As has so often been proven, making pre-season predictions about league football is the most certain way for a journalist, blogger or pundit to make an absolute fool of themselves. Placing your words and reputation on the line before a ball has been kicked is, in 90% of cases, a true recipe for disaster.
It is far more sensible to take a step back, wait for the dust of the first few weeks to settle, before rolling up the sleeves and delving into the tricky task of calling what the score will be come May.
So throughout October (and November), I’ll be doing what I call my Quarter Season Predictions for each division of the English Football League, with this week’s final instalment being for the Premier League. Who will be promoted and relegated? Read on for the cast iron truth:
At the start of the season, the consensus was that, although it would be a closer fought contest than last year, Chelsea were still the strongest side and most likely title winners.
This has been proven to be further from the truth than any sane commenter would have thought. Chelsea are no longer undergoing a poor start to the season, this is now a mid-life crisis – which, given the average age of the squad is perhaps no surprise.
There are still plenty of usual suspects to choose from for the title however. The most prudent method in choosing who which of them will take the title is by selecting the one which has won its games so far with minimal fuss or, often, excitement. On this basis, Manchester City will win the league.
Arsenal and United, despite their obvious flaws – a dearth of defensive talent, and a lack of attacking spark coupled with tactical stodginess respectively – are good enough for second and third place, in an interchangeable order. Which leaves the question as to who will finish fourth. This is a trickier pick, as it could be a number of sides, given that none of them will be Chelsea.
It may seem to be jumping the gun to say that Chelsea, while well back in the title fight, are out of Champions League contention. Yet it is only three short years ago that they finished sixth in their season under Villas-Boas, which would have been an utter disaster had it not been for their shock CL triumph, with a better squad than they have now. They will finish sixth again this year.
So who is to finish fourth, and claim the “trophy” that Arsene Wenger so greatly prizes? West Ham and Leicester have made hugely impressive starts and both will be in with a Europa League sniff, but not fourth. Palace lack the squad depth too, and Liverpool’s Klopp revolution will take some time to bed in – a season or so. Southampton are becoming a genuine force, but they too need one more season to build, and perhaps a Europa League campaign longer than four matches.
Which leaves us with Spurs. Consistent thus far, the least troublesome for the headline writers out of the bigger clubs. They finally have found a manager with both talent and the sense not to seek the limelight or the trigger finger of Levy. They have, I think, the fourth best set of players in the league. It is their natural habitat.
For relegation, Villa’s goose seems at long last cooked. Of their three top class players last year – Vlaar, Delph and Benteke, a season saving spine – one is injured and two sold for £40million which has been splurged on tripe. It’s hard to think of a manager who would take the job right now, and, despite being a member for all 23 years, hard to think of them in the Premier League.
I do think both north-east teams will be OK – like him or loathe him, Big Sam gets clubs out of trouble and has the tools at Sunderland. Newcastle have the core of a good squad and McLaren should bring them together, although losing Krul for the season is a, um, cruel blow (sorry).
I think we will lose two out of the three promoted sides – Bournemouth, sadly, look woefully ill-prepared and have been savaged by terrible injury luck. Watford’s forwards, the sole reason they were so surprisingly promoted, haven’t adapted so well to the top tier. I don’t think they can last the course.
Norwich, meanwhile, will cling on. I’m a big Alex Neil fan. Manchester United manager in waiting. Which means he’ll be sacked by Christmas.