The 2013/14 Premier League season is approaching rapidly, and we can finally indulge in our footballing feasts once more.
There will plenty of thrills and spills along the way, tears will be shed, but where else can you experience the ups-and-downs that 90 minutes of football offers?
There is a new look and feel to this season, with Sir Alex Ferguson finally giving up his mantle as the greatest Premier League manager of all-time, handing it down to the extremely consistent David Moyes.
There has always been plenty of questions of how Moyes, would do with money, and this is where we find out.
Last year’s Champions looked imperious, romping the league by a cosy 11 points with very few worrying moments along the way.
Robin van Persie looked sensational, settling in to his new surroundings and bagging 26 league goals, finishing top scorer in his first season at the Red Devils.
Yet, pre-season has not gone very well for Moyes so far. It is only pre-season, and too much shouldn’t be read into the performances, however it’s always nice to begin your reign as boss with a steady few wins.
The players have looked lacklustre, and this could be a big factor in whether or not Moyes will be able to draw in the high-calibre players he needs to, to ensure they stay ahead of the competition, with both Chelsea and Manchester City improving their squads over the summer.
United haven’t managed to bring in any high class players to help boost their side, after failed bids for Cesc Fabregas and Thiago, and non-existent efforts to sign Fellaini and Baines from former club Everton.
There used to be a massive pull to United, to play under one of the greatest manager’s to have been involved with football, Sir Alex, but now there are many who are not feeling the same about playing under someone who failed to win a trophy on his 11 years on Merseyside.
Players are deciding to head elsewhere, and this could play a factor in Manchester United falling behind both Manchester City and Chelsea.
City and Chelsea have both been involved in manager changes as-well, with Mancini leaving Manchester after failing to win a trophy in his final season (the current state of modern football, where money is involved), being replaced by former Malaga manager, Manuel Pelligrini.
Jesus Navas, Fernandinho, Alvaro Negredo and Stefan Jovetic have all been bought in an attempt to bolster the squad at Eastlands, and look to have a great chance of doing so.
They could add the extra spark that was missing at certain parts last season, and on paper, it would seem that City have the stronger side in Manchester. This leads us to believe the Evens currently on offer for City to finish the season as the highest North-West club, looks a solid bet.
However, in terms of winning the league, I do feel they will fall slightly short, due to the magic that one man can work in London.
Step up, the Special One..
Jose Mourinho makes his return to the place he once made his own, Stamford Bridge, and has inherited a brilliant squad which he looks set to round off in his own special way.
Romelu Lukaku returning is almost like a new signing in itself, with the 20-year-old returning from a successful loan spell at the Hawthorns, proclaiming his time there ‘made him a man’.
He adds depth to an already strong Chelsea attack, with Torres, Matam Hazard, Ba and the newly signed, and highly-rated Andre Shurrle.
The only thing that was lacking last season for the Blues was a calm head in front of goal, and with Mourinho extremely interested in Wayne Rooney, he could offer the missing link that Chelsea needed to become the complete unit.
They have a brilliant goalkeeper in the shape of Petr Cech, a solid defence, and sensational attack. Another holding midfielder would be the only position that really needs taking care of, however in the shape of David Luiz, they have a more than able deputy, who could slot in their when needed.
His fast feet, surprising pace, and brute strength make him an ideal candidate for the holding role, and playing him centre-half has often caused problems when the Brazilian neglects to curb his attacking instinct.
He is a great passer of the ball and has tremendous vision, so if he is played in what looks to be his best position, he could set the world alight.
This leads me to believe that Chelsea should just about prevail in the race for the title, after a strong battle with Manchester City, while Manchester United take a season to adjust under David Moyes, back in third.
Advice: Chelsea/Manchester City/Manchester United @ 10/1 (Bet365)
Robin van Persie is a worthy favourite for the top goalscorer market, but 4/1 looks far too short to get involved in, so we have to look elsewhere for each-way value.
