MADRID (AP) – Before the 2011-12 Barclays Premier League season kicks off, FOX Soccer's team of experts went on record with their picks for the upcoming campaign.
Warren Barton, FOX Soccer studio analyst
Team to watch: Manchester City. After watching them play this summer and having a chatting with a lot of the players, including the retired Patrick Vieira, I think they will compete. That will make it very interesting.
Team heading down: Aston Villa. They haven't done well in preseason, and Alex McLeish is already under huge pressure there. I think if they don't get a win in their first six games, he could be out of a job and then it's panic stations. It's a very difficult situation there if he didn't win his first six games, he could be out of a job and then it's panic time.
Best pickup: Ashley Young. For what they paid for him, I think he will have a really big impact at Manchester United.
Biggest loss: Kevin Nolan at Newcastle. That's just enormous for them.
Winner: Chelsea I think their new coach Andre Villas-Boas is a breath of fresh air, and I think he will have the impact that Mourinho did. He's probably sick of hearing people say that. But I know the club and the culture and I think the players will adjust to him and succeed. I also think it's a year too early for Liverpool.
Kyle Martino, FOX Soccer Studio Analyst, Soccer Night in America Color Analyst, FOXSoccer.com writer
Team to watch: Liverpool. They didn't have the most impressive pre-season, but based on the acquisitions they've made and how they finished last season, I think they will be dangerous.
Team heading down: Arsenal. If Arsenal lose Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri -- or both -- they're in real trouble. I think even if they both men stay there's going to be some problems there with all the complaining that has been going on.
Best pickup: Charles N'Zogbia . This is a bit out of left field, but I loved watching him play last season and I think he will do a lot for Aston Villa.
Biggest loss: Edwin van der Sar . He was Manchester United's most valuable player.
Winner: Manchester United : It's so hard to bet against them. I think Sir Alex wants more before he retires, and I think he'll get it.
Christian Miles, FOX Soccer studio host
Team to watch: Liverpool. They've made some great additions, with Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam. The Reds have had a full summer of training with Kenny Dalglish under their belts, and they get Andy Carroll back to full fitness. Once Luis Suarez gets back into the fold, I think they crack the top four this season. Dalglish is a master motivator and leader who has brought the fight and positive spirit back to Anfield.
Team heading down: Arsenal. They are slipping out of the top four. The uncertainty in the transfer market, all the drama and distractions surrounding Fabregas and Nasri, and their failure to address the deficiencies in the back mean they have a lot of questions to answer.
Best pickup: Shay Given. A proven Premier League goalkeeper, at 3.5 mil. pounds, he will fill the void left by Brad Friedel. He's had some shoulder problems, but at 35, he's still a good shot stopper. The Irishman's experience and ability to organize will be vital, as Villa's defense was porous last season. I think we need to keep an eye also on Charlie Adam: with Steven Gerrard often injured and entering the twilight of his career, Adam will be relied on to create and score goals out of midfield. We saw what a great passer he was with Blackpool and he looks like a bargain at 7 million pounds. Gervinho is also a great pick up for Arsenal, who looks a real "livewire" in preseason.
Biggest loss: Gael Clichy, but that will be relatively minor if the Gunners lose Fabregas and Nasri. Sir Alex said he's surprised by Aresnal's lack of transfer activity and I think all the "Gooners" out there might agree with him for the first time. If Joey Barton is out at Newcastle, that's also a big loss.
Winner: Manchester United. They have a stable base and they've made some solid additions. Phil Jones and Ashley Young are good pickups and I think Paul Scholes' retirement is overblown. There's plenty there to replace him. The one question mark is new keeper David de Gea: I don't see how you can rely on a 20 year old, that has no prior Premier League experience and doesn't speak the language. United has been burned by gambles on keepers in the past, too. United can't afford another Massimo Taibi or Marc Bosnich disaster.
Keith Costigan, FOX Soccer studio host/analyst, FOXSoccer.com writer
Team to watch: Liverpool. I think they have something to build on from last year. The attitude is good within the club and the academy has a lot of great young players. Dalglish says all the players are finally pulling in the same direction, and I think he's right.
Team heading down: Aston Villa. I don't think they can recover from the players they've lost and while Ally McLeish has shown he's a decent enough manager I'm not sure they can go higher than they did last year.
Best pickup: Shay Given. He remains one of the top two or three keepers in the league and he is a great pickup for Villa.
Biggest loss: Edwin van der Sar. I think de Gea is good and will have a great career, but it's not easy following a legend. Van der Sar's retirement leaves United without a commanding presence and they could struggle.
Winner: Manchester United. I think there is so much uncertainty elsewhere in the league. Chelsea have an incredible new manager but he's going to have a long bedding-in period with a veteran team. I don't think Arsenal are as strong this year and I think City will probably be the side that runs them the closest.
Jamie Trecker, FOXSoccer.com senior writer, FOX Soccer studio analyst
Team to watch: Manchester City. They got a taste of winning last season with the FA Cup, and they look like a team that is both ready and able to impose their will.
Team heading down: Arsenal. What a mess. Arsene Wenger may be a great scout, but he's not managed this team -- and all the off-season drama -- well at all. Could finish out of the top six.
