Armchair Pundit

Premier League predictions: 5th-8th

Alex Chick

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They all want a place in the top four. And they're all going to be disappointed. It's part four of the pre-season predictions game.

It's largely a tale of stability among the European hopefuls. Three of the four clubs here will be featuring almost exactly the same side as last season. The other is Manchester City.

Tottenham and City are both ranked a couple of places below where the bookies would have them. In Spurs' case, it's down to the juggling act between Premier and Champions Leagues. For City, I'm just not sure they have added much more than numbers to their squad.


How will Tottenham cope with their first season in the Champions League? Well, they have to get there first, but if they do it could be a testing domestic campaign.

Last season the only thing distracting them from their run at fourth place was a decent FA Cup showing - this year things will be rather different. It would be unusual for a team that overachieved to reach the top four not to suffer some sort of downturn the following year, especially with the novelty of Europe's top competition.

Much as Harry Redknapp likes to complain he is 'down to the bare bones', Spurs have a big enough squad to cope on all fronts, but Redknapp much decide how to ration his key men.

Ledley King's knees mean he can only play once a week, but Aaron Lennon and Luka Modric have also struggled with injury. It's not every year you get into the Champions League, so Redknapp may choose to deploy King in Europe. A fair enough decision but one that will doubtless impact Tottenham's league form.

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It must be profoundly frustrating to be Martin O'Neill. You try to build a side the right way, with young, English talent. And yet every season 'bigger' clubs come calling for Villa's best players, unsettling them and derailing the club's progress.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If players do not think they can get into the Champions League with Villa, they will continue to want out, and the club will never get there. O'Neill has done his best to keep his squad together, playing hardball over James Milner and Ashley Young, just as he did when Gareth Barry made his hollow plea for Champions League football.

After some soul-searching at the end of last season, O'Neill himself agreed to stay, but there have been no new recruits yet despite prolonged interest in Celtic's Aiden McGeady and Manchester City's Stephen Ireland.

One bright spot is the crop of promising youngsters, headlined by England U19 star Nathan Delfouneso. Trouble is, he is just a few goals away from becoming the next transfer target.

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Spirits are high at Goodison Park despite a summer spent at the shallow end of the transfer pool. Jermaine Beckford and Magaye Gueye bolster a fairly thin forward line, although neither has succeeded at the highest level yet.

The farcical departure of Dan Gosling after the club supposedly 'forgot' to offer him a new contract was a damaging PR gaffe, but the midfielder will probably not be badly missed this season.

The two-place improvement in Everton's position can be explained in two words: Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard returned from a long-term knee injury in January and immediately transformed the side - he played nine home games and the Toffees won all nine.

A potent mix of intelligence and technique, he has never been capped by Spain but would surely walk into nearly any other national team. He is now eligible for England - what is Fabio Capello waiting for?

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There is a widespread assumption that this will be the year City finally crack the top four, and yet I'm still not convinced. They have added quantity, but they continue to struggle in their quest to sign a genuine marquee player. They have the best second XI in the world but few outstanding individuals.

Last summer Carlos Tevez fell into their eternally grateful laps (after a poor season across town, it should be remembered), but this time the big signing is David Silva. A fine player, no doubt, but one who will surely need time to adjust to life in the Premier League.

Elsewhere you feel City have added players for players' sake. Does a team with Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry, Vincent Kompany and Patrick Vieira really think the arrival of Yaya Toure will make them significantly better? And while new full-backs Jerome Boateng and Aleksandar Kolarov look useful, they are just a rung below world-class. Wouldn't City fans rather have Philipp Lahm and Maicon?

Roberto Mancini has a hard enough job whittling his enormous squad down to 25, and an even tougher one keeping all 25 happy. They could prove me wrong, but they still do not seem to have the balance quite right.

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Premier League predictions: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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