With Luis Suarez banned for the opening six games, and maybe even venturing to Madrid before then, Daniel Sturridge is set for a more central role, the kind of which he’s always dreamed of.
With Suarez banned towards the end of last season, Sturridge spearheaded the Reds attack, with great effect.
Liverpool opened up defences with great team moves as opposed to just getting the ball to Suarez and hoping the Uruguayan would create some magic.
Sturridge scored ten goals in fourteen games, and seemed to strike up a great understanding with the midfield trio of Gerrard, Henderson and in particular Phillipe Coutinho.
He is 20/1 for the top goalscorer prize, and this looks tremendous each-way value, with the Reds seemingly set for a big season.
At a bigger price, Olivier Giroud appeals at a surprisingly large 50/1.
The Frenchman began to hit form towards the back-end of last season, managing to bag 17 goals in his maiden Premier League campaign.
At the moment he looks set to be the central figure of the Arsenal attack, with the Gunners failing to bring any other attackers so far this summer.
They are still attempting to bring Luis Suarez to the Emirates, a move welcomed by Giroud, but even if they are successful with the move the Uruguayan could easily play behind the Frenchman, or on either side of an attacking trio.
Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta are two of the best at threading through balls, and with Jack Wilshere returning to fitness, Giroud is sure to receive to impeccable service.
All in all, the 50/1 looks far too big on a player who will know a lot more about the Premier League, having been here a year. 11 goals in his first season is a solid base, and he now has the ability to kick on, and must be key if Arsenal are to make a bold challenge for fourth spot.
1pt e.w: Daniel Sturridge @ 20/1 (Various)
0.5pt e.w: Olivier Giroud @ 50/1 (Various)
The bridge between Championship football and Premiership football is something many find hard to adapt to, and Crystal Palace and Hull look set to struggle again this term.
Palace only just managed to make it to the promised land, via a very dramatic play-off final, and failing to replace their key man Wilfried Zaha looks set to come back to haunt them.
Hull as though they have failed to make enough moves in the transfer window so far to ensure survival next year, whereas Cardiff’s squad looked as though it could have stake a claim for a solid placing in the Premier League last year, and with high profile names such as Dirk Kuyt being linked, they look as though they should manage to escape relegation.
This means there is one team left to fill the bottom three, and at the time of writing the most likely candidates look to be Stoke City.
After looking as they were going to be Premier League stalwarts under Tony Pulis, the Potters finishing between 11th and 14th on four successive occasions under the Welshman.
However heading in to their fifth successive campaign, now under the tutoring of Mark Hughes, Stoke look as though they may well struggle over the coming season.
A massive dip in form seen the Potters pick up only five points in thirteen games during 2013, which managed to draw them into what could easily have escalated into a relegation battle. The fans were nervous before back-to-back victories over Norwich and QPR ensured Premier League survival for another year.
However they needed to improve during the transfer window just to make up for the rather dubious managerial expertise of Mark Hughes whose QPR side (30) were the only team to score less than Stoke (34) in the Premier League last season.
Goals win games, and if Hughes attempts to change Pulis’ tactical style of play too much, the Potters may well be in trouble. Stoke are not an overly footballing side, but do the basics very well. However Mark Hughes is renowned for making sides his own (usually negatively) and this could well spell trouble for Stoke City and it’s fans, with Hughes already offering a false dawn of ‘a new brand of attacking football’.
Advice: Crystal Palace/Hull/Stoke @ 20/1 (Ladbrokes)
2 points: Tri-cast: Chelsea/Manchester City/Manchester United @ 10/1 (Bet365)
1 point: Relegation treble: Crystal Palace/Hull/Stoke @ 20/1 (Ladbrokes)
1 point e.w: Top scorer: Daniel Sturridge @ 20/1 (Various)
0.5 points e.w: Top scorer: Olivier Giroud @ 50/1 (Various)