Predictions for the Premier League – 19/20

Let’s finally discuss arguably the only league much care about, and for understandable reasons. While the Bundesliga is the league I cannot keep away from, England’s top division has the competitiveness and star quality that many more casual fans want to see. England’s top-flight currently possesses the best team in Europe and the best team the Premier League has ever seen. There is always plenty to talk about, so let’s get into who will succeed, and who will fail. 

Outside Shout – Southampton

Since I’m bored of talking about Leicester, let’s look at another team, one that might finally be on the up. Between 2013 and 2016, Southampton were one of the most likeable clubs in the league. They were getting quality from a host of domestic talent in Shaw, Lallana, Bertrand, Clyne, Rodriguez and Ward-Prowse. They combined this well by picking up players from more inferior leagues, like Tadic, Van Dijk and Sadio Mane. They were consistently finishing in the top half of the table and brought two talented coaches to the league, with Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino both moving on to better things. They weren’t following the trend of other mid-table teams, in making generally bad decisions in terms of appointing the old guard of managers. They were more forward-thinking than most clubs, which enabled them to stand out in a league where the quality of football below 7th was questionable at best.

There were apparent issues off the pitch, but the moment the club’s problems became apparent was during the 2016/17 season. In the previous season, Koeman managed to push his side to finish 6th, ensuring they had European football the following season. After the Dutchman departed to join Everton, Southampton replaced him with the experienced French coach Claude Puel. I saw this appointment as a smart one from Southampton. While he was never fantastic at either Nice or Lyon, he still did a very respectable job. During his time at Lyon, they reached the Champions League semi-finals, the first time in their history. The club attempted to give Puel the players to help him succeed in arguably their biggest season, with the signings of Nathan Redmond, Sofianne Boufal and Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg. Redmond showed at Norwich that he was good enough for the Premier League, while Boufal came off the back of a stand out season in Ligue 1, contributing to 15 goals for Lille. All were under the age of 23, which helped continue their habit of signing younger players and aiding in their development.

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The problem for Puel during his reign was the high bar which was set by the previous managers. An 8th place finish alongside a cup final is an acceptable finish for a side which lost their best attacker in Sadio Mane. Southampton were ineffective in the final third and Puel does deserve some criticism for that, but what did they expect? Puel had a reputation for being a defensive coach, and with his lack of attacking talent, it isn’t a surprise his team were quite dull to watch. He was let go at the end of the season, and replaced by Mauricio Pellegrino.

This is where things went from decent to very bad. The club failed to bring in any forwards during the 17/18 summer window and left Pellegrino with very little in attack. There was no rhythm or inventiveness in the final third, which made the Saints one of the most boring sides in recent memory. After being ambitious with their managerial choices, it wasn’t a surprise it finally came crashing down. Poor recruitment throughout the team resulted in a side where goals were a rarity, which resulted in Pellegrino’s sacking. Mark Hughes arrived to steady the ship, and while they were slightly improved, he did not deserve a three-year deal. The idiocy on giving him a long term contract came back to bite them, after Southampton only managed to win a single game in the 18/19 season, before his sacking after a 2-2 draw with Manchester United in December. 

After 2 years of ruining the good reputation they built for themselves, they finally made an appointment to match the ambition they once shown. Ralph Hassenhuttl arrived after departing RB Leipzig after a disappointing follow-up season to their second-place finish in 16/17 season, where they crashed out of a relatively easy champions league group. Hassenhuttl is an excellent coach, who built an aggressive, pressing side in Germany that enabled them to compete with the very best. For the first time since Koeman, it felt like Southampton were finally going somewhere.

While his half-season with Southampton wasn’t spectacular, Hassenhuttl did lead them to survival in a comfortable fashion. Redmond went from 0 goal contributions under Hughes to 10 under his new coach, a definite improvement for one of their most important players. There were slight improvements all over the field. A back 3 with an aggressive midfield partnership of Höjbjerg and Romeu and focus on the wing-backs pushing forward saw an increase in results and general entertainment. 

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Many do not predict Southampton to challenge the other top 6 chasers, but I do believe that once everything clicks, they could be one of the best sides outside of the top 6. They’ve started the season in mixed form, losing 2 of their opening 3 games. However, they have been so unfortunate not to have an unbeaten start. Liverpool were fortunate to win as well as Brighton. Djenepo is an excellent addition and could add that much-needed creativity and dribbling that the team is desperate for. Che Adams is a slight risk at £15 million but has the potential to contribute. This could be another disappointing season, but there is a possibility that everything goes right. 

Overachievers – Arsenal

Arsenal are really bad, and at this point, it is getting worrying. Emery’s debut season was dreadful. They had a chance to sneak into that top 4, but three consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester ensured they would be forced to play Europa League football once again. It wasn’t just the league table where things were looking bad, but especially on the pitch. Arsenal went from a fun but extremely vulnerable side under Wenger to a dull yet weak team at the back. The overreliance on Aubameyang and Lacazette to convert every chance that came to them, which they basically did, is not a practical way to build an attack. Aubameyang ran hot throughout the season and carried Arsenal to at least challenging for top 4. 

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Arsenal did have a good summer, with record signing Pepe adding an elite player to the right-side. David Luiz and Kieran Tierney added better defensive personnel, and Ceballos finally filled that Santi Cazorla-shaped hole. However, if early season form is anything to go by, I do worry if Arsenal can actually become a champions league-level side. Their shot numbers are still deficient, and if their Gabon forward suddenly hits a dry patch, I have no idea how they will cope. It’s unlikely they will drop out of the top 6, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if Chelsea with a transfer ban or an extremely poor Manchester United finishes above them. 

Underachievers – Chelsea

Speaking of Chelsea, I genuinely have no idea what to expect from Lampard’s side. They have a very talented team and still waiting for Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi to return from long-term injuries. This transfer ban, while having apparent issues, does have its positives. Lampard has said multiple times that everyone was going to be given a chance, something we have seen already. Tammy Abraham has started 2 of the first 3 games of the season, showing how faith has finally been put in him. Mason Mount is another to start a majority of the season. Even though I’m not his biggest fan, there is a clearly a decent player in there. The midfield and central defensive options are still elite. Having Ngolo Kante in your team will always keep your midfield functional, and the added addition of Kovacic’s permanent signing is a massive boost in ensuring the middle of the park is secure. 

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My worry with Chelsea is the strain that European football and potential injuries could have on the side. Emerson is Chelsea’s only real left-back, and Azpilicueta isn’t the most forward-thinking. There is also a very likely chance the attack simply doesn’t click. Pulisic has never put in a lot of goals and assists, We still do not know if Tammy can play at the top level and I’m not sold on Mount. I hope their younger talents live up to the potential they have shown for years and guide Chelsea to a successful season. However, the chances of everything falling apart if these players do not flourish under Frank Lampard.

Best Transfer – Dani Ceballos

As mentioned, Ceballos is truly a great addition. While Ndombele, Wan-Bissaka, Rodri and Iwobi are fantastic signings, Ceballos’ added quality to a lacklustre Arsenal side was what they needed. The former Real Betis midfielder is a perfect allrounder, being able to play as both the teams’ creator, the anchor and the transitioner. It makes Ceballos so useful to have for a manager, being able to change his role based on the opposition or to accommodate specific players on his own team. This versatility in midfield is something Arsenal lack; a problem that intensified after the sale of Aaron Ramsey. Torreira can do a bit of everything, but you’d never play him as the most attacking in a two-man midfield, and Granit Xhaka is a player you have to facilitate due to his lack of speed and defensive awareness. Ceballos will give Arsenal an elite midfielder who could easily find a place in all the other top 6 sides. A masterstroke from the Gunners. 

Potential Flop – Jean-Philippe Gbamin

Everton have this habit of making good signings, then suddenly ruining all that in some foolish decisions. This time it was the sale of Idrissa Gueye. I’m fully aware there was no stopping him leaving. The defensive midfielder wanting to go in January but had to wait until the summer to earn his deserved move to PSG. He was Everton’s most valuable player and losing him would mean a lot of money would need to be spent on replacing him. Even from someone who has a love for midfielders in Gueye’s ilk, I had no idea who they could realistically sign. Sangare was linked, but he doesn’t possess the same speed as Gueye. Ander Herrera would have been a decent choice, but, like Gueye, his heart was set on joining PSG. This signing needed to be perfect if Everton want to meet their aspirations of reaching the top 6. 

