The Title Race

Let’s get down to business…

My pick to win the 2019/20 Premier League title is…*drumroll please*…Liverpool (1st).

Finally, after so many long years of Premier League failure—and yes, not winning the title is a failure for a club of Liverpool’s size—I’m backing Jurgen Klopp to at last deliver the big one.

Though they’ve had a slightly ropey pre-season, it would be crazy to consider that when deciding the winner of the Premier League; Liverpool’s excellent performance against Manchester City in the Community Shield, which they arguably should have won, is a much better indicator of where the squad is at.

Last season showed that the gap between Liverpool and City is tiny. Miniscule. Pep Guardiola’s men only need to drop 1% of their intensity—a possibility considering their Champions League aspirations—and Liverpool could well capitalise.

There has been a steady improvement under Klopp at Anfield (8th, 4th, 4th, 2nd), and I can’t help but think their defence is simply too good to allow any significant decline in quality from last season. Furthermore, without trying to sound sensationalist, Liverpool are unbeatable at Anfield (they haven’t lost there since 2017), and that’ll go a long way to ensuring their standards don’t drop this time around.

It’s shaping up like another two-horse race – one which I see Liverpool winning.

Which leaves Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City (2nd) finishing runners-up

City’s one big arrival this summer has been midfielder Rodri—giving some much-needed competition to the ageing Fernandinho—but I do have some doubts over whether Pep’s side can maintain the astronomically high standards set over the last two years.

Firstly, they’ve retained the Premier League for the first time in a decade – box ticked. Secondly, they still haven’t won the Champions League despite the billions that we’ve seen be poured into the club, so you can be sure that’s the manager’s first priority next season.

I find it unlikely that City and Liverpool will notch-up 98 and 97 points respectively this time around, but I do believe it’s more likely City’s level drops than Liverpool’s. With the two sides so evenly-matched, it could all come down to focus and desire – perhaps that’s where Liverpool finally win their first Premier League.

Liverpool - 1.5pts @ 10/3

Top Four Finish

I have fairly high hopes for Spurs (3rd) this season.

It’s so far been a quiet transfer window for the North Londoners, barring the signing of Tanguy Ndombele in midfield—a position where Spurs desperately needed some added depth—but another season under the stewardship of Mauricio Pochettino can only be a positive.

Considering the side finished third last year and reached the Champions League final, despite Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane missing huge chunks of the season, it does show just how good this squad really is, and there’s little to suggest Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United will make up enough ground this year. A full season at the new stadium is also a nice bonus.

You generally know what to expect from Poch’s Spurs, and I can’t see this being much different. A slight lack of depth still perhaps prevents Spurs from mounting a serious, sustained challenge for the title, but they’re still in a very good place.

Occupying the final Champions League place this season is Arsenal (4th).

I’ve been impressed with the work Unai Emery has done over the summer. Dani Ceballos looks like a very nice midfield option, while Nicolas Pepe scored 22 goals and registered 11 assists in Ligue 1 last term, and will add plenty to Arsenal’s already terrifying forward line.

There’s been little in the way of defensive reinforcements incoming— I generally don’t see that as an area where Emery thrives as a coach anyway—but the Gunners boss is a much more experienced (and talented) manager than both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard, which is why I’m backing Arsenal to wrap up fourth place.

Missing out on Champions League qualification, I have Manchester United (5th).

I must admit, I was tempted to reconsider this decision following Harry Maguire’s big money arrival, but I’m sticking to my guns – as long as Solskjaer is in charge, I struggle to see how United break into the top four.

The side over-performed their xG to such a significant extent last year, and once things started going awry, Ole suddenly didn’t look the master-tactician many started believing he was.

A centre-back pairing of Maguire and Victor Lindelof does look strong, but I still have huge issues with the rest of the squad: who replaces Romelu Lukaku? Who replaces Ander Herrera? Is there enough quality in the middle of the park? Will Paul Pogba perform?

I just don’t see this United side as the finished article, and while they’ll surely concede fewer, I don’t expect much in the way of cutting edge at the other end of the pitch.

I’m not necessarily saying Manchester United will be bad, but they’ll certainly fall short of the top four.

 

Warding off the challengers below them, I have Chelsea (6th) next.

