The Title Race

After correctly backing Liverpool to win the Premier League last season, it’s now the turn of Manchester City (1st) to regain their Premier League crown.

Finishing a whole 18 points behind the champions, losing as many matches as 9th place Wolves, won’t be seen as acceptable by Pep Guardiola (not mentioning their unsuccessful European exploits), and they’ve certainly been making moves to fix this.

While Lionel Messi’s potential arrival has sadly been quashed, the signings of Nathan Ake and Ferran Torres certainly improve City’s depth, although if they’re successful in their pursuit of Napoli’s excellent Kalidou Koulibaly, then suddenly their centre-back reserves look world-beating – a far cry from what they’ve been dealing in past seasons, despite the ludicrous amounts of money spent.

Winning the Premier League is hard, but retaining it is even harder. City are the only side since the days of Fergie’s Manchester United in 2009 to have successfully retained the Premier League trophy, and I simply believe they’re too strong not to significantly improve on last season.

Liverpool aren’t going anywhere, but just as I said last season about City: once you finally achieve your ultimate aim, it’s so, so hard to maintain those levels for another season, which is why I lean towards Pep.

Of course, while I believe Liverpool (2nd) will be edged out in the title race this season, they’re still overwhelmingly stronger than the other sides in this division, despite the transfer activity of those below them.

Jurgen Klopp will play by the mantra of: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Of course, Manchester City will undoubtedly improve, but here won’t be a fibre of Klopp which believes his side can’t win the league in a similar fashion to last season.

It’s been a quiet summer from Liverpool on the transfer front. The courtship of Bayern’s Thiago continues to rumble on, and while he’s one of the world’s very finest players, his inclusion into Liverpool’s XI would require a tactical shift in midfield to accommodate such a playmaker – not that that’s a negative, per se.

I also have an issue with Liverpool’s depth, particularly up front. They’ve been fortunate with injuries in recent seasons, but if they lose one of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane or Roberto Firmino for any prolonged stage, I’m not sure Divock Origi (yes, I know he scores important goals) is the perfect replacement, while the likes of Takumi Minamino and Rhian Brewster (if he remains) are still unproven at Premier League level.

Liverpool will still earn a bucket-load of points, but will they manage to reach last season’s near-perfect levels? I’m not so sure. 

Last season was a strange one for Chelsea (3rd). At no point did they look like world-beaters, nor at any point did they look in too much danger of dropping out of the top four until the last couple of weeks of the season.

It was the classic case of a highly-talented side with a large number of flaws.

Frank Lampard is still finding his way at Premier League level, and while Chelsea won’t be ready to challenge for the Premier League just yet, their mind-blowingly good summer transfer window puts them above the rest of the chasing pack, for my money.

Tammy Abraham ran out of steam somewhat last season, while Olivier Giroud, while effective, clearly isn’t Frank Lampard’s man going forward, which is why the prolific Timo Werner’s arrival immediately remedies this issue.

The additions of Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz, two more outstanding attacking acquisitions in their own right, will give Frank Lampard an embarrassment of riches up top.

Of course, their defence (who conceded as many league goals as Brighton last campaign) is still the primary issue, which is why Lampard has brought in Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell, meaning that nly one glaring issue remains: the goalkeeper. Even if Lampard doesn’t replace Kepa, Chelsea have still had a fantastic window. If he does…they’re looking formidable.

Chelsea were good last season; this season, they have the personnel to be outstanding.

Manchester United (4th) are a team I’ve slightly struggled to place in this prediction. Before the signing of Donny van de Beek, I was tempted to place them below Arsenal, but the Dutchman’s arrival completes a very, very good midfield.

The reason why I’m not quite so hot on United’s chances this season as some is depth up front. A fully-firing Rashford-Martial-Greenwood trio terrorised teams at the back end of last season, but as the games piled up, their effectiveness waned, and if they fail in their pursuit of Jadon Sancho, this will once again become an issue – particularly if United fail to win as many penalties as last season to bail them out of a few tricky spots.  

The fixture list looks very congested this season, and with so much football to be played, I fear about the Red Devils’ lack of quality depth in attacking areas, particularly because this season Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won’t have the freedom to rest his best players in Europe, virtue of playing in the Champions League and not Europa League.

