With the new Premier League campaign kicking off today, theScore’s Gianluca Nesci, Michael Chandler, and Daniel Rouse are peering into their crystal balls to predict what will happen in the top flight of English football this season.
Rouse: Manchester City. Liverpool did the right thing by resisting the urge to tweak their Champions League-winning ensemble, but Rodri was City’s missing piece. Floundering without Fernandinho should be a thing of the past for Pep Guardiola’s throng.
Chandler: City. Kevin De Bruyne and Co. will become the fifth side to win three English top-flight titles on the spin.
Nesci: Manchester City. It’ll be close once again, but after bolstering defensive midfield and right-back – the only two areas that were somewhat problematic last season – City actually improved this summer. That’s frightening.
Champions League places
Rouse: Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United. Harry Maguire’s £80-million fee has been widely mocked, but he’ll significantly strengthen the Red Devils’ rearguard.
Chandler: Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal. A slew of summer reinforcements plus erratic campaigns from Chelsea and United will see the Gunners nick fourth.
Nesci: Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal. Between their transfer ban and the summer departures of both their best player and their manager, Chelsea are the ultimate wild card. Manchester United, meanwhile, have glaring issues at various positions. Fourth place is Arsenal’s to lose.
Rouse: Crystal Palace, Newcastle United, Sheffield United. Roy Hodgson’s attack remains one-dimensional and that one dimension, Wilfried Zaha, doesn’t want to be there. Steve Bruce, meanwhile, is out of his depth and working for the Premier League’s worst owner.
Chandler: Brighton, Norwich City, Sheffield United. Unless Daniel Farke drastically changes Norwich’s tactical ethos, the Canaries will concede frequently. They gave up 57 goals last season in the Championship, the sixth-most of any promoted team in the Premier League era.
Nesci: Burnley, Newcastle, Sheffield United. We could see as many as six clubs in the relegation scrap this season, so anything can happen at the bottom of the table. One thing seems certain, though: The Blades simply don’t have enough talent to avoid an immediate return to the Championship.
PFA Player of the Year
Rouse: Kevin De Bruyne looks sharp after a full preseason and can finish as the top flight’s top man over teammates Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling, as well as City’s red-clad rivals on Merseyside.
Chandler: Sergio Aguero. The Argentine will score 20 or more league goals for a sixth consecutive year. Despite consideration as City’s best-ever player, the 31-year-old has dodged individual honors like a paper hat in a hail storm. That ends this season.
Nesci: Raheem Sterling. One of only two players to rack up double-digit goals and assists in each of the past two seasons (injured teammate Leroy Sane is the other), the ever-improving 24-year-old will become the first Englishman to capture the award since Wayne Rooney a decade ago.
Golden Boot winner
Rouse: Harry Kane. If he avoids injuries, Kane can aim for 30 Premier League goals. Kieran Trippier’s whipped deliveries are a thing of the past, but Kane can feast on more varied service following the arrivals of technical gem Giovani Lo Celso and the buccaneering Tanguy Ndombele.
Chandler: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Joint-top with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane last season, the Gabon international will thrive as part of an electric front-three alongside Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe.
Nesci: Sergio Aguero. The focal point of the attack for the best, most explosive team in the league. This one is simple math.
Best signing of the season
Rouse: Moise Kean. Signing one of the most talented teenagers in Europe for €27.5 million could prove a huge bargain for Everton. It took two years, but the Toffees may have finally replaced Romelu Lukaku.
Chandler: Nicolas Pepe. The former Lille star represents a new era at Arsenal, one in which the frustratingly penny-pinching ways of the past have been forsaken. And to think, reports suggested Arsenal had just £45 million to play with.
Nesci: Tanguy Ndombele. Tottenham’s oft-ridiculed inactivity in the transfer window ended this summer, and how. In signing Ndombele for a club-record €60-million fee, Spurs got a dynamic, do-everything midfielder who should take the Premier League by storm.
Worst signing of the season
Rouse: Jordan Ayew. His modest transfer fee will be small consolation for Crystal Palace fans. He scored once in 20 Premier League appearances last season and is one-third of a woeful strikeforce at Selhurst Park alongside Christian Benteke and Connor Wickham.
Chandler: Joelinton. Newcastle tabled a club-record £40 million for a striker whose best production was an eight-goal campaign in Austria with Rapid Wien. For a club with modest means, the Brazilian’s recruitment is a shocker. Any bets Andy Carroll scores more goals for the Magpies this season?
Nesci: Ayoze Perez. Leicester City have a fun, exciting young squad, but dishing out £30 million for a forward who’s reached double figures in goals just once in his career was a misstep. Was the competition for Perez really so stiff that such a hefty bid was necessary?
Rouse: Emiliano Buendia. There are many players set to test their skills in the Premier League after dominating the Championship, but none better than Norwich City’s Buendia. Sporting director Stuart Webber has an incredible knack for spotting talent, and the Argentine trickster marks his greatest discovery.
Chandler: Lloyd Kelly. Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe has had success plucking players from the Championship. The 20-year-old left-back, formerly of Bristol City, has an opportunity to outplay Charlie Daniels and Diego Rico for first-choice duties.
Nesci: Mason Mount. Amid their transfer ban, Chelsea have no choice but to give the youngsters a chance. Boasting skill and industry, the 20-year-old midfielder looks set to be the biggest beneficiary after starring for new Blues boss Frank Lampard at Derby last season.
Rouse: Chris Wilder. There will be a temptation to depict Sheffield United’s Wilder as a limited old-school handler, but he’s an innovative tactician and possibly the English Football League’s best manager over the past decade.
Chandler: Bournemouth. Wolves, Everton, and Leicester City all have fanciful dreams of cracking the top six, but Bournemouth kept hold of their three best players – Ryan Fraser, Callum Wilson, and Nathan Ake – and the addition of Philip Billing was quietly one of the window’s best moves.
Nesci: A big change at Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s apparent rejuvenation of the club last season was built on a cupcake schedule and fortuitous Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain. In reality, the Red Devils weren’t markedly better under the Norwegian and are in legitimate danger of being reeled in by the chasing pack. Solskjaer won’t be on the Old Trafford bench when 2020 rolls around.
Most excited about…
Rouse: Performances from the lower-league products. Norwich’s Max Aarons and Emiliano Buendia could both be worth over £30 million when the season’s done. James Justin is quality backup for Leicester City’s full-backs, Che Adams can be Southampton’s attacking focal point, and Jack Grealish is a constant menace for Aston Villa.
Chandler: A frenetic title chase. A frenzied fight for the coveted top four spots. A battle for European berths between perennial midtable sides boosted by resourceful squad construction and tidy transfer windows. Also, not VAR.
Nesci: Potential bookings for players aggressively mimicking the VAR signal. It’ll be hilarious.