We’ve made it through the first half of what has turned into an extreme summer in many parts of the world, through all the talks of cataclysm and the ongoing threats from viral infections both old hat and new. Thus now we arrive once again in August, the Christmas of the summer for football fans around much of the globe: A new season is upon us.
There still remains a lot in flux, as the summer transfer window has a great deal of time to add another twist or two, but as of right now, most of the major players and teams have made their moves. So, with the curtain set to lift on another campaign, here are my very early predictions for what the EPL league looks like, in a tiered format. At the end, I’ll also give my quick predictions for the Top 4 finishes in the rest of the major European leagues as well.
Without further ado, in reverse order:
The Relegation Battlers
It’s an often cruel twist of fate that the newly promoted teams spend so much of their season just trying to get a foothold on the league. Between trying to solidify players they may have only brought in on loan or with the sole goal of gaining promotion, it can feel like they are behind the curve before the season even begins. From what I’ve seen so far in the transfer business, that’s the vibes I’ve been getting from two of the new squads. The moves from both Fulham and Bournemouth still seem to be in that vein. Likewise, for Southampton who always seem to have their best players plucked away and still remain a team that cannot fully forge an identity all its own. For them, a long season looms.
Leeds on the other hand have an identity, though it’s a very dangerous one. They play an extremely fun, swashbuckling style, akin to the early Klopp Liverpool days in many ways, where they only knew how to play one direction. They’ve continued to bring in impressive talents, and especially seem to be keen to link up the American connection between manager and player. One extremely NOT hot take is they will not lead the league in clean sheets. But they will also scare the living hell out of a lot of teams because they never stop attacking, even when they should.
Finally Everton. Though there was much amusement when their fans celebrated avoiding relegation like they’d won the title last season, theirs is a proud team with a long tradition. It’s honestly unreal how far they’ve fallen so quickly. Usually, the joke for Liverpool fans is to predict two teams plus Everton to get relegated out of sheer spite but this may be the rare season where their lack of recruitment might make that a real possibility. The team seem bereft of any sort of true attacking threats and in a serious injection of talent ASAP. If they are near the bottom by Halloween, they will probably be looking for a new manager as well. In the end, I think they somehow manage to scrape by, but only just and the knives will be out for many people involved in this downward spiral.
I really like the additions that Forest have made this summer, especially the Lingard signing and actually think they could push for Top 10 if things truly break right for them. Obviously, this being their first season up, just surviving is the name of the game. Their fans will give the team a huge lift at home and their manager Steve Cooper has shown he is someone who knows how to build a team up. The job he did last season alone is worth some trust.
Brentford are a very good success story for any newly promoted team and they work very well within themselves to get by. Another season in the EPL, with some more time to really forge an identity, will do them a world of good. They could, of course, be dragged down if their form suffers any drop but something tells me the very bottom is already very crowded.
The Muddled Middle
These 5 clubs will land somewhere mid-table and for the most part, is where they deserve to be. All 5 clubs have solid squads, capable of winning on any given day but lack the depth or real game changers to push into the European places. Ironically, while a club like Brighton will be more or less happy to be here, should Leicester end up in this range, I think it will be the end of the Brendan Rodgers era. The fact any of these teams is fully capable of getting a result, especially at home, speaks to the sheer quality of teams in the league this coming season. A good run of form could see any of them pushing their way into the next tier while a rough patch could also see them slide downwards. In the end, mid-table feels like the best destiny for all of them.
Also, obviously, with still a month to go in the window and with every squad flush with cash, there could be additions yet to help boost any one of these teams. Should Villa be able to pull another disgruntled but talented player in the Coutinho mold for instance, that could drastically increase their fortunes.
Knocking On The European Door
Two teams that have genuine top 4 ambitions but may find themselves crowded out and battling for 7th and the final European place. West Ham had a wonderful season last term but all remains to be seen how they will cope now with a much fuller schedule. Their squad has a lot to like, especially if they hold on to Bowen and are able to find more goals from their strikers. However, they will need a few teams with a little more depth and resources to wobble down to break into the true top of the league.
Newcastle, on the other hand, continue to be a sleeping giant. Armed with an unlimited wallet, they must recruit even more players if they want to really achieve anything close to their own dreams. There is a lot of talent on the team but they are still at least two, maybe 3 transfer windows away from having the full squad depth needed to push on to Champions League football. This may be the final season where they don’t at least knock heavily on that door and they could in fact surprise some by making swifter progress than predicted.
