rivals Manchester City splashed out £25million on a proven Premier League striker.

Flop:
Roque Santa Cruz - Competition for places is the key here for me. I can see Emmanuel Adebayor leading the line with Robinho and Carlos Tevez for support leaving Santa Cruz warming the bench. Santa Cruz is a player who thrives on being an important player. If he is not starting regularly I can't see him delivering the goods. Not much of a return on an £18m outlay.

One to watch:
Fabian Delph - Being a Leeds fan it comes as no surprise that I'm tipping Fabian Delph to be a star in the making for Aston Villa. Youngsters often need time before being thrown in at the deep end, but I believe the teenager is good to go. He brings first-team experience to the table and has great vision to compliment short and long passes, superb work-rate and an eye for goal. Watch this space!

Fantasy Football Must Have:
Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard - I would suggest Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are must-haves for any fantasy football manager. Both are similar in terms of size and stature and importance to their respective sides. Both play if fit, score regularly while also create chance after chance for colleagues. Find the cash to buy one if not both these England internationals.

First Manager To Go:
Paul Hart - While Hart did well in a short space of time last season at Portsmouth I think outside factors will conspire against him this time around. He has lost two key players this summer in Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch and has little to re-invest. Hart looks like adding experience to his squad, however, I do not believe Sulaiman Al-Fahim will afford him time if they get off to a slow start.

Lewis Rutledge

Winners:
Chelsea - Manchester United only won the Premier League by four points last season and Cristiano Ronaldo was worth far more than that to them. Liverpool will be too reliant once again on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, particularly following the departure of Xabi Alonso. Chelsea have kept all their best players and, on paper, appear to have the strongest squad.

Chasing Champions League:
Manchester City are a major threat to the top four after an incredible spending spree over the summer, while Tottenham could also challenge if they get off to a good start for a change. However, Arsenal still have too much quality and should clinch a Champions League place behind Manchester United and Liverpool.

Doomed for the Drop:
Hull City only survived last term because they made such a strong start and that won't happen again. Stoke City could fall victim to second season syndrome as opponents work out how to play against them. Burnley need a miracle.

Surprise package:
Wigan Athletic - Roberto Martinez is one of the most exciting young managers around and he has inherited a decent squad at the DW Stadium. If the Latics can combine the swagger and style he brought to Swansea with the solid defensive foundation they had in place under Steve Bruce, a European place might not be out of reach.

Top Scorer:
Didier Drogba endured a largely frustrating 2008/9 campaign but was revitalised in the closing stages under Guus Hiddink. New Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti is set to play Drogba up front alongside Nicolas Anelka and the Ivory Coast international remains the most formidable forward in the business.

Best Buy:
Glen Johnson - Liverpool have lacked an attacking threat from full-back in recent seasons but that problem has been solved by Johnson's arrival from Portsmouth. The right-back will trouble opponents with his pace and can be expected to provide numerous assists, while his defensive abilities are also underrated.

Flop:
Luis Jimenez - West Ham are expecting big things from Jimenez after signing him on a season-long loan deal from Inter Milan. However, the Chilean winger only has a modest goalscoring record and could find English football a bit of a shock to the system.

One to watch:
Luka Modric - The Croatian playmaker flourished towards the end of last season and produced some mesmerising performances. He will provide the main creative spark at Tottenham and is also capable of chipping in with more goals.

Fantasy Football Must Have:
Andrey Arshavin - It is hard to imagine anyone providing better value for money than Arshavin, who made a stunning start to his Premier League career and has vowed to improve this term. He is classed as a midfielder but can regularly be expected to play in a more advanced role, meaning goals and assists are almost guaranteed.

First Manager To Go:
Alex McLeish - He has been backed by the Birmingham board in the transfer market but patience may wear thin if they languish near the bottom of the table for too long.

Peter O'Rourke

Winners:
Liverpool - Liverpool can finally end their long wait for the Premier League crown. Reds boss Rafa Benitez showed last season that when he takes the defensive shackles off his team they are as good as anything in the Premier League. Manchester United will be up there as ever and you can expect a better challenge from new-loo Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti.

Chasing Champions League:
Big-spending Manchester City appear to be the best of the rest outside the top four and if they get off to a good start they could challenge for a Champions League spot. Aston Villa will be there or thereabouts after learning lessons from last season's campaign. Everton will be in the top six as long as they stay clear of injuries, while Tottenham will be hoping to continue their improvement under Harry Redknapp.

