Posts Tagged ‘Stoke’


After my rather successful predictions last year, I decided to do the obligatory English Premier League (EPL) predictions for the 2017/18 season. I will start out by saying this year will be more difficult to predict, as with all of the top teams playing in Europe, they will all have a somewhat equally rigorous schedule. The relegation fodder is also tougher this year, as the newly promoted clubs are better than last year’s and some of the clubs that have been in the top tier of English football for a handful of seasons now have gotten worse instead of better. Just like last like last year, every club’s first mention and where the meat of the prediction begins will be in bold to make it easier to find a particular area of interest.

I will start with the clubs I am tabbing for relegation. They are (in no particular order) Watford, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town. I am also throwing Brighton & Hove Albion, Swansea City and Burnley into the relegation mix too. I’m fairly confident both Watford and Palace will go down, but the final team I’m not completely sold on. I lean more towards Huddersfield because their squad is not as deep as Brighton’s, and they haven’t done much in the transfer window to secure their place. But on the other hand, Brighton’s manager is Chris Hughton, who was at the helm of Norwich City for the bulk of the season when they were relegated back in 2014. While I don’t completely trust him to steer a club out of relegation zone, he has proven himself by leading a team to automatic promotion to the top flight.

Palace has been in turmoil for some time now. After a strong showing in 2014/15 they’ve been on the downturn for the past few seasons. Sacking Alan Pardew last season was a decision made easier by his poorer and poorer performances heading into Christmas. Sam Allardyce took over, and he saved the sinking ship, at least for the time being, as Big Sam once again pulled off the impossible by guiding yet another team out of relegation. But it wasn’t all good news for Palace as Big Sam opted for quasi retirement rather than continue on as manager.

Palace hasn’t brought in anyone of note during the summer transfer window. Chelsea youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek was taken on loan, but they will still struggle to score goals while at the same time being picked apart at the back. New manager Frank de Boer, who had been looking for a job at a top club in one of the big four leagues in Europe, and had been linked with several desirable openings, eventually took the job at Inter Milan for the 2016/17 season, but wound up getting sacked only a few months into the season. He then found his way to Palace, and while he seemed to learn from some of his mistakes during his short tenure at Inter, like bringing in high price signings, he seems to be falling into another trapping; bringing in your players. The first time Premier League manager signed the versatile former Ajax man Jairo Riedewald, who de Boer had during his spell as Ajax manager (which also ended unceremoniously).  Unless Palace brings in another goal scorer and a better first choice keeper (they lost Steve Mandanda who was brought in last year to shore up the position) Palace is in for a rough go of it.

Watford has been in downward spiral for while now. They were the darlings of the Premier League in 2015/16, but the annual managerial changes have done nothing to stabilize the club. Last year was as close to disaster as possible, and it was rumored long time captain Troy Deeney wanted to leave the club. If playing for a new manager every season wasn’t enough, the Watford board decided to bring in Marco Silvo, who, while doing an admirable job at Hull City last year, couldn’t keep them up. So a club that narrowly avoided relegation last year, thought bringing in a new manager who managed a club that was relegated last year was a good idea. Watford has been active in the transfer window, but that is not always a good thing. Watford’s major problem seems to be change; too much of it. They tend to bring in loads of new players in the summer, which can upset even the best of teams. But to a team like Watford it can spell disaster.

If you remember I had Swansea City in the relegation mix last year, but I didn’t pick them as one of the three clubs going down. While I feel Swansea is in for another bottom half of the table finish, manager Paul Clement had them heading in the right direction last year after taking over from Bob Bradley. But if the Swans wind up selling Gylfi Sigurdsson, which is a strong possibility, they’re in real trouble. Swansea is not exactly an ideal spot for many players, and they’ve had a hard time luring players to join the club in recent years. Their precarious position in the Premier League only further hinders that task.

Along with Swansea, the bottom half of the table will be rounded out by (in no particular order) Burnley, Leicester City, Newcastle United, West Ham United and Stoke City. I already touched on Brighton, but I see them narrowly avoiding relegation and finishing in 17th. After a good run of form in the first half, Burnley fell on tough times in the second half, slowly falling down the table to finish in 16th, level on points with Watford in 17th. Burnley sold their best attacking threat, to fellow relegation fodder Watford no-less, and they didn’t bring in the right players to help them climb the table, instead opting for aging Stoke castoffs. Given that I also have Stoke in the bottom half doesn’t bode well for Burnley.

