2016/17 predictions

It’s that time of the year again where myself (Ryan), Luke, Adam and Nathan stick our necks out and try to predict how each of think the upcoming season will pan out.

 

This year however, things are going to be a little different. As the season unfolds, each of us will be racking up diamonds and battling it out to climb to the top of a league table.

Points will be scored (or not as the case may be) by correctly predicting which teams will finish where come the end of the season as well as various other markets such as top goalscorer and the PFA award winners.

As we all know too well, season predictions can been thwarted by late comings and goings in the transfer window so to counteract this, I am setting the deadline for all of our predictions to 1 September.

Good luck to all competitors and I look forward to laughing about how catastrophically wrong we were in May!





First sacking (10 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

This season has already been earmarked as the ‘year of the manager’ and with so many blockbuster coaches now in the Premier League it’s tricky to pin down who in the division will be the first to get the inevitable boot. However, my pick to be the first through the trap door is newly appointed Watford boss Walter Mazzarri. The Italian has a fairly healthy track record in Serie A, particularly during his spells with Sampdoria and Napoli, but as we have seen time and time again success elsewhere in Europe counts for nothing in the Premier League. *cough Felix Magath*. Quique Sanchez Flores dismissal from the hornets didn’t even come as a surprise despite him comfortably keeping them up and reaching an FA Cup semi-final.

After all this is the same club that sacked the manager that achieved top flight status for Watford after almost a decade away from the Premier League. This time however I feel common sense will prevail and the club may start to realise three managers in three seasons coupled with a turnover of players that could probably fill half of vicarage road, is not the answer. Mazzari is a no nonsense kind of coach but his approach can sometimes leave a bitter taste and with whispers already suggesting a few players are unhappy with his heavy handedness, I would not be surprised at all if Mazzari’s tenure is short lived, but at what cost to Watford’s season?

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall

The race for the first P45 of the season is always a captivating one and this season will be no different. Two men who are looking particularly precarious to me are our Italian cousins, Francesco Guidolin and Walter Mazzari at Swansea and Watford respectively. Swansea have lost vital players this summer and I certainly expect the Welsh club to part ways with the former Udinese boss before the end of the season.
The revolving door of managers at Vicarage Road concerns me but I think Mazzari’s CV will land him a reasonable amount of breathing space unless Watford suffer a horror start to the campaign.
The man I’m going to go for however is Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka. Despite doing a fantastic job in guiding the club back into the Premier League after a seven year absence, there remains an air of uncertainty at Boro. There will surely still be some salt in the wounds for both the Spaniard and the members of the Riverside boardroom following on from when Karanka was, rather confusingly, put on gardening leave following a defeat to Charlton back in March. Couple that factor new signings failing to gel and a few shaky early results and that could mean the bullet for the three-time Champions League winner.

  • Nathan Hill

At a glance, I can’t see too many obvious candidates in danger of claiming this unwanted title but I’ll go for the man pictured above, Francesco Guidolin. So far in his short tenure at Swansea, he has done all that has been asked of him and kept the principality club in the Premier League. Despite this though, the Swans are looking increasingly like a spent force and the 60 year old Italian doesn’t seem like a good long term fit. Couple this with the lack of new signings (so far) and the lack of a reliable goal scorer and you have a team who wouldn’t surprise me if they found themselves amongst the early season strugglers. Therefore, by around the traditional sacking month of November, I expect Guidolin to be gone and, inevitably, another hipster of a manager will come in to try and keep them up.


Premier League champions (20 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

Well, after the most unpredictable title race in Premier League history ended with Leicester City being crowned champions back in May who knows what we should expect from 2016/17. With the likes of Mourinho, Guardiola, Conte, Klopp, Wenger, Pochettino and Ranieri all in the same division it makes for a fascinating season. The traditional top four could now effectively be a top seven or eight with the bridge between the big boys and the rest no longer as stark. Despite this I do think some normality will be restored this campaign and I’m predicting Manchester City will lift their third Premier League trophy come May.

City fell well short of Leicester last season but still have more than enough talent in that squad to form a title charge. This plus the recent additions of Gundogan, Sane and Nolito means they have, in my opinion, the best squad in the division. Defence has always been an issue for City and finding a competent partner to injury prone skipper Vincent Kompany. I expect Otamendi to kick on from his hit and miss first season in Manchester and despite the hefty price tag John Stones could really live up to his massive potential with Pep in charge. In many ways there’s a lot of pressure on Pep to get this right in what has been described as his greatest managerial challenge to date, and I expect he will. If not you can be sure the red side of the city and a certain Mr Mourinho will be there to capitalise.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall

If there’s one thing that Pep Guardiola’s spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich have taught us, it’s that this is a man who knows how to win league titles. And after securing the signatures of John Stones, Leroy Sané and Ilkay Gundogan, Pep’s latest grand project Manchester City have all of the tools they need to go on and lift the Premier League crown in 2016/17.
Both Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini managed to deliver titles but the blue half of Manchester are still yet to achieve their ultimate goal of dominating English football for several years. The appointment of Guardiola could be the final piece of the jigsaw that makes that dream happen.
On to the other members of the starting 11 and there is of course world class talent all across the pitch. Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Vincent Kompany will all have to play massive roles while considerable improvements will be demanded from the likes of Joe Hart and Nicolas Otamendi if the Citizens are to win their third Premier League.
The key to any success City have though will largely come down to the performances of Sergio Agüero. The Argentine has proved time and time again why he is the undisputed best striker in the league and from a neutral perspective, I cannot wait to see what kind of levels he can reach under Guardiola’s guardianship.