It’s been a strange few months at Stamford Bridge; Frank Lampard’s arrival has renewed a sense of optimism around the place following Maurizio Sarri’s bizarre tenure, but I see a few glaring issues with Chelsea this season.

The first being Lampard. Though it’s undeniable he did well at Derby last season, there were certain tactical naiveties which seemed to be glaring – benching Jack Marriott and Martyn Waghorn in the play-off final defeat against Aston Villa was particularly costly.

Of course, Lampard is a young manager cutting his teeth, so he’s bound to make mistakes, but this job, in my opinion, has come round a little too early for him.

However, the departure of Eden Hazard, and subsequent transfer ban, is a bigger worry. Hazard scored 55 goals in his last three seasons with the club, but I cannot see how Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi come close to covering that monumental loss.

Christian Pulisic comes in to help ease that burden, but the American was benched for Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund last season, and generally underperformed when given a chance, so he’ll need time.

Lampard won’t be afraid to blood youth, but as a result I wouldn’t expect his side to pull up any trees this season.

Arsenal - 2pts @ 6/4

The Mid-Table Mire

Now for the fun stuff: I have Leicester City (7th) finishing as best of the rest.

The Foxes looked a little lost last season, but it was as if Brendan Rodgers transformed them overnight when he took the job in February: 17 points from a possible 30 under his stewardship was a very strong return.

Furthermore, Jamie Vardy smashed in nine goals over the course of Brendan’s 10 matches, and if the Leicester boss get a similar tune from his striker this time around, they’ll be a serious force.

Replacing Harry Maguire is the biggest challenge lying ahead, but I’ve been really impressed with their business so far this summer: tying up Youri Tielemans permanently was hugely important, while adding Ayoze Perez to their attacking ranks will give the Leicester forward line another dimension. I also like the signing of young right-back James Justin, who was excellent at Luton last season.

Rodgers is a top-class manager, and I can see this Leicester side seriously challenging for a top six finishing – perhaps falling just short.

Always tough to predict, I have Everton (8th) finishing just behind the Foxes.

Marco Silva enjoyed a slightly strange first season as Toffees boss – sometimes getting his side playing brilliantly, sometimes finding himself teetering on the precipice of a sacking. Silva will be desperate to maintain a higher level of consistency this time around, but with a very competitive-looking top-half this year, 8th is the highest I can go.

Their transfer business has been very impressive. The money garnered from the departures of Idrissa Gueye, Ademola Lookman and Nikola Vlasic has been put to great use: Andre Gomes returns, alongside fellow midfielder Fabian Delph; Jean-Philippe Gbamin will be a direct replacement for Gueye, but the marquee signing of Moise Kean from Juventus solves Everton’s glaring centre-forward problem from last year.

A very good squad on paper, but will they flatter to deceive once again? Time will tell…

Perhaps finishing a little lower than last year, I have Wolverhampton Wanderers (9th).

With no major departures from last year’s first team, Nuno has looked to strengthen the depth of his squad. Patrick Cutrone is an eye-catching arrival from Milan, and will look to challenge Raul Jimenez up top; Pedro Neto seems an incredibly exciting young winger, and Jesus Vallejo may well start at centre-back at the expense of Ryan Bennett.

The reason why I’m slightly hesitant about placing Wolves higher is the Europa League. There’s little doubt that Nuno and the club’s owners have lofty ambitions, and not just domestically – they want to be a European force.

I see no reason why they can’t have a good crack at the Europa League; they showed last season they’re capable of troubling even the very best, so a decent run in the competition is a realistic aim.

This, as we’ve so often seen, may come as a cost. Perhaps Wolves have it in them to challenge for a top six place and a Europa League trophy, but in just their second season back in the big time, it would be hard to argue with another top half finish.

My final top half side is Southampton (10th).

Don’t be fooled by their 16th place finish last season, Ralph Hasenhuttl is a top class manager who will get this side playing some seriously good football – as we saw when he fairly comfortably steered them to safety a few months ago.

Hasenhuttl is a man who, not so long ago, was finishing second in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig, and his style of football is certainly pleasing on the eye, not to mention effective.

