The transfer window is shut, the summer break is over, and after an interminable wait of two and a half months, the 2019-20 Premier League is to kick off this weekend. But who will be dancing in the streets next May, and who will suffer the agony of relegation? Xinhua reporters Michael Butterworth, Jonathan Dixon, Paul Giblin and Michael Place bring you their predictions for the new season in England’s top flight.
1. Who will win the 2019-20 Premier League?
Michael Butterworth: It’s got to be Manchester City again. Liverpool ran them very close last year, but the Reds haven’t made any signings of note and may start slowly if Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are suffering the after-effects of a summer spent on international duty. By contrast, City have strengthened in key positions and look ready to go.
Jonathan Dixon: Man. City. They have the best team, the best manager and the most money. If they find themselves off the pace in January, they have the resources to improve the squad. The addition of Rodri adds much-needed cover for the midfield, which at times looked vulnerable without Fernandinho. Expect Gabriel Jesus to step up to a whole new level this season, while Raheem Sterling, the Silvas and Kevin De Bruyne will see them continue to finish as the highest scoring team in the league.
Paul Giblin: Man. City
Michael Place: Liverpool. Man. City have greater squad depth but the defending Premier League champions will surely prioritize an elusive Champions League trophy over another domestic title win. The opposite is true for Champions League holders Liverpool, who will be more focused than ever on ending a league title drought that has entered its 30th year. They have the quality and the manager to do it.
2. The rest of the top four in order
MB: Liverpool will be some way back in second, with Tottenham running them close in third. Despite a defense that remains unfit for purpose, Arsenal’s attacking swagger will see them ahead of Man. Utd and Chelsea to finish back in the top four after three years away.
JD: Liverpool will push City close again, but may just fall short. It will take a serious effort for the players to maintain their form over the past 18 months, but an injury to Van Dijk or one of the front three could leave them short. In third will be Tottenham, who have added depth to their squad and are now fully settled into their new stadium. Arsenal aren’t riding quite such a wave of optimism as their north London rivals, but the signing of Nicolas Pepe and the goalscoring prowess of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette will give them a lift. Despite lingering questions over their defense, they should scrape into fourth ahead of Man. Utd and Chelsea.
PG: Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal
MP: Man. City, Tottenham, Chelsea
3. Which three teams will be relegated?
MB: Newcastle, because former manager Rafa Benitez made them greater than the sum of their parts and they’ve definitely traded down with Steve Bruce as his replacement. It could also be a long, hard season for Crystal Palace and Burnley. Both are suffering with ageing squads and neither side has made much headway in the transfer market this summer. Elsewhere, all three promoted teams look various shades of interesting and well-equipped to cope with the rigors of top-flight football.
JD: Aston Villa have the fourth highest transfer spend in the world this summer, but look to be on the same path as Fulham last season. This could either be a fantastic season of mid-table mediocrity or a desperate scrap for survival. Newcastle are a shambles on and off the pitch. The club’s one redeeming quality was a world-class manager in Benitez, and with new man Bruce reportedly the tenth-choice candidate to replace nim, the club looks to be in a downward spiral. With unpopular owner Mike Ashley still running the club after several failed takeover bids, the off-field negativity is set to continue. Norwich did well to win the Championship last year with a number of excellent signings from Germany and the emergence of several talented academy prospects. Their survival depends on how well top scorer Teemu Pukki adapts to the Premier League, as the club’s transfer spend has been minimal this summer.
PG: Brighton, Sheffield Utd, Newcastle
MP: Brighton, Burnley, Bournemouth
4. Top scorer
MB: I’m going to stick my neck out and say Raheem Sterling. He keeps improving and started (and scored in) the Community Shield as a central striker ahead of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. With Kevin De Bruyne and Silvas David and Bernardo supplying the ammunition, he won’t be short on chances, and City will inevitably nudge the 100-goal mark again.
JD: Harry Kane. The England captain has looked good in preseason, and with a full summer of rest, unlike many of his golden boot rivals, will take this season by storm.
