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Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Tuesday, 12 August 2008 00:01 UK

Lawro's Premier League guide

By Mark Lawrenson
BBC Sport football expert

ARSENAL

Arsenal

Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Position last season: Third
Manager: Arsene Wenger (September 1996)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: The Gunners look a little short of quality to me and I think they might slip from third to fourth this season.

There have been a couple of high profile departures from the club in Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini. New signing Samir Nasri looks like a scaled down version of Hleb and I'm a bit worried about Emmanuel Adebayor, who I think did want to leave over the summer.

We don't know for sure when Eduardo will be back and although I like the look of youngster Jack Wilshire I think this year might be a little too early for him. It must be a big season for Theo Walcott.

KEY MAN: Cesc Fabregas. A fabulous player who must score plenty of goals from midfield.


ASTON VILLA

Aston Villa

Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Capacity: 42,593
Last season: Sixth
Manager: Martin O'Neill (August 2006)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: Villa finished sixth last season and I don't see why they cannot do as well this time around.

They have signed defender Carlos Cuellar from Rangers. I saw him play several times last season and he was outstanding.

Manager Martin O'Neill has built a fantastic team spirit and I imagine the dressing room at Villa is a fantastic place to be. If O'Neill sells Gareth Barry to Liverpool for 18m I think it will be one of the sales of the century.

KEY MAN: Steve Sidwell. He did not play much at Chelsea but if Barry does leave the club he will have the responsibility to hold it together in the middle of midfield.


BLACKBURN ROVERS

Blackburn Rovers

Nickname: Rovers
Ground: Ewood Park
Capacity: 31,367
Last season: Seventh
Manager: Paul Ince (June 2008)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: Paul Ince has a difficult job replacing Mark Hughes. Part of the problem for the new manager is that he is going to have to learn match after match at Premier League level.

I think goalkeeper Paul Robinson is a good signing but Rovers are a club that have punched above their weight and I think this could be a tough season for them. I would not be surprised if they finished lower mid-table.

KEY MAN: Roque Santa Cruz. He is vitally important for them and if he moves on it will leave a massive hole.


BOLTON WANDERERS

Bolton Wanderers

Nickname: Trotters
Ground: Reebok Stadium
Capacity: 27,879
Last season: 16th
Manager: Gary Megson (October 2007)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: I think Bolton will have a better season than last year. They did really well to stay up after losing Nicolas Anelka to Chelsea in January. I think they will finish in or around the bottom six. I expect them to be dour and doughty and a bit more difficult to play against than they were last year.

KEY MAN: Striker Johan Elmander, though Gary Megson runs him close as he is a manager who knows the division and is in his first full season in charge at the club.


CHELSEA

Chelsea

Nickname: Blues
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Capacity: 42,449
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari (July 2008)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: I think Chelsea will finish as champions. Under new boss Luiz Felipe Scolari they will play attacking football. The Brazilian will quickly realise that having players such as Petr Cech, John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien available gives him the ability to make more aggressive selections in other areas of the pitch.

As we saw last season, when Chelsea got everyone fit they pushed Manchester United all the way for the title. I would not be surprised if Didier Drogba remains at the club and Scolari will have great competition in all areas.

KEY MAN: Goalkeeper Petr Cech. If he plays all Chelsea's games I think they will win the league. He was not at his best last season but I think he will be back with a bang.


EVERTON

Everton

Nickname: Toffees
Ground: Goodison Park
Capacity: 40,170
Last season: Fifth
Manager: David Moyes (March 2002)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: David Moyes has done a fantastic job at Everton over the years. If you take into account how he has had to juggle finances and personnel he is as good a manager as anybody in the league.

However, I think that if Everton finish in the top 10 this coming season they will have done very well. As yet nothing has happened in terms of new arrivals and that is a bit of a worry, while the likes of Andy Johnson and Lee Carsley have left. There is also the concern about the move to a new stadium, which will run and run.

KEY MAN: Mikel Arteta.


FULHAM

Fulham

Nickname: Cottagers
Ground: Craven Cottage
Capacity: 26,000
Last season: 17th
Manager: Roy Hodgson (December 2007)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: Roy Hodgson did a sensational job to keep Fulham in the Premier League last season. I remember the day they were 2-0 down at Manchester City and came back to win 3-2 - it was a result that gave them the sense of belief from which they really kicked on.

Hodgson is a wily old fox, who does not get too excited by victory or downcast in defeat. He is a planner who has improved his squad over the summer. I think they will struggle in some areas but overall I think they will finish top of the bottom six.