  • Nathan Hill

Crystal Palace. Well, you can’t laugh. Not now Leicester City have done it. If we ignore fairytales though and actually revert back to reality, we’re probably looking at a two horse race in Manchester between the blue half and the red half, Pep and Jose. It’s a dream that Premier League loving neutrals have drooled over for years. So who will get the better of the other? Who will win it? One of them has to win it, right? Wrong. I can see these two great rival managers becoming so obsessed in their mind games and wanting to get one over the other that the title ironically slips from the grasp of both of them.

This leaves Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, with no European football whatsoever, with an open goal. On last season’s showing, it may be difficult to see where a title challenge could possibly come from but I think we should take virtually everything that happened last season with a pinch of salt. It was possibly the most bizarre campaign yet from top to bottom and should certainly prove to be an anomaly in the history books. The fact remains this is still a squad stuffed full of title winning players and under the right man, it will win the title.

Conte is a perfect fit at Chelsea. His teams are always hard to beat. Just look at his heavily unfancied Italian side at Euro 2016. In Belgium and Spain they came up against two much slicker, more technically gifted sides. They dispatched both masterfully. Those performances were a possible sign of what’s to come in the heavyweight clashes in the upcoming Premier League season. Expect a quiet and unusually understated efficiency about Chelsea this season in which players like Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa all return to their 2014/15 selves and the result will be a fifth title at The Bridge.


Top four (5 diamonds for each correctly placed)

  • Luke Vials 

In many ways this ones harder to call than the league title itself. With so many teams vying for the illustrious Champions League spots at least half of them are going to end up disappointed. I’ve already laid my cards out by backing Manchester City for the league so they of course take top spot. Whilst Mourinho is sure to take it down to the wire my runners up spot goes to Chelsea. Despite the big money and big name arrivals of Ibrahimovic, Pogba and Mkhitaryan to go with the already talented Martial, De gea and captain Rooney there are still a few question marks surrounding formation and playing style. It is going to be a tough task to fit everyone in and even with the arrival of Baily from Villarreal there are still defensive issues to tackle. Therefore I expect Mourinho to have a consolidating first season at Old Trafford ending in 3rd place, a return to the Champions League before really having a go for the league in 2017/18 before most likely falling out with everyone from key players to physios in 2018/19.

Chelsea on the other hand have that big advantage of no European football meaning they can solely focus on the league. They massively underperformed last term but the talents of Costa, Hazard and Fabregas do not vanish overnight. Add Antonio Conte to the mix and they are in for a really good campaign all be it falling short to City in my prediction.

Then we have the 4th place up for grabs with Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and champions Leicester all bound to be fighting for it. This is a tough one for me personally as a Liverpool supporter I would love to say it will be ours. The team has certainly turned a corner since Klopp’s arrival in October but something tells me we may not be quite ready to break the top four, as we did in 2014, just yet. No European football could work in our favour and give us an edge but inconsistency still slips into our game. There’s a reason we didn’t win more than three consecutive games at any time last year and the likes of Adam Lallana, Phillipe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino all need huge seasons if Liverpool are to achieve. Recruitment has been a mixed bag for me. Karius, Grujic and Matip all came in for less than £5M and have looked positive in pre-season. However, big fees have been spent on Sadio Mane and Georgino Wijnaldum with the latter in particular a puzzling one. Last year’s first and second place sides Leicester and Spurs also have to now balance the Champions League with domestic duties and this is where I feel they may fall short.

Which brings us to Arsenal who I think will nick that final spot. This may well be Wenger’s final season at Arsenal which is bound to split the fanbase more than it already is. Whilst you can bet your house on the same old combustion in the league and Champions League knockout rounds come February, it is hard not to admire the fact that the league’s longest serving boss has achieved Champions league football in every one of his previous twenty seasons with the Gunners. I can’t see that record changing in his (potentially) final year. Granit Xhaka could be the defensive midfielder they have been crying out for although without bringing in a world class centre back or striker they are not likely to achieve much more than their usual ‘4th place trophy’.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall

The competition for a top four finish this season is set to be the toughest yet. Never before has there been such an array of world class coaches in the same league. This season we are in for a feast as the aforementioned Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte, Jürgen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino all battle it out for a chance of qualifying for the Champions League. Each, you would think, would all be disappointed if their sides were to find themselves in fifth place or lower come the end of the season. And to make matters even more interesting, you also have to throw reigning champions Leicester in to the mix, although I personally think they will struggle to even come close to repeating the fairytale of last season given how each of the other sides have strengthened.