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Their choice of Mainz midfielder Jean-Philippe Gbamin was a very odd one. While I haven’t seen much of Gbamin play, I expected his tackle and interception numbers to match that of the player he was replacing, yet they do not seem alike. In fact, it is a massive drop off compared to Gueye. The Ivory Coast midfielder only averaged 3.5 tackles and interceptions last season, an enormous difference to Gueye’s 6.8. Everton cannot afford Gbamin to fail. If he does, that could mean the end of Andre Gomes. As mentioned before, Gomes only had a successful season due to Gueye covering for him defensively, allowing the Portuguese midfielder focus on ball progression. Gomes now has to contribute more defensively, which he has never been able to do. Gbamin could fail to replicate Gueye, which would result in Everton having an unstable midfield. 

My Top 50 Favourite Players (50-41)

Ah the big one. Football is full of all sorts of different players. Different fans like different players. Some prefer strikers who score the simple goals, and some others like those silky dribblers in midfield. I’m no different. I like players for all sorts of reason. Either it’s reasons due to their ability on the field, off the field, or some other reason. I usually attempt to stay very objective. While some choices will be here for that very reason, some will not. So let’s get straight into it.

50. Alexandre Lacazette

To start things off, let’s go with a player who is currently playing at the top of his game. The Arsenal forward is an absolutely tremendous player. Not only is he an amazing goal scorer, he also offers so much off the ball. His movement and pressing of the defenders is incredibly useful. I was so happy when Arsenal signed him. He was just brilliant at Lyon, and after 3 seasons of goalscoring, he finally earned that move. While Lyon are now a great club for young players and attackers in general, back then they were very reliant on Lacazette to lead the line. His last season at Lyon was arguably his most prolific. He scored 28 in 28 starts, and was the only Lyon player to score over 10 goals in Ligue 1. He’s also a really good creator. In that season he had 3 assists, but created 1.7 chances a game. He was exactly what Arsenal needed and is now doing the same there. He is just an amazing goal scorer and watching him on the pitch is just so enjoyable. However my love for Lacazette comes from Fifa out of all things. For 3 games (15-17), he was that elite striker you’d always sign for a top club because of his potential and amazing stats. He was fast, strong and so good in front of goal. He was worth all the money you’d spend, and sometimes you could resell him for over £100m. He was one of the best players on the game and gave me so many fond memories. Thank you Laca.

49. Edin Dzeko

I’ve spoken about my love for the guy before on Heroes and Zeroes, but let’s go through it again with maybe more detail. I never truly thought about him when he was playing for Man City. Of course I disliked him for the soul reason of playing for my rivals, but I only knew he was good in the air and was a perfect alternative to Sergio Aguero, however my attention wasn’t drawn until his move to Roma. Roma at the time weren’t exactly full of goal machine’s. I always have an issue with any side that sign Seydou Doumbia. It almost tells me you’re desperate for goals and have no other option. I thought Dzeko was a good choice. There was proof of his time at Wolfsburg that he can carry a team’s goals, and learnt more link play skills while in England. He was ready to lead the line for a side on his own. To say he’s been a success at Roma is a huge understatement. While his first season wasn’t exactly prolific, only scoring 8 in 31. He offers so much in link up and trouble for defenders that he’s always justified his occasional small goal numbers. But after that he has truly been incredible. He scored 29 in the 16/17 season, and was a huge player for Roma’s huge 91 point season. His goals have decreased in the league since then, but he was amazing in the Champions League. He scored 8 in 12 last season, and is now on 4 in 5 this season. Why I love Dzeko is he is the blueprint for a dying art, the target man. The Bosnian can do everything you want from a huge number 9. He is so good in the air and always has been. It’s an ability that no matter how old you get, you never lose that effectiveness. He’s now 32 and is still incredible at winning the ball in the air. However is best feature is circumstance. It’s a weird feature, but let me explain. He is playing in a side full of wide talent. Under, Kluivert and El Shaararwy are all good players, but still need to start showing consistency. Having a player like Dzeko, who is so effective in giving space to teammates and giving them good chances to score. He is benefitting more than just himself, and that selflessness is why I love him as a player.

