Hello again, its strange meeting like this again, isn’t it? Anyway, shall I carry on with my predictions? Are you ready for them? Alright then, here they are, you may not like them but it’s only my opinion, and you can express yours in the comments. Brace yourselves…
1st (Champions): Arsenal
Okay, okay, okay; I know what you’re thinking. Arsenal winning a title? It’s an unexpected phenomenon these days, about as rare in the Premier League era as a blue moon being seen in the night sky (they’ve only won it three times since the EPL’s inception in 1992, the last being in 2003/04), and as a result, Arsene Wenger and his side have become the butt of countless jokes. The very fact that the board have kept Wenger in place, even through the era of moving from Highbury to the Emirates, is a testament to the faith they have in him and the patience they have in allowing him to strike when the time is ready. However, it could be argued that it is also a representation of the lack of ambition they have, but there’s no doubt that the Frenchman will want a definitive last hoorah before his ever-impending retirement. And I really believe that the success that he has sat on his hands for over the past decade (minus two FA Cups) can come this year.
Let me explain. Well, first off, Wenger is a master tactician with a settled and well-stocked squad. He is the only manager in the predicted chasing pack this season with the decades of experience the last few managers who have lifted the trophy had in bucket loads (although admittedly Jose Mourinho is a bit of an exception to the rule). Claudio Ranieri, Manuel Pellegrini, Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti were all true connoisseurs of the beautiful game, with veritable suitcases full of plans and background knowledge on each and every club they came up against, which ultimately told in the trophies and honours that they now have to their names.
Even despite this, these great managers all had to have great squads with whom they could mould into a style they believed in and rely upon when the going got tough. Every team has to have a star, but also a top quality assemble cast who can support their lynchpin and take the reins when required, to achieve their goals, and for me, with the addition of one or two late signings by Wenger, Arsenal will be the side best gelled and equipped with these pieces of the puzzle. They have Alexis Sanchez, their main man, in great form and ever-improving in his role cutting in from the wing, and they also have Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil, who all have the vast amounts of ability to put in game-winning performances. Some argue that these players are title-winners, but I think that they, along with the huge amount of great youngsters the Gunners have coming through (Alex Iwobi, Gedion Zelalem and Takuma Asano etc.), all have the ability to fight at the very top of the game because they understand each other so well. As long as the players around them, plus the addition of maybe another striker and a defensive midfielder to replace Mathieu Flamini, perform, I really think this can be Arsenal’s season to step forward and get the top prize. Let’s not forget, too, they finished second last season, behind only the surprise act of a century, but more on them later…
2nd: Manchester City
Considering Manuel Pellegrini left the Blues in such a good position at the end of his reign, with another season of Champions League football (providing they can get through the final qualifying phase) and world class figures such as Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne in top form, Pep Guardiola has got a pretty good base upon which to achieve success this season. Better than most, that’s for sure, especially when adding the bank balance of a Saudi Sheikh and one of the best all-round squads in the whole of Europe into the equation.
Unfortunately for those in the light blue half of Manchester, I just don’t think this year will quite be the time for Guardiola to grab yet another gong for another very competitive club. I personally think his style is a little too demanding for a side which hasn’t lived up to expectations the season before he has arrived, as he is used to entering clubs during, or just before, their golden periods, à la Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and hasn’t proven himself in any other situation. And I don’t really think either that he quite has all the aspects of his squad covered, as he seems a little spoiled for choice, especially in midfield, and that might count against him later in the season, as every player will want game time, and I really can’t see a place for their new signings Nolito and Leroy Sane in their side, the latter of whom cost a lot only to progress by being brought on as a sub this season. They have enough talent, but I think they rely a little too much on individual brilliance rather than teamwork and Guardiola will have work to do to change that. Not yet for them I think, but their time will certainly come soon.
3rd: Manchester United
Here lies another great side looking immediately brighter under new management, having spent massive fees to secure the world class signatures they needed to once again achieve competitiveness, and it’s our other Mancunian collective. Having seen Louis van Gaal being bundled out the back door of the club just hours after his FA Cup success in May, I and many others were disillusioned with United’s hierarchy’s, as it seemed LvG’s youthful side were just blossoming into fruition. But ever since then, the Glazers, Ed Woodward and David Gill (among others) have clearly chosen big names and commercial revenue over heritage and club core values, and only time will tell if that approach pays off. But one thing there’s no doubt about is that Jose Mourinho has swept his trademark arrogance and money-money style all across the red side of Manchester ever since he walked through those doors, and for now he is totally the right manager for United. He has the pedigree, the tactical nous and the connections required to fit in a club looking desperately for direction and success in the wake of the disappointing stall they’ve had ever Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
But even with the absolutely game-changing signings of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, I can’t yet see United quite challenging properly (into the final two or three weeks anyway) for the title, as they don’t quite yet have the stability, consistency or strength in depth to last the whole season. Maybe they need a better defensive pool, considering Daley Blind, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have all been pushed back there over the past 12 months, as with their attacking ranks looking very healthy, keeping goals out, especially against top strikers like Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge and Olivier Giroud, could be their downfall this season, stopping them winning the title. Again though, like their noisy neighbours, United will give it a good shot and will look much more like realistic champions given a season’s gelling.
Predicted for big things in London after just a few good games at Euro 2016 in charge of his country, Italian Antonio Conte could be forgiven for thinking he could play the Premier League like a harp, easing into the Roman Abramovich mentality of winning title after title in just his first season. But being the pragmatic and passionate man Conte is, he won’t be taking anything for granted and will realise he will have to do something special to revitalise what looked like a spent force at some points last season, flopping from the high of being champions to (exactly) mid-table melancholies in the space of just a year. There is a big repair task being carried out in West London, and some of the new building blocks appear to be very sound investments; unexpected star N’Golo Kante nabbed from Leicester and highly promising Michy Batshuayi won in the wake of interest from other top clubs providing stable talent able to make impacts from the bench throughout the season. But their notoriously bloated squad still has deadwood left over from previous regimes; Michael Hector, Victor Moses and Loïc Remy all still at the club despite being forgotten by most fans, offering nothing but depth to an already well-stocked pool of players from near and (more commonly) far across the globe.
What the Blues also require to get back in the running late into the season is their big names getting back into form, as Diego Costa, John Terry and Cesc Fabregas all appeared to fade deeper into disarray as continental qualification slipped out of their reaches last season, so they will have to be revitalised. This will be especially difficult with the stubborn Costa, but Conte being Conte, brash and expressive on the pitch, will shout some performances out of the big number nine. For me, though, this year is only a consolidation year for the Blues, but they will squeak Champions League qualification out of it.
After writing such an encouraging story of young British players flourishing under an open-minded and exciting manager last season, Spurs had probably their best season during the entire Premier League era, and it goes without saying that they will want to improve upon that positivity this time around. It will be much tougher though, as both Manchester sides, Chelsea and Liverpool will all be hurting since their last campaigns and will be hunting the opposition down. For this reason, coupled with the facts that Mauricio Pochettino and his side benefitted a little from other side’s inconsistency (which in some cases they did inflict), and also haven’t majorly strengthened since last May, I don’t think they can quite live up to their previous accomplishments and sneak into the top four. Instead, I think Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Danny Rose and Eric Dier might have a little bit too much pressure heaped upon their shoulders at such young ages and this might be the year they falter under it. For me, Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama aren’t really the right figures for a side quite as free-flowing and expansive as Pochettino’s Spurs either, and might prove to be liabilities come the tough periods of the season, as they both play quite rigid, physical games which don’t correlate with their teammates. Then again, it could prove that Wanyama and Janssen provide something Spurs are missing, something that stopped them from closing out their title charge last season, and I could be totally wrong, but I just can’t see them adding anything. For me, they will fall behind the big spenders back into their rightful place this year.
This is a tough one to call really. Liverpool could have a fantastic season for once, but they could also so easily fall back into their safe zone of Europa League mediocrity yet again. A lot hangs on if Jurgen Klopp can instil his proven, if unusual, managerial niche onto his inconsistent and injury-friendly bunch of players, who must improve and live up to expectations for once if they want a top four finish. I have to say, overall, their signings look unspectacular at best, with Ragnar Klavan and Alex Manninger only shoring up stretched resources with little in the ways of talent, Loris Karius and Marko Grujic recruited to develop for the future, and Joel Matip and Georginio Wijnaldum both being players with questionable long-term ability. Their only real quality signing has been Sadio Mane, the vastly in-demand winger with plenty of unquestionable skill, who can certainly play his part alongside the club’s star players, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge to both create and score the goals they need to shoot up the table.
But it will be at the back where the damage is done to their top four chances, as the continually shambolic Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno will surely prove only to continue their trend of disappointment, tearing apart the good work their attacking players do. And Gegenpressing has a lot of work to do to sort shoddy defending out.
7th: West Ham United
Moving into one of the best new sporting stadiums in the world, with a side complete with the respected and feared names of Dimitri Payet, Sofiane Feghouli and Andre Ayew all competing in continental football this year, West Ham fans are rightly on cloud nine right now. They have prospered after leaving Sam Allardyce’s ‘19th Century football’ behind for Slaven Bilic’s high-stakes, methodically planned, high-speed tactics, and the future now looks very bright for the East London side which, just five seasons ago, plummeted down into the Championship. Bilic has found success even in the wake of his widespread squad changes, with only Mark Noble, Andy Carroll, Winston Reid, Adrian and Cheikhou Kouyaté and Enner Valencia surviving really as first-teamers from the Allardyce period to the Croat’s. They have survived not only because of their attributes, which include but are not limited to; height, physicality, loyalty, passion, pace and passing, but also because they have offered Bilic more than any others with their knowledge and unrelenting determination to keep coming back and giving their all.