Doomed for the Drop:
Burnley look set for an immediate return to the flight as their fairytale rise to the Premier League looks like it could turn out to be a nightmare due to their failure to bring in better new faces. Hull City had a stay of execution on the last day of last season, but they could find themselves embroiled in another relegation scrap this term after failing to land most of their top transfer targets. Birmingham also look in danger of enjoying a short spell back in the top flight as some of Alex McLeish's signings fail to catch the imagination.

Surprise package:
West Ham - Gianfranco Zola helped transform West Ham's fortunes upon his arrival last season and with a couple of astute additions, especially in attack, could West Ham challenging for a spot in Europe. West Ham produced some free-flowing football last season and they will again be pleasing on the eye and with Steve Clarke's defensive nous the Hammers will prove hard to beat.

Top Scorer:
Wayne Rooney - Rooney is set to be played in his preferred striking role this season following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and the England international will thrive on the extra responsibility of being United's main man this season. Rooney has shown for England when he is played in a central striking role he is deadly in front of goal and he is sure to be presented with many goalscoring opportunities at Old Trafford.

Best Buy:
Peter Crouch - Tottenham beat off a host of clubs to land Crouch from Portsmouth and he looks certain to play a big part for Harry Redknapp's side. Crouch flourished under Redknapp at Southampton and Portsmouth and the Spurs chief knows how to get the best out of the tall frontman. The former Liverpool man will be keen to prove a point to Fabio Capello ahead of next summer's World Cup after recently losing his place in the Italian's plans.

Flop:
Carlos Tevez - The Argentine has swapped United for City, but like at Old Trafford he could find competition for places in attack fierce following the cash-rich club's summer spending spree. If Tevez fails to start well he could find himself playing a supporting role at Eastland with the likes of Robinho, Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz and Craig Bellamy all fighting for a place in the side.

One to watch:
James McCarthy - The young midfielder comes down to England from Scotland with a huge reputation. Despite being at the tender age of 18 McCarthy has already made over 100 appearances in his career and was named Young Player of the Year in the SPL last term. McCarthy is a tireless worker with an eye for goal and if he gets a regular run in Roberto Martinez's side he could be a surprise package for the Latics.

Chris Burton

Winners:
Chelsea - I appreciate that Manchester United should have more than enough about them to counter the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, while Liverpool will once again be there or thereabouts. I am, however, going to plump for Chelsea to take the Premier League crown, with the Blues having managed to retain the core of their squad this summer and made a few minor tweaks where necessary. Italian tactician Carlo Ancelotti could also prove to be the rightful heir to Jose Mourinho's crown that the Stamford Bridge faithful have been crying out for.

Chasing Champions League:
Aston Villa - Spending ridiculous amounts of money on proven Premier League quality will unquestionably see City break free of their mid-table shackles this term, but history dictates that fresh faces take time to settle. Villa then could represent more realistic challengers to the top-four monopoly, with Martin O'Neill renowned for getting the best out of unfashionable outfits.

Doomed for the Drop:
Hull City - A popular choice, but it is difficult to see how the Tigers can prolong their dalliance among England's elite. Last season saw them beat the drop by the skin of their teeth and, barring an unlikely repeat of last term's early heroics, they can expect to be dragged into the relegation dogfight once again in 2009/10.

Surprise package:
Sunderland - Having decided that experience is preferential to potential (Roy Keane and Ricky Sbragia), Sunderland's appointment of the tried and tested Steve Bruce could prove to be a masterstroke. The former Birmingham and Wigan chief is a dab hand in the transfer market and he will be relishing the opportunity of working under new Black Cats owner Ellis Short.

Top Scorer:
Wayne Rooney - Few at Old Trafford will have been happy to see Cristiano Ronaldo packing his bags for Real Madrid this summer, but his departure has opened the door for Rooney to reclaim centre stage at the Theatre of Dreams. Reverting back to his favoured role at the forefront of United's attack, the England ace is more than capable of racking up 20 Premier League goals for the first time in his career - and that should be enough to see him land the Golden Boot.

Best Buy:
Peter Crouch - One of the more inevitable pieces of transfer business during the summer window, but a shrewd capture nonetheless. Harry Redknapp knows precisely what he is getting from Crouch, having worked with him at Southampton and Portsmouth, and knows the towering frontman brings a never-say-attitude and a keen eye for goal. He has also proven to be a useful foil to Jermain Defoe in the past and will be looking forward to rekindling that partnership at White Hart Lane.