Stoke was another team that started out well but slid down the table in the second half. With the departure of Marko Arnautovic, one of their better players, the ship is not heading in the right direction. The Potters did get rid of a lot of aging players, and those who were surplus to requirements, freeing up wage money. But they haven’t really spent any of it. At least not on anyone who can be a difference maker, or at the very least someone who can compliment Xherdan Shaqiri, who I can see asking for a transfer just like Arnautovic.

Without Champions League commitments Leicester can focus solely on the league. It will benefit them, but not enough. They should be safe for another season, but they will finish towards the bottom of the table. They brought in the right type of players, in the right positions, but it won’t be enough to be anywhere near mid table let alone the top half.

West Ham made a splash in the transfer market with the signing of Javier Hernandez, but even Chicharito can’t solve West Ham’s problems. Bringing in Joe Hart was an odd move, as I think Darren Randolph was a much better option as a backup keeper. Hart won’t provide any competition for Adrian, so don’t expect a rise in his performance, and he won’t push Adrian out of the starting spot either, so it’s pretty much a waste of wages. I don’t see West Ham finishing terribly low, but they won’t crack the top half.

Newly promoted Newcastle should have enough to stay up and avoid going straight back down to the Championship. Rafa Benitez stayed on as manager despite the Magpies being relegated, which spoke volumes to his team. They all bought in for the 2016/17 season, and they impressively won the Championship to earn automatic promotion. I don’t see Newcastle being a yoyo club. Yes, they won’t have some important pieces like Florian Thauvin, Yoan Gouffran and Matz Sels, but they brought in enough to make due. Newcastle supporters are a fickle and demanding bunch, but after being relegated in embarrassing fashion in the 2015/16 season, managing to stay up this year should be viewed as an accomplishment worth celebrating. My only concern with Newcastle is if they will have enough goals in them.

So through process of elimination you should already have an idea of who I think will finish in the top half. Southampton, Bournemouth, West Bromwich Albion, Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea (in no particular order) fill out the table in the top half.  I will cut things down further by saying Southampton, Bournemouth and West Brom will finish outside the European places.

To be honest, the team that finishes in 10th was tough to pick. It was a tossup between Bournemouth and Southampton. Every year I don’t know what to make of Southampton. And this year is no different. The club that is known for being a feeder program for the big boys of European football, has surprisingly not sold many of their players heading into the 2017/18 campaign. But they also haven’t brought in anyone of note. A new manager for the second consecutive season will also hamper them. But Southampton always finds a way to finish closer to the top half than the bottom half. So with that I have them in the top half, but only barely.

While Bournemouth made a lot of good signings in the summer, I can’t see them improving on the success of last year where they finished in 9th. Not that last year was a fluke, it’s more to do with teams around them getting better. Bournemouth shouldn’t have snuck up on anyone last year, but they did. I can’t see that happening again this season.

Just like I can’t see Tony Pulis letting his West Brom side becoming complacent again like they were last year after hitting that magic 37 point number to assure themselves safety in top flight. West Brom was surprisingly active during the transfer windows last year, bringing in somewhat high profile players like Nacer Chadli. And Pulis had another Ace up his sleeve this year, bringing in England International Jay Rodriguez from Southampton. New signings aside, West Brom did not lose too many key players. Darren Fletcher’s absences will be sorely missed from a leadership perspective, but Jay Rodriguez should fill those shoes nicely. If Salomon Rondon can improve upon last year’s performance, and Euro 2016 hero Hal Robson-Kanu can provide any of the spark he did for Wales in the Euros, West Brom could surprise many by finishing convincingly in the top half.

That is my out on a limb pick. It seems every year there is one surprise club. One team that overachieves to open everyone’s eyes. A few years ago it was Leicester City, last year it was Bournemouth. This year I think it will be West Brom.

I don’t see West Brom challenging for a European place, but Everton surely will. Everton was the busiest club in the transfer market, signing 12 players. And it wasn’t just depth signings, they were marquee ones. Jordan Pickford should shore up the goalkeeping position, Davy Klaasen has been a fixture in Ajax’s starting XI so long it would surprise most that he’s only 24 years old, and while bringing back home grown legend Wayne Rooney won’t fill Romelu Lukaku’s boots, it will go a long way to providing leadership to a team that seemed to lack confidence and direction the last couple years.

Expectations will be high for Everton, and that may negatively affect them. But Ronald Koeman is back for another year, and he had them playing much better. So it stands to reason that another year under Koeman, combined with the spending spree at Goodison Park, will at the very least see a repeat performance of last year where they earned a spot in Europe.

