Friday, August 11, 2017

2017-18 Premier League Predictions (thus far)

      The 2017-18 Premier League season is upon us, which means it is invariably time for predictions. Making Premier League predictions at this time of the year is actually quite difficult, because clubs have not finished their transfer activities as of yet, and dramatic shifts in squad composition can often change the narrative and predictions. Because of this, the predictions here will be updated in a further post when the transfer window shuts at the end of the month, but until then these are the official Matt's Sports Musings Premier League predictions, at least for the next 21 days.

20. Brighton & Hove Albion

It is great to see the Seagulls in the top flight for the first time in 35 years, and with Chris Hughton, they have an experienced manager who will help them through the grind that is a top flight season. But they don't have the quality in their squad to compete realistically with their relegation rivals, even though they are now investing more money. It will be a short, but sweet return for Brighton in the top flight.

19. Burnley

Burnley found a way to stay up last year by being remarkably effective at Turf Moor and almost discounting their road form entirely. But this season, after selling Michael Keane and Andre Gray, they will be in some serious trouble because that home form isn't necessarily replicable, and their squad is weaker than it was a season ago. Sean Dyche is a great manager, but he'll have to perform some miracles to keep the Clarets up this year.

18. Huddersfield Town

David Wagner is a great younger manager that will become easy to like and admire, thanks to his Jurgen Klopp similarities. His Terries will play a brand of football much like a Terrier; aggressive, exciting if a bit out of control at times. Their budget is small, but they've made smart additions in order to give themselves a fighting chance to stay up. The likelihood is that they won't, but at least they'll be easy on the eyes in their first top flight campaign since 1972.

17. Swansea City

After much managerial turmoil last season, Paul Clement helped to stabilize a Swansea team that needed direction or else they'd be heading down. They got it in the nick of time. They have strengthened that much, and to this point they still have Gylfi Sigurdsson in one of the summer's most protracted transfer sagas. They have questions just about everywhere on the pitch, but fewer questions seemingly than the three clubs below them.

16. Crystal Palace

After another Big Sam rescue job, Palace are still kicking in the Premier League despite coming ever-so-close to going down. Frank De Boer comes in to replace Big Sam and he has some career rehabilitation to do after a disastrous spell at Inter. He's only brought in three players, two of them on loan, and the squad still has some sore spots that need to be addressed. But if he can get the best out of Christian Benteke, Palace should be able to survive another turbulent season at the bottom of the table.

15. Watford

A club no stranger to turmoil in the dugout and the dressing room, Watford again went with more changes when they hired Marco Silva and invested heavily in English talent this summer. With the additions of Nathaniel Chalobah, Will Hughes and Andre Gray, the club is trying to give Marco Silva more to work with than they did the previous manager, Walter Mazzarri. Silva has shown good tactical acumen before, and with a much deeper squad than he had at Hull, he should be able to do enough to keep Watford safe.

14. West Bromwich Albion

Once they hit 40 points, the magic number for Premier League safety, they usually switch off, and that's what happened to Tony Pulis' squad last year. This year, the same should hold true. They won't be in any real relegation danger, but they're not a top half squad either. They'll be defensively stout, scalp a few surprising wins against the big boys and do what they're supposed to do to maintain survival, but no more.

13. Stoke City

Stokealona is dead, folks. The Potters haven't invested much in new signings, and got rid of Marko Arnautovic to West Ham, leaving the squad a little bereft of quality and feeling quite stale. Mark Hughes is one of the managers who easily could be the first to be sacked because the club has quite clearly plateaued. They won't be relegated, but they need freshening up. A slow start might do enough to spark a change.

12. Newcastle United

Mike Ashley and company took a risk investing the way they did in the Championship last year, and it paid off as they won back immediate promotion. There is still an incredible amount of tension in the boardroom, but with Rafa Benitez's calming influence on a fairly decent squad, the Magpies should be able to stay up with relative ease. But, it's Newcastle, and nothing comes certain at St. James' Park.

11. Bournemouth

What Eddie Howe has done with this club is well and truly remarkable, especially considering their top flight debut was only three years ago. They've invested wisely, for the most part, and they've kept a hold of a good chunk of their squad and their growing manager too. While they haven't made too many changes this summer, the core of their squad should be plenty good enough to avoid the relegation dogfight and maybe even finish in the top half, again.

