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Greg Stobart
         Goal UK Correspondent



In a little over six months, the greatest sporting spectacle on earth will get underway: a World Cup in football's spiritual home.

Before the greatest players on the planet assemble in football's spiritual home, however, there is plenty to look forward to on the domestic and European front.

A frantic, often controversial and highly unpredictable 2013 means there are any number of issues to be decided at club level before players can even begin to shift their focus towards the World Cup.

Here, I've put my neck on the line and taken a look at what 2014 holds in store...

PREMIER LEAGUE

Summer managerial upheaval, most obviously the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, leaves us set for the tightest, most unpredictable title race in recent memory.

One thing we can be sure of is that we will have new champions. David Moyes’ transitional season appears to amount to making Manchester United play like his old Everton teams.

GREG'S 2014 PREDICTIONS
DOMESTIC
TITLE WINNERS Man City
TOP SIX 1) Man City 2) Chelsea 3) Arsenal 4) Liverpool 5) Man Utd 6) Spurs
RELEGATION Sunderland, Cardiff, Norwich
FA CUP Liverpool
CAPITAL ONE CUP Man City
With the top four separated by just six points, the title is there for the taking.

Arsenal currently sit top of the tree but, despite their superb form in 2013, I question whether they are mentally strong enough to last the pace in a title challenge during the months that really matter.

They are also overly reliant on Olivier Giroud as their only half-decent striker. While Arsene Wenger is notoriously careful in the transfer market, surely it is worth taking a gamble on signing a forward in January with the Gunners so well placed to finally end their nine-year trophy drought.

Liverpool last won the title in 1990 but they are genuine contenders this year and possess the best player in the Premier League in the form of Luis Suarez.

While a club of Liverpool’s stature should always dare to dream, realism suggests that a top-four finish is a more realistic - and attainable - ambition. I think they will qualify for next season’s Champions League, which will greatly boost their chances of keeping Suarez, but you have to worry about their reliance on the Uruguayan while they have the weakest squad in the top six outside a very strong first XI.

I’m hardly going against the grain to suggest that Manchester City and Chelsea are the two favourites for the title.

My pre-season tip was Chelsea and although the Blues are well-positioned, they haven’t really fired so far in the second coming of Jose Mourinho. A top class striker and a central midfielder would complete their squad - but I don’t think the Londoners will be able to sign the calibre of player they need in January.

While the poor form of Chelsea’s forwards is a cause of concern for Mourinho, City have no such problems.

It is hard to argue with the logic that City are favourites to win back the Premier League crown they won in 2012.

Under Manuel Pellegrini they have been in stunning attacking form, scoring 57 league goals so far this season, and what sets them apart from their rivals is their lethal attacking options and four top strikers.

Now they appear to have ironed out their inconsistent away form, City could even run away with the title, although their form could dip as they fight on four fronts. Their home game against Chelsea on February 3 will tell us more about where the Premier League trophy is heading this year.

I don’t think Manchester United are strong enough to finish in the top four this season without significant January investment - and I’m talking £50 million-plus - and failure to qualify for the Champions League could present Moyes with some serious problems in the summer over the futures of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.

Tottenham and Everton are in the top-four fight but I think they will both miss out. They lack a player of Suarez’s match-winning quality, while I don’t see either of them stringing together a long run of victories.

Down at the bottom, it’s a similar tale as managerial changes have changed the complexion of the relegation shake-up.

Crystal Palace, Fulham and Sunderland no longer look certainties for relegation, but the team I really worry for now is Cardiff.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks set to take over from Malky Mackay, but the former Manchester United striker is joining a club shrouded in negativity and with a frankly bonkers owner in Vincent Tan who has turned them into a laughing stock.

WORLD CUP

We may boast on these shores that England is the home of football, but Brazil is where the beautiful game was invented.

