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Last Updated: Friday, 6 August, 2004, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
Who'll drop from the top?
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

The Premiership season is about to kick-off, and while many dream of glory some members of the Premiership elite are already in fear of the drop.

Moyes is braced for a season of struggle

Norwich, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace will start as relegation favourites, simply on the basis that they are the top flight's new arrivals.

But as Leeds proved last season, even one-time big clubs can fall on hard times and drop out of the elite.

So who are the sides that must worry as the big kick-off approaches?

EVERTON

Tipped by many to be the big scalp that falls from the Premiership this season after surviving with only 39 points last term.

Manager David Moyes has been betrayed by a lack of boardroom backing and has been barely able to rebuild a squad that struggled desperately.

Everton's boardroom power struggle has not helped his cause either.

And overshadowing almost everything has been the continued speculation surrounding England's Wayne Rooney.

Rooney may decide Everton's fate

Rooney is now closer to signing the new five-year contract on offer, and that alone could make the difference between Everton surviving or going down.

It would provide a massive morale-boost to a club in desperate need of a lift after a divisive summer.

Everton have an ageing central defence, lack of quality in midfield and have proved short on firepower.

Moyes' side also have a tough start and will need to get points on the board early if they are not to struggle.

Everton have an excellent manager in Moyes and a massive fan base, and they may need both, as well as their teenage superstar, to stay up.

PORTSMOUTH

Manager Harry Redknapp has already flagged up the danger signals in his regular bulletin to chairman Milan Mandaric about a lack of players.

He has lost the experienced Teddy Sheringham and Tim Sherwood and has complained about small squad strength.

Redknapp is a shrewd operator, but may struggle to perform a second miracle.

He is also a wily operator in the transfer market and may need all his skill after a frustrating summer.

Pompey must also make sure there is no hangover from Redknapp's spat with Mandaric last season or there could be trouble ahead at Fratton Park.

MANCHESTER CITY

Life at City, and under Kevin Keegan, is never dull.

So it is reasonable to assume that the rollercoaster will be in full working order at this great old club again in the forthcoming campaign.

Kevin Keegan needs a good start

Keegan must keep the moody Nicolas Anelka happy, while Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman must prove they are not finished as top-flight forces.

If he fails to do that, then Keegan may preside over a relegation campaign.

Keegan has strengthened a notoriously leaky rearguard with the capture of Danny Mills and Ben Thatcher.

But confidence is a fragile commodity at City, and Keegan may need to draw on previously unseen tactical acumen to keep them safe this season.

NORWICH CITY

They romped deservedly to the First Division title last season, but must now make the massive jump to ensure Premiership survival.

This would certainly be regarded as success at Carrow Road, and no-one should under-estimate the managerial skills of Nigel Worthington.

Worthington has fashioned a tighly-knit unit with men like Darren Huckerby providing the flair.

Huckerby gives Norwich flair

And he has rightly decided experience is his key word this season.

He has brought in Simon Charlton from Bolton, Denmark defender Thomas Helveg and Sweden's Mattias Jonson.

And the biggest coup of all may yet be landing Arsenal's David Bentley on a season-long loan - Norwich may surprise many and have enough to stay up.

CRYSTAL PALACE

Must be favourites for the drop, but once again Iain Dowie has the capacity to mastermind survival.

Dowie did a magnificent job last season, but Palace have struggled to attract top quality this summer.

Dowie will need all his motivational skills, and be able to prise some serious cash out of chairman Simon Jordan, if they are to avoid the drop.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

Gary Megson will use the experience of Albion's previous ill-fated visit to the Premiership.

Megson will have Albion well-drilled, resolute and tough to beat as they seek survival second time around.

Jason Koumas' decision to stay is good news, and suggestions that they are simply cannon fodder may prove hasty.





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