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Top 4? Worst signing? Our writers' 2021-22 Premier League predictions

The English top-flight recommences this evening.

The Premier League trophy (file pic).
The Premier League trophy (file pic).
Image: Martin Rickett

Gavin Cooney

Who will be in the top 4 come the end of the season?

I think Chelsea will win the league, with Manchester City second and Liverpool pipping Manchester United to third by virtue of their superior cohesion. It’s been a while since there’s been a ‘Big Four’, but I think that’s the scenario we are in now, as Spurs and Arsenal have become unmoored from the artist formerly known as the Big Six.

Who will get relegated?

Norwich and Watford will probably go back from whence they came, and I’ll tip Southampton to slide away with them.

Best and worst signing of the close season?

The best by a distance is Romelu Lukaku – he solves Chelsea’s one major problem and also happens to be one of the best strikers in the world.

I don’t have an opinion on the worst signing.

Who will be this season’s surprise package?

Based on the fact nobody has a clue what to expect from them – Crystal Palace. For better or for worse.

Which Irish player should we watch out for?

Slim pickings…if Nathan Collins can force his way into the Burnley team he’ll be a senior Irish international before too long. Otherwise, if Will Smallbone can recover from his long-term injury he might make an impact in the Southampton team in the latter half of the season. I think we’ll end this season once again praising Seamus Coleman as the best Irish performer in the league.

Which manager will be the first to leave their club?

Xisco Muñoz at Watford.

What are you most looking forward to this season and what are you dreading?

The return of fans! May we never again return to the lonely and zombified world of behind-closed-doors football. I’m also looking forward to a few games being staged concurrently at 3pm on a Saturday. Nobody needs to watch Burnley live at 8pm on a Saturday night.

I’m dreading any kind of return to behind-closed-doors games. And also the Premier League banter accounts online. The Euros was a sweet release from those lame and endlessly-rehashed gags.

premier-league-package-2021-2022 Pep Guardiola will be hoping Man City can retain their title. Source: PA

Gavan Casey

Who will be in the top 4 come the end of the season?

Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United in that order.

Who will get relegated?

Norwich, Crystal Palace, Newcastle.

Best and worst signing of the close season?

Best: I think Tom Heaton, who was a free agent, might now be the best goalkeeper at Manchester United — and I have a suspicion we’ll see as much before the end of the season.

Worst: That fella Leon Bailey for Aston Villa is a cod.

Who will be this season’s surprise package?

Brighton will finish in the top 8-10. Chalk it.

Which Irish player should we watch out for?

Slim pickings at first-team level, really, but I’m hopeful that Will Smallbone — still recovering from an ACL injury suffered in January — will eventually have the season he should have enjoyed last season.

Which manager will be the first to leave their club?

Xisco Munoz has been at Watford since December so one would have to suspect his days are numbered already. Although he may bump into Patrick Vieira at London City Airport.

What are you most looking forward to this season and what are you dreading?

Most looking forward to: The podcasts, watching four-time Champions League winner and 2018 world champion Raphael Varane being ordered around by zero-time trophy winner Harry Maguire, the sight of our old friend Peter Walton.

Dreading most: I’m dreading having to listen to most of BT Sport’s co-commentators — ‘I really am.’

euro-2020-package England international Jadon Sancho was one of Man United's big summer signings. Source: PA

Paul Fennessy

Who will be in the top 4 come the end of the season?

1. Man City 2. Chelsea 3. Man United 4. Liverpool

Particularly in a season following a major tournament, these predictions can be difficult, because clubs invariably seem to be running behind schedule in their transfer business et cetera. At the moment though, it’s hard to see past Man City retaining their title. Pep Guardiola’s side comfortably won the league by 12 points last season, and while most of their rivals have strengthened, these teams’ transfer business has not been so spectacular that you would fancy any to surpass the Etihad outfit, especially if they ultimately do get the Harry Kane deal over the line.

That said, Chelsea demonstrated on more than one occasion last season that they can seriously compete with City on their day, and with Thomas Tuchel having gained more experience of English football, I expect them to improve, particularly with Jorginho and Emerson on a high after their Euros triumph.

With the addition of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, Man United should be better than last season, but it’s unlikely to be enough to put them on City’s level.

Liverpool only just about got into the Champions League last season and you suspect it could be a similar story this time around. A number of their best players are ageing, and the usual suspects, Tottenham, Arsenal and Leicester will likely challenge them for that fourth spot.

Who will get relegated?

