james debate
james debate

Monday, 27 August 2018

Welcome back football fans.  I hope everyone had a great summer, but now that we've had our approximately ten days per year of sun it is time to get back to business. A new season of Premier League football is approaching, and once again it looks like a corker, promising fake drama, real tears, and hopefully some good football. As per usual the Ephemeric is here to run the rule over every team in the Premier League and render a few inevitably accurate predictions. Read on for the ultimate preview of what awaits us these next nine months.

premier league 2018/19 preview


Premier League 2018/19 Predictions in a nutshell:
Champions: Manchester City
Champions League qualifiers: Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham
Relegated: Brighton, Southampton, Huddersfield
Golden Boot winner: Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Golden Glove winner: Ederson (Manchester City)
Player to watch: Mo Salah (Liverpool)
New signing to watch: Richarlison (Everton)
Young player to watch: Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
First manager to get the sack: Mark Hughes (Southampton)
Shock of the season: No Chelsea striker's goal tally will hit double digits



ARSENAL
Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Position last season: 6th
Manager: Unai Emery

Terra incognita for Arsenal. It's no secret that the past twenty years have not been awash with glory for the club, and as I (controversially) predicted this time last year it appears that long-time manager Arsene Wenger has finally had enough. To unoriginally call it the "end of an era" would be an understatement; there is after all an entire generation of adult Arsenal fans who have never known any manager other than Wenger. For all his highs and lows, even rival fans would have to begrudge the man a special place in the history of English football. It's no exaggeration to call him a landmark figure in the genesis of modern football, and he will no doubt be remembered with great affection.

The new man shows promise. Unai Emery offers a combination of experience and youth in the dugout, with top level experience in his armory from two years at PSG, not to mention an unprecedented hat-trick of consecutive Europe League titles with Sevilla. He'll have his work cut out for him to turn Arsenal back into a club capable of competing with the league's big hitters. He inherits a lopsided squad littered with expensive underperformers. The mercurial talents of players like Aubameyang, Xhaka, Ozil and Ramsey have proven all too intermittent over the years, and instead much of the attacking heft may rest upon last year's star signing Alexandre Lacazette. Meanwhile the squad has long been plagued by an unconvincing defensive lineup that is increasingly dependant on an ageing Petr Cech in goal.

Emery has bolstered his squad with a not insignificant £80 million in new players, with no fewer than nine new faces joining the squad, a few of whom admittedly are expected to go into the youth and reserves sides rather than the first team. Of the new boys, only Matteo Guendouzi looks set to really shake up the side, and at just £7 million he could end up being one of the bargains of the season.


Key Signing: Matteo Guendouzi
Key Man: Alexandre Lacazette
Verdict: A fresh start brings optimism and the expectation of improvement, but they have got a long way to go to break back into the top four.


BOURNEMOUTH
Nickname: The Cherries
Ground: Dean Court
Capacity: 11,700
Last season: 12th
Manager: Eddie Howe

Bournemouth are having a good run in the Premier League at the moment, and last season secured another comfortable mid-table finish. Great credit has to go to manager Eddie Howe for his constant drive to exceed expectations. Now the question is, where can they go from here? Our bet is for another season of stability and consolidation.

Their meteoric rise through the leagues (League One just six years ago!) is only part of the feel-good story surrounding the club right now. Progress has been made on a new stadium, while their summer's transfer activity has been typically astute. That left back Diego Rico passed on a move to Dortmund in order to join the Cherries is something of a coup for the club.

Equally, they have done a good job in retaining their key players from last year with a fine core of players like Nathan Aké, Lewis Cook, and Callum Wilson. It's not the league's deepest squad, but they are well stocked in the midfield and up front. However serious concerns remain in defence, where Bournemouth recorded the fewest clean sheets of any team last season. There is no doubting the difficulty of what lies ahead, but Eddie Howe is a good manager and on paper they don't look worse off than last year.

Key Signing: Diego Rico
Key Man: Lewis Cook
Verdict: We're going for a solid mid-table finish.



BRIGHTON
Nickname: The Seagulls
Ground: Falmer Stadium
Capacity: 30,750
Last season: 15th
Manager: Chris Hughton

It was an impressively spirited debut in the top flight for Brighton, but a year later and the spectre of the dreaded second season syndrome looms tall in everyone's mind. A considerable £60 million has been spent on reinforcements to ensure a year of consolidation for the league's freshest faces, but a difficult challenge still awaits.