Top 4 Or Bust
4 storied squads, with 4 very different directions and off-seasons. For Chelsea and United, the pre-season has felt at times chaotic and at times the outlook feels more positive. What both teams are really missing at the moment is any sort of continuity. United, with a new manager and the still looming Ronaldo cloud, possess a lot of, at least on paper, elite talent but have yet to find the right way to make them gel. Whereas some squads manage the absolute best out of their players, getting more effort for more results, United have a tendency to play less than the sum of their impressive parts. The defence remains a question mark and the midfield too, even with the addition of Erikson. Ten Hag has an impressive resume and knows how to create attacking units but can he find a way to make this team fight and play for one another when things get tough?
Chelsea had the very public breakup with their owner and then their star striker and have seemingly still been in a daze since then. They also seem like a team that is still uncertain of its identity and even with a truly great manager at the helm, there seems to just be something off at the club. If they somehow finished outside the top 4, a real upheaval could be in order. Which back under the old regime, was par for the course, but now, in this unknown new frontier, could lead in any number of directions, few of which are positive.
Both Arsenal and Spurs should hold genuine belief they can finish in the top 4 and possibly even push for the Top 2. Spurs especially have had what looks to be an excellent window and have created a team with true depth all over. Conte will demand much of his charges and it remains to be seen how they will respond, especially once the World Cup break hits and their most important players are pulled away for a month at a time. For Arsenal, it’s about the youth finally coming good and for the love of Arsene Wenger, can they get their tempers under control? They always play not only with fire but get burned by it. If somehow they could channel all that rage and energy into a positive attack, this could be the year they finally return a real threat.
Eyes On The Prize, Again
To quote the Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was.” These two remain the absolute class of England, both possessing great depth, gameplans, and managers who pull every string for club and fan alike about as well as any since Fergie himself.
What ultimately will separate them? Both matches against one another ended in draws last season, though if the Community Shield shows anything, it could be that Liverpool might be slightly more ahead of schedule for the start of the new season. Likewise, the only real point of weakness I could detect from either squad was in City’s left-back position. This of course being City, it is highly likely they add someone there before the close of the window to shore it up.
Thus in the end, what I think could decide this season rests on how Klopp motivates his men to go again. As with what happened the last time they finished a point from the top and roared back for the title, this year is another opportunity to use the near glory as rocket fuel to propel them to the very top.
My head says that City are the favourite because they possess the fullest team and have the track record, but on this summer evening, my heart wins out and I say Liverpool indeed find a way back to the top. The squad is as settled as can be imagined for one with this much history already and the new additions, especially Diaz and Nunez are exactly what the attack requires to continue to evolve moving forward. It may come down as well to those head-to-head games or finding ways to rescue wins late in matches, which the extra subs may help with. No matter the outcome, bring on the new season, with all the twists and turns!
Final League Table Prediction
Rest of The Top European League Predictions
Probably the most competitive title aside from the Premier League, any number of teams look likely to grab the top of Italy. Overall, I think what Inter have built will allow them to take over the crown again. Bringing back in Lukaku could be exactly what they needed and his return could see a repeat of past glory for all. Juve are always lurking as well but Jose and Roma are on some kind of wild romantic ride at the moment and I think it ends with them sneaking back into the top 3.
They continue to mortgage the future for the present but that gamble might just about pay off for Barcelona this coming season. It remains to be seen what sort of voodoo accounting is required before all is said and done but they have definitely strengthened the squad. Real likewise have added substantial power and depth to their midfield. It will be very interesting to see if this is the last ride for much of the old guard or if the young recruits will already take their places. It could be a somewhat transitionary season which is why Barcelona might just pip them for the title.
The Munich Machine just keeps on chugging along and this season should be no different. Adding in old friend Sadio Mane will give them a more fluid attack which should help them not miss much of a beat despite losing Lewandoski to Barca. Germany beyond Munich are actually a very fun and actually quite balanced league and some surprises could come up and crash into the top 4 but I think these squads have the depth to find a way back to Europe in the end. For Bayern, the season ultimately is measured not just by their domestic victory but by finding a way to win the Champions League and they may have one eye on that trophy which could leave them vulnerable at times but in the end, their depth is just too strong.
No season is a foregone conclusion before a ball is kicked but PSG’s dominance in France is as close it may come in Europe. Even more than Bayern, the top of the French league is so tilted that it would take such a rash of injuries and loss of form for PSG to not glide to the title that a bookie’s head would spin. The two biggest stories for them were finding a way to keep Mbappe and bringing in Galtier to run the show is exactly what the team needs. In fact, much like Man
City, what might end up being their driving ambition isn’t domestic success but that elusive European Crown. Time will tell if this band of superstars can hold it together long enough to realize this goal but for now, they are the class of France. Lyon should bounce back as well due to excellent summer recruitment and could be the only team to scare the PSG juggernaut domestically.
So there you have it! Not a lot of big upsets, unfortunately, especially outside of England but that is the current state of the moment in football, where the haves REALLY have and the have-nots are lucky for scraps. Still, the games must be played for any of it to be real and now we sit back and let the madness begin again.