48. Saul Ñíguez

Saul is an amazing midfielder. My love began after his incredible solo goal against Bayern Munich back in 2016. Thanks to that solo goal, that I assume Alaba, Vidal and Alonso have still not recovered from, it turned into a name I would not forget. After looking more into him, I then realised he also scored that incredible over head kick against Real Madrid in 2015. It almost sums up why I love him. He is a hard working player who puts in good tackle and interception numbers, yet is capable of these crazy moments of magic. He’s your classic don’t judge a book by it’s cover player. I think the assumption made about him comes from playing for Diego Simeone. Before recent huge signings like Lemar and Martins, his team were a hardworking unit that were great at winning the ball high up and using their physicality to their advantage. From the way he plays, he is quite similar to a Gabi, Koke or Turan, but he’s more than that. He can be relied on in tough moments and is capable of those quality moments. I love him for these moments and has made me gasp multiple times with some of his goals.

47. Joe Allen

As mentioned before, this is very much a personal list. These are players who may contain a great memory and it’s why I have an affection towards them. Joe Allen might be the epitome of that. A player who never really achieved much at club level, thanks to his disappointing time at Anfield. However that is not important. I am Welsh, and thanks to his incredible performances at the 2016 Euros, I will never forget him. The current Stoke midfielder was an important player in that side. Ramsey is a disaster positionally and Joe Ledley only recovered from an injury while the tournament was still going. Allen had a lot of work to do, and he was amazing. He controlled the midfield and he also protected the defense well. It was strange to see such an average manager in Chris Coleman figure out how to finally get Allen playing well consistently. He was so good that he was actually in the team of the tournament. He has a nickname in this country, the Welsh Pirlo, because of his similar haircut. However in that summer, he turned into Pirlo and was a key reason why my country had their most successful tournament since Pele was playing. Thanks Joe!

46. Pepe

Quite the controversial player, but effective in his own way, Pepe is an incredibly memorable player. He used to have the title as the dirtiest player in Europe, with memorable horror challenges on Messi and against Getafe’s captain at the start to life at Madrid. However after that indefensible incident, he changed as a player. He said that he was considering his future in football after lashing out in 2009, and after a few years of continuing the bad reputation, he truly turned it around. After that sending off in a 2011/12 El Classico, Pepe has not received a single red card at club level (he did receive one at the 2014 World Cup however). Why I love him does come from this. He kicked out the ugly side of his game, and turned into an incredible defender. His performance at the 2016 Euros could possibly be the best seen from a defender at a major tournament. He made 3.2 interceptions, won 3.8 aerial duels and commited under a foul a game. Pepe’s transformation is why I have such a fondness to him. He went from a joke into one of the best around. A player who knew the dark side of the game and knew how to exploit it. A real winner.

45. Moussa Dembele

While he has dropped off a cliff in the last couple of seasons, no one can argue that when Dembele was in his peak, he was one of the most useful and wanted midfielders to have in Europe. Dembele has never been a spectacular midfielder, like a Kroos or Thiago, but he filled a hole in a side that everyone wanted. He was so good at winning the ball back and a brilliant dribbler. Between 2012 and 2016, he was arguably the best dribbling central midfielder in Europe. He was so powerful and quick that it was nearly impossible to dispossess him. He even did plenty of defensive work too. When Spurs were at their best, it was because they had an incredible midfielder who did the most wanted role in anyone’s midfield. It’s similar to why I have such a liking towards him. It could be out of sheer jealousy, since my side does not have a player similar to peak Moussa Dembele. He’s everything I want a midfielder to be. A well rounded player who should have earned so much more praise than he got.

