The new season is almost here and as usual the four of us here at the Diamond Formation are going to make fools of ourselves by attempting to predict what will happen. If last seasons efforts are anything to go by this could go horribly wrong!
Premier League Champions: Chelsea. They may not have signed a superstar this summer but lets be honest they didn’t really need to. Last years champions had near enough the perfect team. The additions of Fabregas and Costa, aswell as the ever reliable back four of Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill and Ivanovic, was a recipe for success. As well as potentially one of the best defensive midfielders in world football right now in Matic they have a perfect balance to their team even if it has earned them that ‘boring’ reputation.
I don’t expect the title race to be as straight forward as last year with Arsenal, City and even United competing this time around but, for me the end result is the same and blue will remain the colour of the ribbons on that Premier League trophy come May.
Top 4 (in order):Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City. (It is worth mentioning that I am also predicting a Europa League win for Liverpool which will see them qualify for the Champions League.)
Relegated: Leicester, Bournemouth, Watford.
FA Cup winners: Liverpool. Four seasons in it really is now or never for Brendan Rodgers. He is yet to lift any silverware in his tenure as boss at Anfield and Boston based owners FSG will not allow another season like the last one. For the most part I think Liverpool have recruited well this summer especially the additions of Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne. Therefore, I suspect Liverpool will have a real go in all three cup competitions they find themselves in this season, and I expect if there is not at least one trophy in the cabinet come May it will be cheerio to Mr Rodgers and maybe Guten Tag Jurgen?
League Cup winners: Manchester United. I predicted Louis Van Gaal’s men to win this competition last season and they let me down spectacularly being humilated 4-0 by MK Dons. However, I have not learned my lesson and predict this season they will win the League Cup. Van Gaal has finally realised Wayne Rooney is a centre forward not a centre midfielder and no longer can the word ‘transition’ be used as an excuse. Old Trafford is used to being spoilt with trophies but are in a bit of a barren spell so Van Gaal needs to win one this year. I have been impressed with the incomings this summer especially the acquisitions of Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian despite not really addressing the areas of concern they have. They are still in desperate need of a new centre back and are looking bare in terms of strikers since Falcao and Robin Van Persie have departed. This will ultimately cost them in terms of winning the league but the League Cup should be within their grasp.
Champions League winners: Barcelona. While my other three colleagues all predicted Real Madrid to retain club footballs biggest prize last season, I knew from the word go Barcelona had the better side. How anyone can argue with a front three of Neymar, Messi and Suarez is beyond the realms of sanity in my view and I was proven to be correct. Suarez having now had a season the Nou Camp under his belt will only get better, Neymar is finally coming of age and Lionel Messi is simply the greatest footballer to have graced our humble planet. With all this in mind I have no doubt only a natural disaster or alien abduction will prevent the Catalans retaining their position as Europe’s elite.
Manager of the season: Jose Mourinho. If either of Eddie Howe or Quique Flores manage to keep their respective promoted teams afloat in the Premier League then they should get this award. However, as I doubt this will happen I am rather predictably giving it to Mourinho, The Portuguese manager’s league finishes record at Porto, Chelsea (twice), Inter Milan and Real Madrid over the last decade are simply superb. I don’t think he gets the true recognition he deserves for a number of reasons. His style of football, his unorthodox media mind games and his perceived arrogance. Take these things away though and we wouldn’t have the winner that we do. Therefore, for me Mourinho gets the nod.
Player of the season: Nemanja Matic. When playing in a team with the likes of Terry, Willian, Fabregas, Costa and of course the undisputed best player in the Premier League Eden Hazard it is easy to overlook the defensive midfielder. Sitting quite happily in front of the back four and rarely venturing very far over the halfway line his job can be considered easy. Matic though has almost redefined the role and any Chelsea fan will tell you he is just as important to their side than Terry or Costa. This is why I am going for Matic as my player of the season. Last year he didn’t put a foot wrong in that Chelsea team and looks twice the man he was when he left Stamford Bridge in 2010.