It’ll also be interesting to see how the goalkeeping situation plays out at Old Trafford. I’m expecting David de Gea to start the first Premier League game, but a fit and hungry Dean Henderson waiting in the wings can only be a good problem for Solskjaer to have.

Is this United team under Solskjaer capable of challenging for the league? Not for me, but another top four finish looks well within reach.

Narrowly missing out on Champions League football, we have Arsenal (5th).

I must say, after some initial scepticism, I’ve been very impressed with Mikel Arteta. Losing just four times in their last 18 league matches was evidence of the much-needed steel that the Spaniard added to this Arsenal side, and I do expect them to be a little better than last season.

The transfer business has also been quietly effective, in my view. Arteta has rightly targeted centre-back as an area in need of improvement, which is why the signing of Gabriel Magalhães is a smart one, while Willian’s arrival at least adds some title-winning experience to this side, despite his age.

It wouldn’t be a huge shock to see Arsenal finish higher than either Chelsea or Manchester United, but while I do see the Gunners improving under Arteta this season, I’m still not convinced they quite have enough to close the gap on the two aforementioned clubs…yet  

Where on earth do you start with Spurs (6th)?

It must be said that the range of possible finishing positions that Spurs could end up in is very, very wide, but I’ve plumped for somewhere in the middle.

In Jose Mourinho, the North Londoners have a manager capable of winning the league, but also imploding before being sacked with his side in the relegation zone, so trying to second-guess how they’ll get on is pretty tricky.

The Europa League will seriously take its toll on this squad, despite the signings of Matt Doherty and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg—two players who Spurs desperately needed—and with any injury to Harry Kane or Son Heung-Min seriously season-stalling, it’s going to be one hell of a juggling act ahead.

The way Spurs ended last season will act as great encouragement to fans, but I’m still unconvinced that the squad has enough depth in key areas to maintain a top four push for an entire season.

It’s looking like dangerous business to confidently ascertain exactly where this side will finish, but 6th place right now looks most likely.

Man City/Liverpool - 3pts @ 9/4
Man City/Liverpool/Chelsea/Man Utd - 1pt @ 14/1

The Mid-Table Mire

A couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t quite so hot on Wolves (7th).

A quiet transfer window, losing Matt Doherty, speculation about Nuno’s future – something felt a little off at Molineux.

However, I no longer have any concerns. The signings of Fabio Silva and Marcal are left-field but quintessential Wolves signings, and generally speaking they don’t sign too many duds.

While they still need to replace Doherty, this Wolves side does look very, very strong, and it’s important to note that they’re the only side in my top 8 without any European football to think of, allowing Nuno to play his strongest side in the league week in week out, with no inhibitions.

This is shaping up to be the most gruelling season yet, and I expect Wolves to take full advantage of their relatively clear schedule.

Despite their supremely poor post-lockdown form, I still believe Leicester City have the personnel and manager to finish in an impressive 8th place.

The Foxes have always been a side who thrive on momentum, so the enforced break last season won’t have done them any favours, but with a clean slate from which to work with once again, you can expect they’ll be much better to kick this campaign off.

While the starting XI is excellent, and Timothy Castagne looks a coup from Atalanta, the Europa League is likely to add even more of a strain on the schedule than normal, and I’m a little worried about whether Brendan Rodgers’ squad will be able to cope with these extra demands, particularly if injuries start coming into play.

For this reason, I’m not expecting another Champions League push from Leicester, but a top half finish looks a strong possibility once again, despite the possible European distraction.  

I have really high hopes for Southampton (9th) this season.

Though at one point last season (namely after the 9-0) it looked as if Ralph Hasenhüttl might be in a spot of bother, the recovery they mounted from there was mightily admirable.

In Hasenhüttl, The Saints have a manager with more pedigree than almost any other manager in the league; he worked miracles at Ingolstadt, helped turn Leipzig into a juggernaut and you can sense there’s something special brewing at St. Mary’s.

Ending last season unbeaten in seven will give the side much momentum heading into this campaign, although the loss of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, coupled with the slight concern about whether Danny Ings can hit last season’s heights, means there are still small areas of concern.

I do love the signings of Kyle Walker-Peters and Mohammed Salisu, however, who will go some way to solidifying the occasionally leaky Saints defence of last season.

With a manager as good as Hasenhüttl in charge, I’m expecting big things from the south coast club.