Now comes what most people are interested in; the big boys of the EPL. So where exactly do I see Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur finishing? It may surprise you.

Liverpool are in serious trouble heading into the 2017/18 season. They’re still in need of a quality center back, and Jurgen Klopp did not address that area in the transfer window (as of posting this before the close of the window), and better options at outside back would also be beneficial. Signing yet another attacking option show where Klopp’s priorities lie. Considering that Liverpool’s schedule may become tougher with the added Champions League commitments should they qualify for the group stage; their league play may suffer further. I predict a 6th place finish for Liverpool, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Klopp gets the sack at the end of the year if not sooner.

For yet another season there will be turmoil at the Emirates. Manager Arsene Wenger was brought back on another contract extension, this time a two year salvage job to get the Gunners back into the top four. And that task will be harder than ever given the fact that Arsenal has to contend with the rigors of the playing in the dreaded Europa League. Wenger has already started his typical excuses by saying he doesn’t like the format of the Europa League and will likely rotate his squad for those games to rest his regular starting XI. Their domestic schedule is also very tough to start the year.

Star man Alexis Sanchez wants out, but Wenger has put his foot down saying he won’t sell him. Mesut Ozil (along with many other key pieces who haven’t renewed) is also out of contract at the end of the year like Sanchez, and how much those contracts running out with be a distraction is anyone’s guess.

Arsenal did finally break open the check book to sign Alexandre Lacazette, something that was two years in the making. And they brought in outside back Sead Kolasinac on free transfer from Schalke, where he was either brilliant or pitiful. In other words; the typical Wenger signing. But that won’t be enough to contend for the title let alone a spot in the top four, especially since Wenger didn’t clear the books of dead weight like Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Debuchy, Carl Jenkinson, Lucas Perez, Francis Coquelin or Chuba Akpom. He also didn’t make the more debatable moves of getting rid of players like Theo Walcott, Mohammed Elneny, David Ospina, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Laurent Koscielny or Olivier Giroud.

I see a 5th place finish for Arsenal, and the return of Wenger, or should I say Kroenke’s Kroney, for the 2018/19 season. Though I could easily see Liverpool and Arsenal swapping places.

Manchester United will be better in Jose Mourinho’s second year at the helm. His system is in place, he’s brought in more players to his liking, and most importantly; he didn’t sell David de Gea. The addition of Romelu Lukaku will get all the attention, and rightfully so. But don’t overlook the signing of Nemaja Matic. He was great at Chelsea, and more importantly, he was great at Chelsea under Mourinho. I envision a 4th place finish for United. I don’t see them having enough to surpass Tottenham, Manchester City or Chelesea.

Everyone seems to be high on Tottenham. But I find it worrisome that they didn’t sign anyone in the summer. The bigger problem though is not just the loss of Kyle Walker, but losing him to a serious rival. As it stands now Kieran Trippier will likely be Walker’s replacement, and while Trippier is a decent player, he won’t be able to fill the void left by Walker. And that is before the injury he suffered in Spurs final tune up game. As it stands it appears Michael Dier will be played out of position at right back to start the season.

Another area of concern for Tottenham is playing their home games at Wembley Stadium while their new ground is being completed next door to where White Hart Lane once stood. We all saw how playing in a new stadium negatively effected West Ham last year, and that is before even mentioning Spurs’ poor record at Wembley. Spurs will be good, but not good enough to get over that final hurdle and win the league. I see a 3rd place finish.

Last year I successfully predicted that Chelsea would win the league, and despite the sharp criticism I stood by that choice. This year I don’t see Chelsea having the same success. They already had a replacement for Nemanja Matic before they sold him, and they improved their back line with the signing of Antonio Rudiger. New signing Alvaro Morata, a possible replacement for Diego Costa should he leave in January, has not set the world on fire right out of the gate like so many people demand these days of high profile signings. He may still pan out, but right now he is not meshing within the team and his work rate leaves a lot to be desired.

The biggest reason I picked Chelsea to win the league last year was because that did not have any European commitments to contend with, so they could focus solely on the league. This year they will be in the Champions League, and you know they want to win it. That added schedule will have a negative impact on them, which will have Chelsea finish in 2nd place.

With all that said, I predict Manchester City will win the league. They brought in the typical City signings; high priced and talented. They dipped their bucket into the eager to sell Monaco well and came out with two outstanding players in Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy. Not only do those additions add depth at position where they already have one of the best in the world, it also adds strength to a position they were in desperate need of. And that is before mentioning the signings of right backs Danilo and Kyle Walker, another position City were in desperate need to improve.