Young player of the season: Roberto Firmino. Yes, i’m aware he is 23 so not technically ‘young’ however due to the PFA’s absurd age ruling about this award he would qualify for it. Firmino has been brought in on big money to Liverpool and even though Liverpool haven’t got the best track record when signing players for big money i’m confident this one will work out. Playing just behind the striker with fellow compatriot Coutinho he has the ability to not only create chances but also to score goals. His assist statistics in the Bundesliga are impressive and while the Premier League is a different kettle of fish his displays at the Copa America have me convinced he can be a big success on Mersyeside.
Surprise team of the season: West Ham. As a big fan of Mr Samuel Allardyce I would normally lam-bast any mid-table team for dismissing him. However, in this case despite initially having reservations about his sacking they have won me over this summer. Slaven Bilic is a more than competent replacement as we saw when his Croatia teams humiliated us in Euro 2008 qualfying. More than the manager though is the businesses they have done this summer. The arrivals of Payet, Obiang and Ogbonna are all very astute signings. Also, due to financial fair play they have qualified for the Europa League and given themselves a potential route to Champions League football for their debut season in the Olympic stadium next year. I fully expect them to finish in the top ten if not top seven and competing for those Europa League spots.
Promoted: Derby, Middlesbrough and Hull (Playoffs)
Premier League champions: Manchester City
If you would’ve asked me before the end of the transfer window i would’ve said Chelsea, but this year Pellegrini has added excellently to his squad. The acquisitions of Otamendi, Sterling and De Bruyne will all add to their starting line-up and give them even more strength in depth and options if things aren’t going there way. It will take Chelsea a lot to turn around their awful start to the campaign and it already feels like it’s Man City’s title to lose.
Top four (in order): Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United
Relegated: Bournemouth, Sunderland, Watford
FA Cup winners: Chelsea. Mourinho’s side may have to settle for the FA Cup as Man City have pole position to win the Premier League title. His side is full of quality and it’s only a matter of time before it comes good again. Mourinho will want to win a trophy this season and i’m sure his sights will be on the FA Cup.
League Cup winners: Swansea City. Gary Monk has done an excellent job since he took over at the Liberty Stadium and Swansea have had a good start to this campaign as well. Bringing in Andre Ayew on a free transfer from Marseille was an absolute steal as he has made an instant impact on English football. There’s no doubt Monk will want some silverware sooner or later and his side may fancy there chances in this competition this year.
Champions League Winners: Barcelona. It’s so hard to look past Barcelona to win the Champions League this season. The front three of Suarez, Neymar and Messi will only continue to get better and become even more formidable. As we said last year it would be a toss up between Madrid and Barcelona, but i believe Enriques side will retain the Champions League trophy.
Manager of the season: Alan Pardew. He has done an excellent job since he took over at Selhurst Park, securing Palace a mid table position last season and had an excellent start to the season this year. The fans love him, he loves the club and with that in the making it’s tough to look past them achieving success. Also the signing of Yohan Cabaye is an incredible signing for the club and they could gain a position in the Europa League.
Player of the season: David Silva. Manchester City have been playing excellent so far this season and David Silva seems to be involved in everything. His movement with and without the ball is incredible and he will create numerous opportunities for the Citizens attackers.
Young player of the season: Ross Barkley. After an injury hit season last year, i think Ross Barkley will come good and help Everton challenge for the Europa League. Barkley will want to have a good season to break into England’s starting line-up for this summer’s European Championships and he will only get better as the season goes on. We all know the attacking midfielder has bundles of talent and i think it’ll be this year he shows it.
Surprise team of the season: Crystal Palace. As i said in the explanation of Alan Pardew, it all seems to be going right for Palace this season. Selhurst Park is a fortress and they are solid away from home. Yohan Cabaye shows their ambitions of getting into Europe and if there’s a man to take them there it’s Alan Pardew. Everything looks good for them at the minute and a Europa League position wouldn’t surprise me.
Promoted: Middlesbrough, Derby and Hull.