The squad is not awash with proven top level talent, so it is fortunate that they have in Chris Hughton a manager well-versed in the ways of shoe-string Premier League survival. He'll be relying on key players like Pascal Groß and Lewis Dunk, while being hopeful of a return to fitness and form for Anthony Knockaert. Hughton has made some shrewd signings in the form of Bernardo, and Eredevisie top scorer Jahanbakhsh, the latter of whom is a potential game winner if he hits the ground running.

The Seagulls understandably begin the season on a wave of enthusiasm, but they know they face an uphill struggle in order to survive. Away fans best enjoy the opportunity for football trips to the beach while they can.

Key Signing: Alireza Jahanbakhsh
Key Man: Lewis Dunk
Verdict: No pushovers by any means, but among the favourites for the drop.


BURNLEY
Nickname: The Clarets
Ground: Turf Moor
Capacity: 21,800
Last season: 7th
Manager: Sean Dyche

Last season's most remarkable success story. A side that had been tipped by many for the drop, but instead ended up qualifying for Europe. I said this time last year that Dyche could push this team onto something special, but their performance exceeded any reasonable expectation. There's an argument to be made that lightning can't strike twice, or that Dyche may now have outgrown this club. For the time being though, it's full steam ahead, and fans will just be hoping for more of the same.

Burnley's playing squad boasts a surprising amount of quality, including the likes of Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood, Jack Cork, and underrated defender Ben Mee. If Steve Defour can recover some fitness and consistency, so much the better. Dyche has made some decent additions this season as well, including Ben Gibson, Joe Hart and in particular Matej Vydra.

But it's not just on the pitch that Burnley are showing their ambitions. Significant investments have been made over the past few years in infrastructure and training facilities, and the aim is now very much on establishing themselves as a top flight side, and building from there. It's a tough ask, but so was qualifying for Europe.

Key Signing: Matej Vydra
Key Man: Ashley Barnes
Verdict: Surely a repeat of last season is too much to ask, but a safe mid-table finish seems likely.



CARDIFF
Nickname: The Bluebirds
Ground: Cardiff City Stadium
Capacity: 33,280
Last season: Promoted (2nd)
Manager: Neil Warnock

It's been a bizarrely turbulent period for Cardiff since being acquired by Vincent Tan. First the billionaire investor attempted to change the club's colours from blue to red, and the club crest from the traditional bluebird to a Welsh dragon, all for the sake of marketing. Following a fan outrage of biblical proportions, some sense of normalcy has returned to the club. Then Tan appointed Neil Warnock.

Warnock is quite the character, but to his credit he did manage to achieve Tan's long-held ambition and win promotion to the Premier League. Now that they're here, there's the temptation to believe that they will walk the same path as other billionaire-owned clubs to glory but make no mistake, they are a real relegation risk.

It's not that the club hasn't invested this summer, it's that the new recruits have done little to plug the depth and quality problems faced by the club. Sean Morrison and Junior Hoilett are crucial to their survival hopes, while new man Bobby Reid will fit straight into the side, but it's hard to see where the goals will come from, or who will hold the defence together if key players get injured. This is a squad with major holes for such a high level, and it may cost them.

Key Signing: Bobby Reid
Key Man: Sean Morrison
Verdict: Tough battle for survival.



CHELSEA
Nickname: Blues
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Capacity: 41,837
Last season: 5th
Manager: Maurizio Sarri

The second of last year's controversial predictions concerned the team that had been tipped by many to win the league. I was called silly by more than a few people for predicting a Chelsea finish outside the top four, and yet that turned out to be eerily prescient, right down to the detail of how it would play out. Unfortunately for Chelsea fans I don't see anything this year to indicate a significant or sustained revival.

Let's not dance around the elephant in the room. Chelsea have replaced a manager who has decades of top level football experience and who has in two seasons brought the club a league title and an FA Cup with a not-exactly-young banker-turned football manager who has never won anything in his career. A manager who has neither potential nor experience on his side and has proven nothing. If it sounds like the latest in a series of absurd decisions made by the club, that's because it is.

