Predicting the beautiful game is a fools’ errand. Just look at The Guardian’s prophecies for last season: the majority picked Chelsea to win and nine of the 11 writers said Leicester would be relegated. At the time, these seemed like perfectly rational assertions.
In 2016-17, the Premier League is arguably even harder to predict. There are five or six teams who could all legitimately take a serious run at the title, while several smaller clubs will be ready to poach on a very even field of competition.
Despite the folly of the prediction game, here’s my prognosis for the top five finishers. But before we get there though, a word on the current champions…
Honorable mention: Leicester
Last season, Leicester City pulled off one of the biggest shocks in English football history. But you already knew that. If you didn’t, perhaps this website isn’t for you.
The Foxes have already done the unthinkable, but can they manage to defend their title? Well, it seems unlikely.
Almost immediately after lifting the title, manager Claudio Ranieri played down the chances of a second consecutive win and set the more realistic target of a top-ten finish.
Since then, Leicester has lost their midfield enforcer N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez looks to be heading for the door, too. They will also have the added pressure of a Champions League campaign to deal with, alongside the weight of expectation that comes with being the reigning champs.
Verdict: The most shocking Premier League win prior to this was Blackburn’s unexpected victory in 1994-95. Rovers followed that performance up by finishing seventh and bottom of their Champions League group. Expect similar from Leicester.
5th place: Liverpool
Liverpool is one of the most successful teams in European football, but through some bizarre quirk—and the dominance of a certain rival in Manchester—the club has never been able to win a domestic title in the Premier League era.
With increasing levels of stability, this might be the Reds’ time to finally shine. Maybe.
Ahead of their recent friendly clash in California, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte proposed Liverpool as title contenders. “Liverpool are one of seven or eight teams that can fight at the end to win the title,” he said. “I’m sure of this. Liverpool have a good team, good manager, good football, high intensity, good organization.”
Jurgen Klopp has transformed Anfield into a fortress, giving Liverpool the home advantage that’s so important for a title contender. The German manager’s energetic “gegenpressing” style is good enough to compete on any level and with defensive enforcements like Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan, the side should be a little more assured at the back.
The more time Klopp spends with the side, the more consistent they have become—and they certainly would have been buoyed by their Europa League run last season.
Verdict: Liverpool will knock on the door of the top four, but finish just shy.
4th place: Chelsea
That’s right, ladies and gents, we are predicting that a team who finished 10th last season will be in with a shot at the big time!
The Blues had a season to forget in 2015-16, but they are in a strong position to make amends in this campaign. The main difference maker will be coach Antonio Conte. He may be new to the English game, but he is not new to winning—the 46-year-old picked up three consecutive titles with Juventus before being called up to manage the Italian national side.
Conte is known to be a tough task master, who won’t settle for anything less than 100%. In other words, Eden Hazard is going to need to spring back to his best pretty quickly.
The Blues have been bolstered by the aforementioned Kante, plus Diego Costa’s strike partner will likely be £33m Belgian Michy Batshuayi.
Verdict: Chelsea will be right back in the mixer this season, but it is unclear if they will have enough to take their title back. They are in need of a world-class centre-back, a few players need to buck their ideas up and they need to get used to Conte’s fitness demands. We predict Chelsea to take Arsenal’s fourth place trophy. And speaking of Arsenal…
3rd place: Arsenal
The good news is that we can finally stop hearing the years-old rumors that Arsenal are going to buy Gonzalo Higuain. The bad news is that Arsenal appear to be taking their traditionally frugal approach to the transfer market, having been less-than-aggressive in their pursuit of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, to name a few.
The big signing this summer is Granit Xhaka, who will probably earn more red cards than Jack Wilshere will earn appearances.
Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis, however, is confident that spending large sums is not the key to Premier League happiness. “This approach, for us, gives us a very, very powerful balance because it’s not just about spending money but about how you spend your money and doing it wisely,” he told ESPN, before ensuring fans that the side is good enough to win the league.
There is still the perceived need for a world-class striker and the perception that Arsene Wenger no longer has the guile to win the league. However, what Wenger gives is consistent excellence. Gunners fans may complain about their plight, but they have been in the Champions League for the past 18 consecutive seasons. No other club can boast that kind of incredible consistency and there is little doubt he will deliver once again.
Verdict: Arsenal are an excellent team who deserve a top-three finish, but there are a couple of bigger sharks in the tank who will probably keep the Gunners at bay…
2nd place: Manchester City
The bookmakers believe Manchester City are going to win the Premier League. Pep Guardiola was an instant success when he took over first-team duties at Barcelona and Bayern Munich and the perceived wisdom is that he will take Manchester by storm too.
After all, when you have the best manager in the world with an excellent squad and a bottomless pit of cash at his disposal, it’s hard to see anything other than trophies.
This is a City team that managed to reach fourth place last season despite some wild underachievement, plus they reached the final four of the Champions League for the first time. With the likes of Nolito and new secret weapon Ilkay Gundogan brought on board, surely things can only get better?
Verdict: Manchester City will be better. They could take the title race right down to the final few minutes of the league. They may even go deeper in the Champions League. They could win the league, but in this game of fine margins, something tells me a manager with a little more Premier League experience under his belt will be happier in nine months’ time…
1st place: Manchester United
Over the summer, Manchester United acquired one of the world’s best managers in Jose Mourinho. They have one of the best strikers in the world in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. By the time you read this sentence they may have broken the world transfer record for Paul Pogba. They have made two excellent additions in Eric Bailly and Henrik Mkhitarayan.
Anything other than a very serious title challenge would be completely unacceptable for the Red Devils.
Say what you like about their style under Louis Van Gaal, but the Dutchmen built one of the best defenses in the league. That strength at the back should remain, while Mou’s tactical nous should be more than adequate in a league where he has years of experience—remember, Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola are fresh to the league, and might need to play catch-up.
Mourinho finished top of the league in his first seasons with Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan. He’s almost certainly going to take this one down to the wire.
Verdict: Mou can get one over his old friend Pep, thanks to solid Premier League experience, great work in the transfer market and a solid defensive basis built last year. Winners!
So that’s my predictions for the 2016-17 Champions League title race. What do you think? Do Spurs deserve to be in the conversation? What about Southampton? West Ham? Give us your thoughts below and hit me up on Twitter!