Stretty News’ thoughts ahead of Manchester United’s 2013/14 season

Stretty News recently interviewed a few key writers, supporters, fans, and authors about the upcoming Premier League season with the obvious focus on Manchester United. While some answers may surprise you, and some may be spot on – everyone interviewed provided their most honest opinion on each and every matter. Let us know what you think, as Manchester United prepares for another Premier League title defense.

Who will be Manchester United’s best player this season?

Dale O’Donnell: I reckon it will be Kagawa. We’ve seen glimpses of his technical brilliance last season, but not enough. And a lot has been made of Ferguson playing him out of position to make way for Wayne Rooney, pushing the Japanese midfielder out wide on the left. For me, however, he is best played behind the main striker. That’s where he performed at Borussia Dortmund and managed to secure a place in kicker’s Bundesliga Team of the Season for two consecutive seasons.

Robert Moore: Although I’d love to say Kagawa like the rest of them, or play it safe with Robin van Persie, I will say Danny Welbeck this season. From an attacking perspective, he was poor last year and after a decent preseason, he’s going to provide a few timely goals for the reds this season. Whether or not he’ll break into the squad as much as he’d like especially with Javier Hernandez pressing for additional minutes, Welbeck has the tools to be a successful United frontman – now he just has to score.

Kyle Diller: The obvious answer is Robin van Persie. Some people don’t like picking the obvious choice, but I will. He was such a phenomenal influence on our team last season, and if he stays fit I see him picking up right where he left off. I’ll also give a slight nod to a “shock pick” of Wilfried Zaha. We were so flat on the wings last season, and after a small taste of him in preseason, I think he’ll crank up the excitement!

Andrew Davies: It will be an important season for many but I hope Shinji Kagawa emerges as one of our most important players. If he can reproduce the form which landed him his move to Old Trafford on a consistent basis, I’m convinced that he will become one of the best creative midfielders in Europe. United’s best player next season, if I’m sticking my neck out? Michael Carrick is set to carry on holding the midfield together singlehandedly (for now at least).

AJ Kirby: Hold on while I dust off my crystal ball. I see a slightly-built Japanese fella with a cheeky smile holding up the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award at a glitzy ceremony at the end of 2013-14…Step forward one Shinji Kagawa.

Shinji was a bit fringey last year. Injuries. Getting used to playing at the biggest club in the world. Getting to know the movements and the runs of his teammates. They all contributed to a rather in-and-out season. When he was good though, he was very, very good. I’m thinking Norwich, at home. When he was bad, he wasn’t necessarily terrible. He didn’t persistently give the ball away. No, he was simply non-existent.

However, he was great in the Confederations Cup for Japan. And hopefully his career in Germany should prove a blueprint for his career at OT. In his first year at Dortmund, he won a championship medal, despite having missed much of the season through injury… But in his second, he really stepped up to the plate. He was undoubtedly one of the players of the season and the driving force behind their retention of the Bundesliga title and the man of the match in their cup final win against Bayern (which was the performance which convinced Fergie to stump up the cash for him).

Much as I don’t like to compare our players to city’s, I think Kagawa can grow into the Silva-role for us. He has a wonderful football brain and an ability to see the angles which has only been matched – recently – by Scholes at United. I foresee a pivotal season for him next year.

Otherwise, I’m looking for improved seasons from Valencia, Nani, and Young. An improved season in terms of goalscoring from Welbeck (though his overall contribution was excellent in 2012-13).

-Same again please from RVP, Carrick, De Gea and Ferdinand.

-Injury-free seasons for Vida and Jonesy.

-And another netbusting season from RVP (more on that below).

Justin Allen: I’m backing one of the younger players in Rafael. Everyone who watched United last season knows how much he improved from the season before, and I’m backing him to improve just as much this season. He’s always been comfortable going forward but last season, his determination and discipline (with the exclusion of his dismissal against Chelsea) improved drastically. The thought of featuring in the FIFA World Cup in his homeland next year should only provide extra incentive to have a stellar campaign.

Does Robin van Persie regain the Golden Boot Award?

