After a summer of World Cup brilliance, the Premier League is back!! Here are my predictions for the upcoming season:
Winner: Manchester City
Last season, Manchester City lifted the Premier League title with a record number of points, a record number of goals scored, the biggest title-winning margin, a record number of total wins among many other accolades. City were so far and away the best team last campaign, that it really is going to take both a monumental effort from one of their rivals (most likely Liverpool) and a calamitous third season under Pep's guidance for the title to end up anywhere but the blue side of Manchester this season.
Top 4: Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man United
Liverpool have strengthened smartly all over the park this summer. Alisson will likely prove a steadier set of hands between the sticks, Fabinho and Naby Keita will help take some of the midfield load off of Jordan Henderson, and a first full season for Virgil Van Dijk should see Jurgen Klopp's men shoot up the table. They seem to be the most likely challengers to Pep's City-- but with a virtually brand new spine, it will really come down to how quickly they gel.
Chelsea seem to have one season on, one season off, and so if they keep to form after a poor season last year, they should come good this time around. Kante, Jorginho will be a joy to watch together in the middle of the park, and if Hazard plays in a false 9, with Pedro and Willian either side, Chelsea will cause a lot of teams problems. One concern is the misfiring Morata, who has struggled for confidence and goals since the turn of the year. But a player of his quality just needs a lucky bounce to go in off his arse to give him the boost he needs to find the back of the net on a regular basis.
Manchester United have had a torrid offseason. Mourinho seems to be at loggerheads with half the dressing room already, and it does feel like we've read this book before in his last spell at Chelsea. To Mourinho's chagrin, United failed to bring in a top quality Center Back this window. But last year, United conceded the 2nd fewest amount of goals, and only one more than champions City. Jones, Smalling, and Rojo are certainly past their sell-by dates, but if United can keep Eric Bailly fit, and hope that Victor Lindelof can carry his World Cup form into the Premier League then United should be ok at the back. Couple that with a rejuvenated Alexis Sanchez up front, and a swaggering Paul Pogba running the show in midfield, it would be criminal mismanagement if this squad didn't finish in the top 4. But as always, Jose gonna Jose...
Relegated: Huddersfield, Brighton, Cardiff
Huddersfield and Brighton both did magnificently to stay in the Premier League last season. But with no real signings of any note, and with two strong teams coming up from the Championship in Fulham and Wolves, it feels as though they will suffer from a sophomore slump. Cardiff also have the look of a Championship side, and I fear may be heading straight back down.
Top Scorer: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Arsenal haven't had a 30 goal a season striker since Robin Van Persie left the club, and Aubameyang is certainly capable of that and then some. 10 goals in 13 appearances after joining the club in January was a great start, and it would be no surprise to see him topping the goalscoring charts at the end of May.
Player of the Year: Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling had a very poor World Cup for England, but he is a different, much more polished player under Pep's tutelage. 23 goals in all competitions last season was a vast improvement on his previous best, and it would be terrific to see Sterling hush all the tabloid haters by being crowned the best player in England next spring.
Young Player of the Year: Ruben Neves
This kid is special. Captain of Porto at 18, far too good for the Championship last season, and a spectacular goal and assist on his Premier League debut this past weekend. It surely is only a matter of time before he ends up at a Champions League side.
I'm also excited to watch and am expecting big seasons from three English youngsters: Phil Foden at Man City, Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool, and Ryan Sessegnon at Fulham.
First Manager Sacked: Neil Warnock
It's Neil Warnock.
League Cup: Tottenham
They didn't spend a penny over the summer, and their league form could really take a hit with such a thin squad that is so heavily reliant on Harry Kane. For Pochettino and this Spurs side to take things to the next level, they really need to win a trophy. A domestic cup may be their best bet.
FA Cup: Liverpool
Similarly to Spurs, Liverpool also need to add some silverware to their sparkling style of play. Liverpool had an early exit from the FA Cup last season (which may have actually helped them stay fresh in the latter stages of their Champions League campaign), but Liverpool should be City's main challengers on all domestic fronts this time around. Liverpool have not won a trophy since 2012, and their current squad is the strongest it has been in a decade so it would be a surprise if they didn't bring home something come next May.
Europa League: Arsenal
The Europa League is Unai Emery's specialty, and Arsenal have one of the strongest squads in the competition. Finishing in the top 4 this season will be harder than ever, and though they are good enough to do it, the Europa League may turn out to be their best bet for Champions League football come 2019. Arsenal have added some quality over the summer-- their January signings of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan should also have a big impact with a full preseason with their new club under their belts. Will Arsenal suffer from a post-Wenger hangover as United did post Sir Alex? It doesn't seem like it has quite the same cataclysmic feel as Ferguson's departure did, as Arsenal have been in dire need of a refresh for some time.
Champions League: Juventus
Never bet against Ronaldo. At Juve, he has an excellent supporting cast, which should win Serie A at a canter, leaving CR7 and co fresh for a late-season Champions League run. If he were to win the Champions League with three different teams from three different leagues, it would be hard to deny him being called the GOAT.