August is here, which means the Premier League is upon us. It never really left, if you think about it. Not a summer day passed without Gareth Bale almost moving to Old Trafford, or Alexis Sanchez almost taking himself and his two dogs to greener pastures away from North London, or Jurgen Klopp smiling and saying "we're just fine," even as the world burns around him. But, come Saturday, life will have renewed purpose and meaning and weekends won't just be a drunken haze; they'll be a drunken haze with football on the telly. And the Qataris can have their Neymars, both junior and senior, the Premier League doesn't care. It has the living and breathing equivalent to primetime drama: Jose Mourinho. Try and beat that. Him, his arch nemesis Arsene Wenger, his old foe Pep Guardiola, his replacement Antonio Conte and the exuberant German Jurgen Klopp, both of whom have had hair transplant (insert Mourinho giggle here), will go at it again and we'll be the real winners by May next year. Because no matter if our teams win or lose, by the end of it all, we will be entertained.
To kick off that fun, we must delve into a ritualistic last-minute predictathon and gaze into the crystal ball to find what could be in store for the 20 teams in the fray this year. We're going alphabetically, so strap on.
Who doesn't love the Cherries? Their journey from the depths of English tier football to the Premier League is a Disney script, with Eddie Howe as the knight in shining armour. Everybody keeps asking him, "How did you do it, Howe?" They played their first ever top division football in 2015-16, did more than just survive, finishing 16th, and then went on to finish ninth last season. Indeed, how, Howe? How? Considering their meteoric rise and the fact that they have now signed a good goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic, a more than decent centre-half in Nathan Ake and Fantasy Premier League's biggest star from last season, Jermaine Defoe, expect them to maintain their status quo.
Fantastic outcome: Bournemouth will do a half Leicester and finish top four. Because let's face it, it's now quite impossible to do a full Leicester; the big clubs have taken care of that. Defoe will continue to defy logic and score 21 goals in the season, more than Sergio Aguero's 20, to finish joint-third top scorer in the league.
Realistic outcome: The Cherries start the season strong but decline at the turn of the year. However, a late season push will see them finish in the top half. Ninth. Not bad at all.
Oh, Lord. Where do we even begin? For this one, we gazed into the crystal ball and a 'Wenger Out' banner gazed back. Between Wenger's micro-frustrations and Giroud's perfect jaw structure, it's tough to say where the Arsenal ball will fall this season. Alexandre Lacazette is a promising and expensive signing and Sead Kolasinac has already displayed his muscles and mettle in the Community Shield win against defending champions Chelsea. But the question everyone, including Gooners, is asking is 'is it enough?' An optimistic answer is we don't know. A realistic one is no. Gone are the days when the phrase 'top four finish' was inscribed under the Gunners' crest. And Arsenal are always an injury away from disaster. However, the Europa League offers the alternate route, which Mourinho's United were quite happy to take last season. And who knows? Maybe Sanchez will go on a final march before he moves on next year. A parting gift?
Fantastic outcome: Arsenal win the Europa League, but it won't even matter as they'll eke out a photo finish towards the end of the season and finally win the title after a long wait. Of course, they'll also win the FA Cup and Wenger will retire with a smile, throwing a treble in the face of non-believers. Sanchez signs a new contract.
Realistic outcome: This is not too bad either. An FA Cup and Europa League double, Champions League qualification, despite finishing fifth. Wenger is going nowhere. Sanchez is a Gooner goner though.
Brighton & Hove Albion:
Brighton are making their Premier League debut this time after finishing runners up in the Championship last year. A great occasion for the club and its fans. They'll be hoping to get some memorable results along the way. Maybe a giant killing? Brighton have broken their transfer record thrice over the summer for some valuable additions. It will still, however, be hard for the Seagulls to soar. It's hard to see them going far when their official website is carrying the story 'Parking sold out for Man City match' as club news on their homepage. They're just happy to be here folks.
Fantastic outcome: They survive and stay up. That's as fantastic as it gets for them.
Realistic outcome: They don't. Rock bottom, 20th.
