So, less than a month after the World Cup final, the Premier League is back! Starting with Man Utd v Leicester tomorrow. And I’m more excited than usual. That’s because West Ham have bought well this summer and things just have to be better than last season. AND I bought myself a season ticket. Coming home…
But what of the annual thoughtsfromwestfive predictions? Let’s get straight to the point.
Winners – Man City
2nd – Liverpool
3rd – Arsenal
4th – Tottenham
5th – Man Utd
6th – West Ham
7th – Chelsea
8th – Everton
9th – Burnley
10th – Wolves
11th – Newcastle
12th – Bournemouth
13th – Crystal Palace
14th – Fulham
15th – Leicester
16th – Southampton
17th – Watford
18th – Huddersfield
19th – Brighton
20th – Cardiff
There will much scoffing in East Molesey and Hammersmith at a couple of these predictions. But hey, it would have been so boring to go City – Liverpool – Utd – Spurs/Chelsea – Arsenal, like everyone else. No harm in a bit of wishful thinking, and you never know, it might come true.
It’s very hard to see past Man City though. They have a very strong squad, made stronger by the acquisition of Riyad Mahrez and the return from injury of Benjamin Mendy. John Stones had a great World Cup, so can he translate that to his league form? Will the precocious Phil Foden – the Stockport Iniesta – break into the first team? What joy to be a City fan! There are potential weaknesses. If Aguero is unfit or out-of-sorts, they can lose a bit of cutting edge upfront; and Liverpool showed last season that if you really tear into them, they are vulnerable. But it’s a risky approach, and no-one else really managed it. Clearly the best team in the Premier League.
It’s reasonable to view Liverpool as City’s most likely challengers. They had the hex over City last year, and could claim to be the PL’s most exciting team, surging forward with pace and featuring the goal-scoring machine that was Mohamed Salah. I don’t think even Klopp foresaw his emergence as such an amazing striker. His role in the Champions League final was curtailed by a cynical, brutal foul by Ramos and he wasn’t really fully fit for Egypt in the World Cup. Apparently he has been back to his best in pre-season, so more fireworks can be expected. The Liverpool midfield has been bolstered by the arrival of Naby Keita from Red Bull Leipzig; but most important they have got themselves a top quality goalkeeper, in Alisson, Brazil’s No1. We saw last season how Ederson transformed Man City’s defence; Liverpool will expect the same from Alisson. There’s no doubt that having a good keeper spreads confidence throughout the defence; conversely, having someone who is prone to error or lacking confidence quickly spreads uncertainty through all the defenders. Defence has been Liverpool’s weak spot under Klopp. With Alisson and Van Dijk in place, they could be serious contenders. Hope they have a slow start though – West Ham are their visitors in the first weekend!
Yes, and then there is Arsenal. The post-Wenger era begins. Will it make any difference? New manager Unai Emery comes with a reputation for organisation and attention to detail. The jury seems out on his success at Paris St Germain, given the riches at his disposal. I must admit I was slightly underwhelmed when his appointment was announced, but at least it was done at the beginning of the summer, so he has had plenty of time to bed in and get the players acquainted to his methods. Some useful-looking players have been brought in, notably the Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira, but there hasn’t been a signature signing – yet. I write on the last day of the PL transfer window and there are rumours that Ousmane Dembele is coming, on loan, from Barcelona. Now that could be something. The point about Arsenal, though, is that they always have a wealth of attacking talent: the problem is the defence, and I include the midfield in that. At times, last season, they looked like a junior school side, everyone piling forward and not running back when they lost possession. If Emery can rectify that, then they will be a threat to anyone. Both their main forwards, Aubameyang and Lacazette, will be fresh, not having participated in the World Cup; Mesut Ozil will hopefully have something to prove, and there is some exciting young talent, like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reece Nelson and new signing from Lorient, Matteo Guendouzi. So anything is possible, including a mediocre season outside the Champions League places, but I’m going for something better. They can manage third.
That leaves Man Utd, Chelsea and Spurs of the current Big Six. Any one of them is capable of challenging for the title, but I don’t think they will. Chelsea are a bit of a mess (again) and don’t have a decent striker. United are brimming full of attacking talent, but hamstrung by a sulky, tactically out-of-date Jose Mourinho; and Spurs haven’t bought anyone and have a lot of players who played right up to the end of the World Cup. They also move into their new stadium soon after the season begins. There must be a risk of a slow start.
And I have predicted that there will be an interloper in that Six. West Ham no less. Hopeless optimism, soon to be dispelled by heavy defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal in the first two away games? Quite possibly. But there has been a step up in class over the summer. A new manager Manuel Pellegrini, who won the title with City, and is respected around the world. And a bigger transfer budget, which has allowed a number of exciting buys, notably the Brazilian winger Felipe Anderson from Lazio, two decent centre backs, Diop and Balbuena (a Paraguayan hard man) and maybe best of all, Jack Wilshere from Arsenal. England’s lost playmaker. If he can stay fit, and play most weeks, he could work wonders for West Ham and get back into the England team. I’ve always liked him as a player; I really hope it goes well for him at the Irons. Sixth place is a big ask, but I’m hopeful – and I’ll be there to cheer them on!
Other than that, I fancy Everton to stand out from the rest, under new manager Marco Silva, and like quite a few people, think Wolves could be the season’s surprise team, after looking so good in winning the Championship last season. As ever though, everyone below that Big Six will be preoccupied by staying out of the bottom three as much as qualifying for a Europa League place.
The relegation places could go to any number of teams, but I can’t see Cardiff making the step up from the Championship (unlike Fulham, who, like Wolves, could cause a few surprises). And I’m afraid I can see Brighton and Huddersfield coming under strain, having had to pull out the stops to stay up last season. Both are well-run teams who play some decent football; but there’s not a huge amount of quality there. Hope I’m wrong, but I fear for both of them. It’s a brutal world, the Premier League.
As ever, almost all these predictions will be wrong. Fingers-crossed I’m right about the Hammers and the Gunners. My critics from East Molesey and Hammersmith will undoubtedly tell me that I am deluded!