Three more sleeps. That's all we have left before Premier League Christmas morning on Saturday, and a lunchtime loosener between Manchester United and Spurs at Old Trafford to get things started. The phoney war of global summer friendlies is all but over and it's time to focus our attention on the matches that really matter.
I've already predicted in this column that Arsenal will win the title. The Community Shield is viewed as unimportant to some, but it confirmed two defining truths as we enter the 2015-16 season - that Jose Mourinho's Chelsea have stood still, while Arsenal grow ever hardened to the task and now have a world-class goalkeeper to bark orders through their spine. They're lean, hungry and ready to prove a point. This is their season.
Manchester United, exciting as their continued evolution will prove, remain a work in progress. A run at the title is entirely plausible, but I expect Louis van Gaal's squad to be fighting Chelsea for second and not first as we head into May next year. That leaves Manchester City in line for fourth, Manuel Pellegrini for the chop and Brendan Rodgers' only hope of survival in stealing that spot from whoever inherits Pellegrini's job in January.
Don't say you don't get bold opinions in this column. While we're at it here are my best bets to win PFA Player of the Season.
Alexis Sanchez: 8.00
Alexis was second only to Eden Hazard for midfield influence last season, and the short-shorted Chilean now has a platform to launch a defining season from. We've come to expect his blistering runs through opposition defences, and we know all about his finishing ability and eye for a pass. What Alexis can add this campaign is the moments all title-winning teams need to have in their favour - flashes of inspiration when Arsenal need them most and the maturity to lead this team by his tireless, exuberant example. At odds of 8.00, there's some good money to be won here.
Wayne Rooney: 12.00
Wayne Rooney has looked very sharp in preseason for Manchester United. Buoyed by the additions to the squad around him, you get the sense Rooney is settled into the Van Gaal regime and relishing the coming together of his matured game with a body still young enough to put his boots in the right places. Rooney the knockout puncher is seen less frequently these days, but his game smarts could produce a season of 25 goals or more if he stays fit and is used throughout as United's main striker.
Cesc Fabregas: 15.00
Hazard took the plaudits at Chelsea last season, but Fabregas' influence was immense and I expect him to deliver another standout campaign for Mourinho's team. There's calm authority in everything he does and the Spaniard may only need add a handful of glittering moments to put himself firmly in the mix for votes here. Players will remember what he produced last season and know that consistent brilliance deserves its reward.
Aaron Ramsey: 21.00
Ramsey at 21.00 seems like a good punt to me. A second Arsenal player on my list and one whose only barrier to the kind of acclaim reserved for PFA Player of the Year candidates will be playing consistently this season. If Ramsey can avoid injury and play 30+ games for Arsene Wenger's team, he's capable of contributing a 20-goal season and being among the standout performers in the Premier League.
Jordan Henderson: Odds Available On Request
Henderson is a long odds bet with a chance in this category. He's emerged as Liverpool's natural leader and will fully assume the responsibilities of Steven Gerrard this season - on the pitch and in the dressing room. There's no question we'll get his heart and soul poured into every performance home and away, but if Henderson can add more goals and bring a telling influence against the biggest opponents, he might have his fellow players voting for him. For that to happen Liverpool may need to exceed expectations and force themselves into the title mix however.
Now for my far-outsider - a player who is not even signed to a Premier League club yet. Should Manchester United sign Pedro, I expect him to roll into English football with an enormous appetite for success. Unleashed out wide, or in behind Rooney, Pedro will relish being part of Van Gaal's revolution and should have no trouble at all being motivated to prove Barcelona were wrong to let him go. Finally given the main stage, might we see Pedro take his moment and ignite this United side for a genuine push at the title? For United to challenge, at least one of their attacking players needs to have a remarkable season. Rooney stands as the most likely, but might it yet be the man they're trying to sign from Barcelona?
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