Like that the pre-season is virtually over.
I am not sad to see the back of it. From now to around mid-July 2018 there will be a lot of football to digest – league football, European football, World Cup qualifiers culminating in the World Cup next summer. There is a lot for anyone who loves football to look forward to.
The main focus here, however, will be about the Premier League. As with last season the plan is to post predictions on scores for the fixtures ahead. There’s also the desire to comment a little more on the goings on in the game I really love.
This time of the season is the time to be making the bigger predictions about how the league will turn out. I appreciate, however, that with the transfer window still open there’s still time for teams to change. So I will put on here now how I predict the league will end up and then review it again when the window is shut come the end of the window.
- Man Utd – This season is not going to be a cake-walk for whoever wins the league. All the top teams will have European commitments. So it will be down to the team that can deal with those challenges and are best equipped. There’s something about Mourinho and his approach to United that makes me believe they can edge it.
- Man City – Pep Guardiola is one of the best managers in the world. He will not accept last season at all. They will be looking to be dominant on all fronts. That desire and an untried back four with question marks still hanging over their team approach to defending games is the reason why I think they will come up short.
- Chelsea – The league champions won’t struggle this season as they did the season after they last won the league. The big worry for the Blues, however, is that their squad is not stronger than it was last season at the time of writing. A few injuries, the extra fixtures and a frustrated manager suffering from the second season syndrome will make it a good season for them to finish in the top four.
- Arsenal – The top four will be more competitive than ever before with seven teams realistically competing to finish in it. Despite another season of underachievement, there is something about the Gunners that says that with a break from the top European competition they can really give more focus to succeeding in the league. Indeed for the third season in a row there are good arguments to be made that this is their best chance to win the league. But they won’t. But at least they can pick up their usual top four place again.
- Liverpool – Liverpool are not realistic title contenders this season, especially because of their European commitments. Their squad is not bigger than last season and there are questions as to whether overall it’s better. Yet with the signing of Salah and the promise of him alongside Mane haunting defences, their attack should still prove to be enough to keep them competing for the top four places, even if they are likely to just miss out.
- Spurs – It is misguided to overlook a big thing going against Spurs this season and that is their ‘home’ games taking place at Wembley. That is a factor that will affect their hopes of carrying on two very good seasons of progress under Pochettino. In as much as the manager is happy with the squad he has, the lack of freshening it up with quality signings will also hinder their hopes of continuing their development.
- Everton – Of the top seven sides, Everton have arguably been the most canny in their signings. Getting them in early, getting quality in certain positions and of course the return of their ‘prodigal son’ Rooney. It is all built for intentional progress where the side are concerned. But are they really better than the sides above them? Do they have a quality replacement to score the goals that Lukaku did? As long as they don’t though they should certainly be superior to those below them, they will have to fight hard to get a chance of going higher.
- West Ham – In the larger scheme of things there shouldn’t be that much in the way of disappointment for where they ended up in the league last season. But it was quite the horror show at times for those bubble blowers. They have made steps to address that in their summer signings, especially the signing of Chicharito. Having got over the hump of their new home, this season they can begin to impose themselves a lot more on a league with teams largely their inferior. If they do that and make the most of a good team – they should comfortably finish in the top half.
- Crystal Palace – There is usually a wild card in the Premier League – a team that does better than expected. Crystal Palace, typically, don’t believe in finishing in the top ten. They did have a reputation for bouncing between the Championship and the Premier League. Surviving used to be their idea of a good season. Now, however, there’s a good reason to be confident that Palace will do more than just look to survive. If de Boer can translate his ideas effectively to his players, this team can do as well as see the side crop up in the top ten.
- Southampton – There are certain teams in this Premier League who will be set up to be grateful that there are worse teams than them this season. Southampton in recent years have done remarkably well in maintaining a top ten finish. They are designed to be a more progressive club who can deal with departures of top players and managers. This season, however, there is not that much in the way of signings or their new manager to suggest they are going to get moving in the right direction.
- Leicester – Some of the fans are hoping to return to Europe this season. They make me laugh. Leicester had one great season, which was a freak season. Their squad isn’t that strong. Their first team have been found out. Their manager is going to be properly tested after a pre-season to see if he has the nous to lift the players sufficiently. Really and truly they should be grateful to be in the mid-table places again when the final whistle blows at the end of the season.
- West Brom – Pulis, more than anyone, knows how important it is not to take anything for granted. West Brom aren’t that good a squad or a club, it is the ethos that Pulis has instilled at the club to be stubborn and resolute in their approach to the game that sees them having a competitive edge over their rivals. They overachieved last season and there maybe grumblings about how they tailed off once safety was assured, but there’s little to suggest they should expect much else this season.
- Newcastle United – If the Geordies can hang onto Benitez, they won’t be involved in a drawn out relegation battle. Not because of their squad, as such, more because of the manager who can make this club live up to the massive and loyal fanbase. They will take time to readjust to the rigours of the top league at first, but if they can nab a couple of quality signings before the window is shut, Benitez can see it as something to work with in the season of consolidation.
- Swansea – Paul Clement did well to keep the Swans up at the end of last season. Even if they lose their talisman Sigurdsson leaves, the game is set up more about the way they play under Clement and he appears to have enough savvy in him to let the system of play be bigger than an individual player. If they return to the progressive football they played a few seasons ago, they should be looking up more than looking down.
- Stoke City – Mark Hughes did not take Stoke City forward last season. They appeared to stagnate somewhat. Selling some players with little in the way of replacing with quality does not lend itself to a narrative of the Potters learning their lessons. They will be one of those teams who will breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the season because they know there are worse teams than them.
- Bournemouth – This position is no certainty. Howe has strengthened the squad with Defoe. If he can score the goals he was able to bang in even for Sunderland, then Bournemouth can have an optimistic approach to the season. Beyond hims, however, there is little I can see about the set up of the squad to suggest they should be aiming for another top half finish to the season.
- Watford – Despite the promising new manager, I just don’t think this will be an enjoyable season for the Hertfordshire outfit. There’s something about all the changes in the way the club is run that might catch up with itself this season. The look of the squad doesn’t augur something for which fans should be that excited. Now they need to prove observers like me that there’s more to them than what appears to be plucky players dicing ever so dangerously with relegation.
- Burnley – This might surprise a few people because they are a solid outfit. Last season they proved themselves worthy of staying the division with some outstanding results at home. Their way of playing has impressed those from outside the league wondering if they could survive. Despite additions to the squad, however, I think they peaked last season. The squad might be bigger, but not necessarily better. The ragtag collection of workmanlike types might find it harder to find the motivation to kick on.
- Huddersfield – It will be a miracle if the Yorkshire club stay in the Premier League. A miracle. If David Wagner manages it, this will be a massive achievement for what is still a very small club. Sure it has history – but that was a LONG time ago. They have done remarkably well making it to the promised land, but as many will inform them, it’s one thing to get here, it’s another to stay. I don’t see them having enough to stay, unless one of their rival capitulates.
- Brighton – Why these guys at the bottom? Aren’t they better than at least Huddersfield? They have a quality manager in Hughton who knows his way around the league, surely that will give them the advantage and make them competitive in what will undoubtedly be a fight to stay up. Well, that’s all well and good, but there’s just a feeling that their squad deficiencies will prove too much for them in the struggle even to make it above Huddersfield.
That’s how I see it at the moment, obviously subject to change. I reckon this season will be even more intriguing than last season because there are great managers who know their way around now as well as outfits who will have no problem taking on the role of spoiling things for the bigger clubs.
Will it all turn out as I’ve suggested? Well …
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden