With the Premier League season beginning on Friday night, we asked our in-house team to make their calls for the biggest milestones for the campaign ahead.
While Leicester confounded just about everyone on their way to the title two seasons ago, last year felt like something of a return to normality with Antonio Conte’s Chelsea taking the top prize. At the bottom, meanwhile, Sunderland finally bowed to the inevitable after years of circling the drain, wherein they were joined by Middlesbrough and Hull.
But how will this season pan out? (Oh, and feel free to bookmark this and throw it back in our collective faces next May.)
First thing’s first – who’s winning the Premier League title?
Richard Barrett: Manchester United
Brian Barry: Manchester City
Sean Cremin: Man City. Best signings.
Rob Lyons: Man City. Chelsea and Tottenham were more devastating last season but with both clubs having failed to inspire in the summer window so far City could move ahead of them.
Sean McMahon: Chelsea
John Murphy: Manchester United – Magic Mourinho to do it again.
Rory Murphy: Man City
Simon O’Keeffe: Man City. I was leaning towards Chelsea but their lack of depth is worrying. I’m still not sure City’s balance is right (especially in midfield) but I think they’ll do enough.
Dave O’Regan: Man Utd. I’m expecting Pogba and Mkhitaryan to kick on in a big way in their second seasons, Lukaku and Matic are top-drawer Premier League players and I’m expecting a renaissance from Anthony Martial.
Joel Slattery: Man City
Who will be rounding out the top 4 for that sweet, sweet Champions League qualification?
RB: Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham.
BB: Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham
SC: Spurs, Chelsea, Man United
RL: Chelsea will run whoever finishes top close but haven’t done enough in the window. It would also help if someone told Roman Abramovich to stop loaning out promising talents. Man United will improve on last year but still need another season or two to actually usurp those above them. In saying that, it is Jose Mourinho’s second season at the club so you never know. If Tottenham can approach anywhere nearing their form last season they will easily make it into the top four. Still not quite strong enough to win the title. Playing in Wembley Stadium has proven difficult for them in the past also.
SMc: City, Man United, Arsenal
JM: Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal
RM: Chelsea, Spurs, Man United
SO’K: Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal. It’s going to be close and I think Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham are relatively interchangeable, but I just get the feeling that Lacazette and Kolasinac fill two major positional issues for Arsenal.
DO’R: Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal. I’m expecting Chelsea to drop some points early in the season with Hazard and Bakayoko out injured, Costa exiled and Morata settling in but Conte is top notch manager who will rally the troops well. Similar to Man City and their defensive signings, there are bound to be more than a few lapses of concentration at the back, as far I’m concerned they haven’t had a reliable keeper since Joe Hart started his decline. Arsene Wenger is too good to miss out on the Champions League again for my money (unless Sanchez leaves). Spurs nearly reached the summit last season in a perfect storm, their core players stayed relatively injury-free and any replacements played out of their skins, I don’t see it happening again for them. Liverpool have a quality side but won’t have the squad depth to compete on so many fronts, but they could nab a domestic cup.
JS: Chelsea, Man United and the People’s Republic of Arsenal
Who’s getting relegated to the Championship?
RB: Huddersfield, Swansea, Watford
BB: Huddersfield, Leicester City, Brighton
SC: Brighton, Huddersfield, Swansea
RL: Huddersfield, Watford, Swansea. Despite throwing money at the team, Huddersfield won’t have enough to stay up compared to those around them. The unfamiliarity of their ground, the John Smith’s Stadium, will be their biggest advantage this season. Having just survived last season, the time has come for Watford it seems. Newcastle coming up adds an extra element of difficulty to the task of staying up with the Geordies well capable of mid-table finish. For Swansea, Tammy Abraham and Roque Mesa could be astute signings but their squad just isn’t as strong as those in and around the bottom of the pile.
SMc: Swansea, Huddersfield, Watford
JM: Brighton, Swansea and Huddersfield – shame on Rory for saying Burnley. I’m getting a Walters kit and nobody can stop me.
RM: Huddersfield, Burnley, Brighton
SO’K: Huddersfield, Brighton, Stoke. Huddersfield’s goal difference last season was -2 – they can’t be that leaky in the PL and expect to stay up. I like Chris Hughton but my feelings aren’t taken into account in the table (more’s the pity) and I think Brighton won’t last. Now the controversial one – I think Stoke’s nightmare start, the relative lack of signings and, I predict, managerial upheaval during the season will pave the way for a surprise relegation.
DO’R: Brighton, Huddersfield and Swansea. I’d love to see Huddersfield do well and I’d love to be proven wrong but they’re out of their depth. There’s a small part of me wants to see a few 7-0, or 8-1 obliterations though (not just for Huddersfield), they’re a rarity these days.
JS: Relegated: Huddersfield, Swansea and Brighton. (Brighton will start off great but in January, they will sell their best two players to Liverpool. This will lead to both clubs going on long, painful losing streaks.)
Which player is going to be the best signing this season?
RB: Nemanja Matic. Will control the Man United midfield and free up Pogba allowing the Frenchman to flourish.
SC: Jermain Defoe. Could keep Bournemouth up
RL: Nemanja Matic. Antonio Conte was rightly frustrated over the midfielder’s departure to a main rival. He flew under the radar due to N’Golo Kante’s arrival last summer but Matic is a textbook holding midfielder with every strength needed from a player in the modern game. He’s now at the peak of his powers and will be a key element in United being more secure defensively this term.
JM: Jon Walters
RM: Timothy Fosu-Mensah. (NOTE: It was originally Tiemoue Bakayoko, but Rory insisted it be changed. – SOK)
SO’K: Mohamed Salah. It’s a dangerous game to form judgement on a player purely on pre-season, but Salah has appeared to hit the ground running. Combined with his form in Serie A over the last couple of years, it’s reason enough to be excited about him.