5. PFA Player of the Year
MB: I’m tempted to say Sterling again, but I’m going for his teammate Bernardo Silva instead. The Portuguese combines skill and guile with a work rate rarely seen at the business end of the pitch, and his status as one of Guardiola’s favorites guarantees him a starting spot in City’s ridiculously talented midfield.
JD: Sterling. A role model on and off the pitch, he is coming off the back of his best ever season, and with a strong summer behind him, the City talisman is set to improve still further.
MP: Kevin De Bruyne. The classy Belgium midfielder has shown throughout pre-season that he is recapturing his best form after injuries wrecked his 2018-19 campaign.
6. Signing of the season
MB: I can’t wait to see Nicolas Pepe in a front three at Arsenal with Aubameyang and Lacazette. The Gunners should be every neutral’s favorite team, especially with David Luiz adding to the calamity stylings of Shkodran Mustafi at the back.
JD: Ryan Sessegnon. Tottenham’s decision to bring in the Fulham starlet for 25m pounds (30 million US dollars) looks to be some of the smartest business of the summer. With the right coaching and support, Sessegnon could have an immediate impact on Spurs’ fortunes.
PG: Rodri (Man City).
MP: Rodri. Man City’s record summer signing was an authoritative presence during his competitive debut for the club in their Community Shield win over Liverpool. The 23-year-old defensive midfielder already looks to be an astute signing by Pep Guardiola.
7. Worst signing of the season
MB: I don’t necessarily think he’ll be terrible, but I just don’t see 85m pounds (103 million US dollars) of footballer in Harry Maguire. His tendency to wander upfield with the ball could leave Man. Utd exposed at the back all too often.
JD: Andy Carroll. Newcastle’s returning hometown hero could easily turn villain if he doesn’t get his fitness right. He should suit the playing style of new manager Bruce, but Carroll has barely played in any consistent capacity for a number of seasons, and his favored position has latterly been on the physio’s bench.
PG: One of Aston Villa’s many recruits
MP: Marvelous Nakamba. This was really just an excuse to mention Aston Villa’s new Zimbabwean international midfielder. We hope he can live up to his name.
8. First manager to lose his job
MB: With an ageing squad and star man Wilfried Zaha casting envious glances elsewhere, I think Roy Hodgson may have run out of ideas at Crystal Palace, and a sluggish start could spell the end of the 71-year-old’s reign at Selhurst Park. The goodwill surrounding Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment at Man Utd is quickly evaporating too, and the Norwegian may find himself looking nervously over his shoulder if United’s poor end to last season carries on into this one.
JD: No one was surprised when Frank Lampard was unveiled as Chelsea boss this summer. The reason given for his appointment? “He knows the club”. Unfortunately for Chelsea and Lampard, knowing the club does not make one qualified to take one of the most demanding jobs in the league. His single year of managerial experience at Derby County showed he has potential, but he failed to advance the club despite a considerable transfer spend.
PG: Steve Bruce
9. How do you feel about the introduction of VAR?
MB: Ugh. I can get behind goal line technology and anything that clears up obvious errors in a matter of seconds. But VAR takes this too far down the rabbit hole for me. It works in sports where there are natural stoppages in play like cricket and rugby, but having to wait several minutes while the referee stops to check the monitor kills the game of football. Many decisions remain subjective regardless of how many times and from how many angles you look at an incident. Celebrating a goal should be a visceral thrill, and knowing the spectre of VAR looms large over every decision takes all that away.
JD: VAR will be a constant talking point this season. On the face of it, there should be fewer refereeing howlers. However, much of football officiating is subjective, and debate will continue to rage as fans expect objectivity over impossible decisions, like how much contact is worthy of a penalty. Being able to hear the conversation between the VAR official and the referee would also go a long way towards fans accepting the technology.
PG: It’s a good thing.
MP: Not sold on this. It sucks some of the raw emotion and spontaneity out of the game, and makes it more robotic – which perhaps would be acceptable if every decision was correct. But the recent Copa America in Brazil showed that VAR does not eradicate all refereeing errors. The constant stopping and starting of matches detracts from the spectacle.