In what order will the Top Six finish in this season?
The Premier League kicks-off this weekend promising us fans that this will be the tightest campaign ever. Haven’t we heard that before? However, it’s hard to argue against that assessment this August — especially when it comes to the top of the table. Six specific clubs are likely to occupy the top six positions come May, but the big question is what order will they finish in?
I’ve taken a look at the strengths and weaknesses of those six clubs and have used that to justify my prediction of the order I think they’ll each finish in.
Where the bookies think they’ll finish: First (they are 2/1 favourites to win the title with most bookmakers)
Where I think they’ll finish: First
Strengths: Pep Guardiola identified why he couldn’t have the Pep effect with this squad last season and has put that right with a very effective transfer window. City were lacking the width that Pep’s teams at both Barcelona and Bayern had in abundance, but with the additions of Kyle Walker (don’t underestimate his impact on this City team) and Benjamin Mendy, expect City to control games with possession and to have a more consistent run of results. They also needed a good goalkeeper and if they’ve found the right man in Ederson (to keep the back two steady) then I can see City clocking up more points than any other team.
Weaknesses: The big question mark over City is not how many goals they will score, but how many they will concede. John Stones got an awful time of it during his debut campaign at the Etihad, but you must be blind to not see the brilliance in his defending, certainly the potential. He should settle down this season with the pressure off and if City can hold it together at the back, they’ll see more results out, because they will be devastating in the opposition’s half – more dangerous than any other side in the league. But defending from open play is their big hurdle.
Where the bookies think they’ll finish: Second or third (they are an average of 7/2 to win the title alongside Chelsea)
Where I think they’ll finish: Second
Strengths: They truly have assembled a squad full of brilliant individuals and have ample cover in every area of the pitch. The main thing United have done, in comparison to their transfer activity over the past four years, is recruit players with Premier League experience. Lukaku is definitely a better ‘gamble’ than Morata given that we all know he can do it week-in, week-out in the Premier League and the capture of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea is pure theft. Both players have huge experience in this division and are sure to have a bigger impact than the ‘world class’ signings they’ve made over recent years in the shape of Di Maria, Falcao, Schweinsteiger et al. The squad looks immense and the manager is a born winner.
Weaknesses: I can’t see United conceding many goals during this campaign, so the big question mark over them is how well they can operate in the final third. The players who will be tasked with supporting Lukaku up front are all individually brilliant; Mata, Martial, Lingard, Rashford and Mikhitaryan but they’re all central players who are tasked with playing out wide. This was very telling last season and United don’t seem to have addressed the problem during the summer (at time of writing). Mentality has been a major issue at Old Trafford since the retirement of Alex Ferguson and question marks remain over their ability to see results out. They threw so many leads away last term and we’ve yet to see if that weak mental state has been strengthened. As things stand, I just can’t see them punishing teams as often as City and that’s why I’ve given the Blue half of Manchester the edge.
Where the bookies think they’ll finish: Fifth or sixth (they are an average of 12/1 to win the title, alongside Arsenal)
Where I think they’ll finish: Third
Strengths: They have a devastatingly quick attacking threat that will have defenders restless even just thinking about facing them. But the most positive thing about this Liverpool squad is their togetherness. Jurgen Klopp’s man-management is fantastic and his players run their hearts out for him and their team-mates. They are the hardest-working team off the ball in the Premier League and that counts for a hell of a lot. For that reason, I think they’ll eclipse Arsenal and Spurs to finish in the Champions League places yet again. If they stay injury-free for the most part and base their hard work off a midfield three that remains consistent in performance, Liverpool should be capable of going close to the 80-point mark, but it won’t be easy for them.
Weaknesses: Their squad is bare in comparison to the other five teams on this list. If they pick up a couple of long-term injuries to key players, then they could easily slump to sixth. They need consistency in personnel more than any other side here. There is still a question mark over their goalkeepers but the biggest thing Klopp has to address, if Liverpool are to tighten up at the back, is how they defend set-pieces. They remained so weak in that area throughout the whole of the last campaign. Also, this is the first full season in which Klopp has had to tackle the Premier League with European commitments — he needs to get that balance right.