  • Nathan Hill

As stated above, Chelsea will be champions, followed by the two Manchester clubs with Manchester City in second ahead of Manchester United in third. As exciting as the arrivals of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (and potentially even Paul Pogba) are, a Jose Mourinho team normally takes a season before it fully fires. At the moment, I’m looking at their squad, as impressive as it may be, and if anything I’m wondering where they’ll all fit. Will Rooney play in behind Ibra? Will Martial be pushed out wide? Will Ibra even play that regularly or just be deployed in bigger games here and there? And still, even with the arrival of Eric Bailly, they have a very top-heavy look to them.

City may have a similar problem. Whilst they have Sergio Aguero and several other sources, and creators, of goals, they always have a chance and will more than likely be the league’s top scorers, the same can’t be said of their defence which hasn’t yet been reinforced. As it stands, their hopes will hinge on the fitness of injury prone Vincent Kompany as otherwise they’ll once again be forced to deploy Eliaquim Mangala alongside Nicolas Otamendi for much of the season. Or, as rumoured, Pep will try to convert Fabian Delph into a centre back. I’m sure City fans will be thrilled to hear that. To offer them some consolation, at least Martin Demichelis has gone – so he is no longer an option.

I’ve been quite torn over who will join this trio to complete the top four. Before the end of last season, I was fairly confident that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, having had a summer transfer window to replace a forest full of deadwood, would be that team. However, it’s fair to say I’m less than convinced at some of their previously much-hyped transfer business. For £25 million, they acquired a player who isn’t anywhere near as good as their current playmakers in “Gini” Wijnaldum. Rumour has it that if you rub a lamp, he may appear a couple of times a season when he fancies it. Nor am I impressed with the even more absurd price tag of £34 million which was paid to rid Southampton of their latest prized asset Sadio Mane. Again, on paper is he really going to be a regular starter? If anything they’ve done rather better in getting the signings that cost much less. Joel Matip is a solid capture of a centre half – and for precisely zero pounds as it was on a pre-contract! Loris Karius is also one of many good, young, German goalkeepers and for around £5 million should be quite a bargain as he should edge out Simon Mignolet for the honour of number one. Overall though, I’m not sure if they’re quite top four material yet.

Tottenham also have an excellent team in the pipeline under Mauricio Pochettino and perhaps they should’ve won the title last season but on paper, and in a normal season, you can’t see them having enough to compete with a much better performing Manchester duo and Chelsea. The team to pip them yet again will of course be Arsenal. These North London rivals are literally neck and neck now. As a neutral, I want to see the team with a core of young English players be the more successful – that’s what my heart says. But my head says you can’t look past a team with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in their ranks. They’ve also now, at long last, got a robust central midfield powerhouse in Granit Xhaka but, without wanting to sound like the stuck records that are every other sport journalist in this country, they still desperately need a top class striker and a centre back. Get those and Arsenal can actually dream of something other than fourth. Until then though that is where they’re stuck with. At least I’m not forecasting that it’ll get any worse. Not for now anyway. Arsene Wenger has one year left on his contract and you can’t see him finally bowing out having failed to even win his coveted “fourth place trophy.”


Three relegated teams (5 diamonds for each)

  • Luke Vials 

Gone are the times when the three teams promoted from the championship were destined to head straight back through the trap door. With the likes of Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo popping up at Middlesbrough it shows just how much of an effect the Premier League’s money is having on the modern game. But, we still do have to wave goodbye to three sides in May. My first pick probably won’t come as too much of a surprise given that I have already tipped their manager for the sack. As touched on earlier Watford’s trigger happy owners habit of chopping and changing personnel will come back to haunt them this season. They effectively have an entire new team (again) but this time even Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo’s goals won’t be enough as I predict a case of second season syndrome for the hornets.

They are not the most obvious candidates for the drop though. This accolade goes to Hull City who are sadly doomed to head straight back to the championship. No manager. Barely any players. Disillusioned supporters. Control freak owner. Need I say anymore? It isn’t the best recipe for survival and whilst they do have an abundance of Premier League experience in Dawson, Huddlestone, Livermore and Davies they also lack goals. Selling best player Mohamed Diame to championship Newcastle doesn’t bode well either and their only real other goal threat Abel Hernandez is publicly clamouring for a move with another championship side Aston Villa heading the pecking order. Oh and there first game is against the champions. Well at least it can’t get much worse.