On top of this, Chelsea have failed to plug the significant holes in their squad, and begin the season without a dependable first choice striker and with no cover in the defensive midfield role. With Sarri set to switch to a flat back four, that lack of central defensive coverage leaves the team looking very vulnerable down the middle of the pitch. But the most terrifying tactical blunder heading into the season is Sarri's return to the high defensive line last attempted at Chelsea by Andre Villa Boas. We all saw how that turned out. This is a Chelsea side with the potential to concede a massive amount of goals, and as the season wears on and opponents start to figure out this manager's tactics, they could find themselves in a world of trouble.

The silver-lining for Chelsea fans is a number of actually pretty decent last minute transfers, including the surprise coup of snatching Jorginho out from under Manchester City's noses, the world record fee paid for goalkeeper Kepa, and the very promising Kovacic on loan from Real Madrid.

Key Signing: Jorginho
Key Man: Eden Hazard
Verdict: A tactically questionable manager and a thin squad peppered with genuine quality. Unlikely top four hopes will depend on their rivals slipping up.


CRYSTAL PALACE
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Ground: Selhurst Park
Capacity: 25,456
Last season: 11th
Manager: Roy Hodgson

Stability has been tricky to come by for Crystal Palace in recent times, through a slew of managerial changes and squad upheaval. Yet under Roy Hodgson the club enters the season with an air of positivity. The team didn't make much of a going in the early stages of last season, but the managerial change seemed to bring about a renewed vigour, ending the season a very impressive side. Now entering their sixth consecutive season in the top flight there is the hope that the club is starting to be seen as a Premier League mainstay, rather than one concerned with mere survival.

Indeed there is much to like about this Palace side, from the attacking threats of Andros Townsend and Christian Benteke, to the excellent fullback pairing of Patrick can Aanholt and Aaron-Wan Bissaka, but the clear star of the side is Wilfried Zaha, courted by many and arguably the league's best player outside of the top six.

If there is a note of caution to be raised, it is in the summer's somewhat subdued transfer activity, particularly in light of the numerous departures, most notably that of midfield stalwart Yohan Cabaye. But while the club may not have brought in as many new faces as fans would have hoped, the ones that have arrived at Selhurst may prove to be shrewd moves, in particular the free transfer of Max Meyer, who it is hoped will slot in for the aforementioned departed Cabaye.

Key Signing: Max Meyer
Key Man: Wilfried Zaha
Verdict: This is not the season to begin a push for Europe, but should see Palace achieve another comfortable mid-table finish.


EVERTON
Nickname: Toffees
Ground: Goodison Park
Capacity: 40,170
Last season: 8th
Manager: Marco Silva

It's been a few seasons of uncharacteristic turbulence for Everton. Following the disastrous tenure of manager Ronald Koeman, and the brief stop-gap appointment of Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva will become the fifth man to coach this Everton side in just two years.

This turbulent era extends to the playing staff, with many of last season's big money flops being moved out, and a general clean up of the wage bill well underway. Last season's top scorer Wayne Rooney has been moved on to the MLS after just one season, presumably as part of this effort of financial prudence. But if you think that Everton's disastrous first foray into the world of 2010s Premier League cash-splashing will induce a retreat into purse-pinching ways, think again. The club raised a few eyebrows in its decision to drop a club record £50 million on the still rather unproven Richarlison (though early performances indicate that he may yet live up to this price tag), and an additional £50 million was spent between Barcelona defenders Lucas Digne and Yerry Mina.

So what does all this mean for the season ahead? Hopefully the start of a more stable era. They're a good side, and one of the strongest squads outside the top four with the likes of Pickford, Keane and Sigurðsson, while the new defensive additions should stand them in good stead. There is an absence of players who can offer real penetration, particularly among their extended squad, and of course they miss a frontman of true proven quality. They'll make a good showing of it, but unlikely to trouble the top four this season.

Key Signing: Richarlison
Key Man: Gylfi Sigurðsson
Verdict: Probably looking at a similar finish to last year, just outside the top six.



FULHAM
Nickname: The Cottagers
Ground: Craven Cottage
Capacity: 25,700
Last season: Promoted (Playoffs)
Manager: Slaviša Jokanović

Welcome back to the Premier League for everyone's least hated club, and bring on the away days at the country's most delightful ground in Craven Cottage. But Fulham are not just here to make up the numbers. Jokanović has built a side with a real buzz about them, and spent a frankly astonishing £100 million on strengthening further. This is unsurprisingly a record for a newly promoted side.

