The 2015/2016 Premier League season is drawing ever closer. The anticipation is growing among football fans across the land, although I am reasonably calm. You know why? Because I already know how the league table is going to finish, as displayed in this article. Also, because I am an Ipswich Town fan my excitement is somewhat tempered. Spoiler: I have predicted Norwich to finish 20th, but purely for footballing reasons. Here are nineteen other predictions that will in no way blow your mind.
This prediction is as boring as Chelsea in the latter stage of last season, but it would take a brave person to bet against Mourinho and his squad. Despite no notable arrivals (there is nothing notable about Falcao of last season, nor about a new substitute goalkeeper), Chelsea still boast an impressive level of quality across every position. Although the title race promises to be significantly more engaging than last season’s, Chelsea look set to become the first team to claim consecutive titles since Manchester United in 08/09.
Every season is a case of acknowledging that Arsenal have many of the ingredients to launch a successful title bid, yet have one or two flaws that will ultimately prove crippling. The arrival of Petr Cech from Chelsea eliminates all question marks hanging over the goalkeeping position, with his former captain John Terry asserting that the Czech can win Arsenal fifteen points on his own. That makes it pretty ballsy of Chelsea to sell Cech to a club that finished only twelve points behind them last season. Nevertheless, questions over Arsenal’s striking credibility endure. Yet Olivier Giroud’s fourteen goals in twenty-one league starts last season is not to be sniffed at, and added to the irrepressible Alexis Sanchez, a resurgent Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott with a point to prove, Arsenal’s firepower is devastating. The biggest problems may well come in central midfield. Arteta and Flamini’s presence is weakening, and Coquelin faces a challenge to prove his long-term capability. A dominating central midfielder might be sufficient to topple Chelsea; as it is, they will come close but fall just short. Comfortably top four, though, so Arsene Wenger will be happy.
3rd: Manchester United
Louis van Gaal continues to throw cash around like Mr Burns in a money fight, but it is hard to tell the shrewdness of this strategy. The reason it is so hard to tell is because Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao were supposed to be world-class players, yet have both been discarded. Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin add grit and poise into midfield, whilst Matteo Darmian will bring stability to the right-back position. Wayne Rooney will thrive in being the spearhead of the attack, but striking alternatives are sparse. Memphis Depay arrives with an exciting reputation, but could well struggle if expected to play out of position as cover for Rooney. Nonetheless, expect their attacking verve to compensate for lingering defensive weakness as Manchester United will be the third horse in a three-horse title race.
4th: Manchester City
Speculation abounds over Manuel Pellegrini’s future, with an extended stay in Manchester only realistic if silverware that does not look like the League Cup or the FA Cup comes this season . Opposition defenders will not be thrilled at the prospect of coming face to face with ASS: Aguero, Silva and Sterling. Behind that ASS though, reputations are on the line. Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany need to return to top form if a title challenge is to happen, and pressure lies on Wilfried Bony and Eliaquim Mangala to prove that they are at home with the elite. Expect a relatively difficult season for City, to be followed by a glut of spending under the watchful eye of Pep Guardiola in the summer of 2016.
There is no disputing that Brendan Rodgers’ signings look lovely on paper. The big question is if he is intelligent enough to integrate them seamlessly. Roberto Firmino arrives as replacement for Raheem Sterling; Sterling was someone who flitted in and out of games, so Firmino basically needs to do stuff for about ninety minutes and he will be deemed an improvement. Nathaniel Clyne is a considerable upgrade on Glen Johnson, and James Milner is better than a 35 year-old Steven Gerrard. Striking options of Sturridge, Benteke, Ings and Origi offers tactical versatility. Ideally Rodgers needs to find a way to balance the subtleties of Sturridge and Coutinho with the raw physicality of Benteke; if he can, Liverpool will push the top four all the way. Oh, and the defence. Sort that out too, Brendan.