I love the signing of Che Adams from Birmingham, a forward who, at the age of 22, has so many attributes required to flourish at the top level: pace, power, desire, intelligence. He and Danny Ings could form an incredibly potent forward pair, and with Hasenhuttl’s expert guidance, don’t be surprised to see them exceed expectations.

Into the bottom half, and some may be surprised to see I have West Ham United (11th) finishing lower than many fans will hope.

I’ll start by saying Sebastien Haller is a fantastic signing. The striker was brilliant for Eintracht Frankfurt last year—scoring 14 league goals in 27—and is a very strong replacement for Marko Arnautovic as the Hammers’ goalscorer-in-chief (even if all West Ham strikers seem to be cursed).

Pablo Fornals provides another attacking option for Manuel Pellegrini, but I still have issues with their defence. West Ham hugely over-performed their xGA by over 10 goals—courtesy of Lukasz Fabianski making 148 saves last season, more than any other goalkeeper—and that doesn’t look overly sustainable.

No defensive reinforcements have come in as of yet, and I do question Pellegrini’s ability to organise sides at the back – we saw similar problems at Manchester City shipping goals under his eye.

They were brilliant for most of last season, and I’m predicting another solid mid-table finish for Watford (12th).

The Hornets exceeded expectations last year, after many backed them for the drop, and full credit goes to Javi Gracia, who has put together a really nicely-balanced Premier League outfit.

I can’t see Watford being too much worse than last year, but with centre-back Craig Dawson the only senior arrival at Vicarage Road this summer, it’s looking like a steady season and little more.  

I was unsure where to place Aston Villa (13th) this season, but I’ve decided I’m optimistic about their chances.

Having spent over £130M this summer, many are predicting Villa to ‘do a Fulham’, but I believe their business has been a little more sensible than that.

Tom Heaton for £8M could be the signing of the season. The goalkeeper was a big headache for Villa last season (though Jed Steer was fantastic), but Heaton’s arrival immediately puts that conundrum to bed. He’s an experienced Premier League custodian who will not let the side down.

Tyrone Mings and Anwar El Ghazi re-join on a permanent basis, while Jota, Matt Targett and Ezri Konsa have all excelled in the Championship.

Of course, there are a few unknown quantities: striker Wesley, joining from Club Brugge, could be a Premier League flop, but you have to occasionally take risks to survive in the top-tier, and I trust Smith to bring in the right faces for his system – like he did at Brentford.

Southampton Top Half - 3pts @ 3/1
West Ham Bottom Half - 1pt @ 10/11

The Relegation Battle

Now we get into the nitty-gritty. I’m backing Burnley (14th) for survival once again.

I can’t think of many people who would miss Sean Dyche, but to his immense credit, every season he continues to hang in there with his Burnley side.

Though his only senior signings have been Jay Rodriguez, Bailey Peacock-Farrell and Erik Pieters, their strong second half of the 18/19 season shows Dyche managed to get the side’s mojo back, and I can’t help but think there are sides below them who are less equipped for survival.

Not many eyelids would be batted if I put Burnley bottom of my prediction table, but I do think they have the tools to survive once again.

Though everyone under the sun seems to be backing Brighton and Hove Albion (15th) for the drop, I’m a little more optimistic.

‘Be careful what you wish for’ seems to be the common trope, but Albion’s record last year was utterly abhorrent: two wins in 2019, including a run of six league matches without a single goal, surviving with a paltry 36 points, is simply not good enough. And the data showed it in uncompromising terms, something owner Tony Bloom is big on.

Chris Hughton is a club legend, but this was the right time for a change, and Graham Potter comes in with a brand new, exciting style of football. Potter did brilliantly with an asset-stripped Swansea side last year, and he’s ready to prove a few naysayers wrong.

Albion’s transfer business has been solid: winger Leandro Trossard joins with a big reputation from Genk, Adam Webster (arguably the best centre-back in the Championship last year) will line-up with Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy in a back three, while the prolific Neal Maupay will spearhead the attack.

Brighton are being written off, but I wouldn’t sleep on them just yet.

Well, this should be interesting – Newcastle United (16th) are next.

The moment Rafa Benitez left and Steve Bruce took charge, my immediate reaction was that Newcastle were doomed. However, on further reflection, I’m backing them to survive due to their defence.

