A new season is upon us. On Saturday battle will resume between some of the best teams in world football in the sport's most exciting league. There is one debate that is raging up and down the country between all football fans; who will/can win this year's title? There is a number of teams who will feel that they can make a serious impact on the top third of the table but who can realistically set their hopes on winning the Premier League or claiming a Champions League place?
Last season's champions Manchester City will go into Saturday's opening fixture at home to newly-promoted Southampton as slight favourites to retain their crown. Last year they took control of the title race before Christmas with a 6-1 thrashing of neighbours Manchester United but then let it slip over February and March as the Red Devils opened up an eight point gap. This led to many questions being raised about the mental state and winning ability of Mancini and his expensively assembled squad. These doubts were quashed in some style as they came roaring back to win the Premiership on goal difference with two stoppage-time goals against QPR.
The resolve and fight that the Citizens showed last year proved many of their doubters wrong and they have the organisation and fire-power to win a second successive title. However they have not made any big-name additions to their staff-list this summer with only youngster Jack Rodwell arriving from Everton for £12 million. He is likely to be a largely peripheral figure this campaign as Mancini looks to the same big players to perform again.
This should not be a problem though as their defence looks as mean as ever with Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott all fit and ready to go. Their one weakness at the back is a lack of a top-class back-up centre-back with the ageing Kolo Toure and the much-maligned Stefan Savic the only players ready to fill in. The midfield will definitely not struggle with plenty of strength in depth and world-class talent thanks to David Silva, Yaya Toure, James Milner, Adam Johnson, Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Samir Nasri amongst others. The forward line will be as deadly as ever and will be hopeful of beating last season's massive tally of 93 goals scored. The strike-force of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli will be feared by all of their opponents.
Player To Watch: Samir Nasri
After his big money move from top-four rivals Arsenal last year Samir Nasri found himself often having to be content with a place on the bench. This time around he may find himself in the starting eleven more often, as he did towards the back end of last season, and could flourish as he did at the Emirates in 2010/11.
Prediction: Champions by 4/5 points
In May Manchester United came agonisingly close to crowning Sir Alex Ferguson's 25th year in charge in style. This season the Old Trafford side will be out with a vengeance to settle a score with city rivals City and prove that they are England's number one club. Ferguson has not been overly busy in the transfer window but did seal the crucial £24 million signature of Dutch star striker Robin van Persie from Arsenal. After netting an impressive 89 goals last term they could do even better this time around if the 2011/12 two highest scorers Van Persie and Wayne Rooney can strike up a good combination.
The back five look solid if not spectacular but may struggle if they suffer a couple of injuries. David de Gea proved a lot of critics wrong in the second half of last season and should exceed expectations this term. Rio Ferdinand is older than he once was and has lost his pace but retains good positional play and reading of the game. Nemanja Vidic is crucial for United as last year he was injury-prone and struggled to get enough game time. If Sir Alex can keep him fit and on form then the Red Devils will have a much better chance of regaining the Premiership trophy. Evra is not the player he once was but remains an excellent left-back while Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans could do well if given enough game time.
The midfield is their weak point. Scholes and Giggs are still both class footballers but are not what they were ten years ago. Anderson has failed to impress consistently while Tom Cleverley was out injured for much of last season but could do well. On the wings Ashley Young is always a threat, as is nani, but he is often guilty of drifting in and out of matches. Darren Fletcher played in a recent pre-season friendly with Aberdeen and will be a vital cog in the centre if he can keep fit.
Player To Watch: Michael Carrick
Unheralded centre midfielder Carrick will have a massive role to play in the oncoming campaign and his performances will have an impact on where United finish in the table. He played very well last season, especially in the first half when he had little support as Paul Scholes was retired. He looked good on his England return against Italy and should do excellently, maybe even grabbing a couple more goals than usual.
Wenger's men did well last season to come back from a dodgy start to take third place and with it the final Champions League spot from local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. The loss of top scorer Robin Van Persie will be felt around The Emirates but they have already brought in top quality replacements in Santi Carzola, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. They may take time to get used to the pace and ferocity of English football but all have good track records and can all score goals.
The midfield is decent but it would be a big blow if they were to lose Alexandre Song to Barcelona. Diaby is OK but nothing special, but Jack Wilshere's return is imminent and it will be interesting to see how he fares after more than a year out. Theo Walcott looked good in patches last year on the right wing and should be able to build on that in the coming months. Youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a great prospect and coupled with Walcott on the other side, Arsenal may score quite a few goals from crosses this year.
