With the start of the 2018/19 English Premier League season upon us, it’s time for what has become an annual tradition (no longer obligatory); my predictions. I’ve picked the last two champions, and was fairly successful with my relegation picks up until last season, which somehow saw all three newly promoted clubs avoid the drop. Even my top four selections have a respectable accuracy rate.

Seeing as it was a World Cup year, predictions can be a bit trickier. All the big clubs sent players to the tournament, and it’s inevitable that some come back with various degrees of injuries limiting their availability early in the season. Which can make a break some clubs campaigns; if there is one thing you don’t want to do it’s dig yourselves a hole in the summer.

As in years past, I will go through the whole table; making my three relegation picks, my champion, top four finishers and top and bottom half. I’m not so crazy as to pick who will finish 15th.  I’ve thought about doing a post for each club, because my predictions can get a bit lengthy and wordy for lots of people’s liking, but most people won’t read posts for clubs they’re don’t support or are not interested in. I want to reach as many readers as possible, and if having long blog posts loses me readers who simply stop reading because it’s too long, so be it. I feel it’s a better trade off than not having people read at all because they don’t care about Fulham or Cardiff City or Huddersfield.

So let’s start where I always do; my relegation picks. I’m tabbing Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town and Southampton for relegation. Cardiff simply does not have the squad to compete in the top flight. I don’t think Huddersfield can survive another season, and they didn’t properly invest the money earned from staying up. David Wagner can only work so much magic, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a bigger club comes calling and lures him away.

Southampton narrowly avoided disaster last season thanks in large part to a lopsided defeat by Swansea at the hands of reigning champions Manchester City. Once again the Saint spent next to no money in the transfer market, while selling or loaning loads of players. This type of business model can only work for so long, and the powers at be on the South Coast don’t seem to see the writing on the wall. I will add this footnote though; if I were to swap out one of my relegation picks with another club, Southampton would be the one I’d swap out.

Last year I picked Crystal Palace to be relegated, and for the first several weeks of the 2017/18 season my pick was looking like a sure thing. That was until Roy Hodgson took the helm and righted the ship. It took a while, but in the end Palace fought hard for a very respectable 11th place finish. Given their signings (very few so as to not shake up the squad), and the fact that I hope they don’t want a repeat of last season’s early struggles, I have Palace finishing in the bottom half, but securely avoiding relegation. However, if they sell Wilfried Zaha and don’t properly invest the money back into the squad (they have a new stadium to finance, so they might squirrel away the funds), Palace could quickly tumble down the table.

Brighton & Hove was a club many picked for relegation, but I was not one of them. I had them on the cusp, and they did just enough to survive. They started strong and finished poorly, which set off some alarm bells for me. But the big key here is that they did not lose any of their top players. They didn’t bring in any names of note either, but that is not all too worrisome. I have the Seagulls finishing in the bottom half, more specifically towards the bottom of the bottom half.

Another club Lots of people tabbed for relegation was Burnley, but again, I was not one of them. They were the surprise team last year (there is always one), earning themselves a Europa League spot. I feel that will hamper their domestic season, having them finish in the bottom half. It’s not enough to have them relegated, but I think it will have them drop some points in August and September that will set them back. In my book Burnley has surpassed the ‘it’s a successful season if we don’t get relegated’ caliber of clubs.

It was only a matter of time before Fulham made their way back to the Premier League. Their owner, Shad Khan, invests loads of cash into his sports franchises (he also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL). After being relegated in his first year of ownership, it took four long years for the Cottagers to claw their way back to the top flight. They have made great, not just good signings, and it should be enough to keep them up. But I will say this, if there is one team I would swap out and insert into my relegation picks, it would be Fulham. They secured the permanent signing of their talisman from last season Aleksandar Mitrovic, brought in Alfie Mawson from Swansea (one of the few bright spots on Swansea’s dreadful 2017/18 campagin), improved their biggest weakness by bringing in new keeper Fabri and somehow plucked Jean Michael Seri away from the likes of Arsenal Bringing in Andre Schurrle on loan from Dortmund is a bit of a mystery, as he has failed to impress nor live up to not so lofty expectations the last few seasons, so much so that he was quickly shipped back to the Bundesliga from the Premier League after only one season.

