The season is here and it's time to put it all on the line. There's no idle banter or sitting in the fence. Here are the definitive predictions for the finish of the BPL table at the end of May. I've stirred the tea leaves, the crystal ball and consulted the local gypsy, leaving no stone unturned in my quest to finally get it right.
20. Swansea - Odds to win the league: 12,000/1 - Manager: Brendan Rodgers
It's been almost thirty years since the Swans graced the top flight of English football and to top of their return, they'll be the first Welsh team to play in the Premier League. Rodgers will be hoping that the momentum from their epic play-off victories over Nottingham Forest and Reading is still coursing through his players' systems.
Key Player: Scott Sinclair
19. Norwich - Odds to win the league: 12,000/1 - Manager: Paul Lambert
My best memory of the Canaries in the Premier League was when majority owner Delia Smith (a famous celebrity cook), grabbed the Carrow Road PA microphone at half-time of their relegation season and yelled the following..."we need a 12th man here. Where are you? Where are you? Let's be 'avin' you! Come on". Now that's passion and Norwich will need plenty of that magical ingredient to stay more than a season with the elite.
Key Player: Grant Holt
18. Blackburn - Odds to win the league: 6,000/1 - Manager: Steve Kean
Anytime your manager is the bookies' favorite to get the sack, you're a dead cert to be involved in a relegation struggle. After watching Blackburn in pre-season and witnessing the lows the players are presently going through plugging Venky chicken, I'd say Rovers are cooked unless they can get off to a flyer.
Key Player: Paul Robinson
17. QPR - Odds to win the league 4,000/1 - Manager: Neil Warnock
The most outspoken manager in the game returns to the sidelines and football will be the winner as Warnock has a refreshing honesty that can make you laugh and cringe in equal measures. Loftus Road will be a tough place to visit and with F1 money floating around attracting quality players shouldn't be a problem.
Key Player: Adel Taarabt
16. Wigan - Odds to win the league: 10,000/1 - Manager: Roberto Martinez
After escaping the drop on the last day of the season, you would have thought the Latics would be in the market to strengthen their squad. Instead they've sold their best player, Charles N'Zogbia, and replaced him with David Jones from Wolves. If that's the recipe for survival, I'm a Dutchman's uncle.
Key Player: Hugo Rodagella
15. Wolves - Odds to win the league: 10,000/1 - Manager: Mick McCarthy
If you haven't developed a soft spot for Wolves yet, you must truly be a miserable git because this is a team that deserves to be your second favorite. They play in the style of their manager, have great support and are always good for pulling off an upset. Ask Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Key Player: Roger Johnson
14. Newcastle - Odds to win the league: 5,000/1 - Manager: Alan Pardew
Despite having a five-year contract, Alan Pardew is second favorite to get the sack this season but after reading all of Joey Barton's tweets, I can see why. There is a malaise around St. James' Park that refuses to go away and word from Tyneside is that the target for the campaign is simply survival. Wow, buzz kill.
Key Player: Fabricio Coloccini
13. Aston Villa - Odds to win the league 500/1 - Manager: Alex McLeish
Four managers in a calendar year hint at the stability at Villa Park. All kidding aside, this campaign could be a nightmare for all concerned if Villa don't appear in the top half of the table as McLeish will have about two minutes to convert the Holte End faithful. Losing Brad Friedel, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Nigel Reo-Cocker in quick succession makes me think of a sinking ship.
Key Player: Gabriel Agbonlahor
12. Sunderland - Odds to win the league 3,000/1 - Manager: Steve Bruce
There is money to burn at the Stadium of Light after the sales of Darren Bent last season and Jordan Henderson, but so far Steve Bruce's purchases haven't sent heart rates racing. Connor Wickham is promising but close to $15 million for an unproven 18-year old seems incredibly risky while $10 million for Craig Gardner is just plain overspending. Steve Bruce has plenty to prove and he will be one of the first managers mentioned in the sack race if results aren't up to snuff.
Key Player: Asamoah Gyan
11. Bolton - Odds to win the league 6,000/1 - Manager: Owen Coyle
Over the last decade, the Reebok hasn't been exactly known as a destination for high quality football but that has changed under the management of Owen Coyle. Whether he can stay true to his values as the pressure grows will be the main question surrounding a Trotters squad that on paper has a tidy mixture of homegrown players along with the usual foreign imports.
