Time for the most fruitless exercise of the year – predicting the outcome of this season’s Premier League! Always fun though. All starts again, absurdly, on a Friday – 11 August. Arsenal v Leicester. Same time as the World Athletic Championships continue just down the road at the London Stadium (as we now call it – the Olympic Stadium, and home of the mighty West Ham). Top planning, chaps.
Anyway, let’s get straight to the point. Here are my predictions, from top to bottom.
1 – Manchester City
2 – Manchester United
3 – Arsenal
4 – Chelsea
5 – Tottenham
6 – Liverpool
7 – Everton
8 – West Ham
9 – Leicester
10 – Newcastle
11 – Southampton
12 – Bournemouth
13 – Crystal Palace
14 – West Brom
15 – Stoke
16 – Watford
17 – Brighton
18 – Burnley
19 – Swansea
20 – Huddersfield
First thing to say, is sorry DC, but I just can’t see where the quality is in that Hudders team to survive. Which probably means you will beat West Ham in their first home game of the season!
Looking back at my predictions for last season, I seem to be going for the same top three, despite the outcome of last season. I’m going for City to win it because they have spent so much money strengthening defence and midfield. And I guess they are hoping Jesus will stay fit this season. If he does, he will score goals galore. Their all-round quality means that if they don’t win it, Guardiola will surely be up for the chop. It’s similar for Man Utd – more heavy spending, with Matic and Lukaku key signings. No excuses for Jose this year. Trouble for him, City have spent even more – though there is still plenty of time before the window closes.
Does money matter? We used to say that money didn’t buy success (and Ron Harris was still saying it the other night at Chelsea). But it does. Especially now, with the sums being spent on transfers and wages. On the whole they buy quality, and the gap between the rich and poor grows wider. You can buy your way in, as Chelsea and City have done in the last decade, but you have to have a very rich owner.
Putting Arsenal at third is maybe my traditional wishful thinking for the Gooners, but they showed signs at the end of last season (as they usually do!) that they had found a formula, a system which suited the players at their disposal. They have added Lacazette up front, who is a proven goal scorer. The question still hanging over them is, can they keep Sanchez? Do they want to keep Sanchez? If he isn’t happy, maybe it’s best if he goes. They won’t have the demands of the Champions League this season – they can play reserves in the Europa League early stages. That could help them.
Putting Chelsea as low as fourth is a bit of a call. But there’s a lot of talk at the moment about the thinness of the squad, relatively speaking. Hazard is injured for the start of the season, Costa is on his way, a lot of squad players have been sold or loaned out. Morata is the big buy, but there are some doubts about whether he’ll adapt to the Premier League. And on the last couple of occasions after Chelsea won the League, they struggled a bit, especially in 2015-16, when everything went pear-shaped. Still a very good team of course, and I could be completely wrong about this.
And why Spurs only fifth, after their creditable second place last season? Well, they’ve got to play at Wembley, while a new stadium is built at White Hart Lane, and that may take some adjustment. They haven’t – yet – added to the squad, so are still highly dependent on Kane up front. Their midfield is full of goals, but it’s possible that teams will have learnt how to handle their pressing game. They will be wanting to make a good fist of the Champions League too. So there’s a lot on their plate. A season of adjustment, I think.
And likewise, why Liverpool only sixth? Again, they haven’t really bolstered the squad in the way that the two Manchester clubs have. And they are now in the Champions League (unless they lose in the preliminary round). There remains a risk they’ll lose Coutinho to Barcelona too. Good side, good to watch, like the manager, doubt their resilience, especially in defence.
It feels like there is a Big Six right now. If one club has spent more than usual to challenge that, it is Everton. Pickford in goal and Keane in defence look like excellent buys. If they get Sigurdsson from Swansea, that’s another step up in quality. And the return of Wayne Rooney – that could go either way, but I suspect he will do the business for them. Is it enough to break into that top six? Maybe, maybe not. I’m hedging my bets. They’ve lost Lukaku, and he was a major source of goals. No like-for-like replacement yet.
And that brings us to the Happy Hammers – happier than we were for most of last season. The summer purchases have been good: experienced Premier League players, to add a bit more nous and backbone to the team. Joe Hart is still the England goalkeeper – he could do a Phil Parkes for us (obscure 80s reference which true fans of the right age will recognise). Zabaleta will add that steadiness we need on the right side of defence. Arnautovic should add thrust on the flanks; and I’m quite excited by the acquisition of Javier Hernandez – Chicarito – up front. At last, a reliable goal scorer? I think Lanzini could be set free in the company of these new forwards, and hopefully we’ll see Antonio playing up front rather than right wing back this season, with the arrival of Zabaleta. We just have to hope that no big club comes calling for Lanzini – there have been rumours that Liverpool would be interested if they lose Coutinho.
So I’m saying that West Ham will be the best of the rest. It’s unrealistic to hope for anything else.
As for the rest of the rest, it’s hard to distinguish between them. Southampton will probably do OK, as they tend to do; Bournemouth seem optimistic; Leicester have added a bit more depth to their squad so will be solid mid-table; and surely Newcastle, still managed by Rafa Benitez, will make a good show of themselves? The city deserves it. Palace may benefit from the management skills of Frank de Boer – or else they will be so baffled by his Dutch sophistication they’ll be relegated!
Going down, can’t see much chance for Huddersfield, as I said earlier. Most pundits have fellow promotees Brighton joining them, but I think they could do a Bournemouth by playing enough good football to get the necessary wins at home. I can’t see that Swansea or Burnley have really done much to improve their squads (and have lost key players like Keane at Burnley and, probably, Sigurdsson at Swansea), so I fear for them, even though they both have good managers. Watford are a wild card, as they change managers – and players – so often. They could easily go down, but they could just as easily be 10th. Stoke and West Brom are pretty mediocre – it could all go wrong, but they probably both have enough quality and defensive solidity to muddle through.
So there you go. Predicting Manchester City again for the title. But I’d be more than happy to be wrong if the Arse could surprise us all and win it in style. Maybe if Cazorla ever recovers from injury, and Jack Wilshere rediscovers the brilliance of his youth…