Premier League champions:
Top four (in order):
Relegated: Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford. Nathan won’t like me for saying this but Norwich have done nothing to me that says they want to make a real go of it back in the Premier League. Alex Neil’s summer signings have hardly been inspired ones. Bournemouth, like Burnley last season, will be plucky and play good football under Eddie Howe picking up points against top half sides along the way, but will run out of steam and suffer from a lack of quality in the end. Finally, to complete my prediction of all three newly-promoted teams going straight back down, there are a lot of new faces at Watford (ten to be precise) and as we have seen on so many occasions in the past, that can often be a recipe for disaster. Add to that a new manager, with zero experience in English football and you’ve got a pretty dismal season for the Hornets.
FA Cup winners: Manchester City. When Manuel Pellegrini took charge at the Etihad, he was given the daunting task of delivering five trophies in as many years. He now enters his third year at City, and the Chilean already has a Premier League title and a League Cup to his name. This season, I think Pellegrini can add the FA Cup to that list. With Jose Mourinho focusing his attention on retaining his Premier League crown and aiming high in Europe, the door will be left wide open for City to get their hands on the trophy they won back in 2011.
League Cup winners: Arsenal. Now that the cobwebs have been well and truly cleared out of Arsenal’s trophy room with two FA Cup wins on the bounce, I believe that the old cliché “winning is a habit” can come true for this Arsenal side and the Gunners can win their third trophy in three years.
Champions League Winners:
Manager of the season:
Player of the season: Eden Hazard. Whilst I agree with Luke that Matić is a fantastic anchor man, I think its unlikely that the Player of the Season award would go to a defensive midfielder. For me, there were only two players I could have predicted would win the Player of the Season. The Sanchez/Hazard debate is one which has rocked the very foundations of The Diamond Formation. I was tempted to go for Sanchez based on how well he performed in his first season in English football but Hazard won it last year and if Mourinho can lead Chelsea to the title again, you could quite easily see the Belgian retaining the award.
Young player of the season: Raheem Sterling. First of all, a word on last season’s deserved winner, Harry Kane. Nobody in the world of football could have foreseen the astounding rise of the Hurrikane. It was an unprecedented achievement and it remains to be seen whether or not the Spurs frontman can recreate the kind of goal tally he managed in 2014/15. This season though, I think the award for the Young Player of the Season will go to a much more obvious candidate which is why I’ve gone for the current European Golden Boy, Raheem Sterling. This season is a huge opportunity for Sterling who wanted away so badly from Liverpool in order to further his career and chances of winning silverware. His ability is without question, its whether or not he has the mentality to make that next step up.
Surprise team of the season: Stoke City. The Tony Pulis reign of hoof and hope football seems a distant memory now. Mark Hughes has finally got the Potters playing some decent stuff and not just that, but in fact, there’s quite the little former Barcelona contingent forming at the Britannia now with the arrival of Ibrahim Afellay joining Marc Muniesa and Bojan. Speaking of Bojan, the return to the fold of diminutive Spaniard will make a huge difference to the side and it was such a shame to see him ruled out for the rest of the season in February with that horrible cruciate ligament injury just when it looked like the journeyman forward had found some form. I’m sure however that he will come back stronger and still only 24, there is definitely plenty more goals to come from him. A top ten finish is definitely a realistic target for Mark Hughes’ men and if they can match their ninth-place from last season, that would go down as another solid season of consolidation for the club.
Promoted: Burnley, Hull, Derby. I had hoped Burnley would stay up last season as I admire the job that Sean Dyche has done at the club. Whilst they eventually did fail to avoid the drop, I see no reason why the Clarets cannot bounce straight back up. Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier will be big losses to the club and its supporters but Jelle Vossen and Matthew Lowton have both arrived to replace them. I very much like Aitor Karanka at the Riverside but I think they will be pipped to promotion by Derby County come May. Its Paul Clement’s long-awaited first foray into management and I am predicting a very bright future indeed for the former Real Madrid coach. Its a tall order, but I think he has the quality to finally guide the Rams back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. As for Hull, their squad is simply too good for the Championship and having a manager with the experience of Steve Bruce still in charge will certainly stand them in good stead.
