It’s impossible to call who will win the Premier League 16/17, and even who will qualify for the Champions League, but as I’m such an awesome blogger and a general great guy, I’ve decided to have a guess even though it’s a total shot in the dark and I’ll totally humiliate myself. What I am pretty sure of is that there will be a ‘mini-league’ at the top, of the best 6 teams in the league – the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool – and here is how I think it will all end up.
1. Man City
Everyone involved in the club has been raving about how Pep Guardiola has totally transformed the club in these past few weeks. Lots of players say they have come on in leaps and bounds, with Fabian Delph saying he has learnt more in three weeks than in his entire career! Guardiola has come into the most talented group of players in the league, even before he made any changes – in Joe Hart they have a solid keeper, Kompany is the best centre-back in the league, Yaya Toure is still a powerhouse in his old age, De Bruyne and Silva are two of the best attacking midfielders ever and Sergio Aguero guarantees 20 goals a season. He has improved all the players, and taught them his methods that rules the roost in Spain and Germany. What’s more, he has been given all the funding he wants – spending nearly £150 million. Leroy Sane brings some much-needed pace to a midfield that is getting on a bit, but will he spell the end for Raheem Sterling? Ilkay Gundogan plugs a potential gap in a deep-lying midfield position, and Nolito adds strength in depth going forward. Perhaps most importantly is the signing of John Stones, whose youth and pace, along with his composure on the ball, is something never seen before in an English defender and is the style of defence Guardiola preferred in his former clubs – passing out from the back.
What we have seen from City that we haven’t seen from the other big teams with new bosses is a clear sense of direction – all the signings fit into a set style and system, and Guardiola is the perfect man to deliver the crown of Champions back to the Etihad. And you get the feeling, with the ever-ageing core of the team that won their first two Premier Leagues, that this really has to be their year.
2. Man United
Jose Mourinho, a serial winner, has linked up with Manchester United, serial winners, so there can only be one of two outcomes – they win all there is to win or end up being too big for each other and fall apart (as Mourinho often does).
Their signings have been mega and have hit the headlines. Eric Bailly cost millions, but he was fantastic in the Community Shield and could become the new United centre-back cult hero. Henrik Mkhitaryan is a great player, an assist king who also has a few goals up his sleeve. It is very easy to see where he fits in in the United midfield, and he will certainly bring something to the table provided he quickly settles into English football. Of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic brings with another big ego and on just a single year contract I can’t really see this one being a winning formula – he is just not mobile enough and as United lack pace to run off him it will be vital that Mourinho plays Lingard or Rashford to compliment Zlatan – something that Mourinho is unlikely to do. And finally Paul Pogba. He is a monster of a player that they sold a few years ago, then bough back for £87.5 million more. Nevertheless, he will bring some much-needed steel to the midfield and is a true maestro – he can do everything. Whether he is worth the world-record price tag, we’ll have to wait and see…
What is for certain is that Mourinho’s style brings success in the Premier League and after maybe a period of adaption they will click defensively and learn how to park a bus. They will have a solid season and threaten, but never quite overcome, Man City. Europa League football will be awkward and they have a bloated squad that may struggle to click at first, but they have the players and manager in there somewhere to have a successful campaign.
They have had a low-key transfer window, with Mauricio Pochettino treading lightly, not overthinking and throwing money at his squad. Two interesting buys, Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen, have to prove themselves but from the masterstrokes we saw last year from the Argentine boss we should all trust him on this one.
Tottenham’s season could go either way. They seemed mentally frail and their young age was obvious at the business end of last year, and could struggle to cope with the bigger names at bigger clubs. However, they could take advantage of other big teams above them going through a period of transition, and their young squad can only get better this year. I don’t think they will do badly, but they won’t top last season’s third place. I do, however, think that of all the London clubs, they have the best ‘team’ – excellent in every department. They may well challenge the Manchester clubs but will come just short, in a close third place.
The biased Liverpool fan is at it again! But I do have some very well thought out reasons that I came up with, so humour me please…
Under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool made the most goalscoring opportunities last year. They reached two finals, and played excellently against teams like Manchester City and Chelsea. Klopp’s heavy-metal football is enthralling and really entertaining to watch, and he has transformed mid-table teams into title challengers before, working miracles at Borussia Dortmund.
In lots of games last year Liverpool looked unstoppable, and if they can consistently play like they did at those times, with passion and fight in abundance, and the quality of Coutinho, Wijnaldum, Mane and co. thrown in, they could have a storming season and come top of the pile. They have no European football to contend with, and Klopp recently said that he is perfectly happy with his squad. On the contrary, despite all the attacking potency, defence is still an issue – Mignolet still looks a bit feeble and Karius is out with a broken hand in goal, and Alberto Moreno is painful to watch as he simply can’t defend. At centre-back, Ragnar Klavan and Joel Matip have been brought in, and Sakho and Lovren are both improving, but all 4 look wobbly at times and struggle with injury. Emre Can has the potential to be Liverpool’s most important player this year – he was getting better and better as last term progressed, and his protection of the back 4 along with his energy could make all the difference if Liverpool can mount a decent title challenge.
Overall, in most games I think it could be a case of you score 3, we’ll score 4 for Liverpool because Klopp’s defence still looks shaky. For Liverpool it could also go either way but I think another year or two is needed before a proper title tilt.
After a disastrous year last year, in which they finished tenth, they brought in Antonio Conte, who in turn didn’t bring in enough players to improve his squad. N’Golo Kante should add some energy and Michy Batshuayi has potential, but both are relatively unproven at the highest level. That will leave it up to Conte’s coaching and the class of 2014/15 to deliver a good season at the Bridge, where they will probably just want to reach Champions League football again and then build from there.
I think they have the capability to do that, but they could very easily fail in their goal. They have some amazing players, but it didn’t work for them at all last year, and with the strength of all the other teams this time round, who can safely say they’ll perform the year? They may struggle to find goals, and at the back they will rely on Conte to improve their leakiness. It’s a tricky one, and they may well win the league under Conte (who impressed as Italy boss at the Euros), but I think they need a year to get over last term’s turmoil and start to begin again.
It takes a brave man to back Arsenal to finish outside the Top 4, something that they haven’t done in my lifetime… But that’s exactly what I think will happen this year. Whilst every other team has strengthened, trained and worked, Wenger has recruited the services of only Granit Xhaka, who will do little to improve gaping holes at centre-back and up front as he is another midfielder! They came second last year – but that was due to other teams collapsing, and this year all 5 big teams that finished below them last year look a lot better then the Gunners this time out. Sanchez and Ozil will need to salvage some success otherwise Arsene Wenger will end his contract on a low note.
So there you have my reasoning behind a controversial prediction for the Top 6 teams this year. Feel free to laugh at me when Hull win the league and City, United and Spurs go down…
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