Burnley earned promotion to Premier League for the 2014-15 season. They went down the same year and were promoted again in 2015-16 and clocked the 40 points needed for survival, finishing 16th last season. The crystal ball, however, says they're going down this time. Everton picked up their stand-out defender Michael Keane for £25 million, and the money doesn't look like it has been disbursed in the right places.
Fantastic outcome: They repeat last year's strong home performance and hope there are three other teams worse than them.
Realistic outcome: There are only two teams worse than them. 18th.
Never mind the champions league, defending the Premier League title is the new hoodoo. United were the last to do it when they went three in a row from 2006 to 2009. Chelsea don't look like they're going to change that. While Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko spell good signings, Chelsea will be without the services of their tormenter-in-chief Diego Costa, midfield disruptor Nemanja Matic and many, many others. The Blues have let 26 players leave permanently or on loan. Thinning your squad when you'll be playing Champions league, aside from defending your crown, is not a good move. They will surely make at least one signing before the deadline day. But, it doesn't look it's going to be enough. Unless it's Neymar.
Fantastic outcome: Morata finds his groove early on and has a massive first season in England, propelling Chelsea to another stunning league victory. A quarter-final appearance in the Champions League also sows seeds of promise.
Realistic outcome: None of the above happens and Chelsea's paper-thin squad feel the weight of fixture pile-up. They fight tooth and nail to finish fourth; Conte, cross with club management, leaves in frustration after a trophy-less season and technical director Michael Emenalo takes over as manager (he got his UEFA Pro license over the summer).
The crystal ball wants to root for Crystal Palace, but it's just hard to do that without Big Sam's familiar mug at the club. He's retired and Frank de Boar has replaced him. Now it's unfair to expect him to replicate his Ajax success; he doesn't have Ajax's talent pool at his disposal. And Palace are used to bunting the ball up, just the way Sam Allardyce taught them to. Despite a decent squad and a couple of decent additions, expect Palace to underachieve as they always have.
Fantastic outcome: Palace play stunning football under a new system, wow spectators and opponents alike, finish mid-table and win the Carling Cup, or whatever it's called these days.
Realistic outcome: They start the season apprehensively but slowly settle into their new manager's style of play. One better from last time around. 13th.
We saw Wayne Rooney run about and be bad at football at United last season; now we'll see him do the same at Everton. To be fair, Everton has made some really good signings. Getting Ajax star Davy Klaassen for £23 million was a coup and he is a stellar addition to their attacking midfield, especially when Ross Barkley's future looks uncertain. Jordan Pickford, who excelled for Sunderland last season and was shortlisted for PFA Young Player of the Year award, is an upgrade on Martin Stekelenburg. Malaga's Sandro Ramirez could prove to be the bargain buy of the season. And Gilfy Sigurdsson seems to be on his way. All said and done, Everton are missing a certain Romelu Lukaku and 25 goals are hard to plug.
Fantastic outcome: This one's not too fantastic. Everton edge out Liverpool and finish sixth, one better than last season. They also win the FA Cup and Rooney retires with a medal at his childhood club.
Realistic outcome: Same as fantastic outcome, except Rooney stays on.
Yet another first timer, Huddersfield Town's hottest property is their manager David Wagner, who worked with his close friend Klopp at Borussia Dortmund and prefers the same heavy-metal genre of football. Frankly, with his name, he should be going for a classical approach. The Terriers have made a host of signings and could be lining up with an entirely different team from last season. But the Premier League isn't kind to strangers.
Fantastic outcome: Huddersfield Town beat Liverpool both home and away. They still get relegated though.
Realistic outcome: Just the second bit. But hey, Wagner and Klopp are still best friends! 19th.
Dilly ding, dilly dong. Oh, we're not supposed to say that anymore, are we? The Foxes' last season looked doomed until they fired Claudio Ranieri and picked up under Craig Shakespeare. Riyad Mahrez looks like he's leaving and Leicester will have to put their faith in the talented Demerai Gray. Kelechi Iheanacho could may well end up being the transfer of the season, but can he combine with Jamie Vardy? That remains to be seen.