Down in 10th position I’ve got Everton.

Once again, it’s looking like the Toffees have had a stellar transfer window, with Allan and marquee signing James Rodriguez the two notable arrivals thus far. This season, however, I’m not falling for it. Despite having Carlo Ancelotti in charge this year, this is no unfamiliar position.

Last year it was Moise Kean, Andre Gomes and Alex Iwobi; the year before it was Richarlison, Yerry Mina and Lucas Digne; the year before that it was Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Keane and Davy Klaassen.

Everton always seem to have an exceptional transfer window, followed by months of disappointment and under-achievement.

For my money, they’re still no better than the teams above them, so I can place them no higher than 10th.

Ah, Burnley (11th).

It’s really hard to know what more to say about Burnley. Every season you get exactly what it says on the tin, and I’m expecting no different this time around.

The Clarets lost just two of their last 16 matches in the Premier League last season, and Sean Dyche will once again rely on his tried-and-trusted formula to ensure his side remain far clear of the relegation zone.

Despite a lack of transfer activity, Burnley know exactly what they are, and assuming they keep James Tarkowski and Nick Pope in particular, I see no reason why they won’t continue performing minor miracles under Dyche yet again.

Brighton (12th) are a side who I see improving on last season.

Graham Potter, after a successful debut year in the Premier League where he totally revolutionised Brighton’s style, will be confident that he can once again blend youth and experience to guide the Seagulls up the table.

Adam Lallana and Joel Veltman add some serious pedigree to the squad, while youngsters such as Tariq Lamptey, Aaron Connolly, Jayson Molumby and Steven Alzate are primed to further improve and develop within the starting line-up.

Brighton have all the tools to establish themselves as a genuine mid-table Premier League club, and with a back three of Lewis Dunk, Ben White and Adam Webster a likelihood for the campaign ahead, you’d have to say the tools are there.

Everyone around the place buys into Potter’s philosophy, and should the Seagulls add another striker to their ranks before the end of the season, expect to see them avoid any sort of relegation battle.

Placing at what would be a very impressive 13th is Leeds United!

While I have much lower hopes for the two other newly-promoted sides, Leeds do look very well equipped to finish mid-table at the very least.

In Marcelo Bielsa they have an excellent manager who will take the Premier League by storm, while the signing of Spanish first-choice striker Rodrigo is one serious coup.

Robin Koch is another player who I’m confident will excel in the Premier League, and at £11m looks a great cut-price alternative to Ben White.

While many are predicting even bigger and better things from Leeds, they have very little Premier League experience in their squad, so while their style of play will win many admirers, I think an impressive mid-table finish is still the most likely outcome for Yorkshire side who will perhaps require a little time to find their feet.

Sheffield United (14th) were another side I somewhat struggled with placing in this league.

Perhaps this is a little harsh on Chris Wilder’s side after their exploits last season, but this would still be a highly impressive finish in just their second season back in the Premier League.

As you’d expect, the Blades have done things the right way this summer. Aaron Ramsdale is a solid replacement for Dean Henderson, while Max Lowe, Jayden Bogle and Ethan Ampadu will add further depth to the already impressive defensive ranks.

Whether or not they’ll be able to consistently reach last year’s heights remains to be seen, but under Wilder you can be sure they won’t be in any relegation bother.

However, looking at the way some of their mid-table competitors have strengthened, I’m being a little more conservative with this prediction that I perhaps should be. Time will tell.

Southampton Top Half - 2pts @ 13/8

The Relegation Battle

Coming in at 15th, I have Newcastle United.

There’s little mystery about Steve Bruce’s philosophy: focus on defensive solidity, nick the odd goal when you can, stay in the Premier League. Once again, this is how I see their season panning out.

It’s hard to be too harsh on Bruce; he’s ultimately done a better job than Rafa Benitez, and with the recent incomings of Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jeff Hendrick, they’re certainly better equipped than last season.

While I don’t expect them to be in imminent relegation danger, I’m finding it hard to make a case for them to finish above any of the sides I have listed higher in the table. Newcastle are a side who generally rely on their home form to keep them afloat, and with fans likely to be absent from St. James’ Park for much of the upcoming campaign, they might really struggle for the first few months.

I can’t say it’ll be a thrilling ride, but Newcastle are in for yet another season of consolidation.