Flop:
Christian Benitez - Logic would suggest that any club trying to shake off an unwanted yo-yo tag would base their transfer business around acquiring players with a proven track record in any given division. Splashing out record-breaking sums of money on South American strikers who look useful on YouTube should, you would have thought, be towards the bottom of their priorities. Birmingham, though, have taken a £9million punt on Ecuadorian hit-man Benitez and must now wait and see whether their gamble pays off big time or backfires spectacularly.

One to watch:
Daniel Sturridge - Having decided that being 16th-choice striker at Manchester City was not to his liking, Sturridge took the brave move this summer of swapping life at Eastlands for that at Stamford Bridge. The noises coming out of West London suggest he has settled quickly into his new surroundings and, with Ancelotti favouring a 4-4-2 approach this term, he could get a look-in this season should Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka pick up injuries/suffer a loss of form/throw their toys out the pram.

Fantasy Football Must Have:
Steven Gerrard - Hardly ground-breaking advice, but anyone who opts against the Liverpool skipper when choosing their selection needs to question whether they are taking the game seriously or not. Mr Liverpool guarantees goals and assists aplenty, while he has also shaken of the niggling knocks which blighted his early career and will be the first name on Rafa Benitez's team sheet when available. All in all, Gerrard's game is made for Fantasy Football - so sign him up!

First Manager To Go:
Paul Hart - Hart may only recently have been handed the reins at Fratton Park on a full-time basis, but I am struggling to see how he will last past Christmas. Financial troubles continue to hamper Portsmouth's ambitions, with a previously competitive squad ripped to pieces over the course of the last 12 months. Whether Hart will be pushed, with Pompey struggling after a slow start, or whether he will jump, having grown tired of the incessant transfer rumours and ongoing boardroom rankles, remains to be seen, but I think 7/2 with skybet for the former Nottingham Forest coach to be the first to hit the exits this season is definitely worth a flutter.

Mark Buckingham

Winners:
Manchester United .History may be against them as no team has won the league four years in a row, but their ability to beat the weaker sides could swing the title race in their favour. Chelsea are the biggest dangers, with Liverpool still short of quality back-up to Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

Chasing Champions League:
Arsenal are perceived to be most under threat of the 'big four', but I think they can hang on for one more season while Mark Hughes tries to gel all his signings at Manchester City, with Everton, Aston Villa and Tottenham lacking the overall depth to sustain a challenge.

Doomed for the Drop:
Hull City survived by the skin of their teeth last season and do not look to have improved, while some of the players Portsmouth have taken on trial in pre-season suggest they are preparing for League One, never mind the Championship. Burnley are likely to struggle most of the three promoted clubs, if only for the reason they are the better footballing side, but as West Brom saw last season that is not enough to stay up.

Surprise package:
Sunderland. Steve Bruce showed with Wigan last season that he is capable of getting a team to punch above its weight and he appears to have spent wisely since taking over at the Stadium of Light.

Top Scorer:
Didier Drogba looks set to flourish now he is over his injury troubles and has resolved his future. He looks sharp and Chelsea seem poised to create plenty of chances.

Best Buy:
Michael Owen. When you see the sums being spent on other English strikers, it is hard to argue that Owen is not the bargain of the summer and he looks fit and hungry, and ready to score goals for United.

Flop:
Glen Johnson. The question is what do you expect from a £17million right-back? He's not four times better than when he left Chelsea for Portsmouth for £4m two years ago, and he's not a great improvement on Alvaro Arbeloa at the price either.

One to watch:
Nenad Milijas. A bit left-field, and after tipping up Giovani Dos Santos to watch last season, I may not be the most reliable of judges, but the Serbian schemer has the talent to make an impact at Wolves and he could make the difference in tight games.

Fantasy Football Must Have:
Frank Lampard. Just edges Steven Gerrard in that he is less susceptible to the odd muscle twinge and appears guaranteed to reach double figures for goals and assists.

First Manager To Go:
Paul Hart. It's rare for temporary/caretaker managers to go on to achieve success after being handed the role full time and some of his signings so far suggest he is in for a bumpy ride on the South Coast.