Since City improved their one area of weakness, and cleared a ton of dead weight off their books (not that City needs extra funds) there should be nothing stopping them. If that wasn’t scary enough for the rest of the league, City’s schedule is fairly easy; especially at both the beginning and end, with ridiculously easy months sprinkled in the middle.

 

 

 


So looks like most of my predictions for the 2016/17 English Premier League season were spot on. And no, I didn’t edit, alter, change, tweak or update that blog post at any point. Figured I do an end of year wrap up after the FA Cup final, which officially concluded the season despite almost everything being decided entering Championship Sunday.

I picked the champion, Chelsea. I picked 2/3 of the relegated clubs; Sunderland and Hull City. I picked half the top four spots correct. Arsenal really threw a wrench into my predictions, as I’m sure they did many others as well. I didn’t have them winning the league or even finishing second like they did last year, but I did have them winning their annual fourth place trophy. Where things kind of went off the rails is the rest, especially the top half.

Bournemouth and West Brom overachieving combined with Stoke and West Ham underachieving, and the obvious failure of Middlesbrough to avoid going straight back down to the Championship made a mess of my top and bottom half predictions. I tabbed Burnley for relegation, but they somehow managed to be in the top half of the table for a decent amount of time until late in the season when they likely suffered from the 40 point daze, much like West Brom did. I don’t think anybody expected West Brom to finish as high as they did. And they might have finished higher and even earned a place in Europe had they not seemingly fell into that 40 point daze.

I did alright with Everton, Crystal Palace, Swansea City and Watford. They all finished in their respective halves as I predicted. I threw Palace and Swansea into the relegation mix, but their mid season managerial changes proved vital as Big Sam steered yet another club out of relegation and Swansea turned it on late under Paul Clement to avoid the drop.

I didn’t expect Watford to finish as low as they did; 17th, but with the calamity their season turned into after Christmas it really shouldn’t be that surprising. It will likely be more of the same next year, as they will change managers, yet again. And there will likely be a revolving door of players as well. I had them as a dark horse to finish in the top half based on their capability as a squad, but ultimately it was the completely unnecessary managerial change for this season that did them in.

Turns out I nailed Chelsea. Antonio Conte made a major difference, and combined with their light schedule compared to the rest of the title contenders, made their title aspirations a reality. I picked Manchester United for a top four finish, but their inconsistency spoiled that. When their focus shifted to winning the Europa League in order to guarantee a Champions League spot I knew that pick was in trouble.  Tottenham over performed a bit in my book. Well, I didn’t expect them to be able to maintain the same level of success as last year solely based on how the other big clubs improved their squads. Not so much that they would play worse in any way, just that the competition would surpass them even more.

Now I guess it’s time for me to make some extremely early predictions for next season. So here goes, based on hardly anything seeing as transfers haven’t even really started yet and there could still be managerial changes. I expect Chelsea to win the league again next year. I doubt much will change with their squad despite the persistent rumors of Diego Costa leaving for China. The rest of the top four will remain mostly the same, with the one change being Manchester United jumping in and Liverpool falling out. Unless Liverpool seriously address their problems at the back they won’t be able to skate by relying on Arsenal and United not being there. The one wild card that nobody can predict is how not being at White Hart Lane will affect Tottenham. Will being in a somewhat new stadium have a negative impact like it clearly did with West Ham this year?

I predict Arsenal will finish outside the top four again. Whether that is fifth or even lower remains to be seen. Nothing will change for the positive at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger will almost assuredly be back at the expense of winning anything significant. The Gunners will lose their two best players in the summer in Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, if not more as rumors swirl around Oliver Giroud, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Hector Bellerin leaving as well. Being in the Europa League next year instead of Champions League will have a negative impact on signings for Arsenal too, further worsening a squad that is already questionable.

West Brom is my dark horse to challenge for a European place. I doubt they will nab it away from Everton, who seem to be back on track under Ronald Koeman. But every prediction has to have a dark horse. I do see the Baggies building on this year’s success though. Southampton, West Ham and Stoke will round out the top half.

Leicester will be on the fringe of the top half and bottom half. Nothing will surprise me with them other than finishing in a European place. I see them losing some of their better players, like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy during the summer, which will hurt them. But it won’t be quite the roller coaster year next year for the Foxes. Burnley just doesn’t have the budget to do anything but further consolidate their place, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are battling to avoid relegation. Bournemouth might lose their manager, and I just don’t see them finishing any higher than they did this year. I don’t see them being relegated, but it’s not a desirable destination for top talent, aside from the obvious fact that they wouldn’t be able to afford them anyway.