Fantastic outcome: Refer to 2015-16 season. Again, did that really happen?
Realistic outcome: Iheanacho proves to be a success and Leicester maintain their mid-table sanctuary. Bang in the middle, 10th.
Simply put, there can't be any heavy-metal without the humbucker. Phillip Coutinho is that double-coil that powers Liverpool. And he's going. When Barcelona call, you respond. You'd be foolish not to. Coutinho is not foolish. And even if by some miracle he stays, top four looks out of the question for Liverpool. It's been a weird summer for Scousers. Mohammad Salah adds more horsepower up front, but failure to land Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk shows that Liverpool still don't have clout in the market, despite Champions League qualification. The competition has improved considerably, and Liverpool look worse off than they were last season.
Fantastic outcome: Coutinho stays. Liverpool play manic football and score a ton of goals and finish top four again.
Realistic outcome: Liverpool slide down from the elite top six bracket and to add salt to injury, it's Everton who takes their place. Seventh.
Last season, Pep Guardiola's City started out like they were going to obliterate teams out of existence. But alas, an ageing defense and a goalkeeper who doesn't like using his hands proved to be their downfall. Those problems have been addressed in an overkill manner. City have shopped like a greedy teenager strapped with a credit card on Black Friday. Over £120 million spent on fullbacks alone. Ridiculous. Guardiola's reputation is riding on this season's outcome. He won't be in the mood to take any prisoners.
Fantastic outcome: Total annihilation. City not only win the league but beat Barcelona and Bayern Munich on the way to Champions League glory. All hail Pep. All hail money.
Realistic outcome: City are favourites to win the league this time as well. They'll ward off challenges from United, Tottenham and Chelsea to finish the race at 1st.
Mourinho's second season is here and it promises to be fun. United, like City, have gone Dr. Fixit on their squad. After being outscored by Bournemouth last season, Mourinho splurged on Lukaku, otherwise known as Mr Goals. Throw in Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic and you've got a team to challenge for the league title. With every player over six feet in the starting 11, Mourinho seems to be assembling a team for the NBA. They still look uninspired in big games. The Super Cup match against Real Madrid stands as proof. But Mourinho would take insurance over inspiration any day of the week.
Fantastic outcome: Juan Mata wins the Ballon d'Or and the Nobel Peace Prize. Mourinho's second season syndrome has its way and United finally win the league again.
Realistic outcome: Mata watches from the bench as Marouane Fellaini stumbles across the field. Close, but not quite there. 2nd. Maybe a good run in Europe.
One-half of the Tyne-Wear derby goes down, the other comes up. Newcastle are back in the Premier League with Rafa Benitez still at the helm. Frankly, the crystal ball gazers want Newcastle to do well. They're a classic top tier side and play at one of the finest stadiums in the league. But Mike Ashley hasn't exactly loosened his wallet. Newcastle's new arrivals all look like gambles and the club will be in deep trouble if they don't pay off.
Fantastic outcome: Rafa Benitez shouts 'show me the money' on the phone and Mike Ashley obliges, even if it's in January. Newcastle finish in the top 10 and have a good cup run.
Realistic outcome: Benitez doesn't see the money but Newcastle still stay up. 15th.
Southampton is the model club for any team that has earned promotion to the Premier League and aims to stay there while also furthering their ambitions. Came up in 2012-13, survived the first year at 14th. Made signings that proved to be fantastic and jumped up to 8th next season. Liverpool picked off their good players and Tottenham picked up their manager, but no worry. A new manager, a few new players and they finish 7th. The next season, more players sold, things looked dodgy again, but they went one better and finished 6th. Their manager was picked up again, this time by Everton, their best players left, a new manager came in and brought a couple of new players and Southampton finished 8th last season and reached a cup final. Here's where the club broke the cycle. They fired Claude Puel as manager and replaced him with Mauricio Pellegrino. But their best player has one foot outside the club, yet again. Southampton and their new manager would be hard pressed to do better. And this time, they haven't even brought in new players to bolster the team. All of this should spell disaster. The Saints will avert that, but a decline seems impending.
