If predicting the results of football matches was as easy as we thought, we’d all be millionaires.
We’ve all been caught out by the notoriously temperamental Football League, but what about the top flight?
Last season we saw Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City run away with the title, finishing 19 points clear at the top, while Swansea, Stoke and West Brom were relegated.
We also had a few surprises, not least the departure of Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger after more than 20 years in charge. You might say such unexpected moments make it impossible to predict the future. However, we disagree.
Here’s what will happen in the Premier League this season. Come back in May and check if we were right (spoiler: we will have been right).
1. Manchester City will retain the title
The last team to retain the Premier League title was Manchetster United, all the way back in 2009. To give you an idea of how different the league looked then, Aston Villa finished in the top six and Paul Hart and Ricky Sbragia ended the campaign in charge of top-flight teams.
The thing is, City are good. We mean *really* good. If anything, last season’s 19-point gap flattered most of the rest of the league. What’s more, Leroy Sané is coming back fresh and with a point to prove after missing out on the World Cup, while they’ve added Riyad Mahrez to their ranks and can call upon a fully-fit Benjamin Mendy after the Frenchman missed most of the last campaign.
2. Liverpool will come second
Liverpool got a lot of their transfer business done early, and they’ve made some very impressive signings which help plug the most obvious gaps in last season’s set-up.
With Alisson, Fabinho and Naby Keita likely to start regularly, and Xherdan Shaqiri a much stronger option than some of the players they had in reserve last season, Jürgen Klopp’s team are well-placed to hit the ground running.
3. Arsenal will return to the top four
It’s been a tough couple of years for the red half of North London, what with Tottenham being good and Arsenal being very much the opposite of that, but the tide could well turn this season.
The Gunners have a new manager in Unai Emery, two talented and well-rested centre-forwards in World Cup absentees Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, and a more solid squad than in past years. Combine that with rivals packed with players on World Cup comedowns, and they’re in great shape to steal a march on some other top four contender and (whisper it) bring about another St Totteringham’s Day.
4. Jose Mourinho won’t see out the season at Manchester United
We’re about to embark on the classic football trope of the Mourinho third-season meltdown. Traditionally the cycle sees him set things up in his first season, win the title in his second and suffer a full collapse in the third – we saw this at Real Madrid and in his second Chelsea spell, and he’s already shown signs of upsetting anyone and everyone around him in pre-season (albeit without the usual title to precede it).
Manchester United are no longer the sort of club to give their managers time – such a club barely exists anywhere in England, in fairness – and one wonders how much longer Mourinho can make enemies in public before the powers-that-be decide they’ve had enough.
5. Cardiff City will be relegated
Over the last few years, clubs have entered the Premier League with all signs pointing to their immediate relegation, only to defy the odds. Cardiff will not defy the odds.
Neil Warnock is great at getting teams promoted to the Premier League, but less good at keeping them there. Cardiff will claim to have learned from their mistakes, before giving up on Warnock around January and putting their faith in a big-name player with minimal managerial experience. They’ll record some famous wins, before ultimately dropping back down, possibly in 20th.
6. Player to watch – Richarlison
Sure, it might be a bit of a cop-out to call a £35m player ‘one to watch’, but Richarlison is still just 21, and if he doesn’t earn a Young Player of the Year nomination at the very least then I’ll eat my hat.
The Brazilian thrived under Marco Silva at Watford, before his form dropped off a cliff after the manager left. They’ve now been reunited at Everton, with the former Fluminense talent going from supplying the likes of Stefano Okaka and Troy Deeney to working within a set-up that feels far more suited to his talents.
7. Player to watch – Rachid Ghezzal
Leicester responding to the sale of Mahrez by signing another Algerian is like when Swansea lost out on long-haired Spaniard Jordi Gómez and opted to instead bring in long-haired Spaniard Jordi López. Except, on this occasion, it might work.
Claude Puel’s transfer business looks much more savvy than that of his immediate predecessors, and former Monaco winger Ghezzal can join fellow new arrival James Maddison in supporting Jamie Vardy as the striker aims to post a double-figure goal tally for the fourth straight season. Or, y’know, it might be another Bartosz Kapustka situation where he plays a grand total of 0 league games. Hopefully not, though.
8. Player to watch – Declan Rice
Plenty of players have gone on to great things after leaving Chelsea – Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to name but two – but not that many have done so after leaving Stamford Bridge aged 15.
Rice made his West Ham breakthrough last season, playing in a variety of positions, but new manager Manuel Pellegrini seems set on using him in a holding midfield role. With plenty of attacking flair in front of him, and not that much protection, it could be a proper sink-or-swim season for the talented 19-year-old.
9. A Premier League club will win the Champions League
Liverpool came very close last season, and they’ve only strengthened, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham won’t be naïve enough to make the same mistakes as last year.
On top of all that, the competition is arguably weaker than it has been in recent years: holders Real Madrid have lost Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus have lost Gigi Buffon, and PSG… actually PSG are in great shape. Still, it’s going on seven years since the competition last had an English winner, and that feels like way too long.
10. A player born in the 21st century will score a Premier League goal
We’re all marching inexorably towards death, and there’s nothing like the emergence of young footballers to remind us of this fact. As an example, Trent Alexander-Arnold, who featured for England at the World Cup, was born after the release of both ‘Three Lions’ and ‘Three Lions 98’. We’ll give you a second to let that sink in.
Even worse, though, is the thought that we could soon see the first Premier League goalscorer born in the year 2000. Ryan Sessegnon (born in May 2000) will hope to add to the 15 goals he scored in Fulham’s promotion campaign, while Phil Foden (May 2000) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (November 2000) both impressed in the Community Shield. It might be time to accept we probably won’t make it in the professional game (never say never though, obviously).