Having been in Brazil for the Confederations Cup, I have never experienced such passion for the sport and the World Cup will be a special tournament, providing the country is suitably prepared in terms of stadia and security. Two big ifs, I know, given the huge protests last June.

GREG'S 2014 PREDICTIONS
EUROPE & GLOBAL
WORLD CUP
Brazil
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE Real Madrid
EUROPA LEAGUE Tottenham
Brazil won the Confederations Cup as they thrashed Spain 3-0 in the final at the Maracana - and now expectation has gone into overdrive that Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side will win the country’s sixth World Cup as they host the competition for the second time.

I make them favourites to win if poster-boy Neymar can handle the pressure.

Lionel Messi has a chance to definitely press his claim as the best player in the history of the sport as he looks to repeat Diego Maradona’s heroics for Argentina in 1988; while Germany have a team at their peak and will arrive in Brazil with the greatest squad depth of any side in the tournament.

But no European team has ever won a World Cup on South American soil and the heat, pitches and travelling in a country larger than the whole continent of Europe will be major factors.

That is one reason why Spain will not retain the World Cup. One of the greatest teams in history, there is a sense that opponents have finally worked out how to play against the position-based passing game of the reigning world and European champions.

As for England, the throat-slitting gesture from FA chairman Greg Dyke at the draw told the story as they were pitted against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

Qualification from the group stage and a second round exit would be perfectly acceptable - but I fear for England.

The game against Italy in the scorching heat of the Amazon jungle is likely to show up the technical deficiencies in the squad. You simply can’t afford to spend time chasing the ball in such conditions.

And in Uruguay strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, they will come up against two of the most lethal attackers in the game.

Roy Hodgson will have plenty of chances to run the rule over Suarez before the end of the season and work out how he plans to stop the Liverpool man.

But of most significance will be whether he is able to get the best out of Wayne Rooney in a major tournament. The United man is, by a mile, England’s best player but ever since his stunning performances at Euro 2004, he has continually turned up to major tournaments either unfit or badly out of form.

AND THE REST

The four Premier League representatives in the Champions League all did well to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition, especially in the case of Arsenal given their awfully tough group that included Borussia Dortmund and Napoli.

For me, the Gunners have done their job in the competition and this is the season for them to really focus on the Premier League.

GREG'S 2014 PREDICTIONS
PLAYER AWARDS
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Luis Suarez
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR Romelu Lukaku
BALLON D'OR Cristiano Ronaldo
Which is just as well, as they have been drawn against champions Bayern Munich - their conquerers last year - in the last 16.

The only English club I see posing any threat is Manchester City. They have the talent to beat Barcelona, their last 16 opponents, over two legs, as they proved in their group stage win at the Allianz Arena.

Barcelona have looked vulnerable defensively and the two teams to beat in the competition this season are Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

No team has ever retained the Champions League and with Cristiano Ronaldo in jaw-dropping form, I fancy Real Madrid to finally make history by winning that highly-prized 10th European title.

Ronaldo’s stunning form in 2013 - the Portuguese scored 69 goals in the calendar year - should also make him a shoo-in for the Ballon d’Or ahead of Messi and Franck Ribery; although some of the voting politics for the award puts the Eurovision Song Contest to shame.

Elsewhere, I think my player and young player of the year - Luis Suarez and Romelu Lukaku respectively - will both pick up the corresponding awards from the PFA in 2014.

I also fancy Tottenham to return to their cup traditions and have a real go at winning the Europa League having been dumped out in the quarter-finals on penalties last season.

With apologies to Sunderland and West Ham supporters, I’m already looking forward to the prospect of a Manchester derby in the Capital One Cup final. If it happens, City should prove too strong for United once again following their 4-1 thrashing of their great rivals in September.

And finally, my FA Cup tip is Liverpool. They have proven already this season that, in a one-off game, they are a match for any team in the country. With a little bit of luck in the draw and Suarez injury-free, they can win the competition and build the winning mentality that could be so important to future title challenges.

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