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They Think It's All Over… Not Me

It would be easy to say Manchester United will romp away with the Premiership title for the fourth time in four years, but not original or in my opinion correct. The coming season should be an interesting one by all accounts.

United look to have finally found a striker worthy of a club of their stature and added a versatile midfielder of undoubted class. Ruud Van Nistelrooy is without a doubt a crucial and much needed new face at Old Trafford, Juan Sebastien Veron is a class act too — powerful, technically accomplished a great distributor of the ball — everything Paul Scholes already has. That being my only critisism of the signing.

Every club needs quality cover for midfield but neither Scholes, Veron or Keane could ever be considered as ‘cover’ especially the latter. The solution for now seems to be playing one up front with Scholes behind — this surely cannot work in the long term with restless and isolated forwards coupled with Scholes being pushed out of his old role by the newcomer.

I would have thought the £28.1m spent on Veron may have been more shrewdly invested in some help for poor Jaap Stam and Fabian Barthez. Wes Brown, the aging Denis Irwin, Silvestre and the Chuckle brothers are not able to give two of the world's best at defending the goal world class support, and I have a suspicion that it may tell this year.

[addendum] selling Stam was the most foolish move Ferguson could make. Leaving a combination of inexperience and injury prone defenders in front of an erratic keeper is a recipe for disaster. United's chances of winning the title have just slipped a little further away.

Arsenal have strengthened all over, perhaps solving their lack of a natural goal-poacher in the predatory Francis Jeffers. I've never paid an undue amount of attention to Jeffers and I don't think I'm alone, but everyone in the know who's opinions I've read have sung his praises for years. Finding a partner for Patrick Vieira has been the most important task for Arsene Wenger — and the one that has been most subtly addressed. In Giovanni Van Bronkhorst it's more than possible that Arsenal have found the piece of the jigsaw that went missing when Manu Petit lost his form. Van Bronkhorst has, as any Rangers or Holland fan will tell you, superb technical ability combined with an impressive range of passing and a work rate befitting the soon to be partner of Patrick Vieira.

The most controversial and potentially the most important signing (if only to persuade Vieira to stay) has of course been Sol Campbell. There's no denying Arsenal needed a quality, proven defender and there's little doubt they've found that in Solzeer. One major problem Arsenal seem not to have addressed is class cover for Lee Dixon, don't be surprised though if this is where the so far almost anonymous Lauren finally makes his mark.

Chelsea have spent big (for a change) and brought in players from all over — no doubt some hits and some misses. Zenden has always been a puzzle to me, he's always looked average at best and has not performed well over the 4 or 5 years he's been on the world stage. He rarely played for Barcelona last season even though his versatility allowed him to (in theory) provide cover for anyone in an under performing midfield. He did perform well in Euro 2000 though and no one can deny he was influential in Holland's 2-0 friendly victory over England. The question is which Zenden will pull on a Chelsea shirt? More inconsistency is just what Cehlsea don't need.

I'm less than convinced about Frank Lampard, though under the right manager and coaching staff I feel he could become something special I don't think those people are Ranieri and Co. I do think William Gallas is a useful signing — versatile, experienced and still young he could well prove to be vital to Chelsea's chances in all competitions — especially if Marcel Desailly leaves for Roma. I also think Jesper Gronkjaer will show just how good he is this year and surprise a lot of people — one for the fantasy teams.

Liverpool and Leeds have been eerily quiet. Leeds can be forgiven on account of the enormous sums paid out by David O'Leary in the close season but I feel Liverpool have not done enough, drawn into a false sense of completeness brought on by the impressive trophy haul of last year. Leeds seem to have a fairly well rounded team but too few world beaters to do anything very special, it's not stopped them in the last two seasons though has it? Liverpool on the other hand suffer from the opposite affliction with a real lack of balance and squad depth. They also have, in my opinion, a midfield that's simply not good enough to do as well as many people predict. Gerrard is true class but I'll be surprised if he plays more than 30 Premiership games next season. Smicer and Barmby are hit and miss at best, Hamman and Berger quality but lacking a certain something (I do love Berger though) and I fear the resurgent Gary McAllister may not be able to repeat his superb form from last season.

So… How's it going to finish?

As it was last year (and the year before) it seems everyone tips United for the title, Liverpool second, Chelsea third and Arsenal fourth, suits me — the only correct prediction for years has been United and a child could have got that one. I say that the title will be closely contested by Arsenal and United — the only two teams with true strength in depth and enough proven world class players. Third place should see Chelsea pip Liverpool so long as they stay together (especially Hasselbaink) and Ranieri keeps his head. Just outside Champions League placing I predict will be Leeds (although I wouldn't be surprised if they snuck fourth).

After that it really is too much of a lottery, Fulham should do well after Jean Tigana has intelligently strengthened the team and Ipswich will be in and around so long as the harmony remains and Andy Marshall (or any other replacement) does well now Richard Wright has left. Aston Villa have spent intelligently and should do alright as may (much as it pains me) Spurs.

All in all it should be a very interesting season, but that's what you say every August…

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