Newcastle should be able to avoid the drop back down. Rafa Benitez seems to have righted the ship, and they blazed through the Championship to immediately bounce back up to the Premiership after being relegated in 2015/16. Palace should be safe for another season, and if they bring in more attacking power, which I know is not Big Sam’s forte, I would feel more comfortable with their place in the league. Swansea played like a different team under Paul Clement, and if they keep that up and manage to hold on to Gylfi Sigurdsson, along with getting one more clinical finisher they’ll be safe again.

In these early stages I’m tabbing Watford, Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town for relegation. Huddersfield Town will likely be a repeat performance of Middlesbrough this season; a team who struggles to score and gets badly exposed defensively when going forward. Somehow Huddersfield managed to get promoted from the Championship despite a negative goal difference. And unless there is a sudden influx of cash, they won’t be able to bring in enough players of the quality needed to be competitive in the top flight.

Brighton will likely be in the same boat as Huddersfield. Though I see them having an easier time of it. Let’s not forget that their manager, Chris Hughton, led Norwich City to relegation back in 2013/14. Unless something drastic changes at Watford, they’re in major trouble. There seemed to be a mutiny taking place in the later stages of the season. Walter Mazzarri is gone, but whoever they bring in will likely change the system for the umpteenth time and not bring any stability. The club is on their eighth manager since the Pozzo family bought the club in 2012, who run it more like a corporation than a sporting club. Players brought in won’t fit the system and if they lose players like Troy Deeney, the heart and soul of the club, they’re in even bigger trouble.

 


As promised here are my updated Premier League predictions post deadline day; there are none. I am sticking with my original predictions, which can be viewed here. Again, I have not altered those predictions, and never will regardless of how foolish they may pan out to be. I welcome comments, critiques, discussion and screen shots to prove how big a fool (or genius) I am.

The only change I mulled over was putting Manchester United ahead of Arsenal, so United would finish third and Arsenal fourth. Both teams had favorable draws for their respective European competitions, with maybe United getting a more strenuous road facing two tough opponents as opposed to Arsenal’s one. But with that accounted for, and even after Arsenal finally bought a striker (which of course wasn’t the caliber of striker they needed) and shored up their back line with the much needed purchase of Shkodran Mustafi from Valencia, I still don’t see the Gunners being able to challenge for the title. But their streak of top four finishes is safe for another year. And even though United have gotten out to about as perfect a start as their fans dreamed of, I don’t see them being able to keep that pace for the entire season. I see Zlatan and Mourinho derailing things by running their mouths. The second Zlatan doesn’t get the ball enough or Paul Pogba steals the spotlight from him he will go into one of his infamous tirades. Mourinho again will rock the boat too much. Just too many cooks in the kitchen at United and countless distractions can arise from it.

But I’d rather just stick with my first choices and stand behind them, rather than alter things and have egg on my face if original predictions pan out. There just wasn’t enough evidence that convinced me to change things. Nobody made a big enough splash on deadline day to make themselves move up the table in my mind. All anyone did was consolidate their place.

So to wrap up again, here are my relegation picks: Hull City, Burnley and Sunderland.

Top 4 (in order): Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United.

European places (in order, 5-7, accounts for potential domestic cup winner scenarios & other qualifying means. I know typically only 1 English club qualifies for Europa League by league position): Tottenham, Liverpool, West Ham

Top Half (in no order) = Stoke City, Everton, Leicester City,

Bottom Half (in no order) = Southampton, Watford, Middlesbrough, West Brom, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Swansea

 


Let me start off by saying I am far from a pundit, and yes, I’m American, so get over the fact I’m not calling it football or calling it a pitch. But despite those perceived handicaps I still feel inclined to do the obligatory predictions for the upcoming English Premier League season. I’m far from a casual fan, but I don’t live and die with a single club. Though I do have a favorite club (which I will reveal at the end of this piece to avoid readers thinking I have any bias) and there are clubs I despise. I will try to touch on every club, so forgive the length. If you don’t want to read the whole thing I am going to put each of my headers (relegation, top 4, bottom/top half) and each club in bold to make it easier to find.