James Dall

Winners:
Chelsea - The exits of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, to a lesser extent, have made Manchester United weaker. The former scored 18 league goals last season. Last term's runners-up Liverpool, meanwhile, will miss Xabi Alonso. New boy Alberto Aquilani may come good, but the Italian needs time to firstly regain fitness and then adapt to English football. Arsenal are currently one or two players short of competing. Therefore, having not lost any of their key personnel, Carlo Ancelotti's Blues are my favourites for the title.

Chasing Champions League:
Manchester City - Put simply, if they find themselves not chasing fourth place then manager Mark Hughes is likely to be facing the axe. Hughes certainly has the players at his disposal, his summer signings have been impressive and the club's starting XI is now very accomplished. Aston Villa, Everton and Tottenham will make a go of it, but City should be the ones that are scaring the likes of Arsenal.

Doomed for the Drop:
Portsmouth - It pains me to say it, for I am Pompey-born, but the club are in all sorts of trouble at present. The protracted takeover saga has been hugely detrimental to the club's plans and manager Paul Hart faces a huge task in guiding a depleted squad away from the drop.

Surprise package:
Sunderland - Steve Bruce has made some smart signings to date, and I fancy the club to be pushing for a top-seven finish come the end of the campaign. Kenwyne Jones and summer signings Darren Bent and Fraizer Campbell should provide goals, while the additions of Lorik Cana and Lee Cattermole have added much-needed bite to the midfield.

Top Scorer:
Fernando Torres - Not the boldest of calls, but the Spaniard is the definition of goals. Liverpool should be reaching around 20 come the end of the season, so long as, and this vital of course, he remains fit. The Reds would be loathe to see him sidelined and David Ngog drafted in as a replacement.

Best Buy:
Jo - The Brazilian proved a shrewd piece of business from Everton boss David Moyes last season, and I am again backing the Scot to get the best out of the Manchester City striker. Jo netted an impressive return of five goals from 12 league appearances for the Toffees last campaign. To again sign him on loan is a real coup for Moyes.

Flop:
Christian Benitez - The Ecuador international cost Birmingham a club-record £8.5million. This is a serious outlay for a player that has no reputation of cutting it in England. He could prove decent, but something tells me the step up may be one, erm, step too far.

One to watch:
Jack Wilshere - Indeed, too much has been made of the Arsenal teenager. But there is no smoke without fire. The guy has serious talent and could find himself more involved than expected, what with the Gunners' disastrous injury record.

Fantasy Football Must Have:
Andrey Arshavin - Classified as a midfielder on the system, the Arsenal attacker should be a shoo-in. The Russian guarantees goals and will also weigh in with plenty of assists.

First Manager To Go:
Alex McLeish - The Birmingham manager has bolstered heavily during the transfer window and the pressure will be on for him to ensure the club have avoided the foot of the table come Christmas. Should they be struggling for air, the Scot could be shown the door.

Alex Dunn

Winners:
Manchester United. Cristiano Ronaldo's departure cannot be underestimated, but have any of United's title rivals really strengthened over the summer either? In my opinion Xabi Alonso was Liverpool's best player last season and I'd be amazed if Alberto Aquilani proves to be of the same class. Arsenal have lost Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor, while Chelsea's best piece of business has been keeping John Terry and Didier Drogba at Stamford Bridge.

Chasing Champions League:
It is big spending Manchester City that have filled most column inches over the summer and given the calibre of their signings, the 'big four' will be looking anxiously over their shoulders. It's difficult to envisage Mark Hughes rapidly assembled side competing for the title, but a top four place may not be beyond them. Aston Villa perhaps need a couple more quality additions to build on last season's exploits, while Everton too have struggled to strengthen. Tottenham will be better this season than last, but for me have spent an astronomical amount on assembling a squad no better than the one that cost Martin Jol his job many moons ago.

Doomed for the Drop:
A number of high-profile departures from Fratton Park mean it will be a long season for Paul Hart's Portsmouth. I just can't see who's going to score the goals to keep them up. Hull City are heading in only one direction, with Phil Brown unable to convince his primary targets that second season syndrome will not strike at the KC Stadium. Of the rest, the three promoted clubs will have to adjust quickly or pay the consequences.

Surprise package:
Burnley - While there is a real danger the Clarets could fall into the same trap as West Brom - ie trying to play too much football - I've a sneaky suspicion Owen Coyle's side might surprise a few people. The Scot is definitely a manager on the rise and has assembled a neat side and close-knit bond amongst his players. They could turn out to be this season's Derby but given nearly all my colleagues have tipped them in the above category; I'll be smugger than ever if they can somehow beat the drop.