O’Donnell: Depends on whether he can stay fit throughout the season.

Moore: As much as I think he’ll score bunches, I think he’ll be outdone this season. I think that RVP was splendid last season for United and while I believe he will lead Moyes’ side in goals this year, I think a midfielder will win the Golden Boot this season – not from United, however.

Diller: He’s won it the past two seasons. Can anyone say “three-peat”?

Davies: If he stays fit, yes. I would expect him to score just as many goals and maybe even more now that United have had a season to get to know the Dutchman. Properly rested, we can avoid the baron run he suffered during a key time in United’s season and fire us to further success.

Kirby: According to the Dutch “fitness specialist” Raymond Verheijen – who once worked for the Welsh national team dont-cha-know – United are “overtraining Robin Van Persie. In a recent Tweet re. RVP he outlined his concerns at United’s training schedule using some pretty colorful imagery: “The only way to solve this problem in Jurassic Park is to improve education of these dinosaur coaches, fitness clowns & scientific cowboys. All over the world in preseason you see the pattern overtraining-fatigue-injuries’. Always avoid accumulation of fatigue in pre-season.”

According to this veritable voice of wisdom, then, RVP will very soon get the injury Arsenal fans have been preaching he’ll get ever since we signed the Red, Red Robin. Perhaps he’ll get chewed up by a T-Rex (or a Suarez). Maybe he’ll get mauled by a triceratops. And as such, he won’t be picking up another Golden Boot.

In the real world, away from Michael Crichton’s fictional creations, I expect another strong season from Van Persie. The boy is a top drawer player and the best striker we’ve had since his Dutch counterpart Van Nistelrooy graced the Theatre of Dreams. There is a slight question mark over whether his hunger remains – he was absolutely desperate to win the league last year and under Fergie, I’d have no doubt RVP would have remained hungry…But under Moyes? We’ll see.

Also, a lot depends on the form of our wingers. Last year they were shocking. Valencia completely regressed. Nani’s season was a write-off. Ashley Young should count himself lucky every time he manages to pull on a red shirt (which looks like a tent on him). I’m hearing good things about Zaha and I’d like to see Nani get a proper run in the side too, so we’ll see about that also.

Otherwise, you’re looking at who can score more than Van Persie. Last year The Racist got close. He would have bitten your hand off to win the award. So he’ll be eager to get his teeth into the new season. Unfortunately, nobody has any idea where he’ll be playing (although most know it won’t be Arsenal), and he’ll miss a large chunk of the opening to the season through suspension. Excuse the puns.

Pellegrini seems convinced city have the best attacking combinations in the league, and new signing Negredo might be one to watch. But Aguero’s still top dog at our noisy neighbours and could be in with a shout.

It’s all up for debate at the moment though and chance will play a big part… Having said that, I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty. If RVP doesn’t win the Golden Boot, it WILL NOT be won by one Danny Welbeck (good player though he is).

Allen: Yes, I think he does. Last season RVP featured in every league match, and even though he’s about to enter his thirties, hopefully this signals that his injury problems are behind him once and for all and hopefully he can repeat that record this season. United’s wingers were terribly out of form last season and even if one of them can step up and consistently produce their best, van Persie should have even more opportunities to find the net.

Questions arise about our midfield, is that your biggest area of concern?

O’Donnell: Without a doubt. It’s been a issue since Keane left in 2005 but that’s not because we never signed a like for like replacement. Players like Keano are irreplaceable, and the same goes for Scholes. I also think it’s an area Moyes really wants to strengthen.

Moore: The midfield, without question. All summer I’ve anxiously been awaiting a few key signings in the midfield, and as much as I’d love to see Phil Jones evolve into a defensive midfielder or to count on the return of Darren Fletcher, neither seem primed to play alongside Michael Carrick at this moment in time. And with the plethora of Cesc Fabregas rumors spreading around this summer, I’d personally go a different route – in Marouane Fellaini.

Diller: It has been for a few years now. People used to slate Michael Carrick. Now the general consensus seems to be that fans feel bad for him that he hasn’t been given a better midfield partner. If we can pull off the Cesc Fabregas signing, which I’m still not confident of, then we’ll be in amazing shape. Can you imagine a midfield three of Michael Carrick, Cesc Fabregas and Shinji Kagawa?

