It’s that time yet again – the footblawl season preview for the Barclays Premier League has returned. I got one of the relegated teams out of the three last season (Burnley), grossly overestimated the talents of Queens Park Rangers (again) and predicted not once but twice during 2014-15 that Manchester City would win the Premier League.
I doubt I’ll do any better this coming season but am perfectly willing to have a bash. The campaign begins on Saturday at Old Trafford; here’s how I see the table looking at about 4:45 on the 15th of May next year:
2. Manchester United
4. Manchester City
6. Tottenham Hotspur
7. Stoke City
9. Swansea City
11. Crystal Palace
12. West Bromwich Albion
13. Norwich City
15. Newcastle United
16. West Ham United
17. Aston Villa
18. Leicester City
Despite my best efforts, I can’t see past Chelsea for the league title. They remain annoyingly consistent under Mourinho – Arsenal may have won the Community Shield but that doesn’t count for a great deal come next May. They will, however, not find things as easy as in 2014-15. Manchester United have gone some way to solving their midfield problems, particularly with the purchase of Morgan Schneiderlin, and I can see them pushing on despite the ongoing “is De Gea leaving” saga. Despite Arsenal making the very sound purchase of Petr Cech, I can still see them being a little off the pace – defensive midfield is still a position in which they lack, particularly if Francois Coquelin can’t maintain his form from last season.
Manchester City appear to be going backwards under Manuel Pellegrini, and despite the Chilean signing a new contract to 2017 I think he may be on his way come the end of the season. While City have cleared out some of the chaff in their squad they will miss James Milner, while the wisdom of spending that much on Raheem Sterling remains to be seen. Liverpool should improve on last season – Clyne and Benteke appear sound signings, while Firmino should be interesting. They should also benefit from not having the Steven Gerrard-shaped albatross around. Spurs should round out the top six – Harry Kane should play well again but maybe not quite as well as last season, Eriksen should kick on, but Spurs should still be a little too Spursy to challenge for the Champions League.
I fancy Stoke to move their way up the table following their good season last year. They should have Bojan back and have made another couple of interesting signings from Barcelona’s B team and ex-player brigade. Ibrahim Afellay is particularly intriguing should he stay fit. Everton, without the Europa League to distract, should have a better season this season. While their defence is getting a little creaky, and John Stones may be on his way, they too have made some shrewd purchases in Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu. Next in the table I think will be Swansea – mainly because they will miss Wilfried Bony’s goals while he makes the bench cosy in Manchester.
Rounding off the top half should be Southampton – they have a Europa League campaign to distract them, but more importantly have lost Morgan Schneiderlin, a fulcrum in their midfield. Jordy Clasie is an interesting purchase, while Jay Rodriguez’s return will be, to coin the old cliche, like a new signing. Crystal Palace should maintain their position near the top half; the signing of Yohan Cabaye is a particularly impressive statement of intent. With Tony Pulis in charge, West Bromwich Albion will, I think, have a reasonably easy-going season – I particularly like their capture of Rickie Lambert from his Scouse purgatory.
I really fancy Norwich City to stay up. Alex Neil has shown that he loves a challenge and will no doubt be looking forward to taking Norwich as far up the league as he can. Other than the capture of Youssouf Mulumbu, he is relying largely on the side that won the Championship play-offs though many of those have Premier League experience. Bournemouth should hang around until next season too. Eddie Howe, like Neil, is an ambitious and interesting young manager. I really like their capture of Tyrone Mings and Christian Atsu on loan in particular. Newcastle United should have a slightly easier time of it with a relatively reliable man in charge in Steve “Schteve” McClaren, with Georginio Wijnaldum a really exciting purchase. Mike Williamson and Steve Taylor as the first choice centre-back partnership might be a bit tricky though.
The claret and blue pairing of West Ham United and Aston Villa will come next I think. Slaven Bilic’s brand of football, in the last season at Upton Park, will take a while to kick in and the Hammers’ Europa League performance doesn’t breed confidence. Villa, meanwhile, will struggle losing the goals of Christian Benteke.
Going down I think will be Leicester City, Watford and Sunderland. Leicester and Claudio Ranieri is I think a recipe for disaster. Ranieri has had good jobs throughout his career on the basis of winning and doing very little. Watford in my view have changed too much of their squad too quickly, and while Quique Sanchez Flores is a fine coach, getting rid of Slavisa Jokanovic seems a retrograde step. Sunderland, meanwhile, were abject last season and will continue to be abject. Losing Conor Wickham reduces their already scant goalscoring capacity even further.
So there we are. No doubt most of this will be wrong come May, but we shall see how the next few months pan out, starting at 12:45pm tomorrow with Manchester United v Spurs.