10. West Ham United

Slaven Bilic has not done much to inspire confidence recently. His team was relegation fodder at the start of last season, and the improvements this year don't really fix their defensive and tactical woes, in spite of bringing in Joe Hart. Chicharito and Marko Arnautovic should add more vigor in their attack, but it's unlikely they change the paradigm which West Ham is stuck in.

9. Leicester City

After last season's crash back to earth, Leicester should be under reasonable expectations this season. They've added smartly in some areas, but they still lack depth in others and their squad is bloated. Leicester unperformed their underlying numbers under Claudio Ranieri and then overperformed them under Craig Shakespeare. Somewhere in the middle is where this team lies, and that's probably in the 9-12 range.

8. Southampton

Saints always manage to recruit interesting managers, and Mauricio Pellegrino is another one. They've somehow kept Virgil Van Dijk despite his insistence in wanting to leave, and otherwise the squad is pretty much the same as it was a year ago. With a fresh manager and a host of players who could use an uptick in performance, Saints will win the title of "best of the rest", once again.

7. Everton

Selling Romelu Lukaku was a big deal. Bringing back in Wayne Rooney was also a big deal. There have been charges that Everton haven't invested their money wisely this summer, but this writer thinks they have. Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford and Sandro Ramirez were all smart buys, but they don't change the underlying issues that Everton faces. In the "Sky 7", they're firmly in seventh, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on someone else's mistakes.

6. Liverpool

A healthy Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah should make a very dynamic attack even more dynamic this season. Their issues up front have been fixed with Roberto Firmino playing as the furthest forward forward, alleviating the need for an out-and-out striker. But, their defensive issues remain, and there is still a nagging concern that Jurgen Klopp's team won't be able to perform the way that they should against lesser teams. There's also the Champions League, which adds extra stress to their squad which always has injury issues. They haven't done quite enough to improve based on what their rivals above them have done.

5. Spurs

They have a very, very good squad already, and only sold Kyle Walker this summer. However, they still haven't added anyone, and despite Mauricio Pochettino's insistence that new recruits are on the way, they haven't come in time for the start of the season. With their injury problems and many players who are unknowns, that could dig Spurs a hole that will be difficult to dig out of. Under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs have also been notoriously slow starters, which is a problem, especially considering Chelsea comes to Wembley the second week of the season. Until they make the requisite additions to a squad crying out for them, they can only be placed here.

4. Arsenal

Here is Arsenal, back in their natural position of fourth. Alexandre Lacazette is a good player, but there are questions to whether he is a good replacement for Olivier Giroud up front and addresses a need. Sead Kolasinac is a useful player, but the squad still has the same issues that it has had for many years, and it remains to be seen whether the new 3-5-2 formation will be enough to prevent the staleness that has usually defined Arsenal in recent years. If Liverpool or Spurs make improvements in the market, then Arsenal is facing another year without Champions League football.

3. Manchester United

They've spent a huge amount of money to sign three big names, who should help the balance of their squad tremendously. Romelu Lukaku is certainly worth the money, Nemanja Matic fills a hole in midfield, and Victor Lindelof should help stabilize the back four. But the squad also has plenty of deadwood in it and needs freshening up in itself, and in comparison to what their Manchester rivals have done, it seems that they need to do more. They can easily win the title, but they still have to do more, it seems to be true favorites.

2. Chelsea

They have added smartly to their squad in the spine of the team. However, it still seems, according to Antonio Conte, that the squad needs depth in key places and he's right. It's amazing to think how their prodigious academy cannot seemingly produce players good enough for the first team, and that should alleviate their need to buy, but it hasn't. And without that depth, they are not title favorites. Adding in European football to the mix is going to stress the thin squad even more, and it will take some shrewd work by Conte and the technical staff to make the additions necessary to see if Chelsea can become the first team to repeat as Premier League champions in a decade.

1. Manchester City

City has spent an exorbitant amount of money to fix the ills in the squad, and they seemingly have worked wonders. Benjamin Mendy, Danilo and Kyle Walker are all incredibly important additions to fix the fullback spots, and Bernardo Silva makes a dynamic attack even more dynamic. A full season of Gabriel Jesus and his prodigious talent is also a mouth-watering prospect. The squad still has holes and deadwood that needs to be shifted out, but if the preseason is any guide, City should be favorites for the title as things stand.

So here are the predictions and projections for the 2017-18 season, which could easily be blown up depending on the changes teams make in the transfer window. But Premier League soccer is back, and it's time to stop playing Football Manager and instead play actual football.

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