Best pickup: Sergio Aguero. A coup for City, the Argentine striker has the potential to be the next breakout star in this league.
Biggest loss: Blackpool. Man, they were fun to watch last season. Does anyone really think Norwich, QPR or Swansea can make up for them?
Winner: Liverpool. Yes, Liverpool. This team is going to give both Manchester sides some real headaches, and they have all the pieces in place to make a run at No. 19.
Nick Webster, FOX Soccer senior producer, FOXSoccer.com writer
Team to watch: Manchester City. They have so much intrigue around them: can they blend all the talent they have and can Mancini come up with the right cocktail week after week? Mancini seems to have changed his attitude and broken the culture of player power at that club so I think they can really battle with United.
Team heading down: Blackburn are definitely going to struggle. They are awful. Aston Villa will join them; I cannot see that team holding together under Ally McLeish. That's two of the Premiership's founding fathers that are troubled.
Best pickup: Kun Aguero. He's got the pedrigree, the personality and he's got Maradona in his corner. He should make things really interesting.
Biggest loss: Paul Scholes. That's a massive loss to the Premiership. We'll miss his craft, guile and his personality. I think he's been a great role model and the loss to English football is just massive.
Winner: Manchester City. My head says United, but I think City will do it.
Andy Brassell, FOXSoccer.com writer
Team to watch: Manchester City. Roberto Mancini is building the squad of many a coach's wildest dreams. But can he begin to coax dream football out of it? With Balotelli, Dzeko & Aguero on board, there will be questions if not.
Team heading down: Aston Villa. Villa's travails under Gerard Houllier showed a real lack of character and leadership in the locker room; and this year's squad is weaker still following Young and Downing's exits. A worry.
Best pickup: Gervinho. Arsenal can infuriate with its passing triangles, but the Ivorian provides a hitherto lacking directness. The pace and thrust of a winger combined with the finishing power of a centre-forward.
Biggest loss: Carlo Ancelotti. Gave Chelsea class, dignity and, initially, entertaining and attacking soccer - qualities that many have accused the club of lacking. Deserved better than the sack.
Winner: Manchester United. Grit rather than glitz got United through most of last season. Now there's a willingness to spend and add some options; and a breakout season beckons for young Tom Cleverley.
Richard Farley, FOXSoccer.com editor
Team to watch: Manchester City. It's incumbent on City to not only keep Manchester United from running away with the league but to make this one of the most memorable seasons in Premier League history, one defined and decided by a intracity rivalry. Is that too much to ask?
Team heading down: Blackburn. This team looks horrible, and given the discontent we heard out of Ewood at the end of last season, it's not hard to imagine a poorly equipped, unmotivated team with curious ownership becoming 2011-12's version of West Ham.
Best pickup: Gervinho. While Villa's swap of Stewart Downing for Charles N'Zogbia is the best transaction, another astute piece of business from Wenger gets my nod as the best, single pickup of the summer. Compared to the price tags on Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool's purchases, the former Lille man is an absolute steal.
Biggest loss: Scott Parker. It seems blatantly unfair that the personal accolades lauded him last season had to be coupled with a place in the Championship. Can nothing be done about this?
Winner: Manchester United. None of the other big six contenders can put together a defense that matches up well with the attack Ferguson's forged. The creaking legs of the Carraghers and Terrys will buckle trying to keep up with Rooney, Chicharito, Nani, Young, Park, Valencia, Welbeck ...
Charles Ventura, FOXSoccer.com editor
Team to watch: Arsenal . Midfield wizards Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri are rumored to leave Emirates Stadium. Arsene Wegner will now have to dip into his youth system and rely on his experienced players like Tomas Rosicky, Andrei Arshavin, and Robin van Persie to make a competitive push towards the top of the Premiership. If Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere live up to their talents then 'The Gunners' are in business. If not, Wegner will have some explaining to do, again.
Team heading down: Aston Villa. Congratulations Alex McLeish. After helping relegate Birmingham City to the second division last season, you're now in charge of a depleted and lackluster Aston Villa side. Stewart Downing and Ashley Young are gone. Plus, Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner has made it publically known that he will not open his checkbook anytime soon. All signs point to selling Aston Villa stock this season.
Best pickup: Sergio Aguero. El Kun's transfer saga ended when Manchester City forked a reported £35 million to Atletico Madrid for his services. With Carlos Tevez's status in limbo, Aguero's dazzling ability to distribute and finish should fit in nicely with the power of Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli in attack.
Biggest loss: Cesc Fabregas . Yes, it's not official, but let's be honest: Fabregas and Barcelona is a marriage made in heaven that will eventually take place. Ever since he joined the Arsenal academy back in 2003, Fabregas was groomed as Arsenal's playmaker and leader for years to come. Forward to 2011 and Wegner knows how much Fabregas means to Arsenal's creative force in the central midfield; after all, Wegner has declined multiple advances from Barcelona in the past.
Winner: Manchester United. Add room to the trophy case. United is by far the deepest team in the Premiership at the moment. If the young goalkeeper David de Gea can hold his own behind a rock-solid defense, United will be in good shape. Then again, with the different attacking options at Sir Alex Ferguson's disposal, de Gea may not be needed at all.