18. Burnley 19. Watford 20. Brentford

Promoted teams generally find life difficult in their first top-flight season. Leeds were the exception last year, finishing ninth, while Fulham and West Brom went straight back down.

Two of this year’s newly-promoted sides, Norwich and Watford, have spent only one season out of the Premier League, and the Canaries look best placed to survive. Not only do they know what to expect, but they have relative stability within their ranks — manager Daniel Farke has been in charge of the club since 2017.

On the other hand, Watford and Brentford could struggle to bridge the gap, while Burnley’s lack of spending power in comparison to others may finally catch up with them, having only finished one place above the relegation zone last season.

Best and worst signing of the close season?

In four seasons at Dortmund, Jadon Sancho consistently lived up to his reputation as one of the most exciting young players in Europe. At 21, he will likely only get better in the coming years and if he can avoid injury, could be a key player for Man United for the foreseeable future.

In terms of more under-the-radar moves, Billy Gilmour has been impressive anytime I’ve watched him play and Norwich signing him on loan from Chelsea looks like a smart acquisition.

In terms of the worst, it’s very hard to say. Cristian Romero could well turn out to be a brilliant deal for Tottenham, but the club’s recent record in the transfer market hasn’t been great and so there will be big pressure on the former Juventus youngster to deliver. He was named Serie A’s Best Defender at Atalanta next season, but adapting to the pace and physicality of the Premier League will be a different challenge.

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Who will be this season’s surprise package?

Rafa Benitez has his work cut out as he attempts to win over some sceptical Everton fans and many will see it as an ill-advised move. However, the 61-year-old coach has a track record of often exceeding expectations in management, particularly at clubs that aren’t exactly considered superpowers, such as Valencia and Newcastle. The Toffees’ controversial choice may well prove to be the right one.

Which Irish player should we watch out for?

It will be fascinating to see how Nathan Collins gets on at Burnley. The 20-year-old surely isn’t too far away from becoming a senior Irish international, and as a defender considered impressive with the ball at his feet, should suit Stephen Kenny’s style perfectly. The fact that the Clarets reportedly paid in the region of €14 million to prise him from Stoke suggests he is likely to get plenty of opportunities at first-team level.

Which manager will be the first to leave their club?

Crystal Palace have had issues before with managerial transitions and after a period of relative stability under Roy Hodgson, it could be a baptism of fire for Patrick Vieira, whose only previous managerial experience has come at New York City FC and Nice. He’ll need a positive start to the season to avoid accusations that he is too inexperienced to manage at Premier League level.

What are you most looking forward to this season and what are you dreading?

Most looking forward to: Seeing big crowds at games again regularly. Hopefully, it will be a common sight amid a safe environment. Football undoubtedly loses a great deal in terms of the spectacle without supporters at games.

Least looking forward to: One team, quite possibly Man City, running away with the title. The fight for fourth place at least provided some end-of-season drama, as Pep Guardiola’s side had the league effectively wrapped up long before the last campaign ended, while the relegation spots were also settled relatively early, leading to a real feeling of anti-climax that is all too common in the modern Premier League era, given the well-documented financial disparities that exist between clubs.

rotherham-united-v-stoke-city-sky-bet-championship-aesseal-stadium Ireland underage international Nathan Collins joined Burnley from Stoke in the summer. Source: PA

Ciarán Kennedy

Who will be in the top 4 come the end of the season?

Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United

Who will get relegated?

Burnley, Norwich, Watford

Best and worst signing of the close season?

Best: In terms of value, I think Leicester might have bagged themselves a bargain in signing Boubakary Soumare for €20m from Lille.

Worst: This is admittedly a bit of a cop out, but I’m just going to put forward Newcastle’s transfer window in general, given they haven’t added one single player to their squad. It could get grim up north.

Who will be this season’s surprise package?

Brentford. They just might do a Leeds and become the new great entertainers.

Which Irish player should we watch out for?

It’s slim pickings again this season, unfortunately, but hopefully, this turns out to be a big year for Aaron Connolly. Brighton look light up front and goals have been a problem, so if he can find some form there is a great opportunity for him to take the next step in his career. I’m also looking forward to seeing Caoimhín Kelleher getting some more time with Liverpool across the cup competitions. It’s great to see a young Irish player making such a strong impression at a top-four club.

Which manager will be the first to leave their club?

Steve Bruce.

What are you most looking forward to this season and what are you dreading?

I’m looking forward to watching games with crowds again and seeing Romelu Lukaku back in a Chelsea shirt. I’m dreading the possibility of the title race, and Champions League positions, being decided too early.

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