The third team to join Hull and Watford proved the most tricky to predict for me. Expect the usual suspects to be involved it wouldn’t be the Premier League without Sunderland flirting with relegation. The two other promoted sides Burnley and Middleborough also will need to do some scrapping but something tells me Sean Dyche will keep the clarets up this time around and Boro have invested well. If Crystal Palace continue their terrible 2016 form then they too could be at risk but ultimately should just about have enough. This leads me to believe Swansea will be the team to end up back in the championship. In my opinion the sacking of Gary Monk was a prime example of a clubs hierarchy hitting the panic button rather than allowing a perfectly good manager the time to turn things around. Granted Francesco Guidolin kept the Swans in the division so job well done, however something tells me the honeymoon period may be over. Swansea were not exactly prolific in front of goal last season and now their main threat Andre Ayew has gone to West Ham it’s hard to see where goals will come from. There’s only so many times you can play Gylfi Sigurdsson as a false 9. As we know goals equal survival and I’m just not sure Swansea have enough in them.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall   Burnley, Hull City

Not since the Derby side of 2007/08 has there been a newly promoted club so doomed to go straight back down. At the time of writing, the club are managerless, have a tiny squad and have just lost one of their best players to the Championship in Mohamed Diame. On a more positive note, the squad does contain Premier League experience with Tom Huddlestone, Curtis Davies and captain Michael Dawson which may prove invaluable but ultimately, things are looking pretty bleak for the Tigers and there fans are in for a rough ride this season.

  • Nathan Hill

I may have already hinted at who I feel will fill one of these slots in the category of “first manager sacking”. For me the days of Welsh representation in the top flight are finally starting to look numbered for the first time since Swansea City’s promotion in 2011. Ever since they panicked into sacking Michael Laudrup when they made the briefest of flirts with danger in the 2013/14 season, they’ve not looked the same side. They don’t appear to have much of a direction now and their team is more of an ugly duckling of a side desperately trying to paddle away from a looming depth rather than the elegant swan that glided supremely in the Premier League waters a couple of years ago. Another noticeable difference is the absence of a goal machine. For one season, Danny Graham actually looked the part in the Premier League. Then he didn’t. Then it was Michu who was sensational for one season. Then he wasn’t. Then it was Wilfried Bony who really was the real deal and an absolute monster. Then he went to Man City and neither statement is no longer true. To be fair to Swansea, they have timed their offloading of players to perfection over the years but now this cycle can’t go on. In fact, at the time of writing, they don’t even have a striker on the books as Bafetimbi Gomis has just completed a loan move to Marseille, Euro 2016 hero but club level flop Eder has completed a permanent move to Lille and Alberto Paloschi has returned to Italy with Atalanta. Last season they relied heavily on goals from Andre Ayew in the first half and Gylfi Sigurdsson in the second half of the campaign respectively. If they find themselves doing that again, they’re not in good shape.

To join them, the safe bet is that Hull City will continue their recent yo-yoing, especially that we’re heading into the final week of pre-season and they’re (at the time of writing) currently manager-less and haven’t made a single new signing either. In fact, they’re not far off actually struggling to put out a starting eleven. I can’t remember a team to enter a season so ill-prepared. Hull have had two previous stints in the Premier League and have survived their first season only to fall to “second season syndrome” both times. This time it’s hard to see them even matching that. Sadly for Hull, their squad (what remains of it) also seems a little bit “past its best.” They have plenty of top flight experience in the likes of Michael Dawson, Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone but Norwich, another team currently yo-yoing, had a similar look last season and it just didn’t end well. Experience alone isn’t enough any more, not with the frantic pace of Premier League football nowadays. The likes of Moses Obubajo and Sam Clucas who are younger and new to this level will probably settle into it fairly well but they need to recruit several more like them.

The final slot will go to Watford. Now here’s a club who actually deserve some ill fortune. Yes I did say that. You don’t sack a manager after he has kept you up easily and has actually become the first man to do that in Watford’s Premier League history. Better than that, you don’t sack someone with the pedigree of Quique Flores. It’s nothing new though, the man who got them into the Premier League in the first place, Slavisa Jokanovic, was dismissed in similarly controversial circumstances. Whilst it’s true Watford’s second half of the season was quite poor in comparison to the first half, this is still Watford, a team who have only ever been Premier League whipping boys previous to this, surviving comfortably and in a position where they could afford to be “on the beach” well before May. I think most Hornets fans would’ve taken that before a ball was kicked and I don’t think too many will be so crestfallen that they weren’t able to maintain their top half status into 2016. With Walter Mazzarri coming in, albeit a manager with an equally impressive CV to Flores, and yet another huge turnover of players as well thanks to the continuation of their cosy relationship with Udinese and Granada, they’re effectively a fourth new team in the top flight this year. And they’re not one which looks like they’ve even read rule number one on how to survive in it. Not that it mattered last season but as mentioned above, we just can’t apply any logic from last season. It’s about time we saw such awful management of a club such as this get punished.