Like Rafa, Bruce is a pragmatist, and he has the defensive players at his disposal to survive. Martin Dubravka is one of the best goalkeepers outside the top six, while Ciaran Clark, Fabian Schar, Florian Lejeune and Jamaal Lascelles are all very good centre-backs. Jetro Willems’ arrival on loan from Eintracht Frankfurt also gives Bruce another solid left-back option.

Up top, Newcastle have replaced Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon with Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin. I’ll reserve judgement for now.

Newcastle conceded just 48 goals last season—fewer than Manchester United and Arsenal—and while Bruce is no Rafa, the Magpies should be well-organised enough to limp over the line.

Surviving relegation by the skin of their teeth, I have Bournemouth (17th).

There are times when I can’t believe the Cherries are still in the Premier League. Not only does Eddie Howe continuously field players he coached in League One (in fairness, they do keep delivering), but they go through these horrendous runs of form almost every season, but yet still survive comfortably.

Between November and December last year for example, Bournemouth lost eight of their 10 matches, yet still easily beat the drop virtue of their good start.

This season, I can see things being very sticky.

I like the signings of Jack Stacey and Lloyd Kelly, but Philip Billing and Arnaut Danjuma will flatter to deceive in my opinion—especially Billing, who has a serious attitude problem—while Eddie’s old guard cannot keep going forever.

With such a penchant for slipping into these dreadful runs, Howe will need to make sure his side start the season well, otherwise they could be in huge trouble.

I really do fear for Crystal Palace (18th) this season, and they’re my (perhaps surprising) first choice for relegation.

I can see the major issue for Palace this season being goals. Of course, much depends on what happens regarding Wilfried Zaha, but with Jordan Ayew, Christian Benteke and Connor Whickham the only other attacking options, that can’t be anything other than concerning.

Why Palace signed Ayew permanently, considering he scored once in the Premier League over the whole of last season, is absolutely baffling.

Hodgson has overseen an absolutely atrocious pre-season—the lowlight being a 6-2 defeat against Barnet—and there are worries that his ideas are becoming a little outdated. So much so that he’s the joint-most likely manager to be axed first.

5/1 looks like very good value for Palace to go down, particularly after winning just five Premier League games at Selhurst last season, and if Zaha does go to Everton, that price will disappear in a heartbeat.

Finishing second-bottom, I have Norwich City (19th).

While they smashed in 93 goals last season, I do have reservations over whether Daniel Farke will be able to implement his attacking philosophes in the Premier League.

Considering they conceded 57 times during their promotion campaign, it is a little odd that the only new face in defence so far this summer is Sam Byram – a player who isn’t Premier League quality.

It does have to be said that Ralf Fahrmann is an outstanding goalkeeper who will do very well at Carrow Road, but I’m not convinced Farke has enough balance in his side.

Outscoring opponents won’t work in the Premier League, and unless Farke solidifies his back line pretty quickly, they’re going down.

Finally, finishing bottom of the 19/20 Premier League: Sheffield United (20th).

It does slightly pain me to place the Blades at the foot of my table, just because I think Chris Wilder is an absolutely fantastic manager, but for me he doesn’t have enough at his disposal to orchestrate a successful campaign.

£17M striker Oli McBurnie will carry much of the goalscoring burden alongside skipper Billy Sharp, while the arrival of Luke Freeman for just £5M is really smart business.

However, United’s squad looks very short of Premier League experience—Phil Jakielka and Richard Stearman the only players with any modicum of time spent in the top tier—and though Wilder will make his men ultra-competitive, I expect the Blades’ stay in the Premier League to be a short one.

Final Table Prediction

1. Liverpool 

2. Manchester City

3. Spurs 

4. Arsenal

5. Manchester United

6. Chelsea

7. Leicester CIty

8. Everton 

9. Wolverhampton Wanderers 

10. Southampton

11. West Ham United

12. Watford 

13. Aston Villa

14. Burnley 

15. Brighton & Hove Albion 

16. Newcastle United 

17. Bournemouth 

18. Crystal Palace

19. Norwich City

20. Sheffield United

Follow @RyanEJourno

Crystal Palace Relegation - 1pt @ 5/1