Top Scorer:
Wayne Rooney. If Fernando Torres can stay fit for the whole season he'll bag the top gong, but given Rafa Benitez's lack of alternatives up front I fear burn out for the Spaniard. Rooney will be top dog at Old Trafford this season and if he can vanquish the spectre of his former team-mate he may be wearing a golden boot in the summer.

Best Buy:
Carlos Tevez. If nothing else the little Argentine will shame team-mates Robinho and Emmanuel Adebayor into a little running. Tevez is a class act and while he might not be a prolific goalscoring he should be at the hub of all that is bright for City this season. Alternatively, he'll spend most of the season on the bench, wishing he'd never swapped red for blue...

Flop:
Christian Benitez. Given his El Chunky nickname it's difficult to see the Ecuadorian living up to his £7.75million price tag. Apparently the affectionate moniker refers to his similarities to a small pesky dog that resides in South America. So that's £7.75million on Paul Dickov then...

One to watch:
Antonio Valencia. Although Valencia is hardly a new face in English football it'll be fascinating to learn how he copes with life at Old Trafford. Given his blistering pace he could be an ideal signing for when United counter-attack, but for all his protestations to the contrary, he has been brought in to replace Cristiano Ronaldo and will have to live up to the comparisons - however unjust

Fantasy Football Must Have:
Steven Gerrard - He may not be cheap but there's a reason for that. He makes as many goals as he scores and will invariably be Liverpool's driving force as they bid to end a 20-year title drought.

First Manager To Go:
Paul Hart and Phil Brown to slug it out to the death. The Pompey chief would be supremely unlucky to be booted out first given he's only just signed a new contract, but in the cut-throat world of the Premier League the unassuming rarely flourish. As for Brown, a slow start could see his chairman twitching given the Tigers' second half slump last time around.

Peter Fraser

Winners:
Liverpool - My predictions have not proved accurate in recent weeks. Ashes-winning gloating to skysports.com's Aussie receptionist before the first ball of the Headingly Test has backfired horribly. But... here we go. With Manchester United - minus Cristiano Ronaldo, who won the last two league titles by himself - in a possible transition period, Chelsea starting under a new boss and Arsenal in disarray, Liverpool will know they have a great chance which they must take.

Chasing Champions League:
Manchester City - This is the banana skin. Anybody who has backed Tottenham to break into the top four over the last few seasons has been left cursing the North London club like a Darren Bent Twitter account. I will, therefore, steer clear of Spurs and, with incredible insight, *pause for a drum roll and tense gasps of shock and amazement from readers* opt for City and their great, big bags of cash.

Doomed for the Drop:
Burnley - Owen Coyle's side shocked a few big teams during their cup runs last season. However, they will find the war of attrition that is a top-flight season far tougher. The Clarets are expected to cause the odd shock, especially at Turf Moor, and their quirky status and aesthetic style will win plenty of admirers along the way. But they will also lack backbone. Hull City and Wolves will not be far behind.

Surprise package:
Sunderland - None of the promoted teams look set to cause tremors this season, so the Black Cats will be the team to watch. Steve Bruce plus money to spend should be a winning combination. A place in or around the top seven will prove a startling contrast to previous relegation battles.

Top Scorer:
Fernando Torres - The Spaniard's 2008/09 was predictably wrecked by injuries caused by post-European Championship fatigue. However, Torres should rediscover full fitness this season to earn a place at the top of the charts. His attacking partnership with Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard is the best in Europe.

Best Buy:
Darren Bent - His less than harmonious exit from Tottenham may have blotted his copybook, but there is a player with undoubted ability arriving at Sunderland. Bent demonstrated at Charlton that he thrives when the focal point of a team, with service dedicated in his direction. He will regain this role at the Stadium of Light and should flourish under the faith of Bruce.

Flop:
Antonio Valencia - The former Wigan man has assets to be a success, but he will require time to settle. The Ecuadorian must live up to a £16million price tag, make the step up to the big time and fill the boots of Ronaldo. All unenviable moments and they will all prove too much.

One to watch:
Bjorn Helge Riise - If he can make the same impact in England as his brother, former Liverpool star John Arne, Riise is set to prove a smash hit. The Norway international will add creativity and energy to a Fulham midfield which is short on numbers. Craven Cottage boss Roy Hodgson knows the Scandinavian market like the back of his hand and he could well have unearthed another gem in the Norway international.