Three promoted teams (5 diamonds for each)

  • Luke Vials 

This section of the predictions is the one that has made a mockery out of me the most over the years but I surely will at least get one correct this time! Newcastle United returning to the Premier League is something we can all agree on right? The fact they have somehow managed to keep hold of Rafa Benitez was the first step but they’ve also invested unusually well. Dwight Gayle, Matt Richie and Mohamed Diame are all fantastic acquisitions at this level but more importantly they may have finally solved their defensive headaches. Handing Jamaal Lascelles the captaincy at just 22 years old may seem an odd move, but he is a hot prospect desperate to do well and showed at the back end of last season he is willing to put everything on the line for Newcastle, something you couldn’t say for many squad members. Ciaran Clark and Grant Hanley may not strike fear into the championship’s strikers but they should be competent enough at this level to give the magpies strong foundations. It won’t be as easy as 2010 (as the opening day loss to Fulham proved) but they should finish as champions.

My runners up are Derby County. Yes the Rams have somehow manage to have the almost impressive track record of managing to find a different way of combusting in each of the last three seasons but this time they have one extra advantage. Nigel Pearson is a manager who has previous getting out of this division. When he isn’t calling journalists ostrich’s or strangling Crystal Palace players, Pearson has tonnes of Championship experience to get Derby over the line, something they have lacked in recent years. The squad Derby have is also more than capable of mounting a real challenge especially if they add Fernando Forestieri to the mix, who at the time of writing is being heavily linked with a £4M move from Sheffield Wednesday.

The championship loves a surprise and so the lottery of the playoffs is anyone’s guess. Brighton missed out on automatic promotion last season by just two goals and Sheffield Wednesday will be hoping to go one better than that playoff final defeat to Hull. There’s always a surprise package or two in the Championship aswell so don’t be surprised if a team no one considered makes a last minute break for the top 6. I’m going to tip Norwich City to be the team who go up via the playoffs though. They’ve been here before and no exactly what is required to get themselves out of this division. They do lack a striker but even so, the amount of quality playmakers they have for this division should be enough to earn them promotion. Sergi Canos in particular is one to watch, the former Liverpool midfielder was sensational on loan at Brentford last term and should step up a level at Norwich.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall   Newcastle United, Norwich City, Sheffield Wednesday
  • Nathan Hill

There are probably more surnames in Iceland than people in this country who don’t think Newcastle United will run away with the Championship title. And yes it is virtually impossible to look past them especially considering Rafa Benitez is sticking around. That was by far the most crucial piece of business for The Magpies although, having said that, their deals in the transfer market have also turned a corner. Finally the penny has dropped. The French Ligue 1 is not the best place to go shopping in. Instead, Newcastle have been slowing re-moulding a Championship side to play in the Championship with the signings of Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie in particular. And these players have the potential to become very good Premier League players indeed with The Toon in the next couple of years. They also might actually care about the club as well which is a nice bonus.

The only disappointment from their transfer window so far is that they haven’t managed to offload many of their prima donnas. The aforementioned  “Gini” has gone and so has Andros Townsend, although I doubt many Geordies would’ve been pleased about that one. Strangely, no one has been tempted to part with around £35 million for Moussa Sissoko though. Even so, whilst you never can safely predict how a Newcastle season will go in the Premier League other than saying it will be chaotic, this time around they should (emphasis on should) have everything in place to be the same juggernaut they were when they last dropped out of the top flight.

Joining them in the automatic promotion slots will be Brighton & Hove Albion. Chris Hughton’s side played some nice football last season and it could’ve easily ended better for them, yes I really did just say that. Now however, with the Championship waving goodbye to three teams that earned promotion through incredible resilience and doggedness, the Seagulls have a great chance of going one better. Anthony Knockaert is one of those rare “magician” players at this level and now he has a more reliable goal scorer to try and feed in Glenn Murray – who has signed on loan for the season from Bournemouth. Although Israeli striker Tomer Hemed settled into English football very well last season, there will be few better than Murray at this level and it’s a definite upgrade. They also don’t concede many goals at the other end and given the good balance they have, it’s hard to see them not being in the promotion discussion come the latter months of the season.

You can also expect the likes of Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday to be in contention again. The former are experienced promotion campaigners at this level now having been promoted in both of their most recent seasons in the Championship and a few of the current squad have been an integral part of both successes – but also both subsequent failures to establish themselves in the top flight. It could well be a case of last season’s relegation marking the end of this familiar team’s cycle and they simply won’t be able to produce a copy and paste season from 2014/15. Or, as the opening game at Blackburn showed, their quality on paper over the rest of the division will still be too much for everyone except probably Newcastle and one or two more. As a Norwich fan myself, I have no idea how it’ll go. Even though that totally dominant 4-1 win at Blackburn was out first opening day victory since 2002 and we played Premier League football throughout, you can certainly expect us not to produce this consistently. And Blackburn were very, very poor. About as poor as any side I’ve seen at this level.

All I can safely say is that there will remain a huge potential about the club for as long as Alex Neil remains in charge but even that is a given after another summer of transfer market frustrations. The signings of Alex Pritchard and Sergi Canos for a combined fee that still doesn’t quite equal the money made from the sale of Nathan Redmond marks some good business but we still desperately need a striker. As it stands, we’ll be reliant on Cameron Jerome as our main striker and, whilst he performed very capably at this level in 2014/15, last season showed that it isn’t necessarily a bright idea. For now, I’m fairly confident of another play-off rollercoaster.

