With the Premier League season now fully underway, it’s high time predictions were made, bets placed and heated debates had. My top six is predictably made up of the familiar names, but perhaps not in the order you’d naturally think:
Although I am no fan of Liverpool I cannot escape the fact that they were pretty good last year and will be even better this season. When at their best they can beat City, they have shored up the centre of midfield, and if their new signing, Alisson Becker from Roma, works well their goalkeeping issues will be solved too. They’ve spent big recently and I expect it to pay off.
- Manchester City
If they prove me wrong and win the league, I won’t be remotely surprised. However, recent history has proven that title defences are difficult and rarely successful. Moreover, their only major signing has been Mahrez, who plays in a position where they have an embarrassment of riches already, and who for my money does not influence games consistently enough. Whilst Guardiola is a good enough manager to ward off complacency, I think they are in danger of standing still as Liverpool improve.
- Tottenham Hotspur
At the time of writing they have made exactly no signings, which is about the level of ambition I’d expect from Spurs. Nonetheless the team they have at the moment is a talented one, and they are a safe bet for top-four this year. Spurs will likely not win a thing if they remain at their usual level of form and are unlikely to change this track record until they display something in the way of ambition.
I should probably declare an interest and admit I am a Chelsea fan, so I’ve put them up here far more in hope than expectation. Chelsea are an unknown quantity this year, and having been mediocre at best last season, they’ve had an abysmal summer. The board’s dithering over Conte has left Sarri far too little time to implement his style of football, whilst Hazard and Courtois want out. Whilst not impossible, fourth would represent an exceptionally good return on a shambolic few months, which makes Chelsea sound depressingly similar to their north London neighbours.
- Manchester United
I’m really looking forward to watching them this year, because Mourinho’s third-season syndrome seems to be taking hold. He has been boorish and ill-tempered throughout a torrid pre-season, he’s alienating a dressing room which is tired of his bad moods and pretty soon the board will have had enough too. Signings have not been good enough to make up the difference with City, but the major problem they have is that José will self-destruct and get the sack. As a Chelsea fan, watching a Mourinho meltdown from the outside looking in is a rare occurrence. I will savour every moment.
Say what you like about Arsene Wenger, but for a long time the squad he worked with at Arsenal wasn’t very good. It was very much his fault, but his squad was of poor quality and it remains of a similar standard under Unai Emery. Their new signings will offer little entertainment and I doubt that they will produce anything of note this season.
As for the bottom three sink sides, these three sides won’t be able to handle the pace and quality of England’s top flight this term, and I expect to see all of the below struggling as the season goes on:
They were pretty dreadful last year, making their survival look much harder than it actually should have been. Moreover, they’ve kept Mark Hughes as manager, which is frankly nothing short of a death sentence. I’m not expecting much.
- Crystal Palace
For the past four seasons they have performed survival heroics by bringing in a new manager halfway through the season, but this year I expect their luck to run out. As it stands they haven’t lost their star player, Wilfried Zaha, but it’s likely they will, and if they do it will surely be the blow which, at long last, sends them to their doom.
Wolves’ relationship with Jorge Mendes has allowed them to build a team that will almost certainly be good enough to survive, whilst Fulham have spent big and, in my opinion, well. This makes Cardiff the most likely contenders to go down of the promoted teams, and their modest acquisitions this summer will not make their season any easier.
Women’s Super League:
Despite all the commotion over changes to the structures of women’s football (and who wouldn’t feel for poor Sunderland, having been relegated two divisions, after finishing a creditable seventh last season), I don’t think it will actually do very much to change outcomes at the top of the division. It will be a two-horse race between Manchester City and Chelsea, and I reckon Chelsea will come out on top, yet again. Until Manchester United are in the competition, this duopoly seems pretty safe. However, expect the Red Devils to make quick progress; Casey Stoney is an astute appointment as manager and the club are said to be investing as much as five million.