KEY MAN: Andy Johnson. Stating the obvious but if he scores his share of goals Fulham will be fine.


HULL

Hull City

Nickname: Tigers
Ground: KC Stadium
Capacity: 25,404
Last season: Promoted (Championship play-off winners)
Manager: Phil Brown (December 2006)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: The problem for Hull is balancing their need to strengthen in all areas with the amount of money they spend in trying to do that.

It will be very tough this season but Phil Brown knows about the Premier League from his time as assistant to Sam Allardyce at Bolton, while assistant Brian Horton is a vastly experienced manager. I have no doubt that they will ensure Hull are organised and play with great endeavour and commitment but what they will lack is quality. If they can finish fourth from bottom it will be a magnificent achievement but I think they will finish in the bottom three.

KEY MAN: Boaz Myhill. The goalkeeper is highly rated and he will be very busy, but if he is in good form it might just make the difference for the Tigers.


LIVERPOOL

Liverpool

Nickname: Reds
Ground: Anfield
Capacity: 45,362
Last season: Fourth
Manager: Rafael Benitez (June 2004)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: I think Liverpool will improve on last season by one position and finish third.

Robbie Keane is a very good signing but I am worried already by manager Rafa Benitez saying that he can play on the right or left of midfield. I'm sorry Rafa, but I think Keane has to play either just behind or alongside Fernando Torres. When Keane is playing well he is a cheeky chappie who is very inventive in the penalty area but if you stick him out wide you will lose that.

Liverpool look a bit light down the left, particularly in an attacking sense. I would not sign Gareth Barry for 18m, instead I would look for a left sided player. However, Liverpool do have a very solid backbone with the likes of Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard.

KEY MAN: Steven Gerrard. A massively obvious choice but clearly correct. He is Mr Liverpool.


MANCHESTER CITY

Manchester City

Nickname: Blues
Ground: City of Manchester Stadium
Capacity: 48,000
Last season: Ninth
Manager: Mark Hughes (June 2008)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: Mark Hughes is a very good manager with some excellent players and if they go into the season with what they have now I think they will finish in the top half.

But there are lots of distractions at Manchester City, the biggest of which surrounds the owner Thaksin Shinawatra. It now turns out that he might be subjected to a fit and proper person test. Who knows what will happen regarding his involvement at the club? Will players be sold? Is there money to spend? It might even be that Hughes will walk away from City.

KEY MAN: Thaksin Shinawatra. What happens at City all stems from what happens to him.


MANCHESTER UNITED

Manchester United

Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Capacity: 76,000
Last season: Champions
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson (November 1986)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: Man Utd play outstanding football and commit players forward. In Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand they have an outstanding defensive partnership and I think they may be better than they were last season. However, I think Chelsea might just have the edge.

I have my doubts about Cristiano Ronaldo. Is there a part of him that still wants to move to Real Madrid? If there is then he will not be the same player for United that he was last season.

KEY MAN: Wayne Rooney. I think it will be a big season for him.


MIDDLESBROUGH

Middlesbrough

Nickname: Boro
Ground: Riverside Stadium
Capacity: 35,049
Last season: 13th
Manager: Gareth Southgate (June 2006)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: Gareth Southgate did a good job last season, improving as he gained in experience. He is slowly assembling his own team and I think there is plenty of goals in the squad he has. I think that Boro should be aiming for at least half way in the Premier League table.

Boro's only problem in many ways is that their supporters can be a little apathetic. It is up to the players to win them over.

KEY MAN: Afonso Alves. I think that he has got what it takes.


NEWCASTLE

Newcastle United

Nickname: Magpies
Ground: St James' Park
Capacity: 52,193
Last season: 12th
Manager: Kevin Keegan (January 2008)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: I am worried already for Kevin Keegan. I don't think he is in control of who is coming in and I don't think that you can run your football club that way. I reckon that the Keegan of a few years ago would not be there by now.

I really hope they have a good season and that Kevin stays but I would not be surprised if he left. He is keeping his head down and not saying anything at the moment but there will come a time when it all kicks off. I think they will be in the bunch that will finish in mid-table.

KEY MAN: Michael Owen. Fit and scoring - the Magpies finish top half, if he isn't then they won't.


PORTSMOUTH

Portsmouth

Nickname: Pompey
Ground: Fratton Park
Capacity: 20,200
Last season: Eighth
Manager: Harry Redknapp (December 2005)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: Portsmouth won the FA Cup last season and finished eighth in the Premier League. They have since strengthened over the summer and I think they could slightly improve their league placing.