It’s safe to say that all is not well at West Ham United (16th).

While David Moyes guided them to safety at the back end of last season, a summer of discontent and Twitter mutiny from the players isn’t a good look for anyone involved.

Thus far, The Hammers’ summer business has consisted of securing Tomas Souceck on a permanent deal—a crucial signing considering his impact in the hunt for survival—but that’s not enough to see them significantly progress from last season.

There’s still enough talent to survive: the likes of Declan Rice and Michail Antonio will likely be the key performers once again, while the swathe of luxury attacking players they have, whether or not they’ll find any sort of consistency, still sees them head into the season a cut above my bottom four.

I’m expecting another season of anguish and frustration, but Moyes is a safe pair of hands, and with the squad at his disposal, they should be able to secure enough positive results to remain in the division.

Narrowly escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth, I have Crystal Palace (17th).

Like with Newcastle, It’s pretty easy to know what you’ll get with a Roy Hodgson Palace side – no frills, dull but generally effective football.

While this has served them relatively well in recent years, their abysmal run of just one point from their final eight games of last season perhaps suggests things are turning stale at Selhurst Park.

Eberechi Eze is a very exciting signing from QPR, and will go some way in helping remedy their general lack of goals, but barring his arrival it’s been a pretty barren window.

If Palace start this season poorly, then the pressure will be cranked up on sack-race favourite Hodgson, potentially setting the tone for a tough campaign.

Occupying the first relegation place in my table is Fulham (18th).

Unlike last time they were in this position, Fulham haven’t gone quite so berserk in the transfer window – their best piece of business being the permanent acquisition of Harrison Reed, though Mario Lemina is also a potentially astute piece of business.

However, the jury is still out on manger Scott Parker, who wasn’t universally popular in the Championship amongst Cottagers fans, and I’m yet to be convinced he’s the man to lead them to Premier League safety.

While in their last Premier League venture Fulham were abysmal defensively, I believe they’ll have the opposite problem this season, despite Aleksandar Mitrović likely to shine once again. Parker’s men mustered fewer goals in league last term than a Cardiff side managed by Neil Warnock and Neil Harris, so unless more firepower comes through the door, they’ll not have a fun time.

Though they escaped relegation by the absolute skin of their teeth last season, this year I have Aston Villa (19th) going down.

Dean Smith crucially tightened Villa’s defence up post-lockdown, which ultimately kept them in the Premier League, but there are now just as many problems going forward, with the side looking utterly toothless up front on multiple occasions last term.

Thus far, only Matty Cash has come through the door, and while he’s an excellent player in his own right, I’m not convinced a swashbuckling right-back is exactly what Villa need.

I’m expecting more transfer activity before the window closes, but Villa’s priority is to find a balance between defence and attack – something that wasn’t managed last season.

After splashing so much cash last season, Villa still need so many more goals in their squad, and while they’ve gone in big to sign Ollie Watkins from Brentford, it’s never guaranteed that a prolific Championship player takes to the Premier League like a duck to water.

There are still holes aplenty in this squad, which is why I fancy Smith’s men for the drop.

Bringing up the rear of this season’s Premier League table, I have West Bromwich Albion (20th).

Slaven Bilic’s business thus far has revolved around keeping their loan stars of last season—namely Grady Diangana and Matheus Pereira—although they’re going to require more than squad consolidation if they wish to survive their first season back in the top-tier.

The Baggies don’t have a particularly deep squad, and I’m struggling to see where their goals come from. Pereira is an excellent player, but will his goals, alongside the likes of Hal Robson-Kanu and Charlie Austin, keep the team in the Premier League? I doubt it.

The transfer window is of course far from closed, so these issues can potentially be remedied, but as things currently stand, I fear for Albion.

Full Premier League Table Prediction

  1. Manchester City
  2. Liverpool
  3. Chelsea
  4. Manchester United
  5. Arsenal
  6. Tottenham Hotspur
  7. Wolverhampton Wanderers
  8. Leicester City
  9. Southampton
  10. Everton
  11. Burnley
  12. Brighton & Hove Albion
  13. Leeds United
  14. Sheffield United
  15. Newcastle United
  16. West Ham United
  17. Crystal Palace
  18. Fulham
  19. Aston Villa
  20. West Bromwich Albion
West Brom to finish bottom - 2pts @ 7/2