I am posting this on the eve of the 2016/17 season and will also do an update (new, separate post) after the transfer window shuts. Yes, that can be viewed as cheating, but I am not going to be altering my pre-season predictions, the post will remain here unchanged despite how wrong and foolish they may pan out to be. I doubt much will change after the handful of games are played between this weekend and August 31, but there could still be some big moves between now and deadline day that could alter the table slightly. Who knows, maybe Arsenal will buy a striker.

Before I delve into my predictions, I want to begin with the astonishing number of managerial changes heading into the 2016/17 campaign. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Several high profile managers taking new jobs at some of the big clubs and just the sheer amount of managerial changes in total. Manchester City (Pep Guardiola), Manchester United (Jose Mourinho), Chelsea (Antonio Conte), Everton (Ronald Koeman), Southampton (Claude Puel), Watford (Walter Mazzarri), Sunderland (David Moyes) and even newly promoted Hull City (no permanent appointment) all have new managers.

Steve Bruce at Hull basically took his ball and went home after not getting the England National Team job, which went to Sam Allardyce, forcing Sunderland into a managerial change a few weeks before the season kicked off. Sunderland’s new hire is the aforementioned Moyes, and we all know what happened during his brief tenure as Manchester United boss. Those two stunningly late managerial changes lead me into my relegation candidates.

I am tabbing Sunderland, Hull and Burnley for relegation. I’m also throwing Crystal Palace and Swansea City into the relegation battle as well, as I wouldn’t be surprised if either of those two clubs go down. Sunderland was always facing a tough test to avoid relegation even with Big Sam still at the helm, but with such a late managerial change it leaves their task that much harder. It seems Sunderland are always at the bottom and narrowly stave off relegation in the final week of the season. Same goes for Hull. Both outgoing managers (Allardyce and Bruce) are relegation tested and could’ve help steer their respective clubs out of relegation. Without them both clubs are in dire straits. Their new managers have very little time to get to know their respective squads, and it makes their task of working in the limited time they have in this transfer window even tougher. Hull doesn’t even have a proper hire yet, they’re relying on Mike Phelan, who at least has experience being a caretaker manager.

The odd transfer dealings of Swansea put me in a real bind as to whether or not to include them in the three relegation spots, but I don’t see Burnley (or either of the other two clubs I picked) having the squad or budget to be competitive enough to earn enough points to avoid the drop. Which leads me into my picks for bottom half of the table.

As aforementioned, Swansea and Palace are included. I see both of them narrowly finishing above the relegation zone in 17th and 16th respectively. Along with Swansea and Palace in the bottom of the table will be Bournemouth, Watford, West Brom, Middlesbrough and Southampton. I feel like Middlesbrough has done enough in the transfer window to shore up their squad to avoid relegation in their first season back in the top flight in seven years. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I don’t think Southampton has done enough to finish in the top half. I’m aware many people are picking Southampton to finish higher than I am, but they’ve sold off too many players and haven’t replaced them with any Premier League caliber players. I know Southampton notoriously sell off their bigger names/higher priced players and rely on within to replenish their squad, but based on how poorly they did last season with the likes of Graziano Pelle, Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Gaston Ramirez, I can’t see them mounting a serious charge towards the top half. Especially since most of those guys were sold to other Premier League clubs. Combine all that with a new manager and things seem even bleeker.

Palace had an abysmal second half of the season in 2015/16. And blowing the FA Cup final in the closing minutes won’t help their confidence. After a great start to the 2015/16 campaign, where they were contending for a place in the top four, they only managed to get nine points after Christmas and plunged down the table. If it wasn’t for their great start they likely would’ve been relegated. Their offseason has been busy, but not busy enough. They brought in a new goalkeeper and attacking threat in Andros Townsend, but that is not enough to improve their scoring troubles and shaky defense. Plus if the rumors are true and they sell Yannick Bolasie to Everton their goal scoring options will be even thinner. The Bolasie rumors aren’t influencing my pick, it will just further solidify it.

Bournemouth avoided the drop in their first ever season in the top flight. They should be safe for another year. Yes, they foolishly sold Matt Richie, but they brought in several players who should make enough contributions to help the Cherries stay in the top flight. Watford may be a dark horse for this season, at least in my book. But since they’re run more like a corporate conglomerate than a proper football club, I find it hard to trust that they will bring in the right players. And I feel it’s only a matter of time before they sell Troy Deeney and/or Odion Ighalo. West Brom will be the same West Brom. Under Tony Pulis they’ve made strides, and the work ethic is there, but the budget simply isn’t in order to be able to compete with the big boys. Look for the Baggies to steal points away from them though… cough… Arsenal… cough.