Watford started very strong last season, but tailed off in the second half of the season. It’s a worrisome trend, and gets even more so when you consider they sold arguably their best player from last year in Richarlison. To a league rival no less. Yes, Richarlison’s shooting boots went missing in the second half, and they received an exorbitant amount of money from Everton (who continues to spend foolishly), but Watford did not spend that money to bolster the squad. They made the loan deal for Gerard Deulofeu permanent, but he didn’t exactly set the league on fire while with Watford nor with Everton prior to that. They somewhat addressed the goal keeping situation, but did so with Ben Foster, who was the starting keeper for West Brom, who were relegated last year.

Bournemouth is a top side to predict. Eddie How has done a marvelous job, and I feel it’s only a matter of time before he gets plucked away by a bigger club. But that is not factoring into my decision t have them finish in the bottom half. For me it’s a matter of getting over that last hurdle. And that is luring a world class player to Bournemouth. Not just splashing the cash, which they did by breaking their transfer record to sign Jefferson Lerma from Levante, but bringing in a world class player who can strike fear in an opponent. Right now Bournemouth is still relying on taking opponents by surprise and catching them off guard.

I feel that of all the newly promoted clubs, Wolverhampton will do the best. They were run away winners of the Championship, and brought in the right players. The transfer market can be tricky to navigate, and Wolves did a great job with not overspending and not putting all their eggs in one basket. Though the Benik Afobe “signing” is a puzzling one, but I guess it makes sense to take away a striker from your league rival and gift him to a lower league club in desperate need of goals.

Everton continues to throw good money after bad, and is on their fourth manager in two years. Not a good combination. They lost money on Davy Klaassen, and then went and spent 50 million on Richarlison simply because new manager Marco Silva likes him (the death trap for any club hiring a new manager). All despite the fact that Richarlison didn’t score a goal after mid November 2017. But at least they didn’t add a flurry of players like they did last year, to great failure I might add. The reason I don’t have Everton in the bottom half is simply because there is too much talent there to fail miserably. They might not meet expectations (something Everton is sadly used to of late) but they won’t fall flat on their face. I don’t think Marco Silva is the right hire (I actually think Eddie Howe is the perfect fit here) and the Toffees did not bring in a reliable striker.

Rafa Benitez has done a remarkable job at Newcastle, and has turned into a cult hero as a result. He’s done more with a shoestring budget than most managers in the EPL do with a bottomless purse. While he keeps complaining about the lack of transfers, he continues to plug away and tackle the job at hand. Newcastle was a 50/50 split last year in terms of being a relegation candidate, but even those who didn’t have them being relegated could predict they would finish 10th.  Brining in Solomon Rondon on loan should provide enough goals to not only keep them up, but finish in the top half again, although barely.

So long as Leicester hold on to Harry Maguire, Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy they will again finish in the top half. While the loss of Riyad Mahrez will be difficult to overcome, he did not really contribute much last season and the Foxes still had a respectable campaign. The Jonny Evans signing will pay huge dividends, as he was one of the few West Brom players who continued to show up week after week despite the ship slowly but surely sinking. James Maddison was highly coveted, but I don’t know what to make of the signing seeing as so many bigger clubs passed on him because of the price Norwich City wanted.

West Ham were once again busy in the transfer market, but this time I think they have the right manager to guide them. Slaven Bilic looked like a fish out of water with the purse strings loosened, and David Moyes proved to be an overhyped sack of potatoes. The Hammers still made some questionable signings, and the supporters are still as restless as ever, but considering the rest of the league, I don’t see how West Ham can finish in the bottom half.

Now things get interesting, as by process of elimination everyone should realize my top four predictions are upon us. With six clubs vying for four spots, who will come out victorious? Well, Chelsea won’t be one of them.

After the unceremonious sacking of Antonio Conte merely one year after winning the league, the Blues made a hasty appointment, which led to little activity in the transfer market. The typically busy Chelsea made only one significant signing, and it was simply because the player had worked with new Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri at Napoli. I will say it was a coup to snatch up Jorginho from fellow Premier Leauge rivals; it’s not enough to hang with the rest of the big boys.

