Time passes strangely for football fans. We measure life in seasons, not in years. Our "spring" - the season of birth and renewal, in the major European leagues at least, starts in August rather than April or May.
Those of us who are condemned to follow the MLS have the joy (pain?) of having two seasons moving simultaneously but asynchronously (the same is also true of those who follow Scandinavian or Russian football). Our comrades in Argentina and Mexico get to have two years for the price of one, thanks to an idiotic TV-driven system of apertura and clausura championships. Brazil has one long season followed by a plethora of incomprehensible mini-seasons via the various state championships.
Summers (again, MLS, and Nordic countries excepted) are as deserts, bereft of delight. Except when, as after a deluge in the Atacama, the desert blooms with life through an international tournament such as a World Cup. Sepp Blatter - the Loki of the football world - is trying to change our environment with his perennially daft ideas about having a World Cup every two years. He is an environmental menace as well as an economic illiterate (Sepp, baby- ever stop to think that the World Cup's value might have something to do with scarcity?)
OK, enough metaphors. For what it's worth, here's the season predictions:
England: Chelsea, ManU, Arsenal, Liverpool. The spread between the four will be closer than last year, for sure, but assuming that luck evens out and that Chelsea and Arsenal have fewer injuries than last year while ManU and Liverpool have more, this is how it will end. For the drop: Derby, Wigan, Fulham. Man City, Newcastle and West Ham (especially if the latter pick up Cassano!) should all provide much hilarity along the way. Not out of the realm of possibility that Leeds will lose their playing license sometime in the fall.
Italy: Inter. Though there are still a coupe of weeks to go, Milan haven't improved much over the summer, and Juve are not ready to resume their spot at the top of the league. Look for Roma to pose a bigger threat this year, though.
Spain: Same as last year: RM, Barca, Sevilla (assuming they keep hold of Dani Alves - fifth place if they don't). Madrid haven't made many player moves, but the arrival of Bernd Schuster means they will be far more organized defensively. Meanwhile, over at Barca, the arrival of Gaby Milito improves the back line somewhat, but the real problem will be how to craft a solid midfield while simultaneously trying to keep at least three out of Henry, Ronaldinho, Messi, Eto'o and Dos Santos on the field. Anyone who thinks that lineup is a winner learned nothing from the galactico experience. To use a basketball metaphor (hello, Arsenalist!) this isn't the Dream Team - it's the late 80s Denver Nuggets.
France: Dear God, anybody but Lyon. OM seem better equipped than in recent years to take on the task: despite the loss of Ribery, the team have spent wisely to bolster to squad.
Germany: OK, so everybody had an enormous amount of fun last year when the Bayern attack went AWOL and they ended up with fourth place and a loser's cup spot. But one atypical bout of spending later (say hello to Franck and Luca, everybody) and the return of Ottmar Hitzfeld means normal service is resumed and everyone can go back to fighting for second place.
Everybody else: One prediction though: an East European team will make the quarter-finals of the CL for the first time in eight years. Money is starting to flow in Russia, Ukraine and Romania, and Steaua Bucharest, Shakhtar Donetsk and Spartak Moscow could all provide some upsets.
Blistering commentary from the reading public (and since I installed that clustrmaps doohickey a couple of weeks ago, I have realized that there are far more of you than I thought) is now welcome...