Davies: Undoubtedly. Supporters are desperate for one midfielder and actually, we probably need two. Other areas of the pitch look good but an area of concern could be in central defense. We may have strength in depth there but at what point will we see a ‘changing of the guard’ as Rio and Nemanja make way for the younger players waiting in the wings.

Kirby: Yes. The midfield’s been a problem for years, although Michael Carrick was our most consistent performer last year. But with Scholes definitely maybe now confirmed to be retiring we definitely need reinforcements, because if Carrick gets injured next year, we’ll be in deep shit.

Anderson is woefully inconsistent: one great game followed by two poor ones where he can’t last 60 minutes followed by an injury followed by a long lay-off followed by a fight to get back into consideration followed by one great game… I’m not saying he’s round, but his career doesn’t half go round in circles (down the plughole?) Cleverley is very neat and tidy and good against lower level opposition, but has yet to prove himself at the highest level (and no, I’m not counting England caps). Giggsy does a job dropping back into centre mid, but no longer has the ability to surprise teams there, as he did in the Champions League against Chelsea a few years back. And Moyes will have to use him even more sparingly this season. And Phil Jones ain’t a midfielder, no matter what anyone says about his versatility. I always feel he’s one misplaced pass away from being Rio Ferdinand when he played there away at Blackburn in a failed experiment when AGAIN we had no midfield cover. Rio got sent off that game and United lost. We never risked him out of position again. Same might happen to Jonesy if we’re not careful.

The fact is: we’ve not brought a proper, honest-to-goodness quality combative midfielder since Hargreaves. (Who, yes, would have been great. Who, yes, probably put Fergie off central midfielders for life.)

My dad’s retired. He’s away in France for a month at the moment and he’s asked me to keep him up to date on the comings and goings at United. Both of us were convinced United would do what they normally do these days and conduct their transfer business swiftly, efficiently, and crucially, early. But as the weeks have gone by United have become embroiled in unseemly transfer tussles all over the place. There are all sorts of un-United-like noises coming out of the club, which are getting hastily raked over by the journalists who are tagging along on United’s Harlem Globetrotting tour, swallowing every juicy morsel United toss down to them (Jamie Jackson of the Guardian is one particular reporter who seems to take everything United say as verbatim, when maybe he should be checking under the pasta). So every other day I’ve been sending him texts about our failed bids, those key targets who’ve gone elsewhere (Thiago – who we now all of a sudden claim we never really fancied in the first place), and the Rooney brouhaha. It’s all starting to look just a little bit desperate. And a bit, well Arsenal-esque.

Having said that, Fellaini’s buy-out clause expires on 31st July, so I expect to see some movement on that next week. And we’ll probably go for Baines again too. Whether these players are of United quality is highly debatable. They’re more of the Ashley Young type for me. Good Premier League players who just don’t have the will, the devil, the ability to be United legends. Whenever I hear we’re linked to Yohan Cabaye again, I feel he’s even more a case in point.

The midfield is severely lacking at the moment, and I’d love to see us sign quality. But on the other hand there’s no point signing another Ashley Young standard player. I’d rather us play the kids than have to make do.

Allen: Although I think that the problems in our midfield are often exaggerated, it is undeniably the weakest part of the team. Michael Carrick was the best central midfielder in the league last season but there’s no doubt we need an addition to the team to partner him in the middle of the park. We missed out on Thiago, and if we miss out on Fabregas, who is Plan C? It’s encouraging nonetheless to see that Moyes has identified the midfield as an area that needs strengthening and is willing to spend big money in a marquee signing.

Keep or Loan – Wilfried Zaha, Adnan Januzaj, Chicharito and Jesse Lindgard? 

O’Donnell: Zaha has shown on tour he has what it takes. Although Januzaj and Lingard could do with first team experience. As for Hernandez, I wouldn’t blame him if he fancied a move out on loan for a season. He didn’t get the playing time he deserved last season, yet had an amazing score ratio. You can never have enough goal scorers within your squad.

