Thursday, August 9, 2018

2018-19 Premier League Predictions

With the transfer deadline moved up three weeks in the Premier League for reasons only understood by a few executives, not only can we collectively put Jim White back in his cryogenic chamber a little earlier, but I don't have to write two prediction pieces based on new movements in the transfer window after the start of the season! It saves me internet ink, but also makes these usually pretty poor predictions slightly better, or at least one can hope that. So with a wonderful World Cup and a traditionally silly transfer window now behind us, let's look ahead to see how the new season will play out.

20. Cardiff City

Neil Warnock is managing his 15th different club and has managed to get eight teams promoted in his tenure. That's a fairly remarkable accomplishment all things considered. Keeping this Cardiff team in the Premier League may be the biggest of his career if he can pull it off. They haven't spent wildly this summer, and their additions are mainly Championship quality players adding to a Championship quality squad. They seem almost nailed on for immediate relegation, but so did Huddersfield and Cardiff at this time last season too. If they stay up, it might not be Neil Warnock who gets them there, but whoever can may well be knighted in south Wales.

19. Huddersfield Town

By sheer force of will, David Wagner kept a talent deficient Huddersfield Town in the Premier League season despite scoring 28 goals and shipping 58. Sadly, it seems that second season syndrome is coming for the Terriers. Their business hasn't been terrible, but where are their goals coming from? Unlike most teams around them, they also haven't made a standout signing that could singlehandedly change their fortunes. Wagner deserves credit for what he's done with this club, but asking him to keep this team in the league for another year might be asking too much.

18. Brighton & Hove Albion

In some ways, it was more surprising to see the Seagulls stay up last year than Huddersfield. Chris Hughton isn't the personality in the dugout like David Wagner, and their squad was less impressive. But they too stayed up against the odds. But like with the Terriers, I fear for Brighton's future in the league. Hughton wore out his stay at Norwich in a similar position earlier in the decade, and that may happen here too. Brighton have made better signings such as the Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbaksh who is a talent, and they still have dynamism going forward with Solly March and Jose Izquierdo, but it seems like they hit their ceiling last year and to replicate what worked before will be incredibly difficult.

17. Watford

With all of their changes in the dugout and in the dressing room, it certainly seemed that Watford wouldn't be as consistent as they have been in staying up. They always seem to find just enough to stay up, and as it stands, that may be the case again. Losing Richarlison will hurt, but he went off the boil by November. Abdoulaye Doucoure is an underrated part of Watford's success, but they will need goals from Andre Gray and Troy Deeney to have any chance. Javi Gracia's CV also isn't incredibly impressive, but he got enough out of his squad last year to inspire enough confidence to think he can do it again.

16. Burnley

Burnley's season last year was nothing short of incredible considering their budget vis-a-vis everyone else in the league. Sean Dyche is one of the most underrated managers in the game and deserves immense credit for what he has accomplished with a Championship club at best. It's almost impossible for them to repeat what they did a season ago, which will be made even more difficult if they end up making the Europa League group stages. That's a poisoned chalice for the best of teams, let alone those like Burnley. With Dyche, they now are pretty much assured to not get relegated, and their signings should help re-enforce their precarious position in the league, but if they play on Thursdays and Dyche picks up admiring glances from other clubs needing a change in the dugout, then trouble could be coming.

15. Southampton

For all the players they've sold for profit since re-entering the big time earlier in the 2010's, it's an accomplishment to see how well they've performed for years. Last year, the house of cards almost collapsed completely as the Mauricio Pellegrino experiment failed spectacularly and some of their signings failed to pan out in a big way. Their squad is tighter now for old Sparky, Mark Hughes, but they'll need flashes of past brilliance from Charlie Austin, Manolo Gabbiadini and Shane Long to put away relegation fears. They have enough quality to ensure that last year is more of a fluke than the new rule, but this is not the club that was safely top half a few years ago.

14. Newcastle United

Why and how does Rafael Benitez continue as manager of a big club run so cheaply? Perhaps it is because he is beloved on Tyneside and did his darndest to keep a Championship level squad up last year, but he has the same concerns this year in terms of the quality of players he has. His signings aren't bad, and he is a good enough manager to get the most out of very little, but this is not a club that should be in the lower half of the Premier League at any point and yet they are. If Rafa leaves, Newcastle is immediately in danger again, but should he stay, they'll be fine. But this club has so much potential, and yet it is almost entirely wasted. It's a shame.