New signing Younes Kaboul will learn off Sol Campbell and Peter Crouch gives them another dimension in attack.

KEY MAN: Jermain Defoe. If he keeps scoring then who is to say what they can achieve...


STOKE

Stoke City

Nickname: Potters
Ground: Britannia Stadium
Capacity: 28,384
Last season: Promoted (second in the Championship)
Manager: Tony Pulis (June 2006)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: Dave Kitson is a really good signing who works his socks off and scores his fair share of goals. Seyi George Olofinjana is also a good acquisition from Wolves.

Stoke are big and strong. I don't think we will see too many elaborate passes through midfield and teams will have to deal with the direct threat that they pose. If there are enough teams that fail to cope with it then the Potters will survive but if teams can handle it then Stoke will come straight back down. Ultimately I think a lack of quality will be their undoing.

KEY MAN: Dave Kitson.


SUNDERLAND

Sunderland

Nickname: Black Cats
Ground: Stadium of Light
Capacity: 48,300
Last season: 15th
Manager: Roy Keane (August 2006)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: I think Sunderland will improve on last season. Manager Roy Keane bought players from the Championship last summer - the likes of Michael Chopra - but has realised that unless they are really outstanding it takes too long for them to adjust. This summer he has signed the likes of Steed Malbranque, Pascal Chimbona and El Hadji Diouf - all players from Premier League clubs.

KEY MAN: El Hadji Diouf. Sunderland need someone to chip in with goals and he might fill that role.


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Tottenham Hotspur

Nickname: Spurs
Ground: White Hart Lane
Capacity: 36,236
Last season: 11th
Manager: Juande Ramos (October 2007)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: If Dimitar Berbatov follows Robbie Keane in leaving Tottenham then the club will have lost two players who scored in the region of 60 goals last season. That will leave a big hole to fill. Juande Ramos has brought a few players in and it may take some time for them to gel but I think they have a chance of finishing in the top six.

KEY MAN: Ledley King. Tottenham look a different team defensively when he is playing.


WEST BROM

West Brom

Nickname: Baggies
Ground: Hawthorns
Capacity:
Last season: Promoted (Championship champions)
Manager: Tony Mowbray (October 2006)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: My issue with West Brom is this - where are the goals coming from? They have decent midfielders and play attractive football but I don't think they will score enough. Kevin Phillips has left and I'm not too sure how many the likes of Roman Bednar and Luke Moore will score.

WBA were not the strongest in defence last season but I think that they might be too easy to play against. They are the third team that I reckon will end up relegated. To stay up they must beat the teams around them home and away.

KEY MAN: Luke Moore. The Baggies need him to score goals.


WEST HAM UNITED

West Ham United

Nickname: Hammers
Ground: Upton Park
Capacity: 35,056
Last season: 10th
Manager: Alan Curbishley (December 2006)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: We keep hearing that when West Ham get everybody fit... I don't buy that. I think they have lost their way a little bit. I don't see great optimism around West Ham. They have some good youngsters coming through but they are not going to be their key players this season.

The great problem they have is the wage bill. It puts boss Alan Curbishley under an enormous amount of pressure. Whoever owns West Ham must look at that and expect excellence. But I think they will finish in the bottom third.

KEY MAN: Dean Ashton. If he plays most of the games I think they will be OK.


WIGAN ATHLETIC

Wigan Athletic

Nickname: Latics
Ground: JJB Stadium
Capacity: 25,000
Last season: 14th
Manager: Steve Bruce (November 2007)

606: DEBATE

Lawro's verdict: Boss Steve Bruce knows all about the Premier League. His side will be big, strong and aggressive and difficult to beat. Owner Dave Whelan backs his managers and lets them do their job - and that is great for Bruce.

There will be highs and lows. There is not a great atmosphere at their ground but if the rugby league boys cut the pitch up again it will be a big help to them.

KEY MAN: Amr Zaki. The Egyptian is on loan from Zamalek. I hear that Wigan think the striker might prove to be a real find.

Mark Lawrenson was talking to Paul Fletcher.


see also
Premier League ins and outs
12 Aug 08 |  Premier League
Transfers - August 2008
12 Aug 08 |  Gossip
Lawro's predictions
14 Aug 08 |  Football
Curbishley cool under pressure
12 Aug 08 |  West Ham
Hull to Old Trafford
11 Aug 08 |  Football


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