In Ryan Sessegnon Fulham boast one of the most exciting and buzzed about young talents in the Premier League this season, while playmaker Tom Cairney forms the beating heart of a productive midfield. Their extravagant summer spending has added well and added broadly with the headline signings of Seri and Mitrović joined by loan moves for the likes of Calum Chambers, Tomothy Fosu-Mensa, and André Schürrle. American owner Shahid Khan has matched his ambitious talk by promising unlimited funds, but stressed that such funds would need to be spent wisely and in the right way. As a result, Fulham now have the makings of a very decent Premier League side.

Expectations are high for a newly promoted side, but so too is the pressure. If Fulham get off to a rocky start, there's a good chance that Jokanović could find himself among the early season casualties. There's a hype about this team right now, but these things take time, and I wouldn't be surprised if they fell short of expectations this season.

Key Signing: Jean Michel Seri
Key Man: Ryan Sessegnon
Verdict: Should survive, but likely to fall short of expectations in the table's bottom half.



HUDDERSFIELD
Nickname: The Terriers
Ground: John Smith's Stadium
Capacity: 24,500
Last season: 16th
Manager: David Wagner

Everyone expected Huddersfield to go down last season (for the record The Ephemeri predicted otherwise) and yet they ended up confounding critics and putting in a decent showing in the top flight. But second season syndrome is a thing, and the question has to be have Huddersfield done enough to consolidate their position in this league?

Terence Kongolo and Erik Durm are impressive defensive signings, but otherwise there is a notable lack of proven Premier League quality throughout the squad. Despite that, in Hogg they have excellent defensive cover through the midfield, and in Christopher Schindler a rock in defence. This is going to be as tough a side to beat as any. Unfortunately as I look around at their rivals for survival I'm not convinced they have the match winning players to compete. A lot of pressure will be on Alex Pritchard to deliver, and if Town are going to stay up, he will have a vital part to play.

David Wagner knows the challenge he faces, but team spirit and tenacity can only carry a team so far. At some point Huddersfield are going to have to show they have the quality for the top flight, and at the moment, I'm not seeing it.

Key Signing: Terrence Kongolo
Key Man: Alex Pritchard
Verdict: A genuine risk for relegation.


LEICESTER CITY
Nickname: The Foxes
Ground: King Power Stadium
Capacity: 32,315
Last season: 9th
Manager: Claude Puel

It's been a rough ride for Leicester since their still hard to believe title triumph a few years back. A few managerial changes and some pretty mixed performances. Now another of their title winning stars Riyad Mahrez has left, leaving even fewer of the old guard left to keep them afloat. But things are not as dark as they seem.

For all the doubters, Leicester still managed to finish a respectable 9th last season. Puel has built a solid team around the key players like Vardy and Maguire. They've spent ambitiously over the summer too, and in particular Ricardo Pereira and James Maddison look like very shrewd additions. The latter in particular starts the season with something of a mystique about him after turning heads with his performances in the Championship. It will be interesting to see how the the youngster adapts to life in the top flight, but this could prove to be a remarkable signing.

So what are their prospects, really? They're not top four challengers, but if they can achieve greater consistency than they did last year they could really be a force among the next best teams. A place in Europa League qualification is certainly not out of the question.

Key Signing: James Maddison
Key Man: Jamie Vardy
Verdict: Safe mid-table for sure, with a possible push into the top seven.


LIVERPOOL
Nickname: Reds
Ground: Anfield
Capacity: 54,074
Last season: 4th
Manager: Jurgen Klopp

Last season saw another year of marked improvement for Liverpool, and a 4th place finish belies the fact that they ended the season as one of the form teams in the league. Add to that an impressive Champions League challenge and an unbelievable run of form for Mo Salah, and there's a real buzz in the air that this could be a big year, and perhaps even a title contending one. But is the hype premature? After all this team did just finish 4th last season, and only by a whisker at that. It's been decades since Liverpool last won a league title, and yet every season they get tipped for potential glory, undeniably due in part to the huge ex-Liverpool presence in the media. Could this season really be different?