13. Crystal Palace

Palace had the worst start to a Premier League season ever last year by going seven games without a goal, and yet they stayed up without a whole lot of incident after. Roy Hodgson may be old, he may have coached England to embarrassment against Iceland in Euro 2016, but he got the most out of that group to keep them in the top flight. Roy doesn't have a big squad still, but he did keep hold of Wilfried Zaha and signed Max Meyer from Schalke on a free transfer, which is an amazing bit of business. If they can get any goals from Christian Benteke or Alexander Sorloth, they won't have much trouble avoiding relegation. After surviving their start last season, anything is really possible in South London.

12. Bournemouth

If anyone told you before the 2015-16 season that Bournemouth wouldn't just survive their first season ever in the top flight, but thrive, you would have been called insane. But Eddie Howe is one of the most underrated managers not just in England, but anywhere across the globe. This is his club from top to bottom, which is probably why he's stayed so long. They haven't spent big this summer, and their signings are gambles, but Bournemouth are still in the top flight despite that being their summer since they joined the division. So long as Eddie Howe is in the dugout, Bournemouth are a Premier League team.

11. Fulham

Fulham are a club famous for their ground being on the River Thames and having a Michael Jackson statue right outside said ground because their old owner was a huge fan. They also once made a Europa League final and some of the clubs best ever players are Americans in Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey. Now that they're back in the top flight for the first time in four years, they've spent a huge amount of cash to get their squad to mid-table quality. Jean-Michael Seri is a coup, so too is Andre Schurrle and and Luciano Vietto. They also added Alfie Mawson, a great center-half who could and probably should be playing somewhere better. That's just the start of their business. It's a huge gamble to spend big when you've just been promoted, but their business is so good, and Slavisa Jokanovic is such a good manager, that Fulham aren't just seemingly safe by newly promoted standards, they may well be in mid-table and stay there.

10. Wolves

Last year's Champions of the second tier absolutely demolished the league they way they played; a 3-4-3 with expansive attacking play and creativity that most clubs in the Championship couldn't match. In the Premier League, it's going to be a lot harder for them to do that, but they have the players to pull it off. Some of their business has been wonderful, especially Joao Moutinho and Leander Dendoncker in midfield. The ownership's connections to super-agent Jorge Mendes is how Wolves went from the third tier to projected mid-table in the top flight so quickly, but don't discount how good they could be if they play the way they can. They're really, really good.

9. West Ham

In the last couple of seasons, West Ham's ambitions of being a Champions League caliber club almost blew up in their face with disastrous results, fan protests and pitch invasions. But they survived that, and David Moyes to now come out firing with huge spending in the summer window. Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko among others are now in and add some quality to a squad that already had a good deal of it going forward. Their back line is problematic, but they did add quality there too, if unproven. Manuel Pellegrini is a good manager who will keep this talented yet testy group of players out of trouble as was a problem in recent years, and will nestle them safely in the top half.

8. Leicester City

Two years later than most expected, one of the key cogs in the Champions from 2016 has moved on to pastures new in Riyad Mahrez. He was so good and so critical to everything Leicester did that it's almost a stretch to say they'll match their form from recent years again, right? They still have Jamie Vardy, Harry Maguire and added quality in James Maddison and some reinforcements on the back line that will help. Their midfield isn't spectacular though; there's no real N'Golo Kante type waiting in the wings. But Vardy's goals, Kasper Schmeichel's magic and enough of that pixie dust from a few years ago will keep Leicester safely in the top half.

7. Everton

Everton are spending real money now after for years supporters claimed that they had none, and they're really starting to throw it around. They made three signings from Barcelona and spent over 40 million pounds to sign Richarlison from Watford. That's on top of their ridiculous cash outlay from last year, when most of their signings were busts. Their squad is really bloated with signings from three different managers playing a major role, but if Marco Silva can knit them together, as he proved he can do at worse circumstances at Hull and Watford, Everton will be playing in Europe again.