So given the consistency of the current crop, all Bilic theoretically had to do this summer was recruit more strength in depth and Europa League quality individuals, and he has certainly done that in bulk. It’s as if he entered the IKEA of transfer windows, only going there to buy one or two things but ending up discovering items he never knew existed and would improve his life so much, and also gorging himself on the Swedish meatballs while he was there. He certainly had fun; recruiting six new players who I think will all fit well into his style; Havard Nordtveit providing back-up for Kouyaté, Feghouli taking the place of Victor Moses, Ayew slotting straight into the striker’s position and Arthur Masuaku, Gokhan Tore and Jonathan Calleri all fitting into the squad as competitive replacements once injuries take their toll. All this should result in another solid, and memorable, season for the Hammers.
Having finally ridded themselves of the ultimately unsuccessful boss that was Roberto Martinez, I believe it is time for Everton to flourish under a new era in which the ever-improving Ronald Koeman can finally shock some confidence into the talented players that they do have at Goodison Park. They’ll have to require a bit more bite than the ineffective side that Martinez stubbornly persisted with, as Koeman prefers a bit of steel to his teams, and with signings like Ashley Williams a few days ago, they are shaping up to be a pretty solid side, even with the loss of John Stones. Providing Romelu Lukaku stays for the remainder of the season, I really think Everton can push back up to their glory days of Europa League qualification if they work to the standards Koeman demands. In short, a much more positive season predicted.
9th: Leicester City
So here is where we find our defending champions on my predicted table then! Well, if you believed Claudio Ranieri in all his press conferences this summer, you might’ve thought he didn’t even care about this season following the total once-in-a-lifetime seismic shock that was their title win, but I’m sure his easy-going demeanour is flipped on its head when it comes to the training ground. The Italian entertainer will be deep into his notes for each and every team they visit this season, prepared for most eventualities, but realistic in his expectations, probably thinking in his head mid-table, but not wanting to temper his player’s hopes to any kind of ceiling, as with Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater on their books, anything is possible. The importance of individuals in the dressing room who have the experience of winning a title is vital and cannot be understated, but losing N’Golo Kante, to a team which absurdly could’ve been their title rivals, should prove to have a massive impact on their confidence as he was the glue that held their title charge together. Gaining Ahmed Musa, who is a quality striker, was a good use of the income they received from Kante’s sale, but it will by no means make up for the ghostly shadow that will cover Leicester’s season. So the magic might not stick around in the East Midlands soon, but for Leicester’s lowly standards over a year ago, a ninth place finish might’ve been seen as a miracle. It just goes to show what difference a year can make in football.
10th: Stoke City
Having benefitted slightly from the inconsistency of their mid-table partners for the past few seasons (as well as also, to their credit, putting in some very creditable performances against the top clubs), this might just be the year for Stoke to slip a place or two down from their steady finish of ninth, having parked up there for each of the past three seasons. Mark Hughes, who most Stoke fans questioned prior to his appointment, has built a solid base for future accomplishments with his unlikely and spectacular signings, for example Xherdan Shaqiri, Marco Arnautovic and Bojan all coming in and backed up their fees with solid, match-winning performances. Giannelli Imbula is another top signing who could prove vital this year, dictating play in the middle, and the additions of Joe Allen and Ramadan Sobhi should add some useful guile and pace to their build-up play. All in all, Hughes has got the right squad to challenge for a top seven place, but for me, the strength of others this year will push them down from their perch, leaving them exactly mid-table, but probably still content of their achievements.
Well, there you go, those are my predictions for this season for each and every club involved in the continuous drama of the Premier League this season. Brighter outlooks for many, but gloomy times ahead for a certain few. We’ll see in late May if my predictions pay off, and you can leave your predictions down in the comments if you want to tell me who you think might do well this season. Who will be champions? Where will Leicester finish, and will we see someone else emulate them? Who will be player of the year, and who will win the golden boot (I’m going for Alexis Sanchez and Zlatan Ibrahimović)? There’s plenty of predictions to make, but they will only come to fruition or be proven wrong when the actions all ends and the EPL closes up shop on 21st May, over nine and a half months away now. But let’s not wish it away too soon, and just enjoy the entertainment that will unfold before our eyes, the stars that will be born and the careers that will be brought to a climax, the shocks and the comedy, the crazy and the sad, all tied into one neat, magical package; the Premier League. It has its faults, but it’s impossible not to love it.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!