Moore: I’ll keep this one simple: Zaha (Keep), Adnan Januzaj (Loan), Chicharito (Keep), Jesse Lingard (Keep, but loan in January if not seeing enough minutes)

Diller: Keep Zaha. Loan Januzaj. Keep Chicharito. Keep Lingard.

I’ll elaborate. Not really sure why Chicharito is even in this discussion. One of the most natural strikers I’ve seen. His instinct is marvelous. He may not play that often, but whenever he is given a chance he delivers. For one reason or another, he wasn’t getting much time under Sir Alex. With David Moyes he can have a fresh start and push for more playing time, which he rightly deserves.

Wilfried Zaha should stay if for no other reason than last season’s struggles out wide. We’re not sure when Valencia will regain form. Ashley Young has always been a bit spotty. Who knows if Nani will even still be here. Zaha has been exciting to watch in preseason and I look forward to him getting a chance in the Premier League.

Januzaj is still a bit inexperienced and could use some first team football at a lower level first. Would love to see him get a chance, but he still needs experience beyond the youth and reserve teams. Lingard is a tough choice. I’d like to see him stay until January and loan him then if he isn’t getting a enough time. At age 20, this is a big moment for him. He has already won the FA Youth Cup at United and a brief loan at Leicester City. He only has a few years to breakthrough or risk being passed over. He’s still probably a bit too inexperienced, but he’s been brilliant on the tour and we could use some help in midfield.

Davies: Having performed so well on tour, I would be disappointed if the youngsters were loaned out. I would look at keeping them at least until January, where they can play in cup competitions and being involved on the bench in certain games. From January, review the situation then look at loan options. I’d keep Chicharito and see no reason to allow a player to go on loan who contributes 15plus goals a season. Nick Powell could be a player given a season away from Old Trafford.

Kirby: At the risk of this sounding like I’m shuffling through a stack of Panini football stickers in the school playground (you know the drill – “Got-got-need-need”) I’ll have to answer: keep, loan, keep, loan. Though with qualifying criteria.

Zaha should stay, have a proper crack at first team football. He’s got his seasons in the lower leagues under his belt now. Now’s the time for him to step up. His performances so far in pre-season have been promising, and Crystal Palace fans absolutely rave about him: they’re convinced he can do it at the highest level. Plus Zaha ain’t really got that much competition. (See above for my comments on United’s wingers). He’s at least worthy of a place on the bench and could be a powerful impact player for us at least.

Januzaj should go out on loan until the January transfer window. Then bring him back. Make him fight for a place in the team. Don’t send him out on loan over and over and over again like Chelsea do with their great blue hopes, holding on to them for years until they’re spoiled. Just give him this one loan spell in which he can enjoy a proper run in a side, away from the pressure-cooker atmosphere which will be Old Trafford in the first few months of Moyes’ reign (especially given our first five fixtures). The Belgian looks as though he will become some player. But we have to keep his feet on the ground. We can’t let him undergo a process of Pogba-ization, in which he’ll suddenly start making inflated demands, thinking he’s made it before he has. That said, I think he’ll prove a better player than Pogba in the long-run (good though Pogba has been for Juve).

Chicharito should stay. He is the archetypal fox in the box: the most clinical finisher we’ve had since Solksjaer. And he’s clearly a good lad too. We’ve not heard any of that griping we’ve had from a certain Croxteth-born United forward. If I were Moyes, I’d give Chich more games next season, especially away from home. His record in United aways is brilliant. At home, when we tend to dominate possession, I feel he’s less important to the side, but still crucial to have on the bench. Just in case. Many decry Hernandez’s contributions outside the box. Sometimes he doesn’t even look like a footballer. You wince at his control, his technique. But inside the box he comes alive. He deserves more football.

For Jesse Lingard read the Januzaj blurb above. The Warrington lad is definitely a prospect, but needs time to develop. Not too much time, mind. Someone – Moyes – needs to take a decision on these players and either blood them, or move them on.

