Armchair Pundit

Premier League predictions: 9th-12th

Alex Chick

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The mid-table slog continues on day three of Armchair Pundit's week-long festival of guesswork.

It is probably no surprise to see which teams have been reserved for the top eight - but eyebrows may be raised by the prospect of a top-half finish for Newcastle and a much-improved season for West Ham.

Note: Predicted teams are based on squads at time of writing.

12th - BLACKBURN ROVERS (Last season: 10th)

The fruitless search for a striker has dominated Blackburn's summer, but there is no need for panic at Ewood Park. Nikola Kalinic is an improving youngster with real potential, while the club's array of attacking midfielders are all capable of chipping in with a few goals.

David Dunn was sensational last season and will be a key man again, but El-Hadji Diouf, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Martin Olsson all have a creative influence. The back four remains as solid as ever.

Manager Sam Allardyce had minor heart surgery last season, and his health is more important to Blackburn than that of any of his players.

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11th - WEST HAM (Last season: 17th)

Yes, they only narrowly avoided relegation last season, but they should never have been down there with a quality squad peppered with internationals. Avram Grant will provide a steady hand on the tiller, and talk of signing David Beckham has thankfully been dismissed.

Robert Green's team-mates have been abusing him in training to prepare him for a barracking from England fans, while fellow World Cup flop Matthew Upson could come in for a few jeers.

Both are solid Premier League performers, and the low-key arrival of Thomas Hitzlsperger could prove important, especially if Scott Parker leaves - if he does, Mark Noble lies waiting in the wings.

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10th - NEWCASTLE UNITED (Last season: Championship winners)

There always seems to be one promoted team that does well, and this season Newcastle are favourites to be that team. Mike Ashley might still be at the club, but the stability at St James' is in marked contrast to their chaotic relegation season.

Chris Hughton has made few additions to his promotion side, nabbing Dan Gosling off Everton and signing Sol Campbell and James Perch. 'Fat belly' Campbell's lack of fitness could present a problem early on, as Steven Taylor has been ruled out for three months.

Newcastle have been rewarded for keeping their squad together in the second tier and possess plenty of quality from the likes of Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez and Andy Carroll. They should have no trouble avoiding the drop and may even sneak into the top half.

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9TH - SUNDERLAND (Last season: 13th)

A mid-season swoon cost Sunderland a place in the top half last season, and that will be their target this term after being one of the few Premier League sides to bring in significant recruitments.

Titus Bramble might be a punchline but he is much better than you think, while right-back Marcos Angeleri was a nominee for South American player of the year in 2008. Cristian Riveros had a good World Cup with Paraguay, and the possible addition of Joe Hart in goal adds further quality.

If strikers Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones can stay fit, it could be a season to remember on Wearside. Things are looking bright for Steve Bruce's men.

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Premier League predictions: 1st-4th | 5th-8th | 13th-16th | 17th-20th

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