The latter, Sheffield Wednesday, will run us very close and this would be my early bet for who will contest the play-off final and what an intriguing contest it would be as these two sides will have played in the two most recent Wembley showpieces – with two different experiences of it. To complete the play-off places, I’m going for a couple of (slight) surprise packages in Bristol City and Birmingham City. The Championship loves its surprise packages and in a year in which so many seemingly more likely names are entering the season in disarray or uncertainty, these sides will never get a better chance. Bristol City are in a healthy state financially, much of Ashton Gate has been rebuilt, they’ve made some shrewd signings and in Lee Johnson they have a very talented and very young manager. The same applies for Gary Rowett at Birmingham except he doesn’t have the finances. With The Blues though he is cementing a reputation as one of the best managers outside the top flight – he has done an excellent job with a team who were turning into a team who often diced with death in nearly falling into League One. This season they’ll make another giant step forward.

So therefore, to actually give you my three names of who’s winning promotion, it’s going to be Newcastle and Brighton for the automatic spots and, ok, I’m going to be brave and slightly optimistic and say Norwich will join them. I mean, we do have Timm Klose. A giant Swiss/German centre back with a wonky nose. No one else does. As long as he remains injury free, we should be able to avoid a disaster of a season.


League table predictions (5 diamonds for each correctly placed)

  • Luke Vials 
  1. Man City
  2. Chelsea
  3. Man Utd
  4. Arsenal
  5. Liverpool
  6. Spurs
  7. Leicester
  8. West Ham
  9. Southampton
  10. Everton
  11. Stoke
  12. Middlesbrough
  13. West Brom
  14. Crystal Palace
  15. Bournemouth
  16. Sunderland
  17. Burnley
  18. Swansea
  19. Watford
  20. Hull
  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall

1/Manchester City   2/Manchester United   3/Arsenal   4/Chelsea   5/Liverpool   6/Tottenham   7/Leicester   8/West Ham   9/Stoke   10/Middlesbrough   11/Everton   12/Sunderland   13/Southampton   14/Bournemouth   15/Crystal Palace   16/Watford   17/Swansea   18/West Brom   19/Burnley   20/Hull

  • Nathan Hill
  1. Chelsea
  2. Man City
  3. Man Utd
  4. Arsenal
  5. Liverpool
  6. Tottenham
  7. West Ham
  8. Leicester
  9. Everton
  10. Stoke
  11. Southampton
  12. Middlesbrough
  13. West Brom
  14. Bournemouth
  15. Sunderland
  16. Crystal Palace
  17. Burnley
  18. Swansea
  19. Hull
  20. Watford

Top on Christmas Day (10 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

Man City- I by no means expect this year to be a one horse race all the way until May, I’m certain of lots of twists and turns. However, I feel Man City will be the most consistent side in the league and will top the table as we settle down to enjoy our turkey this year.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

I may have predicted Chelsea to win the title but I can see them winning it by quietly creeping up behind the two Manchester sides. The side who will actually set the pace, for the first half of the season at least, will be Manchester City under Pep Guardiola. I can see the speed and quality of their football being simply too good in the first half of the season but after Christmas they’ll do the typical Man City thing and lose the heavyweight battles and completely bottle it on the road at places like Stoke and, of course, Sunderland.


Bottom on Christmas Day (10 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

Hull City- I don’t like writing off teams before a ball has been kicked but as I mentioned earlier I can only see one outcome for the Tigers this season. I’m afraid they are absolutely doomed and there Christmas will not be merry at all. Maybe they could ask Father Christmas for a new owner this year?

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

Although I have still relegated Swansea, the fact that I have Francesco Guidolin as the first man to be sacked means that ultimately they’ll have pressed the panic button before they could or would be rock bottom of the league. By Christmas I suspect a mini revival will have begun and until he was recently (bizarrely) named as Belgium’s new boss, my money was on it being under the returning of hero Roberto Martinez. Either way I would expect Swansea to remember how to score goals and win football matches at some point in the season, even if it’s not sufficiently enough to keep them up. I also can’t see another team managing to survive having been bottom at Christmas therefore it’s between Hull and Watford and I’m narrowly giving the unwanted award to Hull City as Watford do at least have two goal scorers who will help them to the odd win before Christmas. I’m predicting that they’ll dry up after Christmas like they did last season and that’ll lift Hull above them in the final table, but it doesn’t really matter.


Golden Boot (20 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

The obvious choice for this one is Sergio Aguero and he is my pick. Quite simply the best striker in the division and if Pep can keep him fit then he’ll have no trouble hitting at least 25. This isn’t to say there are not plenty of other contenders. Despite a dreadful European Championship’s Harry Kane continues to improve for Tottenham. You’d expect Diego Costa to return to something like his form from two years ago, Romelu Lukaku is always a handful and when fully fit Daniel Sturridge is the best finisher in the league bar Aguero.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

If the man pictured, Sergio Aguero, can stay fit for the whole season then it’s him. He’s the best striker in the league, it’s that simple. I can’t see Harry Kane being as prolific this time especially after his abysmal Euros, and as a result I can’t see Spurs being in the top four again. Diego Costa could push Aguero close and so could Anthony Martial. I can’t really see anything other than Aguero winning it with his usual 25-ish goals though.