Allen: Only David Moyes knows the extent to which he plans to make use of youth. Personally I feel that Januzaj and Lingard would benefit from loan spells but again, it depends on how Moyes plans on using them. Playing most games at a League 1 or Championship club would surely help their development more than a few Cup games with United. It would be great to see both of them break into the first team next season, but I’m not so sure they’re ready just yet As for Zaha and Chicharito, neither should be loaned out – Chicha deserves a run in the team as much as anyone and Zaha is bound to be better than any of our wingers last season.

Can Danny Welbeck’s goal scoring output finally equate to his work ethic?

O’Donnell: Danny’s not a goal scorer, he’s a scorer of great goals. His all round play is impressive and I’ve enjoyed following his development from academy to first team.

Moore: My thoughts on Danny Welbeck are as follows: I will never stop believing in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. With a player of his quality and work ethic, goals are bound to come his way, I hope.

Diller: Yes. Absolutely. He’s always been capable. He’s a fine footballer, he just needs to figure out the mental aspect of his game. If he can gain some confidence in front of goal, he’ll be in good shape. He just needs to get on a good run. People forget he’s only 22. That’s still quite young. Plenty of young strikers have yet to really live up to their potential at that age. Two seasons ago he 12 goals in 39 games, which isn’t a bad return. He’s also scored some lovely goals for England. If United fans can stay patient with him, he’ll return the favor with goals.

Davies: If it measured up to half his work ethic then that would be 20 goals a year! You have to hope that Danny will contribute girls this term but it is a hope more than an expectation.

Kirby: Wayne Rooney, as Sir Alex Ferguson observed, scores in spurts. He has mighty-long droughts and then suddenly finds the net in match after match. If the same is the case for Danny Welbeck – given the number of his drawn-blank games last season – should he score in the season opener at Swansea, he’ll go on to score in every bloody game until the trophy is won.

No, seriously, I’m not sure Wellers will ever be a prolific striker up there in the nigh-on goal-a-game Ronaldo, RVP class. But as long as he has a finisher up there with him, I’m not sure this matters. All he needs to do is develop a new calm when he enters the opposition penalty area. Keep his head. Maintain a little better control over his Bambi legs. And he’ll be fine. I like Welbeck. He shouldn’t just be judged on his goalscoring ratio but on the blood, sweat and tears he gives for the Red cause.

And he’s a Manc. I feel it’s incredibly important for United to have at least one Manc in the side.

Allen: If Welbeck is played through the middle, and works on his finishing, there is no reason he can’t score 10+ goals this season. Of course this is made difficult by the fact that he faces serious competition for the lone striking role but if he proves himself during the early stages of the season, Moyes will surely be tempted to give him a chance to be the lynchpin of United’s attack.

Will Phil Jones live up to his “greatest ever Manchester United player” role?

O’Donnell: Nah. I think he will progress into a very good player, but not anywhere near the likes of Best or Ronaldo.

Moore: A few glasses of champagne, and Sir Alex Ferguson seemed to toy with the media a bit there. Although I think Jones has the quality of becoming a solid defensive player for United, he’s no George Best, Eric Cantona, or even Bryan Robson. Jones has plenty of years of football ahead of him, to change my opinion though.

Diller: I think Phil Jones will become a world-class player for Manchester United, but not the greatest ever. Too many greats that I don’t think he’s capable of eclipsing or even getting close to. I do think he’ll become one of the best in the world, but he desperately needs a defined position before we can even talk about him fulfilling all of his widely talked about potential. Hopefully Moyes can bring him that stability in a position to help him succeed.

Davies: Not yet. It maybe another season of Phil filling gaps until a time when Rio and Nemanja are out the way for him to make the centre-back position his own.

Kirby: That was a daft, off-the-cuff remark from a brilliant man who was a little “carried away”. Ferguson was slightly slurring his words: forgivably, United had just won the league at the time he was cornered by a quote-hungry journo. But it was also a bit of neat psychology from this master manipulator, encouraging Jonesy to strive to achieve his potential.

In essence, it was a little white lie. Sir Alex was excellent at dropping in little white lies throughout his United career (and great whoppers too – witness his clear untruth about Rooney’s transfer request: it’s a means to an end, it brings situations to a head).