Fantastic outcome: More of the same. Southampton manage a single digit place on the table and maybe reach a domestic cup final. Virgil van Dijk has a change of heart and stays.
Realistic outcome: They fall out of top ten. 11th.
The club's main man Marko Arnautovic, otherwise known as discount Zlatan Ibrahimovic, left to join West Ham and the only notable addition is Kurt Zouma on loan from Chelsea. Crisis will be probably be followed by containment. Nothing much to see here. Move along.
Fantastic outcome: They get relegated and take their insipid football to the championship. Hooray!
Realistic outcome: They dig their claws in and hang on, again. 16th.
The key word here is Sigurdsson; he's going. The swan is finally leaving the sea. Paul Clement did well to keep the team safe by the end of last season, but losing Gylfi could be a death blow. Furthermore, Jack Cork left for Burnley and Bafetimbi Gomis, Borja Baston and Jordi Amat have also said their goodbyes. Assuming Swansea reinvest the money they make from the sale of Sigurdsson, they should hold on.
Fantastic outcome: Sigurdsson stays. They can figure out the rest later.
Realistic outcome: Swansea, sans Sigurdsson, stop at the edge of the cliff. 17th.
Spurs have made exactly zero signings till now and sold Kyle Walker to direct rivals. But they have done it before and they'll most likely do it again. It's an enigma how Spurs, with such little spending, fights the good fight. It helps that they have the league's best striker in Harry Kane, the best young attacking midfielder in Dele Alli, and best centre backs in Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. But if any of them is injured, Spurs could be in for rough ride. It'll be hard for them to sign a player who could break into their first team (because it's so good) without spending insane money, but they must buy quality support players. Juggling Premier League and Champions League, aside from domestic cups, means a hell of a lot of games for Spurs' stars. The club should realise they're asking too much of them.
Fantastic outcome: They almost won the league a couple of years ago and were the only team in the race with Chelsea till late last season. This time, they go the full monty and win the league, and deservedly so. Gareth Bale returns and there's panic on the streets of London.
Realistic outcome: They fight till the end again, but money prevails. Third. Gareth Bale joins Manchester United.
Watford's best signing is their new manager Marco Silva, who impressed in his short time with Hull, even as the club went down last season. A couple of young English midfielders, Nathaniel Chalobah and Will Hughes, for dirt cheap represent great additions and big money has been spent on forwards Andre Grey and U-20 Brazilian Richarlison. If they bear fruits, Watford could do better than what the crystal ball suggests.
Fantastic outcome: Marco Silva shows that he is indeed a top class manager and Watford break into the top half of the table.
Realistic outcome: They improve over their last year finish, but the task remains tough for Silva. 12th.
West Bromwich Albion:
Welcome to the land of pragmatism where Tony Pulis is the king. He deserves credit for taking West Brom to a mid-table finish last season, but expect things to change no sooner than Tony giving up the baseball cap. Jay Rodriguez is a decent signing. But decent is the theme here. Don't expect any wonders. Tony likes his nap after he has secured safety.
Fantastic outcome: West Brom ensure safety and continue to fight as Pulis drops the cap.
Realistic outcome: Safety ensured and alarm clock set for next season. 14th
The Hammers finished 11th despite turmoil last season and they didn't look like much over the summer until they went on and signed Premier League veterans Javier Hernandez, Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart and Marko Arnautovic. Bloody hell, that's good business. Slaven Bilic knows he has to improve considerably from last year and the transfers show that the intent is there.
Fantastic outcome: Chicharito scores at Old Trafford and celebrates like a madman. West Ham return to top 10 and reach a domestic cup final.
Realistic outcome: Celebration or not, Chicharito scores at Old Trafford. Back to top 10. An impressive 8th.
Published Date: Aug 11, 2017 08:16 pm | Updated Date: Aug 11, 2017 08:33 pm