All the buzz is naturally about Salah, but really the entire frontline was immense last season, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané's contribution being hugely underappreciated. A solid midfield of Henderson and Milner has added the steel of Naby Keita, and at the back they have spent a significant sum on the (briefly) world record goalkeeper Alisson. Goalkeeper was undoubtedly their weak spot last season, especially with a decent backline taking shape in Robertson, Van Dijk, Gomez, and the exciting youngster Alexander-Arnold. This signing could be the final piece of the puzzle.

So what's in store for this season? They've spent massively over a number of seasons, and have the top class squad to show for it. It's hard to pick glaring weaknesses in this side, and you'd have to say that on their day they could be a match for any other in the league. Manchester City start the season as heavy favourites, but maybe Liverpool shouldn't be counted out so soon.

Key Signing: Alisson
Key Man: Mo Salah
Verdict: Title contenders, but still very much underdogs compared to City.


MANCHESTER CITY
Nickname: Blues
Ground: Etihad Stadium
Capacity: 55,097
Last season: Champions
Manager: Pep Guardiola

After a rocky start to his City career, the pressure was truly on for Pep last season. He duly delivered the league title, proving once again that there is nothing this manager can not accomplish given several years and a billion pounds in new players. It's certainly quite the comeback story after several years of disappointment at Bayern and City. But regardless of what anyone thinks of the man, there is no question that in terms of playing staff this Manchester City side is up there with the best football teams in the world today.

The question now is whether they can become the first team to retain the league title since 2008, and they begin the season as heavy favourites to do just that. Unlike each of Chelsea's last two disastrous title defences, City do not appear to be resting on their laurels, and have opened the checkbook once again to sign Riyad Mahrez. A smashing player for sure, but one really has to wonder where he's going to fit into a starting XI that already includes the midfield depth of De Bruyne, Sterling, Gundogan, Silvas both David and Bernardo and Fernandinho. That Man City show no compunction in spending a cool £60 million on what in all likelihood will be a substitute player sums up perfectly how they have managed to reach such a high level, and how far their rivals need to go in order to bridge the gap.

But while this is a squad blessed with an embarrassment of riches and exciting recent signings, the main man remains veteran Sergio Agüero, now entering his eighth season in the Premier League, and with more than 140 goals in the competition he has surely got to be recognized as one of the greatest ever strikers to play in this country.

Key Signing: Riyad Mahrez
Key Man: Sergio Agüero
Verdict: A title favourite, anything less would be a failure.


MANCHESTER UNITED
Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Capacity: 75, 643
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Jose Mourinho

Manchester City's closest rivals last season, finishing as runners up in the Premier League, their highest finish since the departure of Alex Ferguson. It was Mourinho's United side that pushed Pep the hardest last season and has the smallest gap to bridge. So then why does it seem like everyone is writing them off? Why is all the hype about Liverpool who finished 4th? Why does Jose Mourinho look like he's on the verge of a meltdown even before the season starts?

These are questions that should be weighing on United fan's minds as the season begins. But is all the doom and gloom justified? Jose has been having a sulk for not being active enough in the transfer market, despite the fact that a solid £70 million was spent on the likes of Fred and Dalot. And of course it's still otherwise the same squad that ground out their way to runner up last season. Lukaku remains a formidable force up front, while Paul Pogba looks set to ride his impressive World Cup form into the new season. Mata brings creativity aplenty, while in David de Gea they have probably still the best goalkeeper in the world currently.

Ultimately I suspect the negative atmosphere is a bit overblown. I wouldn't make them title favourites, but still heavily favoured for Champions League qualification. Their early season form has been a bit rocky, but as we've seen so many times before it doesn't always matter who comes flying out of the blocks. Consistency is key and Mourinho has built a career in consistently churning out points.

Key Signing: Fred
Key Man: David de Gea
Verdict: Top four finish.


NEWCASTLE
Nickname: The Magpies, Toon
Ground: St James' Park
Capacity: 52,354
Last season: 10th
Manager: Rafa Benitez

The Newcastle rollercoaster ride is as ubiquitous to English football as the twin towers of Wembley and Des Lynam's moustache. Under Rafa Benitez there appears to be a hint of stability about the club at long last, but is it all destined to end in tears?

To achieve a top ten finish with what even the hardcore fans would have to admit is a somewhat limited squad is no small accomplishment for the Spanish veteran, but an outlay of some £20 million this summer is frankly minuscule by today's standards (newly promoted Fulham spent £100 million for comparison). The lack of financial backing from a notoriously thrifty Mike Ashley is creating a clear tension behind the scenes, and there's a real question of whether the manager will still be here next season.