6th: Tottenham Hotspur
Mauricio Pochettino has streamlined his squad so far, throwing out much of the dead weight. This should provide a more stable atmosphere for the likes of Lamela, Eriksen and Chadli to flourish, whilst exciting youngsters such as Alex Pritchard may well make the step up. Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld should resolve problems in the defence. The next move surely has to be the addition of a striker before the season starts to supplement Harry Kane. If their striking options are still Kane, Soldado and Adebayor when the season starts then I would like to revise my prediction please.
7th: Stoke City
Oh, how we used to deride Stoke City. Their rugged approach is now a thing of folklore and memes, however. Can Lionel Messi do it at Stoke on a cold, wet Tuesday night? We may never find out, but if he tried then he would be greeted by delicious ball-players such as Bojan, Arnautovic and Van Ginkel. Ibrahim Afellay looks set to be added to that orgy of talent, whilst the defence remains as resolute as Stoke’s of yore. Jack Butland will have to show his mettle in filling Asmir Begovic’s gloves, but the goals of Mame Biram Diouf and the absence of European competition could propel Stoke to seventh heaven.
8th: Swansea City
Garry Monk has the confident aura of a man who knows what he’s doing. Swansea have cemented themselves as a thoroughly likeable unit with their passing and their spirit. Andre Ayew is an illustrious signing who should flourish in Wales. Bafetimbi Gomis will be expected to improve on last season’s goal tally, although Eder’s arrival from Braga will alleviate some of that pressure. The livewire wingers Montero, Dyer and Routledge will thrill, with the sublime Sigurdsson pulling all sorts of strings.
Time to whip out one of football’s newer clichés: the distraction of the Europa League may hinder league performances. Ronald Koeman endeared himself to the British public by picking up the pieces of Liverpool’s transfer raid and turning them into something even more beautiful. Koeman’s smart transfer dealings in last season means that nobody is doubting that Jordy Clasie and Cedric Soares will prove to be effective replacements for Schneiderlin and Clyne. Graziano Pelle may struggle to match his goal tally of last season, which means the onus is on Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long to perform both in England and in Europe.
10th: West Ham United
Again, European competition may well prove a hindrance, although if West Ham perform as woefully as they did against the mighty Birkirkara of Malta then the Europa League should not encumber them for too much longer. New addition Dimitri Payet arrives with a reputation as a prestigious provider of assists, whilst Angelo Ogbonna will insert pace and strength into the defence. West Ham’s squad is strong throughout. Aaron Cresswell should find his way into the England squad sooner rather than later, despite the intense competition among left-backs on a national level, and the front-two of Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho is dynamic and threatening. The club’s success depends on how Slaven Bilic adapts to management in the Premier League. If he takes to it like a duck to water then that duck might well swim into the top half of the table.
With the signing of Tom Cleverley, Everton have declared their aspirations for a safe mid-table finish this season. It is refreshing to see Gerard Deulofeu back on Merseyside, but Everton’s defensive depth looks worryingly thin. Ross Barkley needs to seize this season and make it his own if he is to merit an appearance at Euro 2016. A consistent Romelu Lukaku will lay serious designs on the Golden Boot, whilst manager Roberto Martinez will fervently hope to fend off Chelsea’s attempts to ensnare John Stones. Not only because Stones has great promise, but because Everton really need defenders right now. Come back Antolin Alcaraz, all is forgiven.
12th: Newcastle United
The new season cannot come soon enough for Newcastle, if only to banish the lingering memories of John Carver’s tenure. Much rests on new signings Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba to deliver some fresh impetus to a tired squad. Wijnaldum should find it easiest to adapt because boss Shteve McClaren is fluent in Dutch. If McClaren can integrate these signings who arrive with much promise and pedigree alongside the quality of Moussa Sissoko, bizarrely still at Newcastle, then comfortable mid-table beckons.