Fantasy Football Must Have:
Frank Lampard - He will set you back £6.4million but the England international is worth every penny. Lampard scores goals, creates assists, and takes penalties, free-kicks and corners. He is unlikely to be sent off and is very rarely injured. Expensive, but value for money. Don't forget to double your points by making him your captain.

First Manager To Go:
Alex McLeish - The Scot already has a shaky relationship with the Birmingham board and - after being given room to operate in the transfer market, only to make some dodgy-looking signings - a weak start could be just the excuse to wield the axe. Talk of takeovers at St Andrews could also lead to a resignation.

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Comments (10)

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Harpreet Singh (Chelsea fan) says...

Zhirkov could be one to watch and Chelsea will win the title we've got the best starting XI but if things go wrong Carlo could go quite quick

Posted 11:57 15th August 2009

Chris Taylor (Chelsea fan) says...

For me Chelsea have to win the premiership this season, everybody is talking about the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez and it must have a major impact in their season. Chelsea have a strong bond throughout the team and possess a lot of quality and experience. The team has remained together with no major depatures. Arsenal are a fantastic side but will miss Adebayor and the in experience of the side will prove itself this season, 4th place but a tight. one. I see Liverpool pushing but I feel Manchester United will clinch second place and the kop will have to give Rafa more time to improve the strength in his squad. Gerrard and Torres cannot win the premiership on thier own without really good support and they perhaps are losing the battle with the loss of xabi alonso.

Posted 14:31 14th August 2009

J T (Chelsea fan) says...

Completely agree with sunderland as the surprise package. I've made sure to fill my fantasy team with a couple of their players. Bruce will deffinately have a huge affect on the team, but this might leave wigan in a bit of trouble. Nice to see chelsea's chances aren't being written off in favour on Man Utd for once. Hopefully they can make the most of this. And D Cooper, if you notice, the city players that are predicted to be flops are all strikers. Thats because there are too many of them to give them all a fair chance to show their talents. So there is bound to be 1 or 2 of citys strikers that do turn out to be a bit of a flop.

Posted 13:39 14th August 2009

S Bowns (Manchester United fan) says...

Doubt they'll be eating there words, City will be alot better but its gonna take this season at least before they break in to top four. United gonna win the title yet again this season. Owen to shine............!!!!!!!!! I hope

Posted 12:16 14th August 2009

Gerry Harvey says...

Good spread of comments with objective arguments for all. So now it's a case of wait and see. Might print them out and cross-reference them with the outcome of the league next May.

Posted 11:50 14th August 2009

Andrew Fitzgerald says...

D Cooper If you think you're going to get far under Mark Hughes you are seriously deluded. Signing one season wonders and money grabbers who do no care about the club is going to get you nowhere.

Posted 11:08 14th August 2009

Martin Norris says...

With no disrespect do any of them know how much Benitez was bought for? It ranges from £7.75m to £10m, and has anyone of them seen him play? Lastly his nickname is "El Chucko" and not "El Chunky". Like the Paul Dickov bit though! Anyway I hope your lack of knowledge on a player does come to light this season. Cummon Blues!!!

Posted 11:04 14th August 2009

Greg Bishop says...

To all of you saying that Liverpool are nothing without Torres and Gerrard - remind me again, how many games did they play last season? (Let alone play together) Not a lot of thought put in there, me-thinks. Maybe a lot of listening to knee-jerk media though.

Posted 10:31 14th August 2009

Mark Trueman (Wolverhampton Wanderers fan) says...

Nice to hear the majority offering predictions that don't write Wolves off immediately!! It will be a long hard season in front of us, but im sure that Mick been Mick, he will have a game plan sorted well in advance, Nenad Milijas will be a key player for us, along with Kights and Zubar, hopefully Ebanks and Doyle can get a few over the season, and scoring goals, and hopefully not conceding as many as our last premier campaign!!! may see us hang on over the course of the season. If we start like Hull did last season, and finish like Stoke did, we may surpise a few, but realisticly, if we finish 4th bottom i would be pleased. Good luck to all next season!!

Posted 10:27 14th August 2009

D Cooper (Manchester City fan) says...

There seems to be an awful lot of anti-City bias running through these predictions. So many of our new signings predicted to be flops. Looking forward to you guys eating your words come the end of the season!

Posted 09:20 14th August 2009

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