Image from Sky Sports
We’re doing a very special edition of COTW today! Very simply, we’re going to throw our predictions at you for the season, and talk about the week’s action as well!
Premier League Champions?
James: I’ve said it in my previous article, but for me Man United look like the champions. They’ve got everyone Mourinho would have wanted, they’re a strong and efficient side, and they have history on their side! How often has Mourinho pulled it out the bag in his second season? Forgetting that, I think United were so unlucky last season to the point where they had to sacrifice the top 4 and with the Europa League, which shows Jose still knows how to manage a season. He’s also got 2 (arguably 3) trophies to show for it, so I expect even more.
Sam: I think the Premier League trophy will be heading back to Manchester, but in my opinion it’ll be Man City lifting the Premier League trophy. Pep Guardiola has to deliver a major trophy this season and the pressure really is on for him. If his £200 million defence gels together quickly then it’ll be so difficult for any team to beat them. United look very good, and Mourinho has a larger and stronger squad compared to last season, but they still have a creativity issue, proved last season by still not creating enough chances even with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front for most of the season.
James: I’ve gone for Palace, Huddersfield and Swansea. I don’t think Swansea have strengthened enough, and Paul Clement only just did enough to keep up a side seriously lacking in identity. Huddersfield will be too expansive for me – and whilst that’s going to be entertaining, it may cost them if their back four is regularly exposed. Palace, in theory, should do well! Good players and a good manager in De Boer. Having said that, I worry for Palace because it looks like a match that doesn’t fit. Palace have spent their whole Premier League life being solid at the back and playing good counter-attacking football. De Boer will want to change that and the Premier League doesn’t allow you the time to do that.
Sam: New boys Brighton and Huddersfield will go down. They are both very good footballing sides with excellent managers but you need a bit more than that to survive in this league. You need a bit of grit and a never-say-die attitude, and that was Middlesborough’s problem last season, when Aitor Karanka said week-in-week-out after defeats “If we continue playing like this, we’ll win matches – that’s a Championship mentality and it doesn’t work like that! Along with the Seagulls and the Terriers, I fancy Watford to join them. They’re just not an interesting side anymore and apart from Troy Deeney, they don’t have any major attacking threats.
First Managerial Casualty?
James: Paul Clement for me. I think Swansea are struggling for identity and Clement doesn’t seem to me the man to bring it back. Early struggles might create panic at the Welsh club and mean a change is needed. I can’t see the newly promoted teams changing their managers who did so well to bring them up, so I think they’ll be more patient.
Sam: It’s controversial, but it’ll be Antonio Conte at Chelsea. The Blues looked a bit lacklustre at Wembley on the weekend, meaning three successive pre-season defeats ahead of the start of the season. I don’t know if it’s complacency or not, but they really don’t look ready and could get off to a slow start. The Italian could change the formation again if they do, but due to the current 3-4-3 set-up that they have being so successful last season, he may be reluctant to do that. There’s already distance between him and Roman Abramovich over the summer transfer saga, and some poor early season results could send him over the edge.
James: Newcastle for me, if you consider that over-achieving. I think Newcastle will do well as they’ve got the players and the manager who know what to do. This is a club who should never have been relegated, so they should slot back into the Premier League. I like Gayle up front, and Benitez has targeted players who would relish the Premier League experience as opposed to rejects from bigger clubs. I think everything is in place for them to have a good season.
Sam: I think we’ll see a lot more from Leicester this season. They’ve gone back to the formation and the mentality that won them the league in 2016 and there’s a real sense of positivity coming from the King Power Stadium. They’ve bought well too with Harry Maguire, Vicente Iborra and Kelechi Iheanacho all clever buys. They could even flirt with the idea of European football, but where I think they’ll do very well is in the cup competitions. This Leicester side knows how to get over the line in 90 minutes.
James: I’ve said Palace to go down so it should be them, but I’ll go for someone else… Stoke? Now Stoke have consistently been in the top 10 for a few years, but this season they dropped out, and I don’t expect them to go back. I think Hughes has done a fantastic job with Stoke and they do have some class players in their side, but it can be a bit repetitive being a Stoke player as they avoid relegation comfortably yet never really challenge for Europe. I wonder whether this may lead to a decline in motivation throughout the club…
Sam: A lot of teams are overestimating Everton and how well they’ll do this year. They’ve made a good signing with Michael Keane and maybe Davy Klaassen, but most of the signings come with a big question mark to their names. They’re accommodating Wayne Rooney in their starting line-up, having watched their European qualification, and he’s just not good enough as a central striker. Jordan Pickford is a good ‘keeper, but if he was a great one then he would have been able to keep Sunderland up. Sandro Ramirez is also quite a young striker, and will need time to develop and get used to the Premier League. I can see them finishing mid-table this year.
Arsenal Win Community Shield
James: A really good performance from the Gunners against a near full-strength Chelsea side. Lacazette looked encouraging but Xhaka and Kolasinac stole the show. Xhaka was starting to show why Arsenal paid the £35m to get him, and he looked really mature in that role. Kolasinac looked strong and comfortable with the ball at his feet, and with this added steel Arsenal may be more dangerous than we’ve seen them in the last few years. Despite a good performance, let’s not over-hype this win. Chelsea are not ready, and it is a glorified friendly. Conte is obviously unsure about his squad going into the new year and will want to strengthen. A friendly or not though, Conte will be struggling to accept his side facing two defeats in a row at Wembley to one of their greatest rivals. If Arsenal build on this win by beating Leicester, then they’ll have the confidence to start the season well. If they fail to win on Friday night, then the Community Shield win will be forgotten.
Sam: The Gunners played very well, and as I’ve mentioned above, the Blues were lacklustre and out of confidence. As James has mentioned, Kolasinac and Xhaka played very well so I won’t go into that too much, but the performance of Mohammed Elneny was not really picked up by anyone. In an Arsenal midfield, you can’t really afford to give the ball away and the Egyptian doesn’t do that at all. He’s one of the best passers in the league and I hope him and Xhaka play together a lot more this season as a pair. Rob Holding was also excellent, and I hope he starts on Friday against Leicester and really stamps down his first team spot, and maybe even get a few games for England. What also wasn’t picked up by everybody was the effect of Wenger’s substitutions in the game. When Walcott and Giroud came on with twenty minutes to play, Chelsea dropped five to ten yards deeper, allowing more space for Xhaka and Elneny to dictate the play. That’s the effect those two substitutions have and it’s a nice tool for the Arsenal manager to have if he wants to change the way the team plays mid-game. Chelsea should get off to a good start against Burnley on Saturday but the test against Tottenham at Wembley the week after will show how far they’ll go with regards to defending their title.