6. Arsenal

Arsene Wenger is no longer the manager at the Emirates, and that even now is something odd to say. Arsenal have been so defined by that man and his style for multiple generations that to see him as a pundit is strange. Unai Emery is an interesting choice to replace Wenger, considering his successes at Sevilla but failing to live up to expectations at PSG. The signings pulled off by former Dortmund director of recruitment Sven Mislintat are good ones, but not standout signings by any stretch. Lucas Torreira could be a coup, and the club has yet to see the best of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Defensively, they still are a mess and the midfield still has holes, and with Europa League obligations, they could still be a ways off from Champions League play. But they have at least gone in a positive new direction... that is until Stan Kroenke meddles too much and probably ruins it, as he's done with every single team he's ever owned.

5. Chelsea

After sending Thibaut Courtois out the door, they immediately spent over 75 million pounds on a new goalkeeper that is David De Gea's deputy for Spain. Interesting, right? New manager Maurizio Sarri wants Chelsea to play in a more streamlined, beautiful fashion as opposed to the pragmatism of Antonio Conte, which could mean Chelsea are in for more 3-2 games than in past season. But Conte's message wore thin fast, and Sarri's introduction of players like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi and newcomers like Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic will help spark a stale squad. Do they have enough to make it back to the Champions League? Eden Hazard may have to score all their goals for that to happen.

4. Spurs

New stadium, three straight Champions League appearances and no new signings. For a club that often makes a mess of transfer windows, this is a new experience entirely for Tottenham Hotspur. Whatever the reasoning behind the non-activity is, Daniel Levy made a hash of the window in a major way. The aura of a new stadium will help wash that away a little, but if they start slowly in the new season, the knives will be out. Their squad is still very solid though, especially when players like Lucas Moura will feel like new signings, as cliched as that phrase is. So long as Harry Kane continues to score for fun, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen provide the creativity and Hugo Lloris continues to be one of the best keepers in the world, Spurs should be able to sneaky into the Champions League again.

But this club should be aiming higher, and no stadium debt should prevent them from doing that. Their January is going to be fascinating, isn't it?

3. Manchester United

The only person who is angrier with the summer transfer window than most Spurs supporters is Jose Mourinho, who is already talking like he knows his time at Old Trafford is done. Fred is a quality player, but Mourinho's moaning about his squad rings hollow when you see how much money he continues to spend on players only for him to never get the best out of them (Paul Pogba). On balance, Manchester United should be winning trophies and seriously contending for the Premier League, and since Sir Alex retired they haven't. That's not on Ed Woodward so much as its on Mourinho, who burns the candle at both ends in every one of his managerial stops, and by this time, the good times run out. United will still be plenty good, but not good enough by their standards, and for Mourinho, he needs to look in the mirror to see why.

2. Liverpool

If it wasn't for Loris Karius giving the website "What a Howler" the material for eternity he did in the Champions League Final, perhaps Liverpool would have just nicked it. Of course having a healthy Mo Salah would have helped. All of those goals and all of that Champions League success does cloud a team who consistently dropped points against inferior opposition all the time, despite how well they played against the big boys. But their cash outlay this summer should allay concerns about those issues a little. Naby Keita is a star, Alisson is one of the world's best keepers and Xherdan Shaqiri is quite a substitute. Consider what they have in terms of potential young stars as well, and you have a legitimate contender on all fronts. But do they have enough on the backline to allay all fears? That remains to be seen. What is not in doubt is that this is Klopp's best team yet at Anfield, and now is the time to turn promise into silverware.

1. Manchester City

They won the Premier League in September last year and looked so calm doing it. There was never any fuss about City in anything they did, because they were so dominant. Tactically they were always superior, and any concerns about their defense were put away almost immediately. Now, they add Riyad Mahrez to an already stacked attacking band, and their biggest concern might be how no team has repeated as Champions for nearly a decade. There are some concerns deeper in midfield that will have to be addressed eventually, but for now they are the clear favorites to win the league again, and it will take a lot for something to change that.

Other winners:
League Cup: Chelsea
FA Cup: Liverpool
Golden Boot: Harry Kane
Player of the Year: Kevin De Bruyne