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Wednesday, 15 August 2001

7 Mid-table mediocrity, well the

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7. Chelsea

Some great midfield acquisitions (Petit, Zenden and Lampard), a good home record and a fanatical support. But the words 'transition' and 'season' seem destined to be Chelsea's bywords for 2001/2002. This is a coming side and, as long as Ken Bates resists the urge to change managers again, will be a championship side in three to four seasons time.

8. Aston Villa

Could this be John Gregory's last hurrah? Schmeicel may be past his best but still better than James, Angel should start to pay back his fee and now that all the whingers have gone (well almost all anyway) team spirit should be better. A good cup run and a solid league position are likely.

9. Charlton Athletic

A good campaign last time that has been built on with the full time arrival of Bartlett and the capture of the talented Euell. This Charlton side may be the surprise package of the season, and with a bit of luck on the injury front may yet get a UEFA spot, if some of the more fancied teams stutter. A very well run team.

10. Middlesbrough

The arrival of Steve McClaren isn't the sure fire panacea that some pundits feel. For every O'Leary there's been a Kidd, Gorman or Lewington. Great coaches do not often make great managers, but you do get the feeling that this one is different. He has yet to buy big, and this is where managers make their luck. Greening and Wilson are decent players and given experience may well be international class. Southgate and Ehiogu are a fabulous pairing, but team building will negate much of the better quality coaching. Expect the revolving door that is the transfer market to be spinning very quickly at the Riverside.

11. Blackburn Rovers

Souness is an experienced manager and has made enough interesting signings to propel Blackburn to a good finish in the league. The Grabbi/Jansen link up will be crucial. Little expectation outside East Lancashire for an exciting season and mid-table mediocrity beckons. Probably much to Graeme Souness's relief.

12. Derby County

Most pundits expect Derby to go down with Bolton and one other, but getting Fab Rav could prove to be the transfer coup of the summer. A dogged management team with some good players they were dead and buried last season before a revival under the new coaching team last season moved them to safety, until complacency set in. If the club has learned lessons from last season then they should be safe by Easter.

13. Fulham

Most pundits are expecting great things of Fulham and they may well get off to a flyer, but I think they will inevitably fall away after Christmas. Saha may be this seasons Stewart (who was last seasons Phillips) and the inspired purchase of van der Sar will keep them well out of trouble. But the reality is this is a team building for the future and I think that Tigana's biggest problem for this season is suppressing expectations.

14. Ipswich Town

The morning after the night before. The distractions of Europe and the loss of a star goalkeeper and with no real replacement in sight will spell mediocrity for last season's surprise package. Marcus Stewart may well find (like Kevin Phillips) that season 2 is much more difficult. I think the nation (outside Norfolk) would be delighted if Ipswich makes progress in the UEFA cup.

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Antony Melvin

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