44. Diego Forlan

While my memories of him at Manchester United aren’t exactly vast, his performances in La Liga and at the 2010 World Cup is what made me love the forward. He put in performances that made him one of the best strikers in the world at Atletico Madrid and Villarreal. He could take set pieces, penalties and was a machine in front of goal. He was also a pretty good creative forward. He was the blueprint for what a forward in the modern game should be. He also scored against Liverpool at Anfield. If any player does that, they are worshipped at United. In fact his name was chanted by United fans when they were playing Sunderland in 2017, making José Mourinho ask the valid question “why are they singing his name?” I truly hate Liverpool, and any player who causes them misery makes me extremely happy. While that is always great, it’s South Africa in 2010 that is my fondest memory of him. It’s the first world cup I religiously watched and he was by far the most memorable part of the whole tournament. Uruguay were not tipped to reach the semi finals, yet still got there and it was all thanks to Forlan. He won the Golden Boot and did that by scoring some absolutely stunning goals. It could be down to the terrible ball used in the tournament, but he still deserves plenty of credit. That volley against Germany, which he hit against the ground to take Neuer the wrong way, was pure genius. It’s a shame I wasn’t old enough to remember him in his earlier days, but I still loved what I saw.

43. Edwin Van Der Sar

I think Van Der Sar might be the best goalkeeper United have had in the Premier League era. While Schmeichal is always remember fondly by United fans for his incredible and aggressive personality in goal, Van Der Sar was just incredible. Replacing Schmeichal took an extremely long time to do for a club of United’s size. His lack of an adequate replacement is why United’s early 2000s weren’t great. Fergie was under a lot of pressure, due to Arsenal looking the real deal and Chelsea with their new oil money. While Rooney and Ronaldo were signings that would eventually turn United into the best team around, Van Der Sar was an immediate fix that just took too long to happen. He was signed from Fulham for only 2 million. In reality he probably should have been signed soon as his time in Turin was coming to an end. Soon as he arrived in Manchester, Ferguson’s winning machine was back to its best. My favourite memory of the Dutchman is easily the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow. It’s the first and only time I saw my team win the biggest trophy in club football, and it was thanks to Van Der Sar making that save. The entire side running and screaming in happiness to see their veteran keeper making the most important penalty save in his career. He was truly the best.

42. Kevin Prince Boateng

While his younger brother might be the superior player, Kevin Prince Boateng is a personal favourite of mine. Whether it’s choosing to play for Ghana over Germany, and constantly moving clubs, there’s just something unique about him. Boateng has played for a lot of clubs, 10 in fact, ranging from unsuccessful spells in England for Tottenham and Portsmouth, to playing for AC Milan and Genoa, to playing for Schalke and Frankfurt. He’s been around to say the least. What can truly be loved about the Ghanian is his versatility. From starting as a number 10 to moving further back, to playing as a striker for Las Palmas. He has proven to be a shot machine throughout his career, which is why with age, he was moved further up the pitch. The reason why I like him as a player is out of pure fascination. He never stayed longer than 2 seasons at a club and constantly moved around. It’s as if he was trying to see as much of the world as he could, and experience all the different clubs out there. Of course there is probably a more genuine reason why he has never stayed at a club for long, but that’s what I’d love to believe.

41. Ronaldinho

Oh where to begin with him. The king of the samba style of football has to be here. For anyone who grew up in the 2000s and obsessively played the Fifa Street games, there is nothing but love for tricky Brazilian. While I could go incredibly in-depth to how he probably inspired a sub category of FIFA games just because of his the pure entertaining way he played football, I’ll just stick to his game. The Balon d’Or, Champions League, La Liga, Serie A, World Cup, Copa America and Confederations cup winner is among one of the best players in history on pure ability. No other player in the start of the Millennium could move, dribble and beat opponents in the same way he could. He famously earned a standing ovation at the Bernabeu for putting in one of the best individual performances in history, scoring 2 incredible goals that must have embarrassed every defender on the pitch that day. On his day he was unplayable. He played the game in his own vision, with a huge smile on his face and just loved to show off. He played football like he lives life, to enjoy himself.