Key Player: Jussi Jasskelainen
10. Fulham - Odds to win the league 5,000/1 - Manager: Martin Jol
One wonders if making the final of the Europa League in 2010 is the high point for a Fulham franchise that pleases the eye without actually threatening to win anything. If Martin Jol can keep Craven Cottage a west London fortress and then find a way to correct their horrible away record, this is a team that can give the elite all they can handle.
Key Player: Clint Dempsey
9. Everton - Odds to win the league 500/1 - Manager: David Moyes
David Moyes is the third longest tenured manager in the Premier League after Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. That is a testament to his ability and the fact that he continues to pull off miracles at Goodison Park on an extremely limited budget. Unless the club can find a buyer, one of the great institutions of English football is going to have a season of struggle and Moyes may seriously have to think about leaving Merseyside
before they drag him down. A fast start, which the club has not managed in ages, is a must.
Key Player: Tim Cahill
8. West Brom - Odds to win the league 7,500/1 - Manager: Roy Hodgson
Roy Hodgson may have been run out of Anfield but at the Hawthorns he's the Messiah who saved them from relegation. He's a manager who coaches and he will make the Baggies an attractive footballing proposition. The target is mid-table, but there is a sneaky feeling around the Midlands that West Brom may have more about them than meets the eye.
Key Player: Peter Odemwingie.
7. Stoke - Odds to win the league 6,000/1 - Manager: Tony Pulis
No one enjoys going to the Britannia Stadium as it's one of the toughest places to play in all of England. After last season's run to Wembley, belief is high that the Potters can build on the foundations but they'll have the added distraction of the Europa League to contend with. I'm not quite convinced though that this squad is built to battle on multiple fronts. Pulis will no doubt prioritize.
Key Player: Matthew Etherington
6. Tottenham - Odds to win the league 66/1 - Manager: Harry Redknapp
Last season's memorable UEFA Champions League run feels more and more like the moment Spurs hit the summit. Unfortunately the only place to go from there is down and with the possible loss of Luka Modric, the question of ambition comes back into play. To attract the best, Spurs need money and until the White Hart Lane situation is resolved, the north Londoners will have to be content with the occasional cup run.
Key Player: Gareth Bale
5. Arsenal - Odds to win the league 10/1 - Manager: Arsene Wenger
Another year without a trophy is unthinkable for the Gunners, however the league title looks like a bridge too far for a squad that still has some growing up to do. Wenger hasn't really addressed all the concerns from last season where the lack of a top class goalkeeper, center-half and holding midfielder ultimately doomed the campaign. Time is starting to run out for the Professor and this is the year he must deliver.
Key Player: Jack Wilshere
4. Liverpool - Odds to win the title 12/1 - Manager: Kenny Dalglish
Expectations are massive at Anfield and not just because The King, Kenny Dalglish, is looking at a full season at the helm. The cash that Liverpool has splashed around over the last eight months has been positively 'Chelsea like' and now we'll see whether it was money well spent. The target is simple, a return to the UEFA Champions League. The signs are all positive that the misery of the last few seasons has been firmly banished to the history bin.
Key Player: Luis Suarez
3. Chelsea - Odds to win the title 3/1 - Manager: Andre Villas-Boas
There'll be no hiding place for the youngest manager in the Premier League, Andre Villas-Boas, if the Blues do not explode out of the gate. With perhaps the most experienced squad in the league, Villas-Boas must stamp his authority on the senior members of the club and reiterate that this is their last chance for medals. With the Champions League, the Holy Grail for Roman Abramovich, Chelsea will have to sacrifice domestic supremacy for European glory.
Key Player: Fernando Torres
2. Manchester City - Odds to win the title 9/2 - Manager: Roberto Mancini
City may have the riches but they are still a work in progress. The key for the ultimate prize will be how Mancini gels the egos. If the squad can come together emotionally and mentally then the sky is the limit because the talent is there. However, if the finger pointing begins, this team could melt down faster than the polar ice caps.
Key Player: David Silva.
1. Manchester United - Odds to win the title 2/1 - Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson
Winning is habit forming and no one has the habit more than Sir Alex Ferguson. His appetite is prodigious, contagious and bred into the culture of Manchester United. It doesn't seem to matter if they begin, slowly, at a canter or indifferently because Ferguson always has them peaking at exactly the right time. To bet against them after all these years is a guaranteed lesson in humility.
Key Player: Nani