Where the bookies think they’ll finish: Second or third (they are an average of 7/2 to win the title alongside Manchester United)
Where I think they’ll finish: Fourth
Strengths: There is no doubt that this squad has the winning mentality, so too does their manager. Chelsea were, by head and shoulders, the most consistent team in the Premier League last year and those predicting that they will stroll to the title again can’t be dismissed. Stamford Bridge is a fortress, a tight, tiny ground that not a lot of teams can get to grips with, ensuring the Blues always have one of, if not, the best home record in the division. Even when Chelsea aren’t at their best, they’re difficult to get something from. They are the most tenacious side in the league and are more than a match for any side in Europe on their day.
Weaknesses: Although the Blues have a huge winning mentality, they have lost John Terry and Nemanja Matic from their dressing-room, while Diego Costa is not likely to be part of first-team plans while he waits out his move to Atletico Madrid in January. They now have a bare squad in comparison to United and City and they may find it difficult to amass the same amount of points as they did last season. They are also reigning champions and that brings its own pressure. Only once in their entire history have the Blues defended a league title (under Mourinho). I can’t comprehend why they let Matic leave to a direct rival…surely this is going to come back and bite them? The manager clearly hasn’t been happy with the transfer window and massive question marks hang over his commitment to Stamford Bridge. My genuine opinion is they will finish more than 10-points worse off than last season. Something’s not quite right at the Bridge.
Where the bookies think they’ll finish: Fifth or sixth (they are an average of 12/1 to win the title, alongside Liverpool)
Where I think they’ll finish: Fifth
Strengths: Arsene Wenger. The most experienced manager in the league is the sole reason Arsenal have played in the top five (mostly top four) for the past two decades. They have no right to be up there, but Wenger is the one common theme with the Gunners flying high. They don’t have a budget like United or City or Chelsea, yet they’ve been frustrating them for years. That’s down to Wenger. Gunners fans calling for a change of manager are playing with fire. He’s made some decent signings this summer, but none better than the teams above them. Why? Money.
Weaknesses: Their squad simply isn’t as good as the teams above them on this list. They also have the Europa League to contend with and, as we all know, that can play havoc with Premier League form. I expect them to fall out of the Top Four for the second year running and for disappointed ‘fans’ to start waving ‘Wenger Out’ banners around the Emirates Stadium. Wenger will eventually be replaced, maybe next summer, and it won’t take long for Gunners fans to realize what they’ve lost in the Frenchman. They have no right to be in the Top Four, they aren’t playing on the same level, money-wise, as the top three.
Where the bookies think they’ll finish: Fourth (they are 10/1 to win the title)
Where I think they’ll finish: Sixth
Strengths: They have a core of English players who are mostly underrated and who brought a fantastic consistency to White Hart Lane over the past couple of campaigns. They also have the best young manager in world football in my opinion, who they need to hang on to over the next few years. In my opinion, they also have the best No.9 in the league, but these plusses aren’t likely to help them out much during what will be a frustrating season.
Weaknesses: Far be it for me to go all Alan Hansen and say ‘you’ll win nothing with kids’ but Spurs’ reliance on promoting from within because they are reluctant to get involved in a crazy transfer market is likely to cost them. All teams above Spurs on this list have strengthened, not just in numbers but in sheer quality. But that’s not the main reason Spurs will drop backwards this year, they’ll fail simply because they have no home advantage for the entire campaign. They’ll play their ‘home’ games in Wembley Stadium and the opposition will view it as a big day out, meaning Spurs will be up against it home and away. The move to Wembley has come at the wrong time for Mauricio Pochettino. Such a shame, as he is an amazing manager who will get them firing back up top in future seasons – just not this one.