The defence is their weakness as always, in particular from set-pieces. Goalkeeper Wojech Szczesny has matured into a top-class goalkeeper and Thomas Vermaelen is an excellent centre-back who has the added ability of scoring goals. Laurent Koscielny improved last season but isn't world class while Per Mertesacker has a severe lack of pace. The full-backs often look weak and although Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna are useful, they are equally not great.
Player To Watch: Aaron Ramsey
Wales captain Ramsey played well sporadically last campaign but could do brilliantly this year, especially if Song is sold. That would give him plenty of first-team opportunities and he played well for Team GB in the centre of the park in the Olympics.
After a very poor start under Portuguese boss Andre Villas-Boas the Blues picked themselves up under interim coach and former player Roberto di Matteo. It was not enough to finish in the top four but they did win a magnificent FA Cup and Champions League double. They have lost ageing, but talismanic striker Didier Drogba to Shanghai Shenhua after eight years of service but that may just work for the better as January 2010 £50 million signing Fernando Torres will finally have the centre stage.
Chelsea have the squad to push for the title but may come undone when push comes to shove as the majority of their players with plenty of Premier League experience are in the twilight of their careers. The likes of Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Petr Cech still have a lot to give but there is excitement surrounding Stamford Bridge thanks to a host of fresh faces that were added this summer. Marko Marin, Oscar and Eden Hazard were all big money acquisitions and will add strength to a Chelsea strike-force that struggled last year.
The midfield and defence look as solid as ever with the likes of Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, Juan Mata, Terry, Cole and Cech ready and raring to go. Their are still doubts hovering over the head of defender David Luiz as his inept knack of conceding stupid fouls and penalties often get him and his side into trouble. Despite this he could find himself in centre defensive midfield; a position where he may do well.
Player To Watch: Ryan Bertrand
23-year-old Bertrand has been touted as one for the future for a long time now but now his time has come to break into the first team. He played well for Team GB and has also collected his first England cap. Can play in defence and midfield and with a good left foot could provide good balance for the team.
The Reds have been a 'side in transition' for way too long now and they must step up over the next two seasons. Some sections of the Anfield faithful may feel that a title challenge is possible but that is nowhere near a realistic ambition. A top four spot would be a dream first season for Northern Irish manager Brendan Rodgers and they should be there or thereabouts. The summer signings of Fabio Borini, Joe Allen and Oussama Assaidi could be good pieces of business as all are young and have done well in their professional careers so far. Suarez, Gerrard, Reina and Agger (if they can keep him) will be as important as ever if Liverpool are to be successful.
The defence is quite good but Reina made some uncharacteristic errors last season that he will be looking to eradicate. The midfield is decent as well and Lucas' return will be a huge boost, as will the signing of promising centre midfielder Allen. Joe Cole will hoping to prove his critics wrong as he comes back from a season-long loan at Lille but may still be off Premier League pace. Suarez is the star player but can not afford to be as wasteful in front of goal as he was last term and the same applies for the heavily criticised Andy Carroll.
Player To Watch: Raheem Sterling
17-year-old winger Raheem Sterling has been tipped by many to be a future Anfield star and he might be ready to fill this role already. He scored a great goal in the Red's last pre-season friendly against Bayer Leverkusen and made his league debut as a substitute last season against Wigan. He also scored five goals against Southend United in an FA Youth Cup game.
Spurs had a great start to last season's league campaign but fell away after Christmas as they finished fourth. On the face of it that was an excellent season but at one point it seemed as though third was sewn up and that the title was a real possibility. However as Chelsea won the Champions League they failed to qualify for the Champions League and Harry Redknapp lost his job as manager. Former Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas has since taken over as boss and brought in Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jan Vertonghen while Luka Modric looks set to leave for £30 million to Real Madrid.
The North London club have been very good for the last few years and will be hoping for a top-four spot for the third time in the last four seasons. There is not much goal scoring prowess however with Jermain Defoe likely to be their main striker unless they make another signing. Gareth Bale has set the Premier League on fire since he broke into the starting eleven and will be vital to his team as will Rafael van der Vaart. Their defence could be a bit shaky though after the retirement of Ledley King coupled with the injuries sustained by Michael Dawson and William Gallas.
The midfield is strong but they may struggle from a lack of clinical finishing up front. The season holds many questions but a top four challenge should be just around the corner.
Player To Watch: Jake Livermore
Livermore featured 38 times last season and scored once. This time the Spurs man will be hoping for more appearances and could find himself in the fore-front of Tottenham's campaign.