For the time being though, Rafa has a unit that works. Jamaal Lascelles has been impressive at the back, and is rightly turning the heads of a few bigger clubs. Meanwhile the loan of Robert Kenedy for a second year running will be a boon on the left flank. Mo Diamé and Matt Ritchie make add to what is a decent top flight spine, but there's not much depth beyond that. More troubling, it's not clear where the goals are going to come from. Early fixtures have seen Rafa rotating among the four available strikers suggests he does not yet have full confidence in any one, and it's an area that needs attention. Otherwise it could be a tough season.

Key Signing: Kenedy
Key Man: Jamaal Lascelles
Verdict: Good enough to survive, but could find themselves in a relegation battle if they're not careful.


SOUTHAMPTON
Nickname: Saints
Ground: St. Mary's Stadium
Capacity: 32,690
Last season: 17th
Manager: Mark Hughes

It's been a rough couple of years for Southampton. A meteoric rise to the upper echelons of the Premier League was duly met with a scavenging of the club's most prized assets (mostly by Liverpool). They've generated a lot of revenue from those sales, and yet somehow it appears to have been squandered. Add to that a number of managerial changes and a general air of instability, and Southampton ultimately found themselves just barely clinging to top flight football. If Mark Hughes is not able to steady the ship they could be in for another difficult season.

While the golden boys may have moved on, there's still plenty to like in this team: the width offered from the back by Cédric on the right and Ryan Bertrand on the left (quite possibly the form left back in the league over the last few seasons), the mercurial talents of Redmond and Lemina, and the forward graft of Charlie Austin among them. The addition of Danny Ings to the squad will give them a little more up front, joined by Mo Elyounoussi of Basel who fans are hoping will turn out to be the offensive midfield option that Boufal was supposed to be last year.

But this is a very vulnerable team, especially against opponents playing through the middle of the pitch. Depth is also a problem, especially given the last few seasons of flop signings. This is a squad in need of major rebuilding, and they just did not achieve that this summer. It could be a long season for the Saints.

Key Signing: Danny Ings
Key Man: Ryan Bertrand
Verdict: A real risk for relegation this year.


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Nickname: Spurs
Ground: Wembley
Capacity: 90,000
Last season: 3rd
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino

There's not much more than needs to be said about manager Mauricio Pochettino. The man was a phenomenal success at Southampton and he has carried that midas touch on to Tottenham. Last season was a remarkable feat, and another year of Champions League football awaits.

With their top four status consolidated, one might have suspected that Tottenham would leap on the opportunity to build and finally mount that long muted challenge for the title. Yet this summer we have seen a strangely unambitious Tottenham, the first in Premier League history not to make any signings. The good news is that they have managed to keep ahold of all their key players. As such, their lack of activity may not necessarily be a problem, after all this was a very fine team last year and retains the same depth of quality as before.

The squad undoubtedly ranks among the strongest in the league, with the likes of Lloris, Dier, and Christian Eriksen all performers of the highest quality. Also keep an eye on Lucas Moura, signed last January to much fanfare, but eased slowly into the team. Now that Pochettino has had a good look at him we expect to see him become more involved, and if he can reclaim the potential shown at PSG he could be as good as a new signing. But the keys to this team undoubtedly belong to Dele Alli and Harry Kane. Picking one out of the two of them as a key man for this team is a difficult task, so central are they both to the way this club plays. With a squad this good, and still largely intact from last season, anything really is possible.

Key Signing: N/A
Key Man: Harry Kane
Verdict: Will be right up there, top four and outside title contenders.


WATFORD
Nickname: Hornets
Ground: Vicarage Road
Capacity: 21,577
Last season: 14th
Manager: Javi Gracia

Another year, and yet again the bookies and pundits alike are all tipping Watford for the drop, and I just can't see a justification for it. We've seen what happens with Watford, they come flying out of the gates, wow the pundits, and then burn out by Christmas. For sure, they have a second half of the season problem, but despite that they haven't looked like a team with a real threat of relegation for a couple of years now, and I don't see that changing.