The top half of the table I don’t think will change much from last season. It will be Stoke City, Everton, West Ham, Tottenham, Liverpool and Leicester City. To be honest I had a serious debate between pushing Watford up into the top half and bumping Everton down. But after Everton’s dealings in the transfer window and the departure of Roberto Martinez I feel confident enough in the Toffees to have them back in the top half after a terrible 2015/16. The John Stones saga is finally over and Everton really couldn’t have brought in a better replacement than Ashley Williams. What Swansea were thinking is beyond me; selling your captain, fan favorite and new Welsh hero after the run Wales went on in the Euros is absurd.

Leicester won’t challenge for the title after an unbelievable season last year where they won the title against all odds, but they also won’t have to worry about relegation. The only thing that might derail Leicester’s league campaign would be their Champions League commitments. Not only may the added games be a problem, they’re high profile games against highly competitive teams, which may be a distraction. Leicester lost a key player in N’golo Kante, but they brought in a suitable replacement for him in Namplays Mendy. Locking up Jamie Vardy is huge accomplishment, and on top of that they bolstered their attacking options by bringing in Ahmed Musa. They also added a great number 2 keeper after signing German international Ron-Robert Zieler. Zieler should only make Kasper Schmeichel better, and if he happens to hit a rough patch Zieler can step right in as on most other clubs he is a No. 1 keeper.

Many people are picking Stoke as their dark horse to challenge for a European place. I’m not in that boat, but I’m not far away from grabbing its rails either. Stoke have a great team but I just can’t see them picking up enough points to finish ahead of West Ham or Tottenham to finish in fifth place. Joe Allen will help them greatly, but what Marko Arnautovic will show up? The childish, distractive trouble maker or excellent no nonsense finisher. West Ham is in the same boat as Stoke, but if they manage to qualify for the Europa League group stage it may prove to be too big of a schedule for them to handle. Expectations are high for West Ham as they move into a new stadium (London’s Olympic Stadium) after spending 112 years at the Boleyn Ground. Slaven Bilić brought in more firepower with the signing of Andre Ayew from Swansea and Algerian international Sofiane Feghouli, and you can’t forget Dimitri Payet, who is deadly on set pieces.

I predict Liverpool will finish in sixth place with Tottenham finishing fifth. I still think Liverpool’s defense is too shaky, and Jurgen Klopp didn’t do enough to improve the back line. He needed to bring in a world class center back. So it will be more of the same for the Reds; beautiful football in the attacking third with mind boggling defensive mistakes leading to a high concession rate. If Tottenham can shake off their disappointing finish to the 2015/16 season they should be able to continue their run of success. Spurs collapsed under the pressure of the title chase at the end of the season to drop down to third place behind hated rivals Arsenal. I do think the only reason Spurs finished third was because the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United had awful seasons. But at the same time I don’t think that high of a finish for them was a fluke either. They’re a talented team with young stars who will only get better, and Mauricio Pochettino brought in another striker in Vincent Janssen from Dutch side AZ Alkmaar to help Harry Kane, so he won’t have to carry the entire load anymore. The Janssen signing should really please Spurs fans as they snatched him away from Arsenal, who were also vying for his signature. The addition of Victor Wanyama shores up the midfield, and just like with Kane, this move takes some of the pressure off Eric Dier.

The top four will be familiar faces, with nobody crashing the party like Leicester did last season. In no particular order: Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United. It will be the same old Arsenal; loads of injuries to deal with, Arsene Wenger not spending money (especially not in the right places) and a frustratingly close title chase that sees them not lifting the trophy for the 13th straight season. Per Mertesacker & Gabriel are both ruled out for several months with injuries, so Arsenal is already off to a great start. Arsenal’s injury crisis could prove disastrous. Inexperienced new signing Rob Holding, who was bought from Bolton this summer may be thrust into a starting role for the Gunners. For those who aren’t aware, Bolton were so great last season they were relegated from the Championship down to League 1, the third tier of English football. And on the way to that relegation Bolton conceded a staggering 81 goals, the most in the Championship, on their way to a dead last finish with 30 points. Those 81 goals against were one of the highest in all of League football. And it was only surpassed by five lower league clubs, five. Do you really want someone who was part of that back line starting for your Premier League club? Well if you’re Arsene Wenger the answer is likely yes.