With some players, this sort of encouragement will work. Ferguson clearly believes Jonesy is that type of player. And there is something rather majestic about seeing Jones make one of his buccaneering runs, or seeing him pull a ‘determined’ face, or elbow the opposition out the way to win a header. He’s brave too: captaincy material in the future.

But greatest ever? No. I don’t think so. Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs. They might have something to say about that.

Allen: There’s no doubt that Phil Jones has the potential to be a United legend, but maybe “greatest ever” is a bit too optimistic. One thing is certain – he needs to be assigned a definite position to make it a possibility, and although a utility role might be his required role at the moment, in the long term he needs to settle into a permanent position. Wherever he plays, I definitely think he will be United (and possibly England) captain in the future and hopefully one of the best players to ever represent United.

Manuel Pellegrini, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, and David Moyes – who, if any, gets sacked first?

O’Donnell: This season? None.

Moore: The most likely manager this season would be Pellegrini.  Moyes will be given time, and patience is key. As for Wenger, he’s secured in his position with Arsenal as is Jose Mourinho with Chelsea. As for Pellegrini, if City do not win any silverware this season and conceded another Premier League title (hopefully to us) he’ll be on his way out.

Diller: Pellegrini. If Manchester City don’t hit the ground running, he could be in trouble. Manchester City have a history of somewhat prematurely sacking managers. Chelsea does too, but I don’t think they can do that to Jose Mourinho twice. Manchester United will give David Moyes plenty of time to succeed. Sir Alex will have demanded that. I don’t think Arsenal are even capable of letting Wenger go, so he’s probably the safest.

Davies: I’m not sure if any will be sacked but it would be great to see the back of Jose by early November. City will no doubt bring their own comedy to proceedings at some point so you can’t rule out them getting rid of their boss. Moyes and Wenger will be OK, for now!

Kirby: No matter how bad things get, United won’t sack Moyes in his first season. He might walk out if the pressure gets too much. He might lose his hair a la Wilf McGuinness. But the sack? No. There’s a slight chance Wenger might go if the Arse yet again lose out on their transfer targets and start as badly as they have done – two years ago for instance, when we shellacked them 8-2. But Arsenal are a properly run club. I can’t see it happening.

City and Chelsea on the other hand? Well, they are laws unto themselves. They are two teams apart, really. They are playthings, and their owners are spoiled. And like all spoilt children, they are liable to throw their toys out of the pram… The sacking of Roberto Di Matteo, about four months after he’d just secured the owner’s Holy Grail of the Champions League trophy is a case in point. As are the shenanigans at city involving the replacements of Mark Hughes, and then Mancini.

Barney Ronay, in The Guardian, summed up what it feels to be city (and Chelsea): “To the billionaire, sport, with all its glorious uncertainty, is something to be tamed and killed, machine-gunned with money, until even the grandest football club begins to resemble some stretched and burnished trophy wife, muzzled beneath a paste of high-end slap and stitch.”

I expect that the sack race will be won by either Mourinho – who is liable to throw his own toys too, should things not go right – or Pellegrini, and they’ll exit through the back door, resembling “some stretched and burnished trophy wife”.

Allen: Surely none of them will lose their jobs until at least next summer, but out of that list, I think Pellegrini will be the first to go. City showed last season with the dismissal of Mancini that one poor season, no matter what was achieved in the past, and the game is up. Their approach is very different from United’s in the simple sense that Moyes will be given time, but Pellegrini won’t. If they go another season trophy-less, he will most probably be sacked.

Any club in the EPL which could surprise us all, either negatively or positively?

O’Donnell: Spurs. It depends on how fast they get the Gareth Bale saga over and done with. Daniel Levy is often praised for the deals he strikes at White Heart Lane but all this silent treatment nonsense proves what a prat he is. If they get it done fast, they’ll have enough money to buy another winger and perhaps a defender or two. However the sales of Luka Modric and Dimitar Berbatov were done late due to Levy’s stubbornness. He needs to give André Villas-Boas time to build after losing a player of Bale’s class. Although, signing Roberto Soldado is a step in the right direction.  City have spent over £100m since Pellegrini’s arrival. Do they look stronger? No.

