Premier League top six: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool.
Manchester City have gone about their business so far quietly and efficiently, with new boss Manuel Pellegrini building a squad that appears even stronger and more united than last season. Talented but trouble-making duo Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli have gone but to take their place come Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and Stevan Jovetic, with Edin Dzeko also enjoying a new lease of life under Pellegrini.
Fernandinho will also strengthen City’s ranks and there is even still time for the new boss to bring in another quality centre-half.
But, all that said, I still fancy Chelsea to make it a triumphant return for Jose Mourinho.
The Blues underachieved last season but Mourinho has everyone pulling in the same direction once more. The Europa League holders have not been too busy (yet), but Andre Schurrle adds attacking depth and Romelu Lukaku brings back from West Brom a genuine goal threat. If Manchester United are daft enough to give in to Wayne Rooney’s desire to move to Stamford Bridge, then he’ll probably finish the season as top scorer and the Premier League trophy will likely follow him.
Speaking of United, the champions have so far stuttered their way through a summer of upheaval and without knowing for sure what additions David Moyes and his crew can make before September 3, it’s difficult to foresee what the season will hold.
The Rooney situation is huge concern and, though he is no longer the main man (poor Wayne…), anything less than a fit-and-firing number 10 would certainly weaken the title holders’ defence.
Premier League surprise package: Sunderland
I’ll be surprised however Sunderland do this season, because I have not got a clue what to expect from Paolo Di Canio’s Wearside revolution.
At one point this summer, it appeared that the Black Cats had signed an entirely new back five, and the six in front do not appear much more stable.
Emanuele Giaccherini is an exciting signing and I’m looking forward to seeing how Jozy Altidore has developed since his year at Hull, while I’m also fascinated to see how Di Canio replaces Simon Mignolet. Vito Manone has arrived from Arsenal but Kieran Westwood is good enough to keep the Italian keeper on the bench – an environment he’s already accustomed to.
Whoever is in the Black Cats’ goal, I suspect they will be busy. Or maybe not. Who knows?
Premier League bottom three: 20th Hull, 19th Crystal Palace, 18th Stoke.
Promoted sides have in recent years made a good fist of their first year, but It seems most of the teams who flirted with the drop zone last season have heeded their warning.
Stoke, for a change, will be interesting to watch in the post-Pulis era if for no other reason than to see how Mark Hughes responds after his humbling at QPR.
The Welshman, though, has not yet added enough quality to his squad, especially if the Potters are going to be trying to change their style this season. Without significant reinforcements before the end of the transfer window, Stoke will surely struggle.
Premier League top-scorer: Robin van Persie
If Rooney was to get his Chelsea move, then he would probably finish up with the Golden Boot as well as a title-winner’s medal.
However, given United’s sensible refusal to sell, I’m backing van Persie to enjoy another bountiful season for United, though Sergio Aguero and Roberto Soldado will both likely break the 20-goal barrier.
First Premier League manager to be sacked: Alan Pardew
Pardew has clung on to his job this summer but the peace at St James’ Park is uneasy at best so anything less than a stellar start will see Joe Kinnear back in the dugout, either temporarily or otherwise.
Premier League Fantasy Football captain: Gareth Bale
He’ll be the first name on my team-sheet until I see him being paraded around the Bernebeu by Florentino Perez.
FA Cup winners: Liverpool.
With no European competition to get in the way, I can see Brendan Rodgers making the domestic cups a priority this season.
Champions League winners: Real Madrid
Real have replaced one Champions League-winning coach with a another and, with harmony almost restored in Madrid, I can see last year’s semi-finalists being in Lisbon next May.
Championship top two:1 Wigan, 2 Nottingham Forest.
Wigan have lost their manager and a couple of players – with more perhaps to follow – but new boss Owen Coyle has bought well. Forest have also supported Billy Davies and this could be the year they finally get it right.
Championship top-scorer: Troy Deeney
The Watford striker scored at a rate of almost a goal every other game last season and he’s started the new campaign where he left off.