Golden Glove (10 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

For me this was a toss-up between the two Manchester goalkeepers simply because I think Manchester City will be a lot more defensively stable under Guradiola and Manchester United have the best keeper in the Premier League.  I’m going to go for David De Gea though simply because of the sheer number of points he seems to win his side. United’s defence is far from the best in the division but with the brand of football Mourinho likes to play it’s unlikely they’ll be particularly leaky at the back. The special one also prefers a traditional back four so we are unlikely to return to the days of Blind at CB and Marcos Rojo may finally find out what position he is. Notable mentions to Hugo Lloris, Thibaut Courtios and Petr Cech.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

This is actually a tricky one to predict as you can be the world’s best goalkeeper but still not keep that many clean sheets. Unlike a striker vying to win the golden boot who can win it himself by actually scoring the goals, a goalkeeper needs his whole defence to be on top form if he’s to keep a clean sheet. In one game, he may pull off several world class saves but still concede three whereas on another day, he might be a spectator and not face a single shot on target and register a shut-out. For me, David De Gea (pictured) is now the best goalkeeper in the Premier League but, as mentioned above, I think the Man United team is still quite top heavy which means he’s still in for a busy season – even in a naturally defensive Mourinho side. Therefore I can see Thibaut Courtois just about beating him to it. Normally Chelsea are very hard to break down. Whilst that wasn’t the case last season, normally their defence is one of the most solid in the league and under an Italian manager, I’d back them to return to being just that.


PFA Player of the Year (20 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

This is a tough category to predict as it’s impossible to know who the stars of each season will be. Who would have guessed Riyad Mahrez would have been picking up this accolade last season? I’m going to plump for Sergio Aguero again though as if my Man City as champions prediction turns out correct then he will be the main man to make it happen.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

For £100 million, you’d rather hope it would be Paul Pogba if he does inevitably arrive back in England. However, of the players already in the Premier League, I’m backing Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian playmaker may have even been in the running for the award last season had he have not missed the middle third of it through injury. The form he showed in the other two thirds though, in both creating and scoring goals, was very promising. Replicate that for a whole campaign this time and we’re talking about him being the stand out player in the league.


PFA Young Player of the Year (15 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

Michy Batshuayi- The Belgian striker had a great season with Marseille last time out and impressed Conte so much at the Euro’s he signed him for Chelsea. Everything I have seen of Batshuayi so far has been positive and with Conte likely to continue his 3-5-2 formation that he used with the Azzuri the Belgian could flourish alongside Diego Costa.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

For me, the obvious choice is Anthony Martial. This young lad arrived in Manchester under huge pressure given his extremely hefty price tag but few can argue now that he wasn’t worth the money. The arrivals of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan may have temporarily taken the spotlight off Martial but I still expect the young Frenchman to continue improving immeasurably next season and I can see him even outshining them. The same could be said for team mate Marcus Rashford but sadly I can see his career stalling slightly for the foreseeable under Mourinho.


PFA Team of the Year (5 diamonds for each)

  • Luke Vials 

(4-4-2)

GK-De Gea

LB-Azpilicueta

CB- Otamendi

CB-Alderweireld

RB- Bellerin

LM-De Bruyne

CM-Pogba

CM-Firmino

RM-Alexis Sanchez

ST-Kane

ST-Aguero

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

4-2-3-1 Formation

GK – Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea

LB – Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea

CB – Chris Smalling – Manchester United

CB – Virgil Van Dijk – Southampton

RB – Kyle Walker – Tottenham Hotspur

CM – Emre Can – Liverpool

CM – Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea

LAM – Anthony Martial – Manchester United

RAM – Dimitri Payet – West Ham United

CAM – Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City

ST – Sergio Aguero – Manchester City


FA Cup winners (15 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

I’m sorry but I’m never going to do my season predictions and leave my side trophyless so I’m giving this one to Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp managed to get Liverpool to two final’s last season and despite two unfortunate defeats we at least saw a return to some real classics at Anfield which lifted our season. Not least the stunning 4-3 comeback against Borussia Dortmund. With it going to be extremely tough to break into a Champions League place a good cup run in either domestic competition would probably be considered a successful season as long as the league form didn’t take too much of a hit as it did last season.Liverpool also have a fairly strong squad and this would be a positive platform for the likes of Danny Ings et al to break into the starting 11.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

Having predicted a very closely fought three horse title race, it’s likely that none of these three go particularly far in the FA Cup – not that that will overly bother them. Well, maybe it would in hindsight at the end of the season if one or more of them end up trophyless. Looking slightly further down my predicted table, I can see a great opportunity for Tottenham Hotspur. Mauricio Pochettino and his young squad aren’t far off achieving great things and both my heart and head tell me they can win something this season. I’ve predicted their league position to fall slightly but that’s not because of them “declining”, it’s merely the fact that they’ll probably be leapfrogged by the high-spending, more “traditional top four” sides and they might also suffer from a lack of depth – which didn’t become a hindrance last season. The cup is no such marathon though and, as long as their starting eleven players are fit and firing, they can easily win it.


