(Clubs listed in alphabetical order)
Strengths: In Arsene Wenger they have a manager who believes in them and fills them with confidence. He had no doubts his team would overhaul Spurs and finish third last year and he won't this year either. The players have dealt with the pressure of finishing in the top four before and won't be nervous about having to win games when the time comes. They can create and score goals, so will always have a chance in games. Only the very top teams will put them away early in a game.
Weaknesses: Theo Walcott might sign a new contract, but do Arsenal fans expect him to score the winner against their rivals for the top four? I don’t think he will because he is no Robin van Persie. Arsenal will be forced to take the FA Cup seriously to end their trophy drought and must also compete in the last 16 of the Champions League. The squad will be stretched thin and can ill afford injuries or suspensions.
Transfer Needs: A commanding central defender and a goalkeeper who will help keep a clean sheet in the must win games against Spurs, Chelsea and Everton. A better version of Mikel Arteta similar to the player they sold to Barcelona. A prolific goalscorer similar to the player they sold to Man United.
Predicted Position: 5th – I would not be surprised to see them finish in the top four yet again, but Chelsea and Tottenham are no longer managed by Roberto Di Matteo and Harry Redknapp respectively, so the challenge from Rafa Benitez and Andre Villas-Boas will be a sterner one.
Key Games: Chelsea (A), Liverpool (H), Tottenham (A), Everton (H), Man United (H).
Strengths: Have a deep squad which knows how to win when it matters most. Have an owner who will spend whatever it takes in the January transfer window to secure a top four spot. Have an array of creative talent who on their day can make and take chances. Have a leader in John Terry who can galvanize the dressing room and inspire his team to victory.
Weaknesses: A fan base which distrusts its current manager Rafa Benitez, so home form might be an issue. They have not played to their potential and have shown no consistency thus far. The back four and goalkeeper are not as imperious as they once were. The spine of the team is an aging one and key players are approaching the last six months of their contracts. Will they be willing to fight for the cause?
Transfer Needs: Another forward who can score goals on a consistent basis. A creative midfielder such as Luka Modric who can provide another option against teams that put players behind the ball.
Predicted Position: 3rd – If they do not make any additional signings they will be in a race for third place with Spurs and Arsenal. Their greater squad depth and scoring ability should be the difference between the two sides. With some new signings like Modric or Radamel Falcao they could make a run at the top two.
Key Games: Arsenal (H), Man City (A), Tottenham (H), Liverpool (A), Man United (A), Everton (H).
Strengths: Have a manager who exudes confidence and one whose players love to play for him. Their work rate, commitment to the team, and tactical discipline are among the best in the EPL. Have arguably the best left sided combination in the league in Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar. They do not have the distraction of European football, so can focus on challenging for the top four.
Weaknesses: Their small squad will be tested if any injuries are incurred. Rely heavily on Nikica Jelavic and have no cover if he gets injured. Have varied their play at times this year, but tend to have no Plan B when they can’t impose themselves on the opposition.
Transfer Needs: New additions to provide depth and must keep a hold of Baines and Marouane Fellaini. Another forward like Darren Bent might provide a different option in attack.
Predicted Position: 7th – They are having a good season, but must play all but one of the other top sides away from home and this will see them fade away down the stretch.
Key Games: Man United (A), Arsenal (A), Man City (H), Tottenham (A), Liverpool (A), Chelsea (A).
Strengths: Have a manager in Brendan Rodgers with something to prove and who believes his long term strategy will prove to be a success. Have a world class scorer in Luis Suarez. Have a young squad which will continue to develop the more it plays together.
Weaknesses: Reliance on aging stars to carry the team. Have some mediocre players in the squad who are not top four quality. Have to carry the legacy of past Liverpool teams and live up to their fans and media expectations.
Transfer Needs: Another proven goalscorer. A goalkeeper who can seriously challenge Pepe Reina for the starting position. A decent center half – how about a cheeky bid for former Evertonian, Joleon Lescott?
Predicted Position: 6th – They had an indifferent start to the season and too many draws for Rodgers liking, but will close the gap on the Europa Cup places and overtake their Merseyside rivals.
Key Games: Arsenal (A), Man City (A), Tottenham (H), Chelsea (H), Everton (H).
Strengths: Have a deep squad with options in almost every position. The desire of Roberto Mancini and the clubs fans to win the title again could spur them on. Have an array of attacking talent which can win a game even when the team is not playing well.
Weaknesses: Despite their squad depth they have an over reliance on individual players like Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Mario Balotelli can be the catalyst for another title or the one who hands it to bitter rivals Man United. They have the squad to play in the Europa Cup, but the Thursday night schedule will take its toll at some point and could cost them the points that will lose them the title.
Transfer Needs: A back up keeper, a forward who can be a more reliable version of Balotelli, a deep lying attacking midfielder who can arrive late and score goals.
Predicted Position: 2nd – They will run United close and maybe even overtake at some point between now and May, but in the end Alex Ferguson’s side will just pip them to the title.
Key Games: Liverpool (H), Chelsea (H), Everton (A), Man United (A), Tottenham (A).
Strengths: A squad with vast experience of winning titles and one which will be driven to reclaim the title from Man City. Alex Ferguson will have learned from last year’s collapse and will not let it happen again. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie will score the goals to take the title back to Old Trafford.
Weaknesses: An average back four with a keeper who has yet to convince. A lack of creativity in midfield could be an issue in the games against the likes of City and Chelsea. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs will tire as the season goes on, but who will take their place in the line up?
Transfer Needs: A new left back with Leighton Baines a possibility. A creative midfielder who can get a ball off the back four, is comfortable in possession and can play forward – Luka Modric perhaps.
Predicted Position: 1st – The back four is average and so is the center of midfield; however the wingers and forwards will usually score more than United concede. Ferguson will not allow his players to throw away points like last year – Blackburn Rovers and Everton – so United will win the league by a point or even on goal difference.
Key Games: Tottenham (A), Everton (H), Man City (H), Arsenal (A), Chelsea (H).
Strengths: Players returning from injury - Scott Parker, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Younes Kaboul - will provide depth for the run in. Have arguably the EPL’s best midfield quartet in Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale, Sandro and Moussa Dembele. Andre Villas-Boas is a manger with something to prove and will have learned from the mistakes of his predecessor, Harry Redknapp. Spurs will be stronger and fitter down the stretch because of his coaching. Redknapp refused to rotate his team, but Villas-Boas has done so astutely so far and will reap the benefits later in the season.
Weaknesses: No true prolific or world class goal scorer. Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermaine Defoe can be inconsistent and selfish at times as well as profligate. Have no true creative midfield player who can unlock a packed defense when Lennon and Bale are shut down or out of the line-up.
Transfer Needs: A prolific goalscorer, a creative attacking midfielder to provide another option off the bench or another wide player to bring on in place of Lennon.
Predicted Position: 4th – They have the squad depth and the individual talent to finish in the top four yet again. A lot will depend on whether they sign another forward in the transfer window. If they do then third is a possibility. If not, then they will be in a dog fight for fourth with bitter rivals Arsenal and a win against them at White Hart Lane will prove the difference between the two sides.
Key Games: Man United (H), Arsenal (H), Liverpool (A), Everton (H), Chelsea (A), Man City (H).
Interested in the relegation battle? Check out Colm Hamill's report on the other end of the table.