This is the second part of my inevitably terrible Premier League predictions. You can find the first part here.
Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge was undoubtedly a disappointment, finishing 15 points behind Chelsea and failing to win any of the cup competitions. The defence was clearly the weakest area of the team so the summer’s recruitment has focused on this area, and full-backs specifically – Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy will be key to Guardiola’s system. Bernardo Silva adds to a frightening array of attacking midfielders, and they’ll hope that Ederson is an upgrade on Claudio Bravo. There’s also been a major clearout – Hart, Zabaleta, Fernando, Kolarov, Clichy, Iheanacho and Jesus Navas are just some of the first teamers to have been culled. Their pre-season form has been superb and the expectation is they will be competing for titles, both domestically and on the continent.
Despite an underwhelming league campaign, Jose Mourinho’s first season at Old Trafford was largely seen as a success. The cup double of League Cup and Europa League helped to make up for a sixth place league finish, and also meant they qualified for the Champions League. The main problem was putting away the weaker sides at home, drawing more games than any other side in the division. The transfer strategy this summer is the same as last – focus on three or four big name signings to go straight into the starting lineup. Romelu Lukaku will lead the line, Nemanja Matic should allow Pogba to play a more attacking role, and Benfica’s Victor Lindelof adds depth to the back line. Anything less than a serious title challenge will be considered a failure.
As expected, Rafa Benitez led his Newcastle side to promotion at the first time of asking, pipping Brighton to the Championship title on the final day. The squad was far too strong for the Championship but probably needs to be strengthened further to compete in the Premier League, particularly up front. Winger Jacob Murphy has joined from Norwich, and the defence has been reinforced with the signings of Florian Lejeune and Javier Manquillo. Lucas Perez is one of a number of strikers linked to a move to St James’ Park. Benitez has suggested that he isn’t entirely happy with the backing received from owner Mike Ashley – keeping hold of the Spaniard is key to Newcastle’s chances this campaign. If he walks out, it could be another miserable season on Tyneside.
Scoring goals was Southampton’s main problem last season – they managed only 41 in their 38 league games, failing to hit the net in their last five home fixtures. This was a major factor behind the sacking of Claude Puel, despite an 8th place finish and a run to the League Cup final. The new man in charge, Mauricio Pellegrino, will need to bring some entertainment back to St Mary’s. It’s been a fairly quiet transfer window, with only Mario Lemina from Juventus and Lech Poznan’s Jan Bednarek coming in. Jay Rodriguez has departed to West Brom in the only major departure so far. Virgil van Dijk has handed in a transfer request and is expected to leave, which would leave the Saints short at the back. Another mid-table finish looks likely.
The Potters’ run of ninth-place finishes came to an end in 2016/17, though they finished only two points off in 13th. A slow summer in the transfer market has left some fans fearing that they could get sucked into a relegation battle. The mercurial Marko Arnautovic has departed for West Ham and veteran Jon Walters has gone to Burnley, with Glenn Whelan and Phil Bardsley also departing. Kurt Zouma and Darren Fletcher are smart signings but the only attacking acquisition has been Eric Choupo-Moting, who scored only three goals last season for Schalke. Mark Hughes’ men only scored 41 goals all last season and there’s no prospect of that tally being improved this season, so a strong defence will be crucial to their season.
The Swans suffered their worst Premier League season since getting promoted in 2011, staying up by the skin of their teeth having gone through three permanent managers. Francesco Guidolin didn’t last long and Bob Bradley was a disaster – it was only the management of Paul Clement and form of star players Sigurdsson and Llorente that gave them a chance of surviving. They start the season without either player – the Iceland star is expected to leave and Llorente is injured – which could have a disastrous impact on their season. Tammy Abraham and Roque Mesa have joined but there is still a lack of quality in the squad, though it will be interesting to monitor the progress of defender Alfie Mawson. Another relegation scrap looks likely this season.
Mauricio Pochettino led Spurs to their best-ever Premier League season, racking up 86 points and losing only four games all season, but they still finished well short of champions Chelsea. The challenge for them this season will be to compete for the title and to improve on last season’s disappointing Champions League performance. A potential spanner in the works is Wembley Stadium, Spurs’ home ground for this season. They have a miserable record at the national stadium, so they’ll need to get over that mental barrier quickly. There has been criticism over their transfer policy – nobody has joined so far this summer, with Kyle Walker departing for Manchester City. Danny Rose’s comments on the pay structure and lack of transfer activity have caused a stir but they did contain some truth. They’ll need to add to the squad to compete on all fronts this season.
Watford were unable to build on a successful first season back in the Premier League, though they were able to survive fairly comfortably. The fans never warmed to Walter Mazzarri so it was no surprise when it was announced he was leaving. Marco Silva has arrived from Hull and will hope to bring a bit more entertainment to Vicarage Road. The squad has remained relatively static compared to recent seasons, which should help the club establish themselves in the top flight. There are some shrewd additions – Andre Gray has been taken from Burnley, and Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah add youth to the centre of midfield. Question marks remain over their defensive strength – 68 goals were let in last season, the fourth worst record in the division. One or two further additions should see them stay up comfortably.
West Bromwich Albion
West Brom were one of the surprise packages of last season, particularly in the first half of the campaign. The form tailed off once safety was assured but they still achieved a top-half finish for the first time since the 2012/13 season. As was the case last summer, manager Tony Pulis is working to a relatively tight budget, the only major signing being Jay Rodriguez from Southampton for around £12million. They surprisingly let Darren Fletcher join Stoke City, but other than that the squad is relatively settled and will probably finish mid-table again. One potential concern is the ageing backline, but they should still have the organisation and experience to avoid a relegation scrap. On the other hand, it seems unlikely they will be able to improve much on last season’s effort, given the small transfer budget.
West Ham United
West Ham’s first season in the former Olympic Stadium didn’t go to plan, as they were unable to build on the success of the previous season and needed a late upturn in results to finish 11th. Now that the teething issues are out of the way and the squad is more settled, Slaven Bilic’s men will be aiming for a top-half finish this season. They have made a few eye-catching additions to the squad, including Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez, who looks like a steal at £15million. He will be expected to lead the line, given Andy Carroll’s injury record, and if Bilic can get some consistency from Arnautovic and Andre Ayew, they will have a potent attack. There are still question marks over the defence and the pressure is on Bilic to improve on last season’s effort.
Who do you think will take the title, and who will be battling against the drop? Let me know in the comments below.