Moore: Tottenham. Andre Villas-Boas has shown real intent with keeping ahold of some quality players and despite the Gareth Bale rumors, he’s done fairly well with that saga. Unfortunately, Spurs missed out once again in terms of Champions League spots again; however, AVB’s attacking mentality will eventually break through in the Premier League – with a top four finish this season.

Diller: Southampton in a very positive manner. They’ve been quietly putting together a strong squad this summer, and I expect them to push into the top half of the table. They were an exciting team last season and I think their new manager got them playing a nice brand of football. Definitely expecting them to be in the top ten, rather than battling off relegation.

Davies: I’ve a sneaky feeling Everton could struggle this season. A combination of missing Moyes and Martinez’s ability to get team’s playing good football but battered every week could see them sliding down the table. Second Season Syndrome could his Steve Clarke at West Brom.

Kirby: Newcastle United Comedy Club never cease to astound the neutral supporter with their antics. Joe Kinnear!?! Owner Mike Ashley downing pints in the posh seats?!? Alan bloody Pardew…

Pardew was given a seven year contract on Tyneside after one good season. Unthinkable, most people claimed. What happened if Newcastle suddenly “went shit” and needed a managerial turnaround to set things straight? Would they have to pay the Pardster seven years wages, or else a massive compensation payout? Well no, actually. My Geordie sources tell me that Pardew was – allegedly – up to his neck in gambling debts, accrued during his time in London. Ashley had to bail him out to the tune of a whopping contract simply to keep the bailiffs away from Pardew’s door (again allegedly). Ashley can in fact sack the chancer any time he wants and there will be no payout. Allegedly.

Newcastle fans continually get the piss ripped out of them by their owners – witness Freddie Shepherd calling all Geordie women ‘dogs’ and claiming the fans were idiots for continuing to purchase their overpriced bar-code shirts. And it looks as though it will carry on next year.

Allen: I reckon that Norwich could surprise plenty of people this season. They’ve made some quality signings (noticeably Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer) and are linked with Juventus forward Fabio Quagliarella, and although names do not equal success by any means, I thought they were better last season than their league standing reflected and can really push on this season.

Who will be crowned league champions?

O’Donnell:  I’d usually say United but it’s very difficult to say for next season with the top three teams under new managers. I think it will be between Chelsea and us.

Moore: This season is going to be a close one, almost too close to call. From a red perspective, I’d obviously indicate that Manchester United retains every trophy in England and Europe – but we’ll see. Realistically I think our biggest opponents this season will be Chelsea. Mourinho is a mastermind, and knows how to rotate and get the best out of each member of his squad, which could pay dividends against us, Arsenal and City for instance. So – I’ll stick with United.

Diller: I’m a boring, biased man. David Moyes to lift the Premier League trophy in his first season, with Robin van Persie firing Manchester United to the top of the table and Chelsea running it down to the wire.

Davies: The team which has Wayne Rooney, simple.

Kirby: I can’t put the curse on United by saying United, and I refuse to write the names city or Chelsea here, so I’ll say West Brom. They put five past us in the most recent Premier League fixture we’ve played in after all, and have brought in the Incredible Sulk, Anelka, to bolster their attacking options.

Allen: Of course, my heart is adamant that in May we will be celebrating #21, but my head isn’t so sure. Chelsea concern me. With the departure of Sir Alex, Mourinho is undoubtedly the best manager in England. It’s just as well that neither Falcao nor Cavani joined the Blues – a top class striker ahead of Oscar, Mata and Hazard is a frightening thought. Hopefully this will be where they come up short. City will always be a threat, but despite spending nearly 100 million pounds so far this transfer window, I think that Chelsea will finish ahead of them. As for United, the Fergie-factor has to be considered. Moyes has the players and the foundation to succeed, but there’s no doubt that this will be a season of change. It has become a bit of a cliché, but this season, the league really is wide open…but I fear Chelsea might just nick it.

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