DO’R: It’s hard not to like Lukaku for this. He’s been scoring goals for fun the last few seasons, his supporting cast has been upgraded and if he fulfils his potential for Man Utd he’ll be an absolute bargain.
JS: Lacazette. I have no good stats to back up this opinion.
Which new signing is going to be an utter disaster?
RB: Shane Thornhill.
SC: Marko Arnautovic. Think he will go mad on the pints in London.
RL: Joe Hart. After making a hames of his time at Torino, Hart is destined to make yet another failed loan move to West Ham. His confidence will be shot after being excommunicated at City and his career looks to be heading in one direction only.
SMc: Wayne Rooney
JM: I’m going to say Rooney or Morata even though I would love to see Wazza having some sort of miraculous revival and reminding everyone just how good he once was.
SO’K: It’ll be Rooney. I get the feeling that around three months into the season Ronald Koeman will realise what Jose Mourinho already did last year – that after trying to shoehorn him into the team, he’ll give up and accept that Rooney just isn’t up to this level anymore.
DO’R: Chelsea have had more misses with expensive strikers than hits and I see Morata as more Hernan Crespo than Didier Drogba. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Michy Batshuayi eyeing up that starting spot.
JS: Whoever Stoke got to replace Glenn Whelan.
Which player or team is going to shut us all up by being the surprise package?
RB: Davy Klaassen
BB: Burnley to crack the top ten.
SC: Manolo Gabbiadini. My fantasy football gem
RL: Javier Hernandez. He’s still a proven goalscorer and has fistfuls of Premier League experience. If West Ham’s midfielders can give him consistent supply he will put them away.
SMc: Sead Kolasinac
JM: I don’t have a notion… maybe Luke Shaw to get a run and announce himself as the best left back in the league.
SO’K: If Frank de Boer can hit the ground running at Crystal Palace, there’s enough talent in that team for a top eight finish and maybe a stab at Europe.
DO’R: Burnley to finish mid-table.
JS: Brighton (until they sell all their players to Liverpool and throw away all their hard work).
Who’s walking away with the PFA Player of the Year?
RB: Nemanja Matic
BB: Harry Kane
SC: Kevin De Bruyne
RL: Coutinho if he stays. He’s been getting better with each season and even if Liverpool don’t finish inside the top four he will be integral to whatever a good season entails for Jurgen Klopp.
JM: Romelu Or Kane
RM: Some City player or Pogba
SO’K: Kevin De Bruyne. He’s going to be a major player for Pep and Man City this season, and will get his reward for it in the end.
DO’R: If Man United win and Lukaku gets top scorer then that will mean Henrikh Mkhitaryan will have buckets of assists and Paul Pogba will have bossed the Premier League consistently in a way that he has done all too rarely thus far. I’m shooting for Pogba.
JS: Sergio Aguero.
Who’s going to be the first manager out the door this season?
RB: Paul Clement
BB: Mauricio Pellegrino
SC: Tony Pulis. Complete punt, think Swansea will give Clement time even if they do struggle.
RL: Craig Shakespeare. In truth there are about nine or ten candidates at least here but if things start to slide for Leicester the first permanent successor to Claudio Ranieri may well be first to get it in the neck.
SMc: Rafa Benitez. It’s Mike Ashley he’s dealing with, only one outcome!
JM: I’m gonna go with Sparky Hughes or, if they don’t make some signings pronto, I could see Conte walking.
RM: Mark Hughes
SO’K: Mark Hughes at Stoke. For the same reasons above for why I think they’ll be getting relegated.
DO’R: Mark Hughes. Stoke will need a great start and with Arnautovic and Super Jonny Walters leaving sizeable gaps to fill, Mr Hughes will be sweating.
JS: Jurgen Klopp. The AKloppalypse is coming, folks.
Who’s going to win the Champions League?
RL: Barcelona. Ernesto Valverde enters this job with something to prove, and with the club having lost out on the domestic title to Real Madrid last season there will be a collective will to return to the top. Even without Neymar, the La Liga giants are still extremely strong.
JM: I hate to say it but probably that dastardly crowd over in Madrid yet again.
RM: Real Madrid
SMc: Bayern Munich
SO’K: Real Madrid. Barcelona are weaker, Bayern don’t do much for me, nobody from England is going to be winning it. Real are out on their own I think.
DO’R: Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo will score a hat-trick in the final to win a hat-trick of finals, he will then ascend into the heavens.
JS: With Dundalk eliminated, the path is clear for Real Madrid to retain the title. Bayern Munich will be the beaten finalists.
Finally, with the World Cup taking place next summer, who’s going to be lifting that trophy in Russia?
RL: Germany. The only area of concern for them following the last World Cup was in attack. Timo Werner scoring 21 goals in the Bundesliga for RB Leipzig last term at the age of 21 bodes well going into next summer. A semi-final defeat at Euro 2016 is nothing to be too concerned about and winning the Confederations Cup this summer won’t hurt their confidence either.
JM: Ireland… obviously.
SO’K: I would have said France but not with Deschamps as manager. I like Brazil under Tite, I’m going for them.
DO’R: England. Only joking, France. That squad is just insane. I know Germany are a juggernaut and Brazil have weirdly topped the FIFA rankings again but I will literally eat my hat if France don’t win one of the next three international tournaments.
JS: Argentina will win the World Cup as Lionel Messi gets that elusive winner’s medal. This will really annoy Cristiano Ronaldo and will be beautiful to watch.
On this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish Football Podcast, we chat to former Bray Wanderers media officer Jillian Godsil, give our take on the ‘barstooler’ debate as well as review and preview the latest League of Ireland action.