Arsenal lost a lot of dead weight in Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini. But yet again Wenger did very little in the transfer window, only brining in Granit Xhaka; another midfielder Arsenal doesn’t really need, especially when there are more pressing needs. People also seem to forget about Jack Wilshere, but rightly so because he is so often injured seeing him in an Arsenal shirt is a rare sight. But if fit Wilshere adds a dynamic option in the middle. Only problem is it’s an already crowded midfield. And guess what? Wilshere is carrying yet another injury heading into the 2016/17 season. Last but not least, Arsenal is still lacking the world class striker that has been desperately needed for a few years now. Without one Arsenal will not win the league, and I predict they will finish third.

Manchester United made big splashes in the transfer window, brining back Paul Pogba for a record fee, adding Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund and promising young center back Eric Bailly. But the biggest difference maker may be manager Jose Mourinho; a polarizing manager who will either get the best out of his squad or drive them to mutiny. You saw the later at Chelsea, and you’re already seeing the early stages of it at United before the season even kicks off with Mourinho’s treatment of well respected veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger, who he is forcing to train with the U-21 youth team, as well as Juan Mata, who he has pretty much frozen out. The X factor is definitely Mourinho, and even with all the additions United have made, I don’t see them contending for the title. I see them battling it out for fourth place, with Spurs and possibly even Liverpool nipping at their heels. Manchester United just has a bunch of pieces, great pieces yes, but pieces that don’t really fit the team puzzle.

Here is where many people will be surprised. I am picking Chelsea to win the league. I’m probably the only person to pick them, and I may very well be wrong come May. But it comes down to the fact they don’t have European football to worry about. I thought long and hard about it, it was pretty much a coin toss between Manchester City and Chelsea, but Chelsea gets the nod because they have far fewer commitments and can pretty much focus on the league. Players will listen to and respect Conte, at least more than they did Mourinho. You saw glimpses of the Chelsea that won the league in 2014/15 after Guus Hiddink took over. I’m a firm believer Chelsea quit on Mourinho. Mourinho lost the dressing room and respect of his players. Their tolerance of his antics and behavior finally gave out. They didn’t bring in many players, but the few they did are the right players. Conte is also likely not done with his shopping list either. On top of that no key players left. If Diego Costa leaves I actually think it will make them better because they won’t have that loose cannon to worry about anymore.

Manchester City will be too aspirational under Guardiola and won’t be able to live up to the expectations. Yes, Guardiola has won everywhere he’s went, but he was also gifted some of the best teams and players on the planet, who needed little instruction and motivation to perform. After watching Man City last year I doubt Kevin de Bruyne will figure out the Premier League, and he will struggle again. So will Raheem Sterling. They didn’t bring in a strong enough replacement for Vincent Kompany, who I think all the injuries has finally caught up with and his career is on a downward tract because of it. If John Stones was demoted at Everton he won’t be able to step right in to City’s starting XI. Their back line as a whole is aging and vulnerable. Sergio Aguero may suffer from injuries again, and if he does I can’t see anyone filling his role.

Joe Hart is prone to bone headed blunders in goal, though they seem to be more frequent on the international stage than for his club. While Thibaut Courtois is not, he is one of the most reliable keepers in the world. The few players Guardiola did bring in won’t add much. Ilkay Gundogan will be derailed by yet another injury, which have plagued him his whole career. Leory Sane will need time to acclimate and Nolito is a wild card who may prove to be able to fill in for Aguero should he go down with another injury.

Both clubs have questionable back lines, Chelsea more so than City. But I feel that you can get buy in the Premier League without a great defense so long as you have to players up top who can be a reliable source of goals week in and week out. And if there is anyone who can fix Chelsea’s defensive woes it is Italian mastermind Antonio Conte. We all saw what he did with Italy over the years, especially during this past Euro.

If the hints and jabs at them weren’t enough, I’m an Arsenal fan. To shed some light on why, as an American, I picked the Gunners; since European soccer was sparsely televised in the states going back to 2010, there were few options to get regular European soccer without going heading to a bar or splurging for a special cable package. But starting in 2010 the YES Network started airing Arsenal games and programming, so almost as a default I was forced into supporting Arsenal. But the more I watched the more I enjoyed watching Arsenal because of their style of play, so I stuck with them even after NBC Sports picked up the Premier League, airing every game, starting with the 2013/14 season. And as promised, I despise Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham. As for Manchester United, I know you’re suppose to hate United if you’re not a supporter, but I don’t hate them nor do I want to see them do well. So I’m somewhat in different towards United. Does it tear me up inside if United wins the league? No. But would I prefer someone else win it? If the answer is anyone other than Chelsea, City or Spurs; yes.