For various reasons, I've not written on B/R for quite a while now, but as the 2009-10 Premiership season approaches, I thought I'd give my thoughts on the title race, given my successes predicting the events of last season.
Where better to start than with the defending champs?
Manchester United won last season's title relatively comfortably in the end, but look a weaker side this year with the losses of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez and the injuries to Nemanja Vidic, Nani, Owen Hargreaves, and Edwin van der Sar, all of whom are set to be missing for the opening games of the season and beyond.
Furthermore, the talents of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Gary Neville are not what they used to be and they can no longer be counted on to perform week in, week out. Unless additions can be made in the remaining few weeks before the close of the transfer window, I struggle to see United vying for top spot come May.
For me, the only hope United have is if their defence can remain almost completely injury-free after the return of Vidic and if a very strong partnership forms between two of Berbatov, Owen and Rooney. But, as much as it pains me, I doubt these will happen.
So who are the favourites?
Liverpool finished second last season and have made few changes but for the addition of Glen Johnson (a wise acquisition) and what looks to be a straight swap bringing in Alberto Aquilani and losing Xabi Alonso to the financial juggernaut of Real Madrid.
Ryan Babel and Fernando Torres are fantastic players who are still young and will have learned a lot from last season, but I fear that they may lack the strength in depth to compete throughout the season.
If key players can remain fit, Liverpool should end a 20-year wait for a top-flight title, if not, another year of pain and reflection looms.
So what of Chelsea? Have they, in Carlo Ancelotti, finally found a suitable replacement for Jose Mourinho after three failed experiments? He comes with glowing praise from A.C. Milan, but in eight seasons there he won just the one Serie A title and one Coppa Italia. If he returns a record like that for Roman Abramovich, he is unlikely to keep his job at Stamford Bridge for long.
Yuri Zhirkov is currently their only major signing of the summer, but he will add little to a side already containing Ashley Cole, the much-improved Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka. They lack suitable cover for Cech, Terry, and Carvalho and an injury to any one of those three could prove very damaging.
As for Arsenal, I believe the sales of Adebayor and Kolo Toure will hurt and prove only to further weaken a side that at no point looked likely to genuinely challenge for the Premiership in 2008-09.
Manchester City have splashed the cash since being acquired by the Abu Dhabi Group and have assembled a squad filled with glorious attacking talent, like Tevez, Robinho, Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz.
But, as many are quick to point out, they look frail defensively and do not, in Mark Hughes have a manager experienced enough to make up for that.
So, I believe the top three places will be occupied by United, Chelsea and Liverpool, with Liverpool ultimately edging it. Fourth place and a spot in the Champions League is a very different question, with four or five teams capable of challenging for the chance to rub shoulders with Europe's elite.
It should be an exciting season once again...
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