Certainly it's not all candy and roses for the club. The constant managerial merry-go-round has led to a sense of constant upheaval, and the loss of the talismanic Richarlison to Everton comes as a blow. But they have reinvested those proceeds well, and I'm particularly excited to see Deulofeu and Masina, while Ben Foster marks an upgrade on the ageing Gomes. It's really a pretty decent squad, with a strong midfield of Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes and Pereyra, not to mention Chalobah. Troy Deeney is always a threat up front. Question marks do remain over the defence, making this very much an offence-minded team, but that's a liability that will no doubt cause problems as the season unfolds.

They're certainly not going to uproot any top ten trees, but this just doesn't look like a team in a relegation battle, there are other squads with bigger and more numerous problems. On paper they should be a safe mid-table side, they just need greater consistency.

Key Signing: Gerard Deulofeu
Key Man: Will Hughes
Verdict: Lower half of the table but should be safe.


WEST HAM UNITED
Nickname: The Hammers
Ground: London Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Last season: 13th
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini

Always a pundits' favourite. The golden age romanticism of the ex-football brigade is always dying for a West Ham resurgence, but it never quite clicks for them. One season they'll look on the verge of a big leap, only to slump to a safe mid-table finish the next. At their worst, they find themselves dragged in and around the foot of the table. So it is again, and with the Pellegrini hype in full swing, there's real talk of a top ten finish and maybe even a push for the Europa League. But such things seldom happen over night, and Hammers fans would do well to strike a tone of caution.

On paper they should do well, they've spent big this summer after all. Yarmolenko, Diop and Felipe Anderson are the headline new signings (the latter two both breaking the club transfer record), but Fabianski and Wilshere could prove equally significant additions. The spine of the team remains Arnautović and Noble, while there are high hopes for youngster Declan Rice, but one wonders if there's really enough here to mount a credible push into the top half of the table.

Expect a slow bedding period for a side with this many changes, but if they can gel, and if they can bring a fresh attacking impetus to their game, then they can do well this season. There's not a whole lot between the teams in the middle of the table, and you could see West Ham finishing anywhere from 8th to 15th or so. Based on their form at the end of last season, their pre-season, and the general state of the squad, I think they could have a tricky start and never really get into momentum.

Key Signing: Felipe Anderson
Key Man: Marko Arnautović
Verdict: Lower mid-table finish.


WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
Nickname: Wolves
Ground: Molineux Stadium
Capacity: 31,700
Last season: Promoted (1st)
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo

The gap between the Premier League and lower divisions is wide, and newly promoted clubs often have the odds stacked firmly against them. Backed by new riches of Fosun International however, Wolves have seen something of a revolution, spending big, signing big. The capture last year of Porto youngster Ruben Neves was a stunner, and the Championship was ultimately won at a canter with Neves a particular highlight.

This year they have impressed in the markets again, and the signings of Diogo Jota, Moutinho, and Rui Patricio are remarkable signs of ambition for a newly promoted side. So the season begins with Wolves tipped for some quite lofty targets, a top half finish and maybe even a push for Europe.

This is a team with exciting prospects and new faces for the English top flight. In Neves they boast arguably the young player to watch this season. But this is still their first appearance in the Premier League for six years, and the top level of English football is a harsh mistress. For all the hype and excitement, there will inevitably be a learning curve. This is a squad with huge potential over the coming years, particularly if the financial backing continues, but this table I think they will be quite content just to stay clear of the relegation battle and eke out a safe mid-table position.

Key Signing: Diogo Jota
Key Man: Ruben Neves
Verdict: Safe mid-table finish on the cards.


Predicted table:
1. Manchester City
2. Liverpool
3. Manchester United
4. Tottenham
5. Arsenal
6. Chelsea
7. Everton
8. Crystal Palace
9. Leicester City
10. Wolverhampton Wanderers
11. Burnley
12. Bournemouth
13. Watford
14. West Ham
15. Fulham
16. Newcastle United
17. Cardiff
18. Brighton
19. Southampton
20. Huddersfield



Footnote: How did we do last year?

premier league 2018/19 preview













Not too bad actually. Only five teams ended up >3 positions off from our predictions, six were predicted exactly right, and five were just one position off. More than half the league table was predicted to within one place of their actual position. Really only four teams: Southampton, West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace were significantly off. By comparison, the Guardian's predictions contained only two correct picks, and more than half were at least three places off their actual finish. A reminder then, that most pundits literally just write nonsense.







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