League Cup winners (15 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

Manchester United- whilst it is likely to be a transitional season as such at Old Trafford before a proper league title assault next term, a trophyless season is never positive at Manchester United. The same can be said of Mourinho and you can bet he wants some silverware in his first season at the club he’s always wanted to manage. United have an abundance of attacking options too who can’t all start in the league so don’t be surprised to see the likes of Memphis, Januzaj and Rashford used a lot in this one.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

I can’t see Jose Mourinho not winning a trophy in his first season with Manchester United and this competition, even though it’s normally not a main priority for most teams, will provide him with an opportunity to strike an early blow in his personal battle with Pep Guardiola. And this is the one he does normally win, having done so twice with Chelsea. Sadly I can see it becoming “The Marcus Rashford Cup” in the process though as the young lad struggles to get league appearances ahead of the likes of Ibrahimovic, Rooney and Martial.


Champions League winners (15 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

The once great European Cup has almost become a little tedious in recent seasons with the same four or five teams contesting the latter stages. So what better time for Leicester to make their Champions League bow! But in all seriousness by the time we get to the semi-finals it is likely to be the same old faces. It would be nice for someone like Borruisa Dortmund to cause an upset, or Simeone to finally win it with Atletico after two final defeats to their Madrid counterparts, but my pick is Barcelona.  They have the best front three on the planet comprising of the world’s best player (Messi), the world’s best striker (Suarez)  and Neymar (he isn’t bad either). It was almost a surprise they didn’t become the first team to retain this competition last season but I expect them to put it right this season and win their fifth European crown in just over a decade.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

No one has ever defended ol’ Big Ears. That rules out Real Madrid then. To be fair though, I wasn’t going to suggest they’d do so anyway. For me, they were one of the poorest winners of the elite competition in recent years last season. They didn’t exactly have the trickiest of tasks getting to the final, and they still made hard work of it having lost the first leg of their quarter final with Wolfsburg 2-0. This season they will get found out, but not by their Catalan chums or by their noisy neighbours in the capital but by an old friend in Carlo Ancelotti and his polished Bayern Munich outfit which boasts a ridiculous amount of options in pretty much every position. You’d be a fool for betting against an Ancelotti side in this competition and especially this Bayern team. I’d still expect Real Madrid and Barcelona to make it to the semi-finals though, along with a very strong Juventus side but Bayern are the team to beat for me.


Europa League winners (15 diamonds)

  • Luke Vials 

Who knows what this competition will turn out like once the third place Champions League teams enter but let’s hope for a different champion this time around rather than Sevilla winning their fourth on the bounce! Manchester United would be a safe bet but Mourinho is likely to have much time for it. With that in mind I’m going to go for Inter Milan. They have had well documented troubles in recent seasons and are a world away from the wonderful side that won the treble in 2010. It is unlikely they are going to finish in the top three in Serie A and qualify for the Champions League that way so this could be a perfect alternative route. What better way for new boss Frank De Boer to endear himself to the Inter faithful than guiding them back amongst Europe’s elite. Also, let’s be honest the Champions league is a poorer competition without the Milan clubs anyway.

  • Adam Tomlinson
  • Ryan Hall
  • Nathan Hill

Whoever wins this competition, I hope that it actually is a Europa League team and not a Champions League drop out *cough* Sevilla *cough*. Seriously though, the format of the Europa League needs to be changed. Right now it’s a group stage which is a European equivalent of the League Cup followed by a knock out stage which is like a battle for a Champions League wooden spoon. It’s a joke how Sevilla can continually defend a trophy which they aren’t even entered into until they’re effectively “rewarded” for not being quite good enough as a Champions League outfit. But take nothing away from them, they have been the best team in it in the last few years and have deservedly won it each time. This time though, albeit partly because I can’t predict who the Champions League drop outs will be as we haven’t had the draw yet, I predict that a Europa League team will win it having been in the competition from start to finish.

Basing it on squads, nothing in this competition comes close to that of Manchester United. However, they’ve been in this competition twice before in recent years and never even threatened to win it and I can see them slipping up early again. Spain have always done well as a nation in this tournament (and in European club football in general of course). In fact, eight of the last thirteen winners have come from Spain and I’m tipping 2012 losing finalists Athletic Bilbao to win it this year. They’ve got plenty of youthful energy, a solid spine and a guaranteed goal scorer in the criminally under rated Artiz Aduriz as well something which no other team has – the sense of greater unity that being, in effect, a Basque national team brings. If they could win something like this, what an incredible story that would be. And it’s very possible as well, they’ve been knocking on the door for a while.




 

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