13th: Crystal Palace
It seems counter-intuitive to predict that Palace will finish three places lower than last season considering they have added Yohan Cabaye. They have also clung onto Yannick Bolasie thus far, a real coup for Palace. The addition of Patrick Bamford is equally exciting, his consistent proficiency in the Championship suggesting he will burgeon in the Premier League. All very positive for Palace then, hey? Well, scratch beneath the surface of a strong first-team and there is not too much to write home about. Glenn Murray will have to work hard to prove his flurry of goals at last season’s back-end was not a flash in the pan, otherwise Palace will be lacking in the striking department. Comfortable mid-table should be the case once again.
The next seven teams are very interchangeable as testament to the quality, or lack thereof, in the Premier League. Younes Kaboul and Adam Matthews will rejuvenate Sunderland’s defence, whilst the addition of Jeremain Lens is stirring for a club of this stature. Lens should help Jermaine Defoe in delivering goals to escape relegation, whilst this season reeks of make-or-break for Connor Wickham. Sunderland’s keenness to reinstate Dick Advocaat demarcates that the Dutchman is well-liked and well-respected on Wearside.
Watford’s new signings draw from a gamut of nationalities, although with some pedigree. Valon Behrami’s knowledge of the Premier League will be crucial as new manager Quique Flores and his diverse signings adapt to the rigours of the league. It is quite disheartening to see a multitude of players arriving from overseas, but £49 million for Raheem Sterling explains that there is better value abroad. Such an influx of new signings may hamper team chemistry, but the reason Watford should survive is their strength in attack. Troy Deeney gets a long overdue crack at the top flight, Matej Vydra will return with more nous than during his stay at West Brom, and Odion Ighalo’s physicality terrified Championship defences on occasion.
16th: West Bromwich Albion
Not much has changed thus far at the Hawthorns this summer, with Tony Pulis only able to bring in James McClean. Certainly the squad requires some more defensive cover, and going forward it depends on the continued presence of Saido Berahino. The strategizing and man-management of Pulis should see West Brom retain Premier League status, although it will not be easy.
17th: Aston Villa
No matter how woeful Aston Villa are, they have always managed to avoid relegation. This task will prove even more difficult with the departure of Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph. Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Amavi arrive from Ligue 1 with sterling reputations, and Micah Richards will enjoy his regular appearance in the heart of the defence. Replacing Benteke’s goals that so often dragged Villa out of the mire may prove insurmountable for Tim Sherwood, ensuring the season will once again be a battle against relegation.
One feels that if Bournemouth do go down then it will be by a very narrow margin. Their stylish and technically superb play last season took the Championship by storm and garnered swathes of plaudits, although their tendency to simulation and to harangue officials will resonate poorly with the increased spotlight of the Premier League. Matt Ritchie will be tasked with unlocking a better defences than previously, whilst striker Callum Wilson has the capability to have a breakout season much like Charlie Austin did. Transfer dealings have been largely conservative. Christian Atsu will need to impress if his return to parent club Chelsea is to be with the first team, whilst the £8 million signing Tyrone Mings will have to adapt quickly on the back of an inconsistent season at left-back with Ipswich Town.
19th: Leicester City
Leicester’s player of the season Esteban Cambiasso has joined the enigmatic manager Nigel Pearson in departing the club, although only Cambiasso had a choice in this matter. Although Claudio Ranieri is experienced, he may struggle to motivate one of the league’s weaker squads in the same way that the brusque but passionate Pearson did. New signing Shinji Okazaki and January signing Andrej Kramaric could benefit from regular selection in order to produce their impressive goal-scoring form from their previous clubs, but under the Tinkerman that might not be possible.
20th: Norwich City
Norwich arrive as worthy winners of the Championship play-offs under the tutelage of the young but canny Alex Neil, but their squad simply does not look strong enough to avoid relegation. John Ruddy will have to be at his capable best in every game, with Russell Martin an inspirational captain but lacking mobility in defence. Cameron Jerome needs to raise his game in order to lead the line in the Premier League, Nathan Redmond remains talented yet inconsistent and Wes Hoolahan’s creative spark is beset by his aging legs. But there is one ray of hope for Norwich fans: Ricky van Wolfswinkel is back…
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