With the Premier League getting back underway on Saturday, TEAMtalk headed to the pub to discuss the likely successes and failures of the next 10 months….
Who will win the league?
James Marshment: Despite doing very little in the transfer market so far this summer, Chelsea still have the strongest squad and remain the team to beat. The sale of Petr Cech to Arsenal, however, makes them seriously stronger and I think they’ll provide the toughest challenge to their dominance.
Ian Watson: Chelsea. I don’t think any of the chasers have yet strengthened significantly enough to topple Jose Mourinho. Arsenal require a top-class forward, City and United still need plenty so the Blues remain favourites for now. There’s plenty of business to be done between now and September 1, though.
Matt Briggs: It’s commonplace to hear that this season will be the most competitive ever, but it really does look the case this time around. Chelsea have not made huge signings, but they are a settled side and in Eden Hazard have probably the best player in the league. I expect them to make a bold bid to defend their title and ultimately prevail.
Mark Holmes: I’m going to be the odd one out. It might not mean a lot, but Chelsea have been poor in pre-season, have concerns over the fitness of Diego Costa and haven’t improved their first team in the way that the others have. Manchester City have been written off by a lot of people, but they’re my tip as things stand.
And who, in order, will make up the rest of the top four?
James: Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United. I do, however, think United will close the gap on third (they finished five points adrift last season) and may even look like title contenders at one stage this season, before fading away.
Mark: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United. As things stand, Arsenal haven’t got a good enough striker to compete with City or Chelsea. United and Liverpool, meanwhile, have massively improved but will both no doubt go through a transitional spell while all the new signings gel.
Ian: Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City. Arsenal seem to have found a way to handle the big boys, but I still envisage them getting sloppy. There’s too much uncertainty around what United will look like come the end of the window, while I don’t see City making any progress under Pellegrini. The opposite, in fact.
Matt: Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool. Arsene Wenger has picked up a top-quality goalkeeper and Alexis Sanchez was the signing of last season so I think they will finish runners-up. United have spent big, but their central defensive area worries me and they might have to do worth third place. Liverpool have made some great signings too and I think there will be less than 10 points separating first to fourth, but Brendan Rodgers’ men will have to settle for fourth place.
What about fifth and sixth?
Mark: Liverpool and Tottenham. Even if Liverpool finish fifth, I don’t think they’ll finish too far behind the title winners. They’ve made some very sensible signings for once. It’s a boring selection, but I’ll go for Spurs to complete a predictable top six.
James: Liverpool have bought well, and while they still look some distance behind the top four, they do appear – on paper at least – considerably better than the rest. Sixth, I think, might cause more of a surprise and I have an inkling Newcastle, under Steve McClaren might have a hugely-improved season. Fire abuse my way.
Ian: Liverpool will make a decent push for the top four but with their spending seemingly done and their rivals yet to fully strengthen, they may have too far to go. Tottenham and Southampton will fight for sixth, and I fancy the Saints to take it.
Matt: Man City and Tottenham. City are another side whose centre-backs look fragile and although they have David Silva and Sergio Aguero, I don’t think those two will be able to compensate for a rearguard that looks weak.
Who will finish as this season’s ‘best of the rest’?
Matt: Southampton, under Ronald Koeman did brilliantly last season and I expect them to maintain their momentum this year. Koeman has lost players, but Saints have negated that before and Koeman will no doubt pull at least one rabbit out of the hat with the new arrivals.
Ian: Swansea will make a decent fist of improving on last season’s eighth-placed finish. Palace will also be sniffing around that area.
James: Yep, Swansea. I think Garry Monk did brilliantly last season and can build on that this term.
Mark: Southampton are bound to struggle as a result of playing in Europe so the likes of Swansea, Stoke, Crystal Palace and Newcastle will all have their eyes on seventh. But I can’t believe nobody else has mentioned Everton – they don’t finish outside of the top seven too often…
At the other end, who is going down?
James: Watford and Norwich look dead certs for me. And I think they might be joined by Leicester, who could rue the dismissal of Nigel Pearson.
Ian: Watford have made huge changes and Norwich have made very few. Both will go. Bournemouth look short still but the culture and direction Eddie Howe seems to have imposed upon the club gives them a fighting chance. As it stands, I think Leicester will drop, a few months after Claudio Ranieri gets the bullet around Christmas.
Matt: It’s hard to see how Norwich will survive after a summer of underwhelming recruiting and they look certs to go. Watford and Bournemouth will obviously also struggle, but I fancy one of them to survive at the expense of either Leicester or Sunderland.
