For many supporters across the country the football season is not about who will win the major trophies, but whether or not their club can hold onto their place in the promised land of the Premier League. It is always hard to pick who will stay up and who will go down.
The newly promoted sides always have their survival hopes immediately put under scrutiny. Last season was the first season that all three promoted sides have stayed up and this term Southampton, West Ham United and Reading will all feel as though they have the squads to survive. The chances of them all staying up are slim, but not ridiculous.
Last season the Saints held top spot in the Championship for long periods but ended up finishing second to Reading. Manager Nigel Adkins earned plenty of positive reviews for the way he handled the side on their first season back in the second-tier of English football. They have all the assets to do well in the Premier League and have made some shrewd signings. The defence is solid and will be hard to break down, especially at St Mary's and experienced Premier League players Kelvin Davis (goalkeeper) and Danny Butterfield will have important jobs to do. New signing, 21-year-old Nathaniel Clyne, will be hoping to bring his excellent Championship form to the top level and should impress.
The midfield is better than many would expect and the addition of Uruguay winger Gaston Ramirez will be a huge boost for the club after they beat Tottenham and Liverpool to his signature. Richard Chaplow and Adam Lallana will be crucial for Adkins' side if they are to stay in the top-flight. Lallana has scored 44 goals in the last three seasons from midfield while Chaplow is always a reassuring influence on the side. Up front they shouldn't have too many problems getting the goals needed to stay in the league and Rickie Lambert could put his mark on the Premiership much like Grant Holt and Danny Graham did last season. 88 goals in the last three years says it all about the prolific 30-year-old who finally has a deserved chance to play alongside the big boys of English football.
West Ham United:
The Hammers went up last season through the play-offs after an up and down campaign saw them finish the regular league season in third place. The expectation around Upton Park will be that they will stay up and they should meet that ambition relatively comfortably. There are plenty of goals in the squad in the form of strikers Carlton Cole, Ricardo Vaz Te, Nicky Maynard and effervescent midfielder Kevin Nolan. Jussi Jasskelainen is a good goalkeeper but there will be worries that the defence is still not up to Premiership quality, especially after leaking goals last year, and in the top-flight the year before. The likes of James Tomkins and Winston Reid will really have to step up if Allardyce's team are to keep a decent number of clean sheets.
The squad is not particularly strong but they do have good home support and a decent enough strike-force. The East London club should stay up but there could be some nervy moments around Upton Park during the season. It will be interesting to see how youngsters Jack Collison and Sam Baldock fare after impressive campaigns last time out.
The Championship winners will be confident of staying up after last year's excellent efforts. Brian McDermott's team surprised many last season but could struggle this time around. If anything it will be a lack of goals that sends them down and despite the pace and trickery of Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kebe, they do not possess a proven out and out goalscorer. Jason Roberts will have a big job to do but he has never been more than a useful Premiership substitute and the Berkshire club will have to do better than expected if they are to survive.
Pavel Pogrebnyak impressed on a short loan spell at Fulham last year but may find it hard to repeat that form at a smaller club. The Madjeski Stadium will be a hard place to go for any team and Reading will have to pick up the majority of their points there. Getting wins away from home is crucial though and the Royals will find that aspect of Premier League life very tough.
Last Year's Survivors
Last season saw many teams flirt with the danger zone before pulling clear. Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa found themselves in a relegation battle for long periods of the season before getting themselves out of trouble.
Under much-maligned boss Alex McLeish Aston Villa found life very difficult and almost found themselves relegated from the Premier League for the first time since its inception in 1992. Since then McLeish has been sacked and they have brought in former Norwich manager Paul Lambert. Lambert received rave reviews last campaign for the way his Nowrich side played as they stayed up comfortably in their first season back with the elite. Villa have a stronger squad on paper and it will be intriguing to see what the Scot can do with them.
The Birmingham club found goals hard to come by last year and will need star striker Darren Bent to find the form that forced them to part with £18 million for his services 18 months ago. Lambert is rumoured to be interested in Tottenham's Jermain Defoe and that would be a major coup if he could pull it off. The wingers Charles N'Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor have the tendency to blow hot and cold, but can both be destructive on their day. The back line is solid with veteran Richard Dunne the leader along with fellow Irishman, goalkeeper Shay Given.
Villa should stay up with relative ease as on paper have a better squad than quite a few other sides. It will be interesting to see what the new boss can do with the current crop of players as they look to improve drastically on last season's finish of 16th.
Queen's Park Rangers:
In May QPR narrowly avoided the drop as Bolton Wanderers failed to win at Stoke City. Joey Barton's red mist at Eastlands will never be forgotten however, but he appears to be on his way to Marseille. The Rs will be hoping to do a lot better this season under Mark Hughes who has already made some good signings after wealthy owner Tony Fernandes dipped into his pocket.
The likes of Andy Johnson, Junior Hoilett and January newcomers Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cisse will provide the goals and Park Ji-Sung and Samba Diakite will be welcome additions to the midfield. Ryan Nelsen and Nedum Onuoha should sure up the back four while Rob Green is a great signing in goal. Last season's better performers Jamie Mackie and Shaun Derry will fight for first-team spots along with Adel Taarabt and Shaun Wright-Phillips who are two players with points to prove.
The Loftus Road faithful will be very optimistic about what the new campaign holds and they have every right to be. Despite finding last season difficult there should be a big improvement over the coming months with lots of new faces in the squad and a top class manager.
Last season Wigan were touted as definite fallers by many but exceeded expectations as they came back brilliantly towards the back end of the season beating Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. Roberto Martinez has done a magnificent job there and will be hopeful of keeping them up against the odds yet again. Last year's finish of 15th was the Latics' best since 2008/09 and they are bound to be in the bottom quarter of the table again.
It is difficult to see where the goals are going to come from with a lot of responsibility being placed on the shoulders of Arouna Kone and Shaun Maloney. The defence looks shaky at best with a severe lack of pace and if they are to survive they will need more heroics from inspirational goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi. It is hard to see how Wigan will stay up but they have proved their critics wrong time and time again; what is sure is that they will be in the relegation mix.
Last Year's Surprising Success Stories
Last season new boys Norwich City and Swansea City took the Premier League by storm under youthful managers Paul Lambert and Brendan Rodgers. Both have since lost their top men to bigger clubs and it will be interesting to see how they deal with the dreaded 'second season' syndrome.
Last year Norwich surprised many in their first season back in the Premiership since the 2004/05 campaign. They played exciting attacking football and scored plenty of goals with Grant Holt improving his 'cult hero' status. The goal-scoring mantle will be given to Holt and Steve Morison again this year by new manager Chris Hughton. The Canaries have not been overly busy in the transfer window but have signed Robert Snodgrass and Javier Garrido.
The defence was unorganised at times last season and Hughton will find it a difficult job to get his players to keep clean-sheets. They will score goals but may leak too many at the other end. The second season may prove to be too much but they will be sure to put up a fight and will Carrow Road will not be an easy place to visit for anyone.
The Welsh side did wonderfully well last season in their first ever campaign in the Premier League as they impressed many with their possession play and 11th placed finish. However since May they have lost manager Brendan Rodgers and centre midfielder Joe Allen to Liverpool while winger Scott Sinclair also looks to be on his way out of the Liberty Stadium. New boss Michael Laudrup will keep the same passing philosophy within the team's play but the loss of Rodgers will be felt. On-loan midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson was also a key cog in the second half of last season and will be missed.
The defence will remain capable of keeping clean sheets, especially at home and this should be just enough to keep them up. May not find goals as easy to come by and will take time to get used to the new manager's ideals and style of play.