England’s Premier League football season starts this coming weekend – a season with the fans back in stadiums. For that reason, if no other, I am especially looking forward to it.
If the team you follow is one of the 20 in that league I guess you are experiencing much the same as me… that feeling when rampant expectation exceeds practical reality. This is especially the case if the team you follow is not one of the so-called Big Six.
Can your team “do a Leicester” and win the whole thing?
Lovely thought, but how many of you truly believe they can? Truly, it’s the hope that ‘kills’ you as a football fan.
I can recall a few seasons where one of the promoted teams started well, but still ended up getting relegated. It happens. Unpredictability is one of the ‘joys’ of football.
Will that happen this time? Possibly!
The promoted teams this time are Norwich, Watford and Brentford. The first two are familiar with the top flight, but for Brentford it is their first time there for more than 70 years.
Norwich’s opening three games are against Liverpool, champions Manchester City and Leicester. Even the most devout Canaries fan will be hard pressed to make a case for them having a point after that trio of fixtures. I wish them well.
Watford, seemingly, have a slightly easier opening. They face Villa, Brighton and Spurs. I would predict them having two, maybe three points from that trio of games.
Brentford start with two London derbies – against Arsenal and Palace – followed by Villa. Again, maybe three points is my best guess. Not sure if they will come from Palace (away) or Villa (home). Indeed, the more I think about it, it’s quite possible they will have no points at all after the opening three games.
Villa feature early against two of the promoted teams and they will be lining up without Jack Grealish. They got a crazy sum of money from Manchester City for Jack, I feel. He’s a very talented player and great winner of free-kicks in and around the box. But, £100m sounds toppy to me. Be in no doubt, had he signed for my favourite team, I would have been pleased, but I think he will struggle with that price tag hanging around his neck.
Will City seek to retain the title without a recognized centre-forward? If any team can, it’s them. But, frankly, if they succeed in signing Harry Kane from Spurs (still a possibility at the time of writing) I think you can polish up the trophy and give it to them now.
Who might challenge City this time around?
I don’t think United have enough about them. They, too, need a centre-forward. Cavani is quality, but I doubt if he can last a 38-game season. Rashford will miss several matches at the start following surgery. They have been linked with Trippier at full back but, with Wan-Bissaka already there, I can’t see the need. New signing Sancho looks more than promising and Varane will be very welcome, but United lack firepower up front. Martial is no centre-forward.
Liverpool seem to have been comparatively quiet in the transfer market. They have quality players who have already shown themselves capable of winning the league and the return of van Dijk will seem like having a new player. But top four is looking most likely – in my opinion.
And football is a game of opinions, after all.
I expect Spurs to come up short again and, should they sell Kane, maybe European football may elude them at season’s end. That said, the money being talked about for Kane may prove difficult to refuse. Tottenham fans, be afraid, be very afraid. Son is a special talent but, without Kane to link up with, even he might struggle.
Chelsea are the current Champions League title holders, so it would be daft top overlook them. If they succeed in signing Lukaku, the Premiership may not be beyond them. Their squad has strength and quality in depth. Top spot is definitely a possibility, if they can add the big Belgian’s goals.
Arsenal have paid a lot of money for White from Brighton. There is little doubt that central defence is an area they needed to improve on. I expect them to exceed last season’s showing and maybe get back into the Champions League places. Again, a ‘scoring for fun’ centre-forward is required.
Outside the Big Six do I see any ‘dark horses’?
Everton? Well, they have made a bold move in appointing former Reds manager Benitez. I expect him to turn out to be a good appointment, but (at the time of writing) he still needs to bring in some extra quality. Toffees fans should read nothing into their heavy-sounding friendly defeat at Old Trafford last weekend. Pre-season match results mean the best part of bugger all in my view.
Leicester have a good man at the helm in Rodgers and that first FA Cup win in their history will have done them no harm. Are they capable of repeating the feats of 2015? Maybe … if they can keep all their star players. Maddison, for example, is in Arsenal’s sights and a possible Leicester move for United’s Lingard might open the door for him to move to the capital. The unfortunate long-term leg break injury to young centre-back Fofana is a big blow for the Foxes.
Any tips for who will be relegated?
It would be too easy to name all the promoted teams, so I will put them to one side. Southampton seem to survive financially by selling their best players. Ings to Villa? What was all that about? Good for the Villains, but another in a long line of Saints’ sales. I think that might prove one major sale too many. Saints for the drop.
I wonder how many more times Newcastle flirt with relegation and go on to survive, though the addition of Willock to their ranks from Arsenal will do them no harm. Slightly surprised Arsenal let him go.
As for the remainder, I think West Ham over-performed last season to get European football. Can’t see a repeat, but don’t expect them to face relegation worries. Mid-table for them.
Wolves will miss their manager and I have my doubts about the ability of Jimenez to return to full goal-scoring potency after that horrific head injury. Will he put everything into heading a ball? I think I would forgive him if the answer is “no”. Wolves are an outside bet for relegation.
Leeds, on their day, as the saying goes, have an upset in them, as do Burnley and Brighton. But the last two may also flirt with a place in the bottom three.
Overall, I can’t look past City. But I probably wrote the same in the year that Liverpool triumphed.
Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that, it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.