Premier League champions: Chelsea
Chelsea’s transfer business last summer enabled them to build a perfectly balanced squad that was simply too strong over a 38 game season to be denied the title last season. So much so that it’s very difficult to see that juggernaut being stopped for at least another season. Their title rivals may have made the biggest splashes in the transfer market (although Chelsea themselves have brought in Falcao and Asmir Begovic), but I get the feeling it’ll take even more transfer windows and even more heavy spending for anyone else to equal this current Chelsea squad.
Top four (in order): Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City
I may have said that Chelsea have the best and most complete squad in the league, but I’d also suggest that Manchester United have the strongest midfield – having now brought in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin. In fact, given the ridiculous number of options they have in that department, it’s now even more baffling that the defence and attack haven’t been reinforced to a similar extent. As it stands, they are set to be Chelsea’s closest challengers but will fall short because they don’t have the same level of balance as Chelsea – the latter’s defence in particular, is on another level.
In theory, having failed once again to defend their title, Manchester City should be due another title winning season. However, the balance of power in Manchester appears to have shifted back in favour of the red half in the last few months and, quite simply, one Raheem Sterling will not be enough for City to stay ahead of a rejuvenated United who have strengthened significantly.
Arsenal have also made giant strides and I can definitely see them challenging for the title this season, rather than battling for fourth place and fourth place only. Arsenal seemed to finally mature and become more streetwise in the bigger games last season and they’ve even managed to end their winless run against Mourinho’s Chelsea in the Community Shield.
Relegated: Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford
What a shocker. A die hard canary has tipped his own team for the drop. Just to warn you now, this is going to be impossible for me to explain without going into great depth and something of a structured rant. Therefore, if you have no interest in reading essays about Norwich City, I suggest you skip the next few paragraphs.
Quite simply, our defence is not good enough. Nowhere near good enough. We needed to treat getting in a new, top quality centre back as our top priority this summer and not only has it not happened, but we’ve barely been linked with any defensive players at all. That means that club captain Russell Martin will remain alongside Sebastien Bassong. Martin is not a centre back, he may think he is but he simply isn’t. This isn’t an opinion, this is a fact that every Norwich fan knows. You only have to look at the weekend’s friendly against Championship side Brentford to realise why we’re going to leak goals like a sieve. We still won the game but in the Premier League, Martin’s mistake which led to a goal would’ve resulted in points being dropped.
At the other end of the pitch, we have four strikers in our squad who haven’t had one successful Premier League season between them. Cameron Jerome was excellent last season but the jury’s still out on whether he’ll be able to score goals in the top flight regularly as his previous goal records at the likes of Birmingham, Stoke and Crystal Palace have been poor. Lewis Grabban has never played in the Premier League before and, even though he works hard for the team, isn’t as clinical in front of goal as you need to be at this level. Quite often, he needs a few chances to bury one. In the Premier League, you won’t have such luxury. Gary Hooper is probably the deadliest finisher we have but he managed only seven goals in the Premier League last time and we all know what happened (or didn’t happen) to Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
Here’s the typical scenario which I guarantee will play out in several Norwich games this season – Thanks to our strong midfield (the best area of our team), we’ll have the lion share of possession and create a fair few chances whilst keeping the opposition at arm’s length. However, we’ll fail to take our chances and a moment or two of inevitable sloppiness (such as in the Brentford friendly) and we’ll concede and lose a game we should’ve drawn or draw a game we should’ve won. It happened many times in our previous stint in the top flight and evidence suggests that we aren’t learning from it.
So, to summarise, we’ll be conceding far too many goals and there isn’t any evidence (currently) to suggest that we’ll be scoring many – we all know where that particular recipe takes you. The rest of our squad has plenty of Premier League experience and the few signings we have made have been good ones but as it stands, we haven’t done enough. Until we sign a Premier League quality centre back and a Premier League quality striker, I won’t be reconsidering this prediction.
However, I can see the other two promoted clubs having similar problems. Watford are the safest bet for relegation as they are also defensively vulnerable and their influx of rather random foreign players has been quite uninspiring. Whilst Bournemouth are a quirky side who have the potential to cause upsets, over a 38 game season their own lack of Premier League quality and experience will tell. This also means that the likes of Sunderland, Aston Villa and Leicester will get away with being very poor for yet another season.