Mark: I’m with Matt. It’d be a huge surprise if Norwich stayed up having spent so little, but one or both of the other two promoted clubs could survive. Watford in particular have made some excellent signings but, like Ian, I worry they’ve just made too many. I’ll get off the fence and go for Norwich, Leicester and, just, Bournemouth.
And who else is going to struggle?
Ian: I think Villa are in for a tough time. They’ve lost their two best players and bought a lot of unproven talent. A ropey start and things could unravel very quickly.
Matt: Aston Villa look up against it. Losing Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph might well mean the end of their stay in the Premier League. Tim Sherwood has got a big job on and Emmanuel Adebayor will not save them.
Mark: I actually think Villa will do OK. They’ll be a bit of a car crash at times, I expect, but they’ll also shock a few bigger teams playing the way Tim Sherwood likes. A team I expect to struggle, that nobody else seems to be mentioning, is West Ham. They’re in Europe (just about!), have a new manager, loads of new players and, as usual, high expectations. All of those things could work against them.
James: Bournemouth – simply because they’re new to the league – and Sunderland because, well, they’re Sunderland! I also think Spurs might endure an indifferent campaign and could finish as low as eighth this season.
Who will be top scorer?
James: If he stays fit, there’s no better finisher in the league than Sergio Aguero.
Ian: With Wayne Rooney actually set to be used as the centre-forward that he clearly is, he may well take it, especially if Van Gaal adds the creativity and speed he clearly wants.
Mark: Rooney for me too. With Memphis Depay and Pedro supplying the bullets he could be in for a great season.
Matt: Sergio Aguero is the short-priced favourite and if he can keep injury free then he will take all the beating. Diego Costa at Chelsea is also well fancied, but considering his injury problems he would be one to keep clear of, while Wayne Rooney looks destined for a big season, but he has been backed into a skinny 10/1. I’d be more tempted in taking the 16/1 on Christian Benteke tearing it up at Anfield in his first season at Liverpool.
Which manager will be sacked first?
Matt: The ‘Tinkerman’ looks vulnerable at Leicester. Claudio Ranieri has a big act to follow after the dismissal of Nigel Pearson. If you put Pearson’s wholly unpleasant side to one side, the results he picked up at the end of last season to keep Leicester up were miraculous. Brendan Rodgers is the early favourite, but I think he will survive the season regardless having being afforded the money he was in pre-season. Sunderland boss Dick Advocaat is also in danger of everything going pear shaped after he did his job last season and kept the Black Cats up.
James: Claudio Ranieri. Gary Lineker called it an ‘uninspiring appointment’ and I think he’s right. The loss of Esteban Cambiasso is also huge for the Foxes.
Ian: Claudio Ranieri will be a goner around Christmas but it depends if someone beats him to it. As I mentioned, I think Sherwood is in a spot of bother.
Mark: As mentioned, I think West Ham may struggle, which could put Slaven Bilic under a lot of pressure. Tony Pulis is a decent outside bet if West Brom get new owners, but I’ll go for Quique Sanchez Flores at Watford.
Of the players signed so far, which one will enjoy the most success?
Matt: Memphis Depay. He was secured by Manchester United Louis van Gaal before the end of last season and there’s a reason for that. He was one of United’s top targets and he has all the attributes – strength, pace, power and and eye for goal. He should hit the ground running in the top flight and could be in for a fantastic debut season.
Ian: Memphis Depay will be a success at United, as will Morgan Schneiderlin. James Milner is a steal, but I’ll say Christian Benteke will prove his doubters wrong by scoring 20-plus. Now I’m starting to doubt my prediction that Liverpool won’t make top four…
Mark: I think Depay will be overshadowed by Pedro if United get him, but I agree with Matt that Benteke will score an awful lot of goals for Liverpool.
James: Petr Cech is the obvious choice, but I really like the look of Georginio Wijnaldum at Newcastle. His signing is a real coup for Steve McClaren.
And which player is going to prove the biggest failure?
James: Much will be expected of Roberto Firmino and he may take a bit of time to settle into his new surroundings.
Mark: Firmino is definitely the obvious choice, but I think he’ll eventually come good. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve got an inkling Matteo Darmian might struggle at Manchester United.
Ian: I’m struggling to see a bright future for Fabian Delph at Manchester City, in much the same way he did.
Matt: Bastian Schweinsteiger has arrived on a huge financial package on a three-year contract at Manchester United, but have his legs gone? Pep Guardiola said the 30-year-old had not been fully fit for three years and on that basis I think Bastian might well be a a big disappointment this season.