I usually don’t let speculation influence my predictions, but I feel like the unsettledness of stars Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Willian make for a dangerous road to travel. You saw how much of a negative impact the non-sale of Alexis Sanchez had on Arsenal last year; imagine three of them. So even if Chelsea holds on to any combination of those three players, they will cause so much of a distraction that it will negatively impact the entire squad. And if they do sell any or all of the aforementioned players, it will be too late for Chelsea to bring in adequate replacements. So I’m not even slotting Chelsea into fifth place, I have them finishing sixth.

Another dropper will be Manchester United. Again, there is just too much unrest there. Jose Mourinho is flapping his gums, yet again, just when the team started clicking. Things will come to a head, and if United get off to a sluggish start, and Mourinho keeps running his mouth (if… right) expect Mourinho to once again be on the unemployment line. Yes, it’s a far drop from second to fifth, but there are just too many egos at Old Trafford, and I envision what happened to Chelsea last season to happen at United this season. Mutiny here we come.

It’s a changing of the guards at Arsenal, finally, with new manager Unai Emery taking the place of Arsene Wenger. Hopefully that settles some distractions at the Emirates, as the will he won’t he saga definitely took its toll the last two seasons. Emery has bolstered the defense, brought in a new keeper who will actually provide legitimate competition for Petr Cech, shored up the defensive midfield role and in season with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang the Gunners appear to have the out and out striker they’ve desperately needed since Thierry Henry left. I mentioned it in my roundup following the conclusion of the 2017/18 season, that Aubameyang will win the golden boot. And I’m sticking with that prediction.

But even with all the optimism swirling around the Emirates, injuries, a common issue with Arsenal the last several years, have already started to rear their ugly head, as starting left back Sead Kolasinac is out for around 10 weeks with a knee injury, and Nacho Monreal is not fully match fit with a knee injury of his own after rejoining the club from Spain’s World Cup campaign. Throw in Laurent Koscielny’s devastating Achilles injury at the end of last season and the uncertain status of Aaron Ramsey heading into the opener, and storm clouds are already on the horizon. I still have Arsenal clawing their way back into the top four with a fourth place finish.

It pains me to say it, but Tottenham will finish ahead of Arsenal again. Spurs was smart not to bring in any new players into a squad that was one of the best last season. They also didn’t sell any of their top players despite some of the big boys in Europe knocking on the door. I see another third place finish for Spurs, with the only wild card being how things will play out in their new stadium. White Hart Lane was a special place, and it can’t be recreated.

Now things get interesting. There are two serious contenders for the title this year; Manchester City and Liverpool. Even though City broke all sorts of records last year, I don’t think they peaked yet. While Liverpool continues to get better in pursuit of that elusive 19th top flight title.  I will keep the suspense building as I discuss each title contender in no particular order.

City is the bookies favorite, and rightfully so. With arguably the best manager in football right now, one of if not the most talented squads in football, and a seemingly endless supply of funds, City ran away with the title last year. I don’t see that happening this year, as the race will be much closer. In fact, there will actually be a title race heading in April.

The Riyad Mahrez signing doesn’t seem completely necessary to be honest. I feel like the money could’ve, and should have, been better spent elsewhere. I just can’t see how everyone will get enough playing time to be effective, or at least utilized to their full potential. And that will ultimately be City’s downfall in my opinion.

Liverpool changed their squad overnight by finally bringing in a capable goal keeper. So their woes appear to be over with the Allison signing. Was he their first choice? No. But he is a vast upgrade to Larius Karius and Simon Mignolet. Add in Xherdan Shaqiri for far below market value, and Naby Keita to one of the most exciting attacks in the EPL and you have what should be an unstoppable juggernaut. Jurgen Klopp found an adequate replacement for Emre Can in Fabinho from Monaco. But once again, center back is another glaring weakness for the reds. But City has the same issues at the back.

On paper I feel like both teams are relatively equal. Both are brilliant in the attacking third, questionable in the defensive third but now both with more than capable keepers as a last line of defense. I have Liverpool edging out City for the title by anywhere from 2-to-5 points. It won’t be comfortable for Liverpool as it will come down to the final two weeks of the season, potentially even the final match day.

 

 

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