FA Cup winners: Manchester United
With the squad that Louis Van Gaal has now assembled, I can’t see them having another trophyless season and of the two domestic cups, I think the FA Cup will be the most likely. Due to their return to the Champions League, it’s unlikely that they’ll be targeting the League Cup which takes place mostly before Christmas. If they were to get to the semi-finals and final at Wembley, they’d be perfectly suited to playing on that pitch with their aforementioned midfield.
League Cup winners: Southampton
Why not? We’re due another less than likely winner of a domestic cup and Southampton fit the bill of a good cup team. Whilst they’ll probably also be competing in the Europa League, I can’t see it being too much of a hindrance to them. Again they’ve lost key players this summer but again they appeared to have replaced them well and, even though they might not hit the heights of last season, I’d expect them to still be challenging the top ten in the league as well.
Champions League Winners: Barcelona
They are the best team in Europe right now and with a lack of eye catching signings made by their closest continental challengers, I can’t see the balance of power shifting and this time we should finally see retention of the Champions League. Although with the European specialist himself, Rafa Benitez, taking over the hot seat at Real Madrid, I’m also optimistic that our hopes and dreams of an El Clasico final will finally be realised.
Manager of the season: Mark Hughes
This is a slight spoiler as to what my thoughts are for what the surprise team will be but I believe that Mark Hughes is set to build upon the excellent job he’s done at Stoke so far. Stoke are by no means a one dimensional, physical outfit any more and their improvement in terms of technical ability has made them an even more daunting prospect for any team in the league to face. Much of that transformation is down to Hughes and the new types of players he’s introduced at the Britannia. The fact that they were linked to the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Yevhen Konoplyanka shows just how radical the transformation has been.
Player of the season: Alexis Sanchez
Well, what were you expecting me to say? He not only lit up the league last season with his own individual brilliance but he also seemed to have a positive impact on the whole team. He has single-handedly revitalised the Arsenal team and if they are to be serious contenders in the title race as many (myself included) expect, it’ll be mainly down to him.
Young player of the season: Memphis Depay
Even though I’ve barely seen this lad play, I can tell there’s something about him which will make him fit the Premier League like a glove. He won’t quite hit the heights that Sanchez reached in his debut season but I expect him to produce several moments of magic.
Surprise team of the season: Stoke City
Whilst Stoke may seem as if they’re anything but a surprise nowadays as we know that they’ll always be a solid outfit, I really do see them being one of the success stories of the season and making another step forward in terms of their league position. I think they are now genuine contenders for the Europa League places and I can see them pushing the likes of Everton, Tottenham and maybe even Liverpool all the way.
Promoted: Middlesbrough, Hull, Derby (Play Offs)
Middlesbrough would’ve been promoted last season, it’s just unfortunate for them they came up against Norwich at Wembley. Had they have faced any other team, I’m sure they’d have won. However, under Aitor Karanka they will remain miserly at the back and in the Championship there won’t be enough teams who have the quality to break them down and beat them often enough for them to not be at the top of the table. The return of Stewart Downing will also give them a much needed boost and eliminate the threat of a Wembley hangover. The only thing they might lack is goals, they scored far fewer than their promotion rivals last season and have lost the likes of Patrick Bamford and Jelle Vossen since. However, when you’re keeping so many clean sheets, you only need to score one or maybe two at most to win games. You can very much tell that Karanka has learned from Jose Mourinho in the way he sets his sides out and they look set to be the Chelsea of the Championship this season.
Hull City look by far the strongest of the three relegated teams having so far kept most of their key players and I’m expecting Derby to challenge again after their dismal end to last season. The appointment of Paul Clement is an exciting one and might be just what the team needs to turn it from being a “very good” side into a “promoted side”. Their player recruitment has also been excellent. They’ve secured Darren Bent and Thomas Ince on permanent deals and have also brought in a number of ex-Premier League players including Andreas Weimann and Jason Shackell.
I’d also tip Wolves to have a strong season and I don’t think a return to the Premier League is far away for them and I can also envisage